Mayhem in the Med: Day 4, Palermo (Sicily)

Posted: June 20, 2011 in Mediterranean Cruise, Paris

Known for the Mafia and olive oil, Sicily is located at the bottom of the boot – Italy, that is. For me, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, and that was impetus enough for my to drag myself out of bed at 8am in the morning. People who know me know that in my opinion doing anything before 9am is quite simply ridiculous, so those of you who are unacquainted with my sleeping habits can appreciate that my getting out of bed for Sicily means that.. well.. I was pretty excited.
I had no tours prepared for today, I simply wanted to soak up Palermo and bathe in the glory of being in Sicily. For that, I needed to fuel myself and my poison of choice that morning was to be found at Lumiere’s in the form of Mrs. Pott’s Stack of Waffles. Mmm.. waffles, cream and fruit for breakfast, chased up by a hot chocolate,  a couple of pastries and an apple juice. I made the mistake of wearing jandals that morning (I wasn’t planning on seeing any churches, so I could wear shorts as well) but at that point I was rejoicing in letting my feet breathe, as it were.

I left the ship and headed straight for the first stop of the Hop On Hop Off Bus (the HOHO Bus) which was located about 5-10 minutes walk from the port of Palermo. It’s always great having a central location to work outwards from, and the Port of Palermo is just that when you take into account the buses that are able to be used in addition to your own two feet. The HOHO Bus was particularly handy, working round key sites of the city, and offering a prolongation of the route out to Monreale which I decided not to pay the extra 5 Euro for. Palermo was enough for the time being.
Line A was the only one working in the morning, Line B was scheduled to start at 14h00, so I hopped onto the Line A bus and scored myself a seat on the top deck with the sun beating down on me so I could work on my tan while I waited for the tour to begin. It only took about 10 minutes for the bus to load up with enough people and we pulled away from the curb, heading out on a circuit that included the Teatro Massimo,  Quattro Canti, the Palazzo Sterri, the Palazzo Reale and a life sized statue of Jean Paul II for sale in a shop window.

I decided to stay on board for the first turn around, simply taking photos and enjoying the sights while I had a good seat on the bus.

In my short time aboard the bus I confirmed something I’d learnt on the short walk to the bus stop – that traffic lights are considered entirely optional for Italians. It makes for interesting times when you’re a pedestrian, and probably even more interesting times if you’re a driver. I was intensely grateful that I could avail myself of a bus driver. Getting to the bus stop I had to brave a parking lot, 4 lanes of roads, a slew of buses and a multitude of cars with absolutely insane drivers. Lucky to still be alive, really.
The second time round the Line A line, I got off at the stop closest to the Capuchin Catacombs, which were (I’d already decided) to be the highlight of my trip to Palermo.  Given my predilection for creepy things such as catacombs, graveyards and tombs, this is altogether unsurprising. What was surprising was that the distance on the map between the bus stop and the entrance to the catacombs was a lot longer than the map suggested, and in the heat it seemed even longer than it normally would have. Including stopping for traffic at several points (fully prepared to give priority to cars/bikes/anything driven by Italians at this point), I think it took me about 20-30 minutes to get to the entrance, and then I went into the cemetery beside it by mistake, as I couldn’t remember the word for ‘entrance’ in Italian and assumed that the grander entrance was the one to the catacombs, as opposed to the small doorway in the corner half hidden by a souvenir stand. A logical assumption to make, or so I thought.

When I finally found my way into the catacombs, after paying the toll (only 3 Euro!!), I descended into the catacombs themselves. I’d expected something like what I’d already seen in Paris, but I was completely wrong in that expectation. Although these catacombs were better lit and with less stairs, they were decidedly creepier. Separated by sections, the creepiest of them all was the children’s section that held anything from infants to children around the age of 10. Most of the corpses were incredibly well preserved, some with skin still hanging from their bones – paper dry by now, or so I imagine. The larger part of them seemed to date from the 1800s, which makes their state even more incredible.  The children’s section held another gem, a corpse which had fallen onto a coffin placed in front of its’ alcove, and looked like it was trying to gnaw through the wood. Lovely.
Another section was for the Capuchin Monks themselves, some of whom still had their ropes with them (symbolizing the Capuchin Order, I believe), but rather looked like they had hanged themselves. After that (depending on which way you wanted to go) you could find yourself looking at academics, doctors, professors, or simply at common citizens dressed in their funeral finery. For those who are more fashion inclined, a visit to the catacombs would be interesting from that point of view, as some of the garments – although they are over 200 years old in certain cases – are excellently preserved.
Unfortunately there is no photography allowed in the Catacombs themselves, but a simple Google search will no doubt dig up some truly unforgettable photos for you. Not recommended for the faint of heart!!

The Cemetery beside the Capuchin Catacombs

My feet were killing me by this time (I now realised the jandals were a bad idea) and so I headed back to the bus, waited around on the sidewalk for a bit, then hopped on and headed back to the port where I swiped onto the ship again and went up to Topsiders for lunch. I made the most of the air conditioning (boy was it getting hot outside) and sat inside, enjoying the oriental style buffet that they’d put on that day. Interesting choice of an oriental buffet while we were in Italy, but alright.. I guess they can’t serve pasta every day!! I made the most of it anyway, as it was the first chinese food I’d had since leaving Orlando.
Lunch didn’t take too long, and so I decided to wander a bit more about the ship, taking in the view from up on deck and working on that tan/sunburn once again. Around 13h40 I headed off the Magic and made my way to the bus stop with the intention of taking Line B and seeing the other side of the city. The best laid plans of mice and men are sometimes thwarted, and I found myself faced with a crowd of ticket bearing people who apparently had priority in boarding the bus. By the time they squeezed themselves on at around  13h55, there was no more room left on the top deck and precious little room on the bottom. I opted to take a ticket and wait around for the next bus in another 40 minutes. I took out my Kindle, scored a space on a nearby bench and relaxed for a bit.
The time didn’t exactly fly by, but I managed to get a good chunk of Jurassic Park read, and finally my number was called. I bounded up to the top of the bus, scored the front seat (by the window and, once more, in the sun) and eventually we pulled away from the curb. Line B was markedly different from Line A – it seemed a little more.. neighbourhood? in content, as there were more gardens, houses and apartments compared to the relatively commercial Line A which featured a strong presence of shops and monuments. Nothing really pulled at me to get off the bus, and so I sat on it for the entire time, took some photos and finally got back off at the port an hour later.

Upon returning to the ship I took a short nap in my room then got myself dressed up for dinner and the show – Villains Tonight! The show was a great way to include all those beloved yet never seen villains such as Hades, Scar, Yzma, Maleficent and the Evil Queen, and afterwards the dinner was AMAZING – really enjoyed the Yachtsman Steakhouse Strip Steak, and chased it up with the Villains Chocolate Delight. Mmm.. Disney, always there with a trusty dessert!!

Facebook Status: “Disappointed. Didn’t see a single Mafioso!”
Photo Count: 276
Total: 711

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