We were up bright and early for our 9.35 a.m. train to Sicily’s capital, Palermo. After checking out of our apartment we trundled our luggage along to Catania Centrale station and purchased two single tickets at a cost of €13.50 each. There is no need to buy the tickets in advance as the tickets remain the same price on regional services. It was necessary to take a rail replacement bus as far as Enna station but this didn’t cause any problems as our journey was on board a luxurious air-conditioned coach. Our Palermo train was ready to depart and as few passengers were on board, there was ample room for our luggage. The rail journey was comfortable passing olive groves, vineyards and fruit orchards along our way. There were few stops but our train suffered a 34 minute delay into Palermo Centrale.
It was then just a 15 minute walk to our apartment which was tucked away in a peaceful square in the heart of the historic district. Check-in was actually from 3.00 p.m. but when our host learned that we would be arriving at lunchtime, he kindly arranged to meet us earlier and welcome us to Palermo.
Our chosen apartment was even nicer than on its photos, being extremely spacious and having stylish furnishings. After quickly unpacking we were eager to start exploring the city. Palermo is situated on the north western coast of the island and was founded by Ancient Greeks and eventually became part of the Roman Empire. In the 9th century the Arabs took control and converted its churches into mosques. The Norman period followed with the French and Spanish also passing through leading to numerous combinations of architectural styles.
A warren of narrow lanes, along which it would be easy to get lost if it weren’t for the wonders of Google Maps led us to the Fontana Pretoria. This majestic fountain was built by Cannillani in Florence in 1554 but was transferred to its present home, taking pride of place in front of the Palazzo Pretoria since 1574. The large central fountain is the focal point of the square and can be accessed via a balustraded stone staircase.
Just a few steps further along the road and we had arrived at Piazza Vilgliena which is more commonly referred to as Quattro Canti (four corners) because of its four 18th century palaces. The square lies at the junction of two of the most prominent roads Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele and is extremely beautiful. It’s probably one of the busiest spots in the historic centre with groups of people on walking tours and individuals like us, pausing to admire the exquisite architecture.
Continuing on our way, we came across the central library, it’s steps leading to an elegant quadrangle, geometrically paved with cobblestones. The library itself is off to one side and although we politely enquired if we could take a look inside, we were not permitted to enter. This was a little disappointing as I have a fondness for books and libraries and it would have been so nice to add Palermo to the list of libraries I had visited. Visitors can climb to the balcony of the quadrangle and partially walk around the perimeter for views of the arched walkways below.
Close by lies Palermo Cathedral (The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary). This imposing church was constructed from honey coloured stone from 1185 and is one of the oldest places of worship in the city. It is characterised by many different architectural styles due to additions made since its early days. There is no charge to take a stroll in its attractive gardens or for visiting the beautiful cathedral. Please note that most churches in Sicily close between noon and 4.00 p.m, so plan visits for mornings or late afternoon to avoid disappointment.
A wander around the nearby streets followed and along to the Ballero open air market where some of its stall holders were just starting to pack up for the day. Thankfully, we still had an opportunity to buy some fresh fruit and vegetables before stocking up on further supplies at a nearby supermarket, The market was just a stones throw from our accommodation so we intended to visit again one morning when it was operating fully.
Rather than dining out on our first evening in Palermo, we opted to eat on our spacious shady terrace which came equipped with a large table and chairs. I prepared a simple meal of poached salmon salad which we ate with some freshly baked bread and, of course accompanied with a bottle of Sicilian wine.
After bowls of delicious strawberries topped with cream we relaxed awhile with cups of coffee and then enjoyed a late evening stroll through the narrow labyrinth of streets near our apartment exploring our new neighbourhood.
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