21 May 2010

Ciao Bella! - Sicily [Day One]

Having attempted to travel to Sicily three weeks earlier, and the ash cloud thwarting my plans, I was determined to get there. I was only planning to go for the weekend, but as events transpired, I ended up staying an extra day... more on that later.

I was up at 2am to get to Stansted by 4, for my 6am flight. I arrived in Trapani airport mid morning, and jumped on a bus to Trapani city centre. The trip was nice, passing plenty of green grass and olive trees. First impressions were of the city were... mixed. I was wanting to head into the old town, but ended up going in the complete wrong direction - into the more urban part of the city. It was quite dirty - a lot of rubbish, old, run-down buildings. I spotted this awesome apple sign from the 90's

The weather was hot and I was dressed for London. Somewhat lost and overheating, I was getting a bit frustrated. I found a secluded spot and stripped down, then headed back to the bus station to reorientate myself. Once there, I got my bearings and set off. I found a nice park with huge trees which provided some shelter and a spot to rest for a few minutes.

I knew it as soon as I hit the old town - the streets immediately got extremely narrow. There were tiny cars driving up and down that were almost touching the buildings on either side. There was no footpath, so as soon as I saw one coming I had to find a spot to hide in. There were also scooters flying up and down the streets at ridiculous speeds - I was surprised I didn't see an accident.

Having not eaten all day I stopped in at a bakery to pick something up. I had no idea what any of the things were, or how much anything cost. I ended up with a huge piece of pizza, a piece of pie, and a bottle of water - all for €2.50! The food was so good, and crazily cheap.

I wandered through the old town, down to the port and out along the coast. It was very Mediterranean - the white sand and crystal clear water, bordered by colourful buildings. Paradise!

Mid-afternoon I got a bus to Palermo - the capital and largest city in Sicily. It is also where the Italian Mafia originated from. The bus took about two hours - giving me plenty of time to enjoy the view of the Sicilian coastline. It was really beautiful - small villages set against large rocky mountains and rugged coastline. Every now and then we would pass a perfect looking beach that looked very inviting.

Palermo itself is much larger than I expected. It is a huge metropolitan city. I arrived into the main station and navigated my way to the hostel. It was in a completely random old building, run down and a bit dirty. I was concerned for a while, until I met the host. Giuseppe was a really enthusiastic guy who did all he could to make your stay more enjoyable. The facilities were not amazing, but Giuseppe made a real effort - getting everyone together as a group to do things etc, which made this one of my best hostel experiences.

Giuseppe gave me a quick run down of the city, then I set out to explore. A couple of observations - there are no footpaths here either and the scooter drivers are even crazier than they were in Trapani. While wandering through the markets the scooters were trying to make their way between the packed crowd and the market stalls. The markets themselves were awesome. They weren't touristy markets - they were real locals markets, mostly selling foods; fresh fish, olives, oysters, snails shells? (check out the photos).

Sometime during the afternoon I stopped for gelato, as apparently Sicily has the best gelato in the world. I must admit, it was good, but I don't know if I would go as far as to say the best in the world.

That evening we ate in at the hostel - some good Italian pizza and beer. Later we went out for a couple of drinks. We found a narrow street with bars and clubs lining both sides. The drinks were crazily cheap - €1 shots and €2 mixers. I asked for a beer and received a huge 660ml bottle for €2. As the night drew on the street got more packed until you could hardly move. It didn't help that there were scooters still trying to drive up and down the street. I think most of them just wanted to be in the action, as it took them about 15 minutes to drive 100m through the crowd - surely they could have just driven around the block? The street was very contrasting - from extremely loud, in-your-face locals, to really friendly people, to tourists, to pickpockets (we quickly found out you need to be very careful). From quiet(ish) pubs to crazy clubs. There were a couple of over-friendly locals that introduced themselves and 'kissed' some of the girls on the cheek (practically made out with the side of their face). As things got later and people drunk more - fights started to break out. It was such a narrow street with so many people that it was the perfect environment for an all out brawl. It was at this stage when we thought it was probably time to call it a day.

Next Post - 'Crazy Locals & Public Transport'

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