I’m a selfish traveller. So I organise a Birthday trip to a dear person of mine – that I get to travel too – and then realise he’s super busy and I start to stress about whether we can make the whole trip or not. We managed, but in the lights of these facts Sicily wasn’t such a glamorous, easy-going get-away like 99 per cent of the (travel) bloggers are having. And since I’m an honest one I tell you that Palermo didn’t charm me too much, at least in the start. I have been to Taormina and southeast Sicily once during the spring, and that was a beautiful experience with the blooming flowers, yellow lemon trees and resting Etna. But this city escape felt like a mistake first. But sometimes the third (last) day tells the truth – and in the end I felt melancholy to leave this grey city.
Yes. Two words – HISTORY and GREY – would describe Palermo to me. The capital of Sicily region surprises you when you start hearing the history about it. If you want to hear – after all it is a famous “don’t hear, don’t see, don’t speak” spot since it used to be the predominant city of the Sicilian mafia. After the mafia wars of the 80s the “God Father famous” Corleone took over. But when forgetting mafias and mafia wars, Palermo like the whole Sicily has also been a scene for the big reversals and foreign influences. Sicily has been conquered countless times and somehow you can taste and touch the happenings there. In concrete terms it has a significant amount of kebab places and special setting of historical monuments.
Agrigento – very old greek temples in Sicily
We went to one of them. A two hours train trip from Palermo there is a city of Agrigento, which is famous for its Greek temples. In the Valley of Temples there are couple of classical Greek settings that date back to centuries B.C.! There used to be a Greek city. It always feels mind-boggling to be around the rich history. Is it only me who is just “wow”. I mean these are just stupid ruined Doric columns but still they feel so cool. Besides I haven’t been to Athens yet. Some say though that these temples are good to compete with the Greece ones. During the day the temples and the nature around looked nice. In the evening it must be really beautiful out there. By the temples there is also a botanical garden, which is full of all the citrus fruit trees and it’s a nice spot to have a picnic. What is great, you can admire beautiful Sicilian landscapes on the train trip too.
Stanze al Genio Tile Museum in Palermo
In Palermo a tile museum made our day. Can you imagine? A tile museum! Since in Malta we don’t have that much culture, this was meant to be a culture trip. On the top of the Agrigento columns ‘Stanze al Genio’ tile museum was a boomer! Since we are both visualists – the B-Day hero, my WWW-photographer Antti and myself – we were really excited in this small private owned museum that was four rooms full of geometrics, patterns, details and ornaments. Such a sympathetic place and a lot of eye candy. Over three thousand tiles were all unique and handmade from different eras and all of them were used as a floor decorations in the wealthy homes and buildings – to show the money. Rich men had ordered them from different artists who usually worked in a group of 7–15 depending on the work. Largest rooms might be tens of metres wide. Human faces were avoided to put on the floor because nobody wanted to stamp on people. Dante Alighieri was an exception. Maybe he was found immortal because I could spot his face on the tiles. Isn’t this interesting?! I highly recommend this cute little museum and always want to support this kind of places that are built with passion and love without any support or extra income. The owner had started collecting the tiles 35 years ago when he was 11 years old. I could call this real calling. Beautiful things in life! Luckily nowadays even a normal people can afford tiles in the bathrooms. But the questions; whose tiles are unique and handmade! Hahaa, here’s a house decoration idea for you!
Rough street scene but start exploring!
The other word I used for Palermo was grey. That’s how I saw it. At first I thought it’s a mirthless city because it was hard to spot the pearls. There were quite boring looking main streets and nothing really spotted out – before we realised to start just exploring randomly!!! That’s how you usually end up to some very cool places; you can feel the decadence of history. When we did the basic city strolling and I found the main attractions quite bland, what was super with Palermo were the ragged allows with their swag and controversial graffiti. Small pubs were charming and beer was tasty. Prices were very reasonable. But I found it surprisingly hard to find great places to eat in advance (for example I couldn’t find a single advice online that would have given me some info of a great brunch place – it seems they don’t have a concept of breakfast/brunch, everything’s just yeast and wheat), and the other challenge is that something like 80 per cent of the places are paying “pizzo” the mafia extortion money / protection tax. If you want to be ethical instead of doing the “three apes”, you support the anti cause and check this map beforehand or browse through whether there are ‘addiopizzo’ – means goodbye pizzo – stickers on the door of the restaurant/shop/accommodation. It’s very hard and frustrating, but just think about how it is for the locals. Have the strength supporting mafia free Sicily!