The train drops us into Palermo late at night. It’s only a short walk from the train station to our hotel, but late nights in new cities always feel a little scary (especially around public transport hubs). Our friend is waiting for us at the hotel, taking our group to five adults and a toddler (otherwise known as six people, unless there is an entrance fee and you want to be sure they don’t charge you for said toddler).
We immediately decide to head out to find somewhere to get a drink. We walk along the dark shuttered streets without seeing anything but just before we are about to turn back we stumble across Quattro Canti (Four Corners), the intersection of two of Palermo’s main roads. Coming across the three stories of fountains and statues lit up amongst the emptiness literally stops us in our tracks.
Just up the road a little further was a little restaurant slash bar where we are able to stop for a few drinks, so long as we promise we don’t want dinner. Given its now past midnight, dinner is most definitely off the cards. However we do decide to come back the next night and have a wonderful meal there (including many more drinks).
We’re staying in an historic hotel, part of an old palazzo from the 1700s. The breakfast room even has an original ceiling painting, which almost certainly increases the tastiness of the simple breakfast offered. The hotel fronts the street by a giant gate, containing a small door to enter through. It makes it feel like you are entering a secret world each time you return. Inexplicably the mother of the hotel manager sits in the foyer all day watching Italian soaps, but waves warmly at us when we check out.
In the morning, a noisy market springs up behind our hotel, selling all sorts of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. We spend much of the morning wandering through the market, stopping to eat whenever we spot something delicious. As luck would have it, we only pass markets with delicious looking food when we have no self catering facilities, we have to satisfy ourselves with imagining the food we would have made from here.
We stop at the Palazzo Reale, the seat of the Sicilian parliament, filled with ornate and over the top paintings. The highlight of the Palazzo is without doubt the Palatine Chapel, superbly decorated in the distinctive Arab-Norman local style. We also check out the cathedral, the Fontana Pretoria (once called the fountain of shame by the locals due to its depiction of naked bodies) and the Teatro Massimo (made famous in the closing scene of the Godfather III).
Before we leave Palermo, we wanted to try one of the local specialties, a spleen sandwich (pane con milza). After some heavy googling, we head to a recommended cafe and are greeted by a giant pot of cooking spleen. It’s not exactly appetising. We opt to have the version without cheese (since Myles has his weird cheese aversion), it’s chewy and has an earthy taste. Despite the fact that Myles and Keelie were sharing, they still had trouble finishing it. Our verdict: non-delicious. (For those playing at home, that’s a food quest completed!).