Sunday, November 6th, 2011

I arrived on the flight from Palermo and decided to take the train. When I arrived at the train terminal in the airport the guy at the ticket office said that the it didn’t go all of the way to the station because there was construction and I would need to take a bus the rest of the way. I thought, “no problem” based upon the assumption that there would be a bus supplied by the train service to take me the rest of the way there. But, NO, when I arrived at a stop where everyone exited the train I went outside with an expectation that a bus would be waiting and there was none. I asked a fellow at the bus stop and he told me to go over there – pointing – and take the #52 bus into Palermo. He was speaking Italian but the accent was so completely different that I had a really hard time understanding him. So I headed off in that direction and there was a store on the corner that was open where they sold tile – like for the bathroom or kitchen. I asked again. This time I could understand better but in the end the couple there looking for tile for their house offered to take me there in their car. I was SO grateful for their generosity. We talked some in the car on the way, where I was from, etc. It seems that everyone has a cousin, sister, daughter or uncle living somewhere in the U.S. In this case it was a cousin in New Jersey. They seemed amazed that it was 3000 miles away from where I live. Such distances are hard to comprehend in a country that is the size of California. It’s really great to be able to talk to people a bit.

They dropped me off somewhere along Corso Vittorio Emanuele and I walked perhaps half a kilometer of more to the hotel, asking occasionally for the whereabouts. Then the real adventure began. The hotel has an ancient elevator since it is on the 3rd and 4th floors so since I was trailing a suitcase I took the elevator up. After checking in I asked at the desk for a recommendation for a restaurant. I had heard that Sicily has great seafood and I was really hungry. She indicated a place nearby but also told me about a place called Da Salvo with modest directions and said that I could always ask, if confused, the whereabouts of Piazza Kalsa since she said that everyone knows where that is. So I walked, and walked, and walked, asking along the way. It was at least a kilometer and probably further but worth the trip. When I arrived there was some seafood displayed outside and a pretty rotund guy said “what do you want” and I just said “I’m hungry”. So he indicated the entrance and there where a few tables that seated a total of 14 people, max.


The waiter came around, no menu, and said “grilled fish?” and I said “whatever you recommend”. I really think that the staff mostly spoke Sicilian rather than Italian so it was all a bit hit or miss. So I ordered a half liter of white wine and a bottle of water and bread appeared. After a while came the plate of fish which included something like a branzino, a largish calamari, two big shrimp and a thin slice of swordfish all grilled to perfection. Another couple, obviously locals, came in and sat at the table close by and had a salad of tomatoes, anchovies and olives, that I envied, followed by a bunch of sea urchins. They offered me one to taste and it is quite different from having it on sushi. Another table had a heaping bowl of steamed mussels. So I had a cannolo, a coffee and a grappa before leaving. I talked to the fat guy a bit and mentioned that I thought that I had seen something about this place in the New York Times a while back and he went inside to retrieve a copy of the article. They’re open tomorrow (only for lunch) so I plan to return and this time talk about the food a bit before ordering. They had a big bowl of small clams that I’ll bet go extremely well with spaghetti and I saw a plate of fried calamari arrive at one of the table. Yum.

So my initial observation of Palermo is that it is energetic, old, run down and has lots of little streets running of in odd directions from the main thoroughfares. I started dinner at maybe a little past 9 PM on a Saturday night and most of the restaurants were lightly populated. As I was walking back at 10 the same restaurants were packed with people. I didn’t go to bed until almost midnight and the street outside the hotel was still jammed with traffic and a lot of people were on the sidewalk. It made it difficult to go to sleep. I need to remember to travel with earplugs.

Update: I returned to Da Salvo for lunch on Sunday. I had the salad, some spaghetti with clams and some grilled shrimp. I really wanted the triglie (red mullet that are terrific but I’ve never seen them in the states) but I think that they ran out before my order was next in line. So after the considerable walk back I’m ready for a nap after my two hour lunch.

The city certainly seems to suffer from neglect as you can see in some of the photos. One shows the typical paving stones of the the area. Many of the streets and sidewalks have these stones and sometimes on the sidewalk they seem dished. I guess if they been there for god knows how long after a few million steps they get worn down.

There are lots of churches around in the city and I went into one this morning. Visiting churches is not really my thing but I figured that I couldn’t be in Palermo and not see a church. The mass was in progress and I felt like an intruder. In the front the decor was almost the definition of baroque and 3 dimensional to boot. Unfortunately when I went back later it was locked up tight.  I was going to find a picture on the web but it is apparently not even a major church here. Maybe when I’m back here I can get a picture.

2 Responses to “Palermo”

  1. Victor Says:

    Thanks for the research. Buona fortuna.

  2. Joe Says:

    Grazie Victor. BTW I was told that it is considered back luck to wish someone luck by saying “buona fortuna”. You should say “in bocca al lupo” – and they are always supposed to respond with “crepi”.

    One other tip that I just learned this morning. Be sure that you have a credit card with raised numbers, etc. For some weird reason mine (which wasn’t so equipped) was rejected as an “electronic card”. Weird but true.


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