Italy 2014 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Palermo - Click here for the slideshow (49 pictures)

Finished - September 30, 2014

Travel day (the last one by car!) The more I drive in Italy, the more I wish we had a helicopter. Aggressive drivers are born here and they just get worse with age. Nonetheless, we sped up the coast to Mount Etna and drove one of the scariest roads known to man. Scary in that it was full of hairpin turns. Deadly thanks to the masses of lunatics racing up the mountain on motorcycles. How they don't smash into cars, trees, and each other is a mystery of science that will never be solved.

Mount Etna, an active volcano, provides surreal landscapes. Dark gray lava, with the bones of trees burned so fast that they never char just lose everything green, splays down the sides of embankments for hundreds of feet. Amazing how there's green right up to the edge of the lava fields and small plants growing out of cracks.

Grand Hotel Des Palmes

Palermo is a big city, capital of the island, and on Sunday, reminiscent of New York's West Village. Several main streets were closed to cars and filled with street musicians and vendors. Most of the main stores were closed, so shopping will have to wait until tomorrow morning, but I'm certain that Suzi's search for the perfect pair of Italian shoes will be fruitful. Once again, there's an excess of cigarette smoking. I guess the text on cigarette packs - "Smoking will kill you" - is meaningless, especially if you ride a motorcycle.

Trattoria Biondo

Antipasti de Casa
The first dinner, always a recommendation from the front desk, was excellent and a short walk from the hotel. This restaurant opened at 7pm, a half hour earlier than our reservation and a good thing for us as we were starved. Although the dessert tray was packed with goodies, we passed, opting for gelato instead.



Veal Marsala

Every city has a Duomo and if you don't visit it, you are missing one of the key elements of the location. This one, in the heart of Palermo, comes with a Peugeot advertisement. Are they a sponsor? Does the Catholic Church need the money? Regardless, it's a very big one with very loud bells. Not so fancy inside as the duomos we've seen in Rome and Florence, but hopefully with the money from the ad they can find someone to paint their ceiling and bring it up to snuff.

You must walk the city. You must explore, but keep your map handy, getting lost is both annoying and a waste of time. The guitars and drums are all handmade, and they guy has quite a collection. Notice the drum kit with "Guns and Roses". Palermo rocks.

Just a funny name for a pizza joint, but worth the photo.

On the way to the airport and civilization, we stopped at the beach in Mondello. Finally, after 30 days on the road, we got to soak our feet in the Mediterranean Sea and sit on the sand for an hour or so. Had I known this place existed, we would never had stayed in Palermo. This is the typical resort town. Lots of small restaurants, souvenir shops, guys walking the beach selling towels, floaties, and cold bottles of water. It was peaceful and quiet and the beach was full of locals, not a bloody tourist in sight unless we looked at each other. Of course, the water was way too cold for swimming, at least for us Floridians, but the sand was soft and the sun was hot.

Overall Impressions
  • Palermo is a city and not a very clean one. It's easy to walk into areas, close to the hotel, that were run down, dilapidated slums. Whereas in all other places in Sicily, every driver will yield to you as you cross the street, in Palermo you are at risk. This was my second time here, the first on a tour bus many years ago where our guide said there was nothing worth seeing here. She was, for the most part, correct.
  • Grand Hotel Des Palmes - if this is a 4-Star hotel, then so is Holiday Inn. The exterior, lobby, and breakfast rooms are elegant, the rest of the hotel is in serious need of renovation. Our room featured dirty, stained carpets, peeling paint and wallpaper, a bed with annoying springs, and a bathroom full of mold. The breakfast was among the best, but if that's not a serious consideration, then book another hotel. We did speak to a couple of guests who were in rooms that had been renovated and I guess if we were staying more than two nights, we would have complained and hopefully been switched to one of them. Regardless, first impressions are lasting impressions and we won't be back.
  • People - the rudest and most obnoxious person was the older desk clerk at the hotel. Haughty and annoyed describe him most accurately. Very few people speak English, but once you've seen the Duomo, the fountain, and the market (ugh!), the rest of the time spent in Palermo is shopping and that's essentially one very long street.
  • Driving - the drive here on the Autostrada takes everything out of you. It's an hour and a half of high speed driving through a desert with hills and lunatics that think 80 miles an hour is too slow. We parked the car and walked for the two days we were here. Very heavy traffic most of the time.
  • Getting Around - you'll be walking, but watch out for puddles - they are not water.