November 26, 2014
Our plan this morning is to take the bus to Monreale, a town about 15km from Palermo. The Monreale Cathedral is acclaimed as a stunning fusion of Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman craftsmanship.
We wait over an hour at Piazza Indipendenza for bus 389 which is said to run every half hour. The bus finally arrives and a crush of people approach the door. We push our way in but the bus passengers already inside refuse to move to the back where there is free space. I am jammed in, I feel someone grab my shoulder bag, I cannot move, and I think this is no fun.
My claustrophobia kicks in so I call out to Paul, who is a little further in, "I'm outa here!" I push my way out of the bus to the street. Paul follows. What a relief! Seeing yet another church wasn't worth the aggravation.
The bus stop just happens to be in front of the entrance to the Palazzo dei Normanni which was the residence of the king during the Norman occupation. Today it houses the Regional Parliament of Sicily, which some claim is the world's first modern parliament.
The Palazzo was built in the ninth century though like many of the local buildings it has been enlarged and modified repeatedly as different groups came and conquered. Because of this pattern of being overrun by different groups over thousands of years, Palermo's architecture exhibits a diversity of styles which to my eye blend well.
The highlight of the Palazzo is said to be the Cappella Palatina, the private chapel of Roger II, and it is open to the public today (7€) so we decide to visit.
We sit in front of the entrance to read about the Cappella Palatina. As we sit, a large group of young people who are gathered in a nearby park start marching towards us and i watch as the guard starts to pull the gate to the Palazzo closed.
The guard lets us in then shuts the gate just before the marchers converge on us. I hear the same chant that i heard in Salta last February, "the people, united, cannot be defeated" though in Italian, not Spanish, and of course they could be saying something completely different. If you've done a few demonstrations, anti-war, act-up, etc., you know it. Maybe the protest is related to the socialist posters that are plastered on walls in town.
The Palazzo is beautiful and the chapel is stunning, completely covered in mosaics depicting stories from, you guessed it, the bible. Also nice is that the chapel is empty except for one other couple.
November has proven to be an excellent month for visiting Italy: no crowds plus comfortable weather. Paul and I are once again the only people in our B&b. Taormina, Ragusa, Siracusa, and now Palermo, in the first two we were the only guests, in the last two we were the only guests at check out. Only Sorrento was full. Actually i think a few more guests would be nice as trading travel ideas with others can be useful.
From the Palazzo we walk over to check out the Ballaro market which is spread over maybe ten blocks of Dickensian streets. Dark and dirty looking like much of old Palermo, the Ballaro market consists of block after block of market stalls selling fresh vegetables, cheese, smartphone covers, clothing, every size of fish, long silver eels, underwear, octopus, entrails, cow heads, it just goes on and on. The worn cobblestones are slippery wet in places from the market guys washing away fish bits, and the passages are barely two people wide. Annoyingly, there are the ubiquitous motor scooters squeezing through. Reminds me of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar though the Bazaar lacked scooters.
For dinner we go to il culinario, a neighborhood restaurant, for a wonderful meal. Silvio, the owner, explains each course with Sicilian pride and passion and brings extras such as an additional appetizer and an after dinner sweet wine. The large group dining at the next table exhibits the unreserved passion and physical expression i've come to enjoy observing while in Italy. So different from my family.
Tomorrow night we are on an overnight ferry to Naples and may not have wifi so the next update may be from Frankfurt.
Photos are of Chiese Capitolare di San Cataldo (a 12th century Arab-Norman church), the main shopping street via Maqueda, a poster take off of Breaking Bad, and a ceremony we encountered and evesdropped on after dinner.