Our first impression of Palermo was that this island has immense natural beauty; tall impressive rocky hills contrasted by the blue of the Mediterranean. It was a really easy flight from Nuremburg. While we waited for our luggage, I got the girls a snack at a nearby vending machine. I was ‘over the moon’ about the vending machine dispensing a snack consisting of a tiny brick of parmesan cheese with saltines (I was expecting parmesan flavored crackers).
It was necessary to rent a vehicle as our destination was too remote for any public transportation. This is our fourth European car rental thus far. The basic cost of the car rentals has alway been extremely low (€5-8/day) but there are a few cautionary things to note:
- Renting a child car seat is ridiculously expensive (€8/per day).
- GPS and WiFi €11/ per day
- The car rental agency will charge a damage deposit in the amount of (€500 for a 1 day rental and up to €1200 for a longer term). This will be reimbursed after the car is returned intact. (Good Luck!)
Despite some very harrowing driving experiences (see driving MAD…rid!), not to mention parallel parking on ridiculously narrow streets between two cars without a centimeter to spare; we have managed to return all of the rental cars unscathed so far (cross your fingers on the fourth). I have noticed that when booking an inexpensive car from Travelocity, Ryanair, etc., the option to buy insurance pops up. Don’t bother. The car rental agency does not recognize this as ‘legitimate’ insurance and still requires you to put up a significant deposit from your credit card. It was explained to us at the car rental agency that this is ‘third’ party insurance and has nothing to do with the car rental agency and in the event of an accident you would have to pay for the damage and later try to recover from this third party… total scam. The very lovely car rental agent then tried to sell me more insurance saying that she would throw in the car seat for free thus saving me €80 if I only I would pay an additional €279 up front. My budget deal had suddenly turned into a very pricey car rental. I refused this dubious offer and opted to take our chances by securing the insurance on the car with the credit card deposit instead. I recalled that when we were at the car rental in Barcelona, we were waiting behind a French couple that was taking ages to complete their rental. We had no idea what was taking so long. The French woman kept waving her paperwork in the air, saying “we already paid for insurance”. They had made the same mistake that we did purchasing the online insurance which the car rental agent promptly rejected.
We had a relatively easy drive from the airport as our Airbnb host had emailed us impecable directions. We arrived too early to check in so we drove into the neighboring village to buy groceries. This is when we first saw it: THE TRASH. Yes, it was everywhere…not litter but entire garbage bags strewn on both sides of the road like a landfill, except on the road. It was an incongruous and disconcerting contrast to see this gorgeous landscape with the huge piles of trash along the roads.
Bernie read a few online posts and found out that the trash problem is not just confined to Sicily but exists pretty much everywhere in Italy. There is a lot of finger pointing in the government, disgruntled employees, graft and corruption and yes, even local mafia that share the blame for the huge trash problem. Even though the residents pay a lot for trash collection services, the actual collection is infrequent and sometimes does not happen at all. So they throw it out on the road. I witnessed this happening on a Saturday morning as a station wagon pulled over to the side of the road and unloaded several bags of trash. It seems some people burn their garbage as I have seen small fires from a distance and smelled the smoke. At our Baglio, there are labeled bins and very specific instructions as to how to separate the garbage, leading me to believe there are those who are conscientious about the rubbish situation.
The Baglio is situated amidst olive groves five minutes south of the Mediterranean. From the upper sun terrace you can see the Sea and the Mountains. This is my favorite Airbnb thus far ($49/night). A baglio is a building (usually stone and masonry) that encloses a large courtyard with one point of entry typically a large wooden door that can be secured. Baglios were originally built to defend against pirates and other criminals. Half of our Baglio has been renovated. The remaining half is home to several cats which the girls have befriended. The renovated farm house has stone tile flooring, exposed log ceilings and a lofted second floor. Substantial tall doors open out to an enclosed walled-in patio. You can reach the rooftop terrace through the lofted second level. A perfect blend of the old and new. If you are curious for more pictures you can see them at this link: https://abnb.me/EVmg/6LybmUFJ0H
After an intense lightening storm which knocked out the electrical power and the WiFi (a generator and emergency lights kicked in); we decided to take a few days and explore Palermo the capital city of Sicily. Bernie read a few blogs concerning the manic driving in Palermo, and we opted to park at the airport and shuttle bus it in, having learned our lesson in Spain. This plan all worked out rather smoothly as we had visited the airport the previous day to connect to Wifi. We were becoming quite familiar with the Palermo airport by this point. We checked into this underwhelming hotel (Hotel del Centro). It was adequate, but somewhat less comfortable than our Baglio. We walked around a bit and ate local desserts on our first rainy night. The next day we had a reprieve from the rain and took a horse carriage ride around Palermo taking in the sights and sounds. See video below.
I picked up a brochure at our hotel listing several high end stores at an outlet mall somewhere near Catania. When I asked at reception how to get there the plump and somewhat surly concierge told me It was too far I couldn’t get there from here an that I should go to a different mall, which he proceeded to pull up on his desktop. To look at the screen I had to pass a little door and step up behind the counter, Elle followed me in the man loudly said “attenzione”, as Elle bumped his security screen, I rushed her out of there and again she bumped the security screen and received another “attenzione”. We are not sure Elle realized she was being admonished in Italian. Bernie would not be detoured by this lack of information. He found out how to travel by bus and we set out the following day. I had some trepidation about the bus station since I had read a post describing the dangerous crossing from the bus drop off to the street. The post read:
“Via Roma is dead ahead of you when you come out of Palermo Central Railway Station main exit. From here, you are can only escape by playing chicken as you dash through the middle of The World’s Fastest-Moving Taxi rank, The World’s Craziest Coach Station, and then Italy’s Most Dangerous Roundabout which is adorned with Italy’s Longest Zebra Crossing. Honestly, it is 40 feet long and actually divides into two separate black and white stripy ends forming a giant Y-shape. Whoever designed this place scored Null Points for road planning, as they entirely forgot the bit about humans needing to get in and out of railway stations. You have to go through this ordeal if you want to get out of the station and into the city. I advise you to do as the locals do, and buy a string of rosary beads to twirl while running, all the time praying loudly to the Madonna for protection and guidance.” https://siciliangodmother.com
We walked to the train station having no trouble at all crossing Via Roma, we have become very adept at crossing busy streets, in Europe. Purchased our pricey tickets (€18/person roundtrip, €90 for our family), and settled in on our very comfortable, lightly perfumed Mercedes Bus for the 1hour 40minute journey to PRADA. It was a very scenic along ride along the northern Mediterranean coast, including countryside, mountainous roads, cows, sheep, sun. The children hardly complained a bit. We had 4 hours at the mall and a mission. I headed straight to PRADA and purchased a gorgeous pair of seriously discounted black high healed leather boots, which are completely impractical for my Maui lifestyle, but make me feel young. After the first stop, PRADA, I visited Versace, Gucci, Dolce and Gabanna, just because I’m in Italy and why not? The girls were playing at the playground during this time. Right next to the PRADA store was this really opulent Italian children’s store called MONNA LISA, this place was over the top, opera style princess dresses, high heeled glitter shoes and faux furs. The girls each came out with an outfit, Elle got the rainbow glitter high heels, she preferred the gold, but they did not have her size. We went back to PRADA, so Scarlet could try on a pair of ballet flats but she didn’t like them, so we left and went to lunch next door. After lunch I went back to PRADA (third time) the sales associates were all smiles and as I checked out with my score €100 Miu Miu sunglasses the woman who sold me the boots smiled gestured 3rd time and made a heart with her fingers. For my first time at PRADA it was worth the effort it took getting there.
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