2 days in Palermo
I am not sure what we expected before arriving in Palermo; maybe a quiet town, certainly busier than Ravello, but for some reason, not the young, lively and vibrant city we landed in on a warm Saturday night. It was our first time in Sicily, and quite a special trip for me because my mother's side of the family is Sicilian.
After taking a cheap bus from the airport - get your ticket inside the arrivals terminal, it will cost you €4 - we ended up on the Via Maqueda at about midnight, and it felt like it was the middle of the afternoon; hundreds of people of all ages strolling the streets, eating ice-creams, drinking beer, laughing, showing no intention of wanting to go home.
Although we were exhausted from our albeit short trip from Naples airport, we checked into our Airbnb and sensed that we had to go out again to feel the spirit of the city. So we proceeded, and thoroughly enjoyed the energy exuding from the streets.
Where to stay
We picked an Airbnb in one of the side alley off Via Maqueda, a long animated street closed to cars during weekends. While we loved the fact that the apartment was so central, we didn't come prepared... for the noise. All night long, we could hear people shouting, singing, scooters roaming and beeping, which made falling asleep quite a challenge. The next day, we bought earplugs and slept like babies.
The accommodation was perfect, spacious, bright, clean, with all the amenities you'd need - including an Italian coffee machine loaded with espresso pods. We also got the lovely surprise to find two cannoli in our fridge for breakfast - the first two of a long series.
What to do
The temperature early May was ideal and we really enjoyed walking everywhere. On our first night, we saw the Duomo di Palermo, a gorgeous cathedral, still open to visitors who were sitting in its gardens or walking on its roof. It was very impressive by night but also spectacular by day too.
The Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel are arguably the most notable attractions of the city. For €12, you can visit the whole palace and enter the golden chapel commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1132 and dedicated to Saint Peter. You'll probably have to queue, but it's absolutely worth it.
We mainly stayed in the Centro Historico, venturing through the Ballaro food market to the Borgo Vecchio.
Where to eat
The cannoli that our hosts bought us were from Costa, one of the most established pastry shops in the city. In case you have never tried them, cannoli are the most famous Sicilian treat, made of a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough, filled with sweet ricotta. Those from Costa cost €3, which is quite expensive but they are massive and the inside of the shell is coated with chocolate, which makes them particularly tasty.
We had one of our most memorable lunches ever in the Trattoria Da Pino, which we stumbled upon in a rough and ready neighborhood in the city. This place is the definition of what my American cousins would call a hole-in-the-wall. Behind a small door, we were intrigued by the agitation that seemed to be happening in this little unassuming restaurant and decided to give it a go.
No menu was given to us upon arrival, and we had to get the help of our table neighbours, proper locals, to understand how things worked there. The waiter gives a couple of options for each of the four courses; antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti and dolci (entree, first main, second main and dessert).
For antipasti, we got the fried sardines, followed by a primi of bolognese and spaghetti con le sarde (spaghetti with sardines), a Sicilian specialty. We ordered some fish as secondi, a local small shallow fried fish whose name I can't remember, served with potatoes. Finally, we were wisely advised to try the feta di cassata, a sort of cannoli cake, with sweetened ricotta encased in a rich buttery cake. With a half of house wine, water and coffee, the bill came to a cool €24.
For dinner, we booked a table at La Casa del Brodo, a century-old eatery located in the centre of the old town. The place became famous for a broth pasta dish which was supposed to cure illnesses during the epidemic that struck the city at the beginning of the 20th century.
We ordered the aubergine pasta and the mussel spaghetti, both absolutely stunning. The mussel sauce, rich in garlic and parsley, was so tasty we ended up dipping all of our bread in an attempt to get every drop of it.
For dessert, we both got the lemon sorbet, which was closer to a granita in texture and was the most delicious ending to this dinner, and probably the best lemon granita I had during the whole trip (and I had a LOT).
After years, or rather decades, of Mafia rule, Palermo recently experienced a rebirth thanks to a new generation of politicians who tried to put an end to the corruption and crimes. Today, it's almost like it all never happened and Palermo now feels like the perfect city for a festive, cultural, tasty and sunny weekend.