Hello, Palermo!

I just got back home to the US after 12 fabulous days in Italy. Although I brought my journal with me, I didn’t write a single word in it. I know, I know. But the days were packed full and by the time bed time rolled around each night, I was exhausted.

For the week I was in Sicily, I averaged 4 hours of sleep a night, so I have a good excuse to be too tired to put pen to paper. So, since I was remiss in documenting my trip at the time, I’ll try to hit some of the highlights here.

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Me on my first day in Palermo.

Going There and Getting There

To start with, I went to Italy – Palermo to be specific – for a work trip. You can read more about my work here, but in a nutshell, my team lives (and works) all around the world, so once every quarter, we pick a spot and meet to spend time together in person. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. 🙂

I normally have trouble sleeping on planes – a most unfortunate condition – and this trip was no different. I had upgraded my seat to economy plus on the aisle but when I found my seat, there was an upset German man standing there. He was 6′ 4″ (the same as my husband) and had been given the middle seat, which was a problem for him since he was so tall. He asked if I would change seats with him, and since I know how hard it is for a man that tall to be comfortable sitting in small places, I took pity on him and agreed, which turned out to be a mistake.

“Keep Your Hands, Feet, Elbows, and Everything Else to Yourself, Lady”

Although he was a nice travel companion for the trip over the Atlantic, I can’t say the same for the little Italian woman sitting on the other side of me. At points during the flight, she sat cross-legged with her feet resting on my leg and generally invaded my personal space throughout the flight.

At one point, she had both hands wrapped around the armrest between us, which means she also had both hands touching my thigh as she was apparently looking  for the button to recline her seat. I felt like saying, “Look lady, there’s either a button there or there’s not – groping the armrest and my leg wasn’t going to make one magically appear.”

Since she spoke no English, I figured that would be a wasted effort and I finally just looked at her and pointed to the armrest on the other side of her seat, where the button was in plain view.

Playing cards on her iPad, she elbowed me frequently as she swiped cards across her screen, but the kicker was when she got up to go to the lav and didn’t wait for me to get up, so she sat/slid across my lap.

Um, no. Just no. Never do that, people.

By the end of the flight, I had had about enough, so when she set her carry-on bag on top of my feet so that she had room to put her shoes back on, I admit that I gave it a vigorous nudge bordering on a kick to move it off my feet and back over where it belonged. I couldn’t have been happier to get off that plane and away from that woman.

I met up with a few of my co-workers in the airport in Rome, where we picked up a connecting flight to Palermo together. I must admit that I’ve gotten spoiled by just getting off the plane and having a driver waiting for me – which I sorely missed when I traveled to Rome on my own after Palermo, but that’s another post.

Overseas Travel Makes for a Very Long Day

I had left my house at about 10 AM on May 11 for a 1 PM flight out of the US and arrived at the Palermo airport at 11:15 AM on May 12. There’s something about the combination of traveling a long distance with the time zone changes working against you that makes it feel like it takes even longer. Between the roughly 16 hours of travel plus the 6 hours time difference, by the time I landed at PMO, I had been awake for about 24 hours.

We loaded our bags into the shuttle and off we went. Many of us noticed that the geography reminded us quite a lot of our stay earlier this year in Cyprus: rocky cliffs rising over an odd combination of arid and tropical foliage looking out to the Mediterranean Sea. We were all curious to see if the similarities would diverge (hint: they did).

“No Mafia”

On the way to the hotel, we passed a cliff that had a spray-painted sign “No Mafia” and of course, we all chuckled. We were in Sicily after all. The driver spoke almost no English, but one of my teammates speaks pretty good Italian, so she translated for us as he told us the story behind the sign. You know what doesn’t really need translation? The onomatopoeic “ba-BOOM-ba!” with an “explosion” hand gesture. Yep, someone blew up a mafioso’s hideout up on the cliff. Thus, no mafia. True story.

The Traffic….Oy, the Traffic

As we got closer to the city, the traffic thickened into a free-for-all where the lines on the road (which weren’t always there) were largely ignored, scooters and motorcycles executed death-defying maneuvers weaving in between cars and buses without concern, and we seemed to narrowly avoid collisions every few minutes, which didn’t faze our driver at all.

Honking the horn is the lingua franca here. In the midst of the cacaphony, if you listen closely, you can sometimes hear a back-and-forth between two horns – a conversation taking place over who is right and who is wrong.

We quickly learned that this is just how Sicilians normally drive and I for one was very happy that I wasn’t behind the wheel. This video should give you a quick idea of traffic there, although it really doesn’t do it justice. We were walking on a side street and on a Sunday to boot, so factor it up a bit by imaging a larger street on a weekday when everything isn’t closed.

Notice the roads are shared by cars, scooters, taxis, buses, pedestrians, and in most places, horse-drawn carriages. The scooter threading its way between moving traffic and parked cars is the norm here.

The Food…Ahhhh, the Food

Once we settled into our rooms and freshened up, we decided that it was a good time for us to head out for a small snack. By this point, it was about 2 PM local time, which means I was working on being awake now for 27 or 28 hours. I was determined to try to adjust as quickly as possible to local time, so I was trying hard not to go to bed. A walk and some food seemed to be just the ticket.

We found a nice little sidewalk cafe and ordered pastries, sandwiches, and of course, coffee. Delicious!

I’ll end this post with a pic of my first genuine Italian cappuccino and the array of yummy pastries we had to choose from. Stay tuned for more posts on Palermo, Ustica, Cefalu, and Agrigento (all in Sicily) and on my adventures traveling solo in Rome for a few days.

Until next time! Ciao!

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By the first day, I had mastered “Uno cappuccino, per favore”, possibly the most useful Italian phrase I know. 🙂

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