The art of puppetry has a long history in Sicily. Since the Middle Ages, puppet shows have been one of the island's most popular forms of entertainment. Thanks to the advent of television and radio, the shows are less important than they once were, but Palermo still boasts a few places to catch a performance. We visited the Teatro Ippogrifo, near the Quattro Canti, and had a blast with a story that was loud, funny and surprisingly violent.
Cefalù numbers just 13,000, but its population balloons in the summer. The town is one of Sicily's finest beach resorts and attracts sunbathers from all over Italy and Europe. From what we've heard, it's unbearable when crowded. And although we found the streets empty in December, the emphasis on tourism was abundantly clear. €3 cappuccinos and stores hawking magnets and postcards to phantoms.
Thinking about Sicilian food nearly always sets the stomach to growling. Perfectly-baked pizzas, al dente pasta smothered in a rich ragú, fried arancine, swordfish filets, cannoli, pani c'a meusa. Mmmmm... Hold on, wait just a second. That last one, I don't recognize that. "Oh no? Well then, my friend, we must educate you. Pani c'a meusa!"
Palermo's football team plays in the top flight of one of the world's best leagues, Italy's Serie A. In the last few years, U.S. Città di Palermo has become one of the more feared sides in the country. This season, they had won all five games at home, in the Stadio Renzo Barbera. We went to a Sunday afternoon match against Fiorentina to see if they could continue the streak.
Set atop a mountain overlooking Trapani, in Sicily's northwestern corner, the town of Erice has a history rooted in mythology. We spent a few hours getting lost on the uneven stone roads and tiny alleys which curve senselessly about the town, and felt as though we'd stepped back in time. If only the weather had played along.
One of the top sights in Palermo is the Norman Palace, on the western extreme of the old city center. A massive complex built in the 11th century, the palace is still used today as the seat of the Sicilian government. Tourists are allowed in, but understandably restricted to a small section.
One of the stranger fruits we've encountered in Palermo has been the cactus pear, which is sold at just about every market stand in the city. Fico d'India is native to Sicily, despite its name, and a popular snack with Palermitani. We had to try it.
One of the most photographed objects in Palermo is the giant, snow-white fountain in the Piazza Pretoria, just southeast of the Quattro Canti. The fountain sits in front of City Hall and has become a symbol of governmental corruption. Disgust with Palermo's legendary malfeasance, in addition to the fountain's abundant nudity, are the two reasons that Plaza Pretoria is known among citizens as the Plaza of Shame (Piazza della Vergogna).
In the 18th century, the elite of Palermo chose Bagheria as the place to escape city life and erect their villas. These remain into the present day, and give the town of 55,000 a peculiar feel. Gorgeous Baroque and Neoclassical villas with poetic names like Palagonia, Spedalotto and Serradifalco are spotted throughout the town, hidden among ugly newer constructions thrown together in the post-war years.
One of our Palermitano readers recently told us that although the most famous nickname for the city is la Felice ("The Happy One"), Palermo is more well known around Sicily as la Licca ("The Glutton"). I think both apply. As I munch down yet another cannolo, I am both happy and gluttonous. Yes, I know I've got cream smeared across my face and cookie flakes on my shirt. So what? BURP