The night train to Palermo was way better than the one to Rome. We left Rome at 9:30 pm, and were in a sleeping cabin with a delightful Sicilian couple from Messina (main industrialized city on the island). She was a retired teacher and had a great conversation with Austin for about an hour about our background and travels. She was traveling back home from spending a day with her daughter in Rome. Both her daughters are archaeologists and go to University of Padova. She was so nice and gave us some great travel tips. They got off in Messina, so we even got the car to ourselves for a couple hours as we made our way to Palermo by 10:00.
|Half of the HUGE tuna and guy chopping it up.|
Once in Palermo, we headed over to the famous market to see what that was all about. It was a pretty cool place, each vendor had a little shade set up over their merchandise and so there was just a narrow space to walk through the entire thing. It lasted for about 2 blocks, and a new addition to this market compared to others we have seen was a wide assortment of fresh fish. You could tell that they had been caught that night. We also saw eel, squid, and all kinds of other seafood. There were several of the fish stands still cutting up their HUGE tunas that they had caught. Of course, there was also a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables, and we bought 5x as many cherries for the same price here that we did in Rome. Also, we picked up some spongy bread with spices and olive oil on top. We had passed by the stand once already, and I think the seller knew Austin wanted some, because the 2nd time around he called out to him and convinced him to buy some. It ended up being really good though, and I’m glad we stopped there even though I was still full from the breakfast that we had on the train.
First impressions of Palermo: loud and dirty. People are really not afraid to use their horns here, and pedestrians take their lives into their hands crossing many streets. There is trash everywhere and a general unkemptness to all the buildings. In the market, men were hawking their food by trying to yell over each other. Our next stop was the Palazzo Normani the current and past seat of the government in Palermo. It is a pretty old castle with lots of Arab and other influences in its architecture. The main event at the Palazzo today (since the government was using the main palace, as it was not a weekend) was the Capella Palentina. This little chapel was built in the 1100s, with mosaics covering all of the walls. There were many gold tiles as well, like we saw in Venezia, but this was a smaller chapel. Because it was so old, there were some interesting mosaics that we have not seen in the newer churches. They had a very detailed story of the creation; and for Jesus being baptized he was almost all the way submerged in the water when the person making the mosaic decided to depict it. There were also old testament scenes, mostly of Noah down to Abraham and Isaac. It was a uniquely different style than other churches we have seen, and the mosaics seemed to be trying to portray the scenes in the clearest way possible. It was very well kept up for a little capella, and since we try not to take pictures in churches I will try to find one on the interwebs to insert here.
|Capella Palentina from the interwebs|
Also in the Palazzo were the royal gardens. These were not the most incredible gardens ever, but had some big trees and pretty flowers, with a few water features. Outside the palazzo walls, a big strike was going on, with angry Italians chanting and horns blaring. Austin explained that people plan their strikes here for random days of the week, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t go to work the next day. They just randomly strike to show their discontent. I thought that was kind of funny, and it made less afraid of the protesters.
The Catacombs a little outside the main city were our next stop. Although the catacombs of Rome are older and cooler, I thought it would still be a good thing to see. I was intrigued by all the various states of decay of the people and the anatomy I was able to see, and Austin thought it was all a little morbid. The first person buried in these catacombs was buried there in the 1500s, and it seemed most of the bodies there were from the 1800s. It was interesting that men and women were for the most part segregated, children were buried in a separate part, and there were different classifications of where you were buried based on profession (all the priests in one area, professionals in another). All of the skeletons were wearing their burial clothes, so it was interesting to see what those were based on the time period. It made me reflect a little on the Resurrection and how grateful I am to know that someday, everyone on earth will regain their physical body. What a party it will be down there, because there were 100s of them in this particular catacomb!
|Duomo of Palermo|
Next up was the Duomo of Palermo, which wasn’t really originally on our list because we have seen some spectacular churches recently, but the outside style of the building made us want to go in. Many of the buildings here seem to have a different, more Arab influenced style, including this building. The inside was not as highly decorated as the churches we have seen so far, but fairly simply decorated, which I think is just as well because it was huge. We made our final stop of the day in Palermo at a famous fountain, which was fairly pretty but all fenced off due to some construction, so we didn’t stay there very long.
|Picture taken by the missionaries in front of Teatro Massimo|
On our way to lunch today, we ran into the missionaries! We ran into them in Lecco as well, and it is always a treat to get to talk to people in English, because really the only person I ever get to talk to is Austin here (which is great, but anyone who knows him knows that he is a fairly quiet guy). They were just returning from zone conference in Catania (we’re going there tomorrow) and were on their way to lunch as well. There were 2 guys from the U.S. and 2 guys from England. We talked with them for awhile about all kinds of things. One of the guys was a rugby player in England, and asked Austin if he played rugby, because he looks like a rugby player. That got us on a great discussion about the BYU rugby team (we are BIG fans of watching rugby when we can make it) and how they are playing in the collegiate national championships this weekend. This guy wants to play rugby for BYU or the U after his mission. In the course of our conversation, I told him that I had just graduate from physical therapy school, and he got really excited. Turns out he broke his wrist 2 times playing rugby, and another time in the MTC. He has had multiple surgeries to try to fix the issues in his wrist, and even had to go home from the mission for a time. He is going to PT now in Palermo, but he feel that this isn’t really helping that much. I gave him some advice on exercises to do, as well as pain relief strategies for the bad days when he can’t even walk around carrying a Book of Mormon. We love running into the missionaries.
|The water right by our hostel!|
Lunch deserves its own paragraph. We found one of the locations in our guidebook, and went there. Trattoria Basile was down a side street and had an interesting set up. First, you went and ordered what you wanted generally (primi or pasta, secondi or meat, appetizers, etc). Then they gave you little tickets and you ordered what specifically you wanted for your primi or secondi from the kitchen itself. For 10 euros, we both got huge plates of pasta, two big bread buns, and a full plate of appetizers. It was amazing how much food it was for the price, and we didn’t have to eat dinner because of it.
After lunch we decided to make our way to the hostel. The hostel was situated in a bay about a half hour outside of the actual city, on a bluff overlooking the Tyrennian Sea. After washing some clothes by hand (because the washing machine at the hostel was broken) we headed down to the sea. It was way to rocky, cold, and windy to think about getting in, but we soaked our feet and took pictures of the gorgeous water and bay. It was definitely my favorite hostel so far, just because its location was so beautiful, and maybe also because they had wifi so that we could post some updates as well. I’m sad it was too cold to get in the sea, maybe sometime while we are here it will be warm enough (it certainly was in Milan, Bergamo and Padova the first few days!)