Wednesday, 19 October 2011

No mean city

Well, my time in Sicily is ending. I'm on board the boat to Genoa and it sets sail very soon. Internet connection will be limited, and very expensive so I'm going to have ration myself. This will therefore be a photo-less, link-less post until I get the chance to edit and update it back on dry land! Please bear with me, normal service will be resumed in due course.

Rather than try to pack too much into my last day in Sicily, I forewent the opportunity for an out of town excursion and decided instead to leave the day free for aimless wandering. Not entirely aimless – I had three objectives in mind. And I achieved all three of them, I'm pleased to say. But I'm racing ahead...

Unfortunately, I'm not quite in tune enough with Palermo yet to be able to know where the best places to just sit and savour the atmosphere so most of the day was spent on my feet. I did find a couple, however – in front of the fantastical confection of Norman, Arab, Gothic splendour that is Palermo Cattedrale, and catching the evening sun (and skateboarders) in the Piazza Politeama. But even with all the walking, it's been a great day – and a great end to a fabulous visit in this most surprising of cities.

I confess, as regular readers will know, I did have misgivings about coming here. Everyone I spoke to, every guide book I read seemed to warn against Palermo. There were sharp intakes of breath and raised eyebrows, suggestions of alternative places to go and looks of pity when I explained I'd already booked my hotel. But I'm really glad I stuck with my plans and came here. It's been by far the best bit of the holiday, and I definitely want to come back to this wonderful, shabby, gritty, tumble-down, lively, beautiful city.

Sitting in front of the Cattedrale today, with the late afternoon sun warming the honey coloured stone, I was amazed at how tranquil it actually was – if you ignored the backdrop roar of the traffic inches from my back that is. If this were Rome, there would have been hordes of tourists – and those who prey on tourists – all around me. I would barely have been able to move for tours, and I certainly wouldn't have been able to take my time to enjoy the place at my own pace. I know it may be sacrilegious, but I wish I'd given Rome a miss and spent more time in Sicily. I've enjoyed it far more!

The morning was a strange juxtaposition of everyday life – in the form of Mercato del Capo, and high society – in the form of the grand opera house, Teatro Massimo. The Mercato was very down to earth and very real, no dispensations or accommodations for tourists. In fact my shoes probably still have a slight whiff of fish about them from the run-off from the melting ice. Sadly, I don't have any photos to share of the market – it was so everyday that it felt intrusive and wrong to take photos, so I didn't. You'll just have to take my word for how lively and colourful it all was. The only photos I did take were of a stunning church that just appeared in my line of sight between 2 stalls and the maelstrom of the market. Beautiful stuccos and frescos right there amid the chaos and the clamour.

I wandered at will, taking whichever street seemed most interesting at the time and not really caring where I ended up, trusting my feet and Palermo to see me safe to the other side. It reminded me of a game Mum and I used to play when we were out in a strange place in the car. We'd drive to a junction, choose a direction at random and see where it took us. Truly, there and back to see how far it was.

Wandering the market like that took me through all its departments – food, homewares, toys, haberdashery, clothes. It really is true that Palermo residents live their lives in the open.

And then it was time to visit the Teatro. I'd been in the morning to take the tour and was advised to come back 'after 12' because rehearsals might have stopped by then and I would be able to see the auditorium. They hadn't, but I think that was probably a good thing – firstly, there were only 2 of us on the tour so it was like a personal visit, and secondly, we got to hear what it would be like to go to a performance there. It truly is an amazing place – as stunning from the inside as it is from the outside - and the sound was bellissima. It's the 3rd largest in Europe, apparently – after Paris and Vienna, and has the most enormous stage, a magnificent Royal Box, a roof that opens to let in light and air, with the sections designed to look like petals opening in the sun, and – just because the architect could – a perfect echo chamber in one of the salons.

My tour companion was a kindred spirit, solo traveller from Ireland. I never did catch his name but his company was great for the tour – and for the world's slowest queue while we waited to buy our tickets. It was lovely to have someone to chat to, but I'll be honest, my only regret when I said goodbye to him outside the theatre was that I hadn't recommended more places for him to visit. I've really grown to enjoy my solo travelling. There are times when it would be good to have a companion – like tonight, waiting for the ferry to board and not being sure if I was in the right place or not, or when there's something truly amazing to point out, or even just to be able to visit that slightly out-of-the-way destination with the added confidence of someone else there too. If I do travel with a companion again, it will need to be someone who is equally happy to share experiences and to strike out alone on occasions. And if I do, I will need to work hard not to lose the self reliance and independence I’ve discovered in myself these past few holidays. Not be scared to go it alone at times, and to have the company as a bonus, not a crutch.

But, the boat leaves soon and I have a forward facing cabin to watch the view from. So I'll sign off for now.

Arrivederci Sicilia – because I will be back...

1 comment:

Just Frances said...

I'm so happy you fell in love with the city, because I was worried that might not happen after your first accounts of the place. But good for you for giving it a chance!

And I'm pleased you're getting more comfortable with solo travel.

Enjoy the boat ride--can't wait to see some more photos after you get to dry land!