It’s always fun to wake up and find yourself looking at a new port as the ship eases slowly into the harbour. This happened this morning as we arrived at Palermo, which seemed very close to the ship. I wasn’t feeling too good as the cold which had been developing over the past few days had decided to strike in full force today – cloudy head, streaming nose, coughing – the works. Still, that cannot stop me when there’s a new port to be explored!
We had a quick breakfast and suitably dosed up with anti-cold agents, we headed to the Eclipse Theatre to pick up our tour group for Palermo on your Own – three stops over the morning. However, the traffic in Palermo is both thick and crazy, which makes for very slow journeys anywhere so what I thought would be four hours turned into six hours. We started with a city tour, along narrow and congested streets, full of people, cars, buses and scooters, like most Italian cities. This is a city of 800,000 people, but it feels like a city of 10 million people.
We crawled out of the city to Monreale for our first top to see a cathedral, and arrived along with several other tour buses. An old town, with a lovely square in front of the cathedral, which was build by Norman king William II. This is a cathedral very different from others we have seen, and apparently one of the best examples of Normal architecture in Sicily. Very gold but not in the sense of the ornate gold of Roman cathedrals, but in the artwork and decoration – the tiling was elaborate, colourful and detailed. We sat here for a while just looking, and not terribly disturbed by the plethora of tour groups which kept moving through the space. Two Euro for admission here, because we were with a tour group, otherwise it was four Euro.
Outside, we wandered a little, and decided to get a cup of tea, but not many speak English here, and we still haven’t worked out the ordering protocol but eventually found a small cafe where we order cappaccino and tea – which I learned was tecardo in Italian. The woman who served us was lovely, and when she bought it out, I smiled and said perfect, and she looked very relieved because I think we both weren’t sure I’d ordered what I wanted – but I was happy to accept what I got. I left her a tip – I called it a pain bonus, for having to put up with us tourists who can’t speak much of the language.
We wandered a bit more. It was a lovely old town, but small, and since we weren’t interested in shopping, we headed back to the bus, along with several other hundred tourists. Back on the bus, Alan decided to sit in the front seat, a different place to where we had been sitting earlier, and we were to discover that this was a major sin in the minds of the people who had been sitting there before.
Back into the traffic, and to the Cathedral in Palermo. We passed through Porto Nuovo, a gate in the city wall which was impressive. The cathedral was impressive, as are they all, and we spent some time there wandering and avoiding the clusters of tour groups listening intently through their headphones and looking to the ceilings as their guides point.
We headed back outside and checked out the Dioscesan Museum which looked like it would have been a good place to visit, but we didn’t have enough time. We headed back to the bus and reclaimed our front row seat – bad mistake, as we must have annoyed the previous occupants even more.
The next stop was Mondello, the beach, with promises of the famed Sicilian ice-cream. More crawling through traffic, and then we emerged on to a long straight road through a park, in the right section of which, the guide proudly told us, were foxes and rabbits – okay….that must be cultural because rabbits are treated as vermin back in Australia.
The beach was lovely, the sky blue, the water even bluer, and the ice cream was very good. Here Celebrity gave us a ticket for a free bottle of water from a local bar, which then generated a lot of lunch traffic for them, as people sat and relaxed. We walked along the beach, marvelling at the brown bodies on the beach, lying there to get browner. There was sun screen in use, but the desire to get a tan to this degree is so frowned upon now in Australia that I was surprised – might be because I’m old of course!
The houses here were large and impressive – similar I think to some of the more elite spots on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne. Back to the bus, to discover that the occupants of the front seat had re-claimed it by putting their bag on it. Chuckling to ourselves, we retreated to the very back of the bus for the return journey home. I decided that it must be a British thing that once you sit in a seat, it’s regarded as yours, and that we had committed a very bad social faux pas by taking it away from them. Oh dear….
I was glad to get back to the ship – it had been a long day, and I was now fighting off a sinus headache as well. The tour had not what I had expected, thanks mainly to the traffic which just seemed to zap energy even though we weren’t driving. On the way back from Monreale, we passed a traffic accident with a car and a bike. The car’s windscreen was smashed where the bike rider had hit it, and there were bloody towels on the road. It didn’t look good, and I’m just surprised there aren’t more accidents given the apparent disdain drivers here seem to have for one another’s safety. But, as the tour director had said that morning, Italy is the land of whatever!
Lunch and then paracetamol and sleep – the only way for me to beat the sinus headache. Alan woke me at 6pm, headache just about gone, so we headed down to dinner. Filet Mingon for dinner tonight – absolutely wonderful. Alan was critical of the idea of lobster ravioli but our dinner companions asked for one to try – they brought three. They were large and had lobster pieces in them, so Alan had to eat his criticism. We were seated next to some new people tonight and we talked – well, he talked – about Australia, BBQs, New Zealand and cruising. The tables in Blu are for two, but quite close together, so it is like you are at a long communal table.
We finished the night with a couple of laps around the walking track. Alan watched a horrible French movie about Algeria (with subtitles), and I took more paracetamol and watched as we navigated the narrow Messina Strait between Sicily and the Italian mainland – memories of the Eastern Mediterranean cruise in 2008 when we stopped in Messina surfaced – before I fell asleep.