Europe 2012: Palermo/Sicily

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I want to preface this by saying that word made it to our ship about the devastating news from Connecticut yesterday afternoon.  And my heart aches for each of those precious families and friends who lost loved ones.  From the one quick glance I had at Facebook, it is amazing to see the ripples that tragedy can have, but also the ripples of hope and encouragement.

I will offer that as one of the few Americans on board our ship, it has been amazing to see the deeply compassionate response from the international community here.  Tears were shed with no concern for borders or distance, and prayers of all kinds are being lifted up.  It has been humbling to see, and I would even say it has been a model to me for how I hope to stand alongside other countries in their own moments of grief and heartache.

Still, my thoughts and prayers have constantly been back home today.  Hug close those that you love, and be sure to thank a teacher too.  :)

On a somewhat lighter note, to continue with this travel journal, we had a fun day yesterday in Palermo (on the island of Sicily).  I ended up spending the day with my friend Cinzia (pronounced “cheen-tsia”) and her mother, and two more Italian friends.  My Italian is pretty much limited to the diction I learned singing opera in college, and Italian cooking.  But between my Spanish and some of the limited English that Cinzia knew, we creatively bridged the language barrier and had a really fun day exploring the city and asking all sorts of questions about one anothers’ cultures.  (Amongst other things, I learned that Italians really do say “Mama mia!” constantly…with gusto!)  The big bonus of traveling with locals, though, was getting to go a bit off the beaten path.  They immediately suggested we forego the organized tour and hire a taxi driver to take us around his local favorites.  So we did, and it ended up being such a great day!

So without further ado, I give you Palermo!

Upon our arrival in Palermo, there were many beautiful buildings, a gorgeous sea, and all sorts of Italian townspeople to see.  But all I could stare at were these fabulous horse “horns”!  (Ok, not sure what to call them — ear muffs?  hats?)  They came in all different colors and fabrics, and pretty much made my day.  :)

One of the many perks of traveling with this group was joining along on their daily coffee routine.  Before we went anywhere, they spotted a local literal-hole-in-the-wall “bar” (so it was labeled) and we all crammed inside to grab some espresso and a cream-filled pastry, which they divided into five small bites for us.  It definitely made the size of my favorite large coffee and normal-sized scone (5 times the size of this “bite”) in the US come into a little perspective!

After coffee, we found a local taxi driver to take us around to some of his local favorites.  He insisted we stop here for photos, but I somehow never figured out what it was.  #touristfail

The first cattedrale we visited was the Duomo di Monreale.  Stunningly beautiful.

The lighting and creativity with the tiniest details was so inspiring.  Made me long to hear a choir echo throughout the space.

Another interested part of traveling to all of these cathedrals with a crew of devout Catholics was learning a little more about all of their various customs and traditions.  (I repaid the education by translating the names on Willow Tree ornaments that they liked in the giftshop.  No Hallmark there.)  :)

Slowly we began climbing higher and higher…

Next we visited the Cattedrale di Palermo.

Cinzia and I outside!

Inside, the cathedral was a pretty fascinating mix of architectural styles.  Built to replace the Muslim mosque back in the 12th century, it was pretty amazing to see how the church illustrated the history of the area afterwards.

Afterwards, a big hit with the locals — a 600 year old tree!  (This was great in helping me explain the “willow tree” concept!)

Climbing higher.  Seriously can’t get enough of these gorgeous blue skies.

One surprise to me was seeing wild cactuses (cacti?) growing everywhere.  A big conversation ensued about how in the world a food blogger had never tried a fico d’India (prickly pear)…

Our ride, quite adept at zipping up and down steep hills.  Eek.

My favorite place of the day was the Santuario Santa Rosalia.  Located outside of the city, this church is dedicated to one of the patron saints of Palermo — a young woman who chose to leave a life of luxury and escape into the caves to live a life of worship and prayer.

So this church is literally built into a cave on the hill.

Absolutely breathtaking.  The pictures do not come near to doing it justice.

It is kind of hard to tell from the photos, but there are metal plates lining all of the walls and ceilings in the coolest pattern.  We all initially thought it was just an artistic layout, but it turns out that it is actually a complex system for letting tiny, very slow drops of water from the mountain drip into this small pool.

Completely mysterious and lovely.

From the cavernous heights to the path where we walked, there was such thoughtful beauty all around.

If I understood their translation, Rosalia is also a patron saint of some sort for women who struggle with infertility.  So women from near and far come to pray for children.  And if they do conceive, they often bring back momentos from their children’s infancy or childhood to offer thanks.

Aftewards, our stomachs were all growling, so we whizzed back down the mountain for lunch.

Apparently Palermo is a great place for “arrancini”, and Cinzia, the crew and I were excited to try one of the local’s favorite places.

Most of the time, if I’m lucky, I get the Trader Joe’s little 1-inch rice balls.  But not in Italy!  Yeah, that big out-of-focus ball — or what’s left of it in the picture — was my lunch.  Crazy good.  And messy.

Afterwards, more coffee.

Then back to our lil’ boat.

Even though I was still full from my day of carbs, it is impossible to resist Costa’s amazing dinners.  Here was Echo working on her appetizer…

My menu choices for the evening included “la bresaola con formaggio caprino”, “la zuppa con cannellini, gambretti, rosmarino e olio all’aglio”, “il risotto ai fruitti di mare del Mediterraneo”, “la tagliata di filetto di manzo con rucola e grana” (pictured above), “insalata mista”, e “selezione di formaggi”.   Basically, a fantastic Italian dinner followed by a dessert that came out with a flourish of popping sparklers and champagne!  (Missed it with my camera!)

Cheers to a great day in Italy.  Next up…Roma!

Disclaimer: A special thanks to Costa Cruises for sponsoring my time on the Costa Pacifica. All opinions in these reviews, as always, are my own!

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4 comments on “Europe 2012: Palermo/Sicily”

  1. wow! my favourite from your day was also the cave cathedral — amazing!

  2. also – i love that you bypassed the ‘official’ tour and went on your own adventure with italians :)

  3. I’m so jealous right now I’m getting a little faint. heh heh.

    FYI you can find prickly pear in most KC grocers that have a significant Hispanic population. Better get some recipe recommendations while you’re there. :)

  4. I am loving reading through your adventures! Beautiful photos!