Arrivederci, Palermo!

Our first few minutes in Sicily were spent navigating the streets of Messina, after having arrived on a ferry from the Italian mainland. Honking cars, crazy motorbikes and messy urban lawlessness, it was an immediate taste of the chaos which would accompany our 91 days in Palermo; an antipasto to the capital’s main course of noisy pandemonium. By the time we had gotten through Messina and onto the highway, my nerves were frayed and patience spent, but the wonder and excitement of finally being in Sicily remained intact.

This mixture of positivity and negativity was a sensation I would soon become accustomed to. Over the course of our months here, Palermo revealed itself to be equal parts fascinating and obnoxious. Gratifying and infuriating. Gorgeous and revolting. It’s destabilizing; for months, my mood has been on a pendulum swinging between outrage and joy, happiness and frustration. Without much effort, this could be one of Europe’s great cities. But instead of addressing its problems, Palermo seems to have accepted them as an immutable part of its fabric. The Mafia? That’s our thing. Rubbish on the streets? Shrug. Ridiculous gridlock? That’s life.

Palermo’s problems are real, and there’s no denying the damage they cause to the experience of visiting, and to the everyday lives of its citizens. But Palermo has so much to offer that you can look past the negatives, even if you can’t wholly forgive them. There’s so much history here, and so much culture. The food is so incredible, the markets so lively, the people so welcoming. There are so many incredible churches and palaces. So much art. Great shopping. Fun bars and cozy trattorias. No, to concentrate on the negative aspects of this city would be to completely miss the picture.

We had a blast in Palermo. From the day we arrived until now, we’ve hardly rested. It’s not easy for a city to entertain a newcomer for three full months, but Palermo never ran out of ideas. The first month was spent running from church to church, museum to museum, like tourists on crack. During the next, we settled down into the rhythm in the city, and discovered the richness and diversity of the Palermitano lifestyle. And in these final weeks, we’ve been exploring both the regions around Palermo, and those further afield. For an island about the size of Vermont, there is an astonishing amount to see in Sicily. Overwhelming.

So, as we shut the door on another chapter of our lives, it’s not surprising that I find myself with mixed emotions. I’m excited to be rid of the insane traffic, for example, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to say “farewell” to the arancini. That might break me. In any case… Palermo, our experiences in Sicily, the new friends we’ve made here, the vespas we’ve dodged, the amazing food we’ve eaten and the things we’ve seen… I don’t think we’ll be forgetting any of it, any time soon.

After a two-week break in the USA to visit friends and family, we’ll be on to our next destination: Sri Lanka. From February to May, 2012, we’ll be exploring another of the world’s most fascinating islands. Keep up to date with what we’re doing, by following us on Twitter, Facebook or RSS. Thanks for reading!

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This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Dalene

    Quite an adventure it would be, to live in Palermo for 3 months. (Two days was enough for us – haha!)So glad we got to meet you guys there, and look VERY forward to reading about what you find in Sri Lanka. When I was a very young girl, I signed up to get a pen pal from Sri Lanka, just because I liked the name of the country. Bitch never wrote me back, so that’s all I know about it. 🙂

    1. Juergen

      We are very happy that we got to meet as well. Give us the address of the pen pal and we will make sure that you will receive a letter, hehe.

  2. Federico

    Your description of Palermo, and the mixed reactions it arouses in me (and in many of my fellow concittadini) is just perfect. Sorry you’re leaving us! Did you find out Prezzemolo to bring home some of our delicatessen? 

  3. joel jason

    hi guys, i’ve visited sicilia several times and have been following your experiences there. your “wrap-up” arrivederci is beautifully written. i agree with everything you’ve said. i love sicilia, and especially palermo, and can’t wait return once again. part of my heart lives in sicilia. i’m so glad that you guys “got” it. if you’re ever in n.y.c. shoot me an email and we can meet up and chat about our respective impressions and experiences on one of the world’s most compelling islands. sincerely, joel jason

  4. Antonio

    come back soon to visit us, guys! You are always welcome………and good luck!Antonio

  5. Massimiliano

    I’m from Palermo, where I still live, and let me say: I could not better describe my town. Even the worst things, which unfortunately are also the most “advertised”.And so, in spite of the great cultural heritage of the city, its wealth of folk traditions and gastronomy, its hospitality, I find myself explaining to many tourists that no, we do not go armed, and I feel safer to go around Palermo at night rather than in many other European cities or in the U.S.That’s life, a Palermitano would say !  😉

  6. luciano

    Too bad I just figured out this blog today… I would have enjoyed to meet you guys! Anyway, thank you so much for what you have done: telling the truth about this beautiful, damned, city.Luciano

    1. Juergen

      It would have been fun to meet and maybe we will be back in Palermo sooner or later. Happy you are enjoying our blog.

  7. Aurora

    Palermo is all, it is all together. It is the weaving. 
    The intertwining are artist’s canvas threads, are the streets that make up the city, are the arteries of the heart. 
    Also woven can be the threads of a skein of wool that has not a beginning, can be waste piled on the roadside, can be fumes that choke the heart. 
    Palermo has been mine for 25 years. 
    She is a beautiful and cruel bitch and I’ll love her forever.Thanks 4 ur post (and blog), it’s amazing!

  8. alessia

    Io miei complimenti per il lavoro svolto. Sono palermitana e ne sono orgogliosa. Nonostante le tante facce non sempre apprezzabili della mia città non potrei scambiarla con nessun altro posto al mondo. è un “odi et amo” senza confini…Buona fortuna per il vostro prossimo viaggio! Vi leggerò di certo..Alessia.

  9. Giuseppe Fallica

    I’ve known this blog through the article in the newspaper “La Repubblica”. It would be nice if you collect all these posts in a “paper book”. It would be a very interesting tourist guide!

  10. mauro

    your description of Palermo is absolutley perfect ! it was a Real Town in the past, it preserves a lof of energies and maybe in 200 years it will be again the Ziz (how arabians called this town) the flower.good job !

  11. Simona

    great job guys!

  12. shari

    I will be travelling througout Europe in April/May of 2012. I’ve never travelled abroad before. I’m from Canada. This will be my first adventure. Once I reach Italy, I am starting out in Bologna, flying down to either Reggio Calabria or Pelermo and then working my way back up to Milan by train.I’m trying to keep my budget at a minimum.  I am very excited about visitin Pelermo. I am an avid photographer. I want to capture the heart of Pelermo as well as the scenery and wildlife. Any suggestions for things to see, places to go to photograph in Pelermo would be greatly appreciated.And if you can suggest clean but inexpensive lodging would be perfect. thank you.Shari

    1. Mike Powell

      Hi Sheri! For tips and ideas about what to see in Palermo, just check out our pretty comprehensive set of articles. We wrote about 100 posts about the different things Palermo has to offer, including some ideas about accommodation. Hope you have a great stay in the city… you’ll definitely come away with some great photos!

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