Travel Tuesday: Palermo, Sicily

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe stomping ground of the Mafia, full of food and culture, Palermo is a great city to spend hours wandering around and exploring. I have visited this coastal town in Sicily a couple of times, and each time found new places to explore and new cafes to visit, you can tell where my priorities lie.

There are dozens of churches across the town, some are huge and stately with enormous grounds and others you would barely know are there until you stumble in through a dark wooden door and see the incredible grandeur inside. It’s definitely worth having a look inside any of the churches you come across, assuming you are not disturbing a service, as the detailed artwork and that classic waxy church smell are completely consuming. Many of these churches also provide detail of recent events, some of which are fascinating accounts of the Mafia’s movement through Sicily. I became completely obsessed with this as I wandered through Palermo; as the Mafia seemed so much like a cinematic device of classic movies and not a real group that affects real lives.

An Italian friend of mine made me promise to buy cannoli whenever in Sicily and you are spoilt for choice in terms of cafes to purchase one! These sweet treats are delicious and you can’t get more authentic than buying one in Palermo!

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Being as obsessed with music and theatre as I am, I had to visit the Teatro Massimo which is an enormous theatre in the centre of the city. With grand columns and an enormous domed roof it is an impressive structure, even before you look inside and discover all the talent that has walked the halls of the Teatro Massimo. You can take a tour around the theatre during the day and, assuming that rehearsals aren’t taking place on the main stage you get to see the entire building in a sort of eerie silence. If you’ve ever visited the Royal Opera House and experienced how frantic it is backstage and how calm the house can be then you’ll know what I mean!

The food in Sicily is incredible, and if you’re brave enough to dodge the Vespas and Fiat 500s that swarm the back roads there are some lovely little places to try. Food and drink isn’t horrifically expensive in the town, and there are hundreds of little Italian bakeries to grab a pick me up from.

As you wander around town you’ll see, and no doubt be hollered at by, horse and cart men. I am personally very sceptical of this kind of trade, as I’m not confident of how the horses are kept (although they all do look immaculate) and I’m not comfortable with the idea of one horse lugging my entire family through the streets as people honk their horns at them. However, if this is your kind of sightseeing, don’t be afraid to do a little haggling with the blokes on the street and you could land yourself a good deal.

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The architecture of the city is honestly magnificent, even if you’re not always completely into buildings, there’s something so impressive about how these intricate churches and cathedrals have been woven into the busy and narrow streets of a typical Sicilian town. There are plenty of open top bus tours, and if you’re cheeky you can grab a map of the tour routes and then take yourself on a completely free (minus the cost of a coffee and cannoli!) walking tour around the sights. Don’t be put off by some of the narrower streets, and don’t be fooled by the somewhat raggedy facades to some buildings – inside there might be magic! Plus, at any given moment you can strike a pose and take a few photographs pretending you’re in The Godfather.

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