Saturday, 10 January 2009

Palermo - I should have stayed away!

Well here we are in Palermo . I think I should have taken the advice in my Europe on a Shoestring guide when it says that if you are in Sicily visit Syracuse, Taorimina and Agrigento and forget the rest especially Palermo.

But of course your intrepid explorer and male neither of whom listen very much [especially as that part of the guide was written by a woman] did not heed this warning and although having survived the day has returned to The Hotel D ' Amato an oasis of culture in a sea of effluent has locked himself in his room with a bag of oranges [eight actually], to avoid the evening meal here and "The Assassines Without".

This is actually a very nice hotel, unfortunately landlocked in an area Rambo would not emerge into as twilight falls. I was back in my room by three and asleep by five past overcome by the emotion of my day and by the fact to fit in with the locals I had to wear a winter coat whilst the sun blazed down. Had I not of course done so and dressed in shorts, sandals and tee as the weather demanded I would immediately became suspect either a] A tourist and mugged accordingly [bit like Glasgow but without the sun] always nice to be mugged in the sun the pavement being that much warmer when you come round or b] Gay as I shuffled around in my open toed sandals etc, both of which would have attracted the wrong sort of attention in either case.

Not desirable in Palermo where they have a Murder a day, Had this place not been so full of Good Catholics they would have run out of victims years ago .Anyway I dressed the part wandered round Palermo and realized I should have taken the Writers word and avoided it the like plague.

I have been trying for an hour or so to write about Palermo in some sort of a positive light and also not give you dear readers the impression I'm one of Wogan's Grumpy old Men. Or Victor Meldrew reborn although he is very dear to my heart. I actually in life see myself as a cross between him and Homer Simpson whom I see as a counterbalance to the Victor side of me as Homer is just so positive about life. Don't you just agree?

I walked in to the city from here which took an hour in my winter coat so by the time I got to the SNAV Ferry Terminali in the docks area to enquire about prices,departures etc i was ready to kill. I know what it will be i mused Chuiso for lunch, Chuiso on Fridays, Chuiso Generali or being an in area of foreign visitors no one will speak english. The first and second SNAV booking offices I was sent to were closed permanently but clearly signposted. On arrival were clearly closed. Whilst rattling the door [unnecessarily, just in anger] I was directed to the new offices not signposted yet as they were new buildings. On arrival they were clearly new buildings [about a year ago]. why did the not take old signs down or re use them. I transgress as ever.

I entered a vast building reiniscent of the huge labour exchanges they built after the war in our Victorian best brick style with small doorways and upon entering you find yourself in a huge high single vast room with two adjacent numpty's sat behind a glass screen. Like Disneyland I had to follow this immense queuing snake falling back on myself ever 45 feet or so. There was no way round it so i carried on through no one else in the buiding just me and this snake and of course the two numptys.

I reached the girl first who was doing her nails so I moved on to the other who spoke good English. I scolded my self for being negative and made my request which was to obtain the departure times, cost and obtain an brochure on there services. Certainly sir he says when did you want to go? February 7th says I. AH! says he. I cannot do that he says, why not? says I, because we close off this booking period on January 20th and we cannot quote you for a date past then. How about the cost? we cannot give you a price for that either until after Jan 20th - Brochure? Our new Spring brochure will be here soon but we have none at the moment. Well that's just F***ing Magic says I. He laughs He translates she laughs I laugh and exit stage left ala Brian Rix.

When I get back here straight on the internet price immediately available for Feb 7th at £233. same as the euro which is just a well as I don't have euro key on my laptop but I do have dollar sign.Must e mail Dell, they're based in Ireland using euros how do they manage? without a euro key how about Europe?

So I continued my deliberations through town seen some Churches some they want you to pay for entering but I'm wise to that one so I say loudly and fast in Scottish that I wish to pray,Always works Have a coffee ask for Cafe American Nero as usual. Perhaps its the Nero bit that throws them because a Cafe Americano is a long black coffee [long?] and I shouldn't need to say Nero but they also ask me if i want milk? Also i do ask for acqua frddo additional hot water to weaken the strength but almost always get acqua caldi.

Perhaps it's not only men that don't listen surely not? Find world famous cake shop Spinnatos wander in vast selection fantastic choice too beautiful to eat Cake shops likke these were common after the war but are fast disappearing worldwide for obvious reasonsVisit main shopping ares of town not impressed one or two shops like you would see in Bristol but the rest well anywere in Italy poky little one man bands gloomy and grubby.

That's what's wrong with Palermo, it has no heart it has definitely no soul. All its ancient buildings are in need or serious repair or boarded up usually both and the land around festooned with parked cars Evev the Churches although internally are perfection externally they are crumbling.

In the Old Market area are Shambles type alleyways and high medieval housing stretching for miles just as they would have been centuries ago except cars are parked everywhere, pollution is causing the miles of ancient paving to break up and the houses are full of Palermos poorest people you don't have to ask, the washing is out of the window and the clothing including the bedsheets are patched and repaired.

