Palermo: Even dirtier than Naples!

Trip Start Jan 06, 2010
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14
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Trip End Apr 30, 2010


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Flag of Italy  , Sicily,
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Time to play some catch-up again! The week before our official Spring Break, our class split roughly in two, with 35 of us going south to Sicily and the rest going north to the Veneto region. We spent the first couple of nights in Palermo, the capital and largest city in Sicily.  Although the weather probably didn't help anything (it rained almost the whole time for the first two days), we were shocked by the amount of garbage that literally lines the streets and spills out from the dumpsters.  Evidently, the Mafia controls waste disposal, so needless to say, the city was pretty filthy.  We did see some interesting places, and the setting itself was nice enough, and a definite break from Roman daily life.
Our entire itinerary for the week was assisted by the Cooperativa Libera, the major anti-Mafia organization that has a fair amount of success in Sicily.  They made sure (somehow) that our hotels, bus driver, and group meals were all free of Mafia connections and "shady dealings".  Basically, that's what the organization seems to do full-time, they only deal with stores and businesses that are Mafia-free, which essentially means that the employees are paid fare wages, the wares are acquired by legitimate, traceable means, and the businesses are legally registered with the Sicilian government (which ironically, is either mostly corrupt or connected to the Mafia anyway, go figure!).  But anyway, regardless of weather and trash, we managed to get out and wander around to see a couple of castles, a few churches, the marina, and a really neat rooftop terrace bar that had a view over the entire city and over the bay.
Our first tour was of the Palazzo dei Normanni, an ancient Norman castle that is still in use today as the seat of the Sicilian Parliament.  The castle itself was more interesting from the outside, with the exception of the Capella Palatina (Palatine Chapel) which is sort of a miniature version of St Marks in Venice in respect to the amount of mosaics that cover all visible surfaces. The rest of the day was give free to explore, so a few of us went to the rooftop terrace of the Gran Albergo Sole for a good view of the city, and then wandered down to the Palermo equivalent of the yacht club.
Day two in Palermo consisted of a visit to a couple more churches, one of which was strikingly similar to the Capella Palatina with all of the mosaic work, and the second was basically an unfinished version of the first, as apparently the money ran out before the mosaics could actually be started. After some more wandering and a brief siesta back at the hotel, we made it over to the Castello la Zisa (Zisa Castle) for another tour. I'll spare you the pictures of the next visit, as we decided to check out the catacombs of Palermo, which are completely open and house over 8000 remains in various stages of decay, dating from the 13th through the 17th century. Not the most pleasant of visits, but certainly unique.
Our final stop after the schedules tours was the bombed out shell of Lo Spasimo, a church that was partially destroyed by WWII Allied bombs. The walls and courtyard are still standing, but the roof has been gone for so long that trees are actually growing in the center aisle. We had to be a little stealthy and take turns distracting the guard on duty, as he insisted that the church was closed even though the hours that were clearly posted said it was open for another 4 hours. Sort of a typical interaction that we've gotten used to in many places in Italy, unfortunately!

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