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.
Before we moved to Palermo, we had the great fortune of making contact with the guys behind Visit Palermo. They helped us find an apartment, gave us a ton of advice, and have assisted our stay in the city in too many ways to count. And not only are they incredibly helpful; they're about the coolest people you could hope for.
Palermo is the kind of loud, in-your-face city about which it doesn't take long to form strong first impressions. The beauty, noise, trash, history and lively street life don't hide themselves, and I suspect that our initial feelings about the city will not change a lot over the course of the next couple months.
Although their presence is practically invisible to tourists, the Mafia is very much a reality for the residents of Palermo. One of the most tangible nuisances is the pizzo: the "protection fee" that Sicilian business owners are compelled to pay to the Cosa Nostra.