The streets are narrow and full of cars the place reeks of disharmony with its surroundings, its just dying on its feet. There are packs of dogs running the streets nobody notices, they're not threatening so nobody cares. There is dog shit everywhere. There is no door to door rubbish collection here, the same as in the rest of Italy, but apart from the main shopping area the rest of the streets are covered in rubbish from overflowing wheelie bins the Italians use for rubbish collection but when they are emptied apparently the dustmen do not pick up the rubbish from around them so the rubbish grows.

Dogs rip open the bags I watched them and motorist slow down to add more bags of rubbish to the pile as they make no attempt to place it in the bin. Nowhere else in Italy have I seen such filth and squalor in the streets. The narrow streets are choked with fumes so I headed for home.

On my way past the port there were men fishing in the inner harbour you can see and smell the diesel it burns your nose as you pass. You could imagine if they ever caught any fish living in there, wring them out and put the fluid probably neat diesel straight into you car tank. Perhaps that the idea.

I decide to catch a bus. I already know its a 224 from Stazione Centrali as I've done my homework. I have my map and I was going to have lunch, but all the restaurants at lunchtimes seem to be closed and looked grubby locali. The only place was a McDonalds which I avoided - this turned out to be a mistake as I discovered later.

Arriving at the bus Station a misnomer if there ever was one It turns out they park around the Railway Station and when its there turn to go they drive off round the block including my number, I tried to wave down one or two of my number to no avail There are no platforms no advisory signs, no information signs nothing there are no ticket machines, yet I know you must purchase a ticket prior to boarding and frank it as you entrada same as I have don in Milan Rome and Turin a million times its Just so different here perhaps the word should be indifferent [here].

I enter the train station to ask and find that the buses go round the block and all go through a single file loading bay so when your bus pulls up you get on board except the platforms are in the middle of the square and at 2 pm are overflowing on to the surrounding speeding car lane and she says you buy your ticket from the lottery office outside the train station she is pleased to have helped me and she thinks this all normal one dangerous platform for hundreds of people and the lottery office selling bus tickets I thank her.

I go to the lottery office I ask in a good accent for a uno Biglietto per amat I know its 1.20 euros but have no change so I give here 2.20 euros and she short changes me and walks away being British. I am politely trying to attract her attention but the woman next to me sees what has happened and bangs so loudly on the glass I thought it would shatter rabbits way and miracolousy the girl appears and so does my money!

I hate that when they try to short change you it says so much for so little I thank my saviour and she says "English?" and when I say yes she is pleased English she tells people around her they smile and nod.

I get the bus back to my Hotel Its a beautiful old Villa well photographed for the internet otherwise you would not go there. The staff are are nice and friendly but the surrounding area is disgusting will take some photos to show you what your missing. The only drawback is the food. There were only two others in the restaurant when I arrived last night so the food should have been excellent as chef had plenty of time on his hands. But no, my Penne Arriabiatta was cold, as were the plates - what is the point of serving hot food on cold plates so I sent it back but he just microwaved the lot which boiled the thin sauce dry and the main course was small pieces of steak on a plate of salad, except the steak had not been fried fresh and the green beans served with it [tinned as expected at this time of year] were watery and cold and a bit mushy.

I'm not a food snob, you don't get a waistline like mine from being fussy about food but if they cant be arsed, I can be difficult. I didn't send that back I just voted with my feet.

In summary Palermo stinks. I have been to some bad places in my life but this is by far the worst. I think it's Italian Anarchy at its worst combined with a I don't care attitude it is so sad. Am here for another night, I could move but wish to update my blog, sketch a bit and visit Trapani and Monterale up the hills above here.

Sorry to be so negative that's the way it is here, If nothing else you realize how [ I was going to say how fortunate or how lucky we are not to live in such a country but those are not the words] luck has nothing to do with it You have to care about your society and its structure and we obviously and through our efforts we have what we have do otherwise we would live like they do here.

I know that Sicily is very poor and that Palermo is the poorest part. Let me give you an example I watched 1 municipal workman cutting the grass and 6 others unnecessarily clearing up behind him in a area that one man in England would cut on his own in 1.5 hours, and the grass left behind to rot and feed the roots. They are scraping the grass into baskets and walking them over to their truck and emptying them, but talking mostly.

I wouldn't change it - that's their system in a poor country. A man needs a job To get to the truck they have to walk through a pile of debris, mostly paper which occasionally blows onto the grass - so they pick that bit and walk back to their truck then pick up another bit of paper and take that to the truck.

In the UK we would have walked over and picked up all the rubbish and put it in the truck, but that's not their job, that's some other poor sods job so must be protected.

But they will stand there, all 6 of them, waiting for the paper to blow their way, then they would pick it up! The problem is attitude, it works - why change? I've said enough, they are in the main such lovely people, it's a shame to see even a small part of Italy like this.

Perhaps the perfect Italian or human reflection would be the combination of the Swiss with the German efficiency with Italian welcome-ness and French knowingness!

Coastal road to Palermo:

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