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Palermo, please . . .

by Dario Morgante last modified 2008-06-20 15:10

A holiday in Palermo is a trip through time and culture, where Arab-Norman churches rub shoulders with the Kabul of today . . .

PalermoWhen you step onto the tarmac at Palermo's Punta Raisi airport you'd be forgiven for thinking you had landed in the wrong place. Palermo's airport was renamed the rather clumsy "Falcone and Borsellino Airport" after the two anti-Mafia judges assassinated in the city in 1992. However no-one - not even the pilots - use its official title and, as "Punta Raisi" seems somewhat inappropriate, it's referred to simply as "the airport". And this should tell you something about the mentality here in Palermo...
It's a half-hour trip by train from the airport right into the centre of Palermo. The train, the Trinacria Express, will set you back approximately 5 euros and in case of a strike (or an acute allergy to Italian railways) you can take the bus. The cost is similar and the journey just 15 minutes longer. Either way you'll pass Capaci, where Giovanni Falcone was murdered along with his wife and bodyguards 10 years ago.

Don't ask yourselves if Palermo's worth a visit or not. It's one of those places you just have to see.
The only advice I'd give you is to avoid going there in August or for a weekend as most of the museums, churches and monuments will be closed and you'll find yourselves wandering through empty streets wondering just what is eluding you.
Good guidebooks on Palermo are few and far between but you may have better luck in finding one in the city itself. If you speak Italian you can't do much better than "Palermo e Monreale" (Edizioni Arnone): it's in full-colour and at just 8 euros is excellent value.
What's there to see? Or should we say what's not to see . . .? Start anywhere and you're in for a treat . . . the Liberty Quarter, Martorana church, Vucciria market, Cuba castle, the list is endless. One place you mightn't think of (and which is a real find) is the Botanical Gardens. Opened in 1795 and based on a French design, the gardens are now run by the University. The next time you eat a mandarin orange spare them a thought as the first mandarins in Europe were grown here..

Stay off the beaten track with a visit to the "Altroquando Bookshop", your one-stop shop for alternative culture in Palermo (via V. Emanuele 145). Foodies will love l'Antica focacceria San Francesco, a modern epicurean paradise full of mouth-watering local specialities and from there it's on to the recently restored Teatro Massimo, which wouldn't be out of place in a Batman film.
But remember, if you happen to find the museum doors shut or the custodians even grumpier than your guidebook's warnings, take heart and go for something to eat. Any restaurant in Palermo will serve you the meal of a lifetime!

Petty crime is unfortunately synonymous with Palermo so avoid carrying valuables and keep your money stashed away in a money belt unless you're an adrenaline junkie. The risk of being robbed is particularly high in the old part of town, which as we hinted in our introduction, could easily pass for the centre of Kabul - after the allied bombings! The decrepit state of the historic centre has been the subject of political controversy for the past twenty years or more, but that's another story, which we'll save for another day . . .

Palermo Airport - - The official site of Falcone and Borsellino Airport
Antica Focacceria - - Food and history from the Antica Focacceria
Palermo - Information on Palermo from the Italian State Tourist Board (ENIT)

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