A few weeks ago, I started chronicling my press trip to Sicily, the almost mystical island off the toe of Italy. We started the week on the East side of the island, navigating around Mount Etna, the active volcano that influences every aspect of life.
On Day Two of the trip, we headed to Caverna Etnea, the Firriato estate that is just a few kilometers from the volcano.
There are few decisions that I have made in my life that I can identify as “really good choices.” The most prominent, of course, is asking my wife to marry me (more than a few have argued that her affirmative response was her singular worst life decision, but that is not the point of this article). Before my wife, there was the decision to get a dog who forced me to grow up and be responsible at a time in my life when that was sorely needed.
Prior to acquiring the best dog that ever lived, though (she sadly passed nearly a decade ago), I made the decision to study French in high school, which eventually led to my decision to study in Strasbourg, France my junior year in college. I did not know it at the time, of course, but my relationship with French, the language, the people, the region has subsequently impacted every aspect of my life.
Perhaps the most significant outcome is that it instilled in me a wanderlust that is close to insatiable. While studying in Strasbourg, I visited no fewer than 15 countries, travelled on the Orient Express, was almost shot in Sarajevo, arrested in Athens, and mugged in Munich.
None of those “negative” experiences—only two involved a gun in my face—extinguished my need to explore beyond my own country’s borders.
Eventually, that led me to my decades-long adventure of leading bike trips in Europe as well as returning to the continent every time I could scrape together enough Francs (and then Euros) to afford the airfare.
As a result, I have explored countless towns and cities from Lisbon to Vienna, from Brest to Istanbul. While every city is, of course, unique, there are certainly some similarities within the same country and across borders.
And then there is Palermo.
Palermo is different. While decidedly an Italian city, Palermo, long a Mediterranean trade route stopover, has been and is continuously influenced by multiple cultures and traditions.
Sicily is also an island, which almost by definition, gives it an independent spirit, a resistance to conformity, a pride that many on the mainland never possess and most fail to understand.
There is a grit to Palermo—a je ne sais quoi, or more precisely a non so che, which is difficult to place. Perhaps, like Marseilles, it evokes a certain reputation, a particular stereotype that is first recounted personally then reinforced by the media or Hollywood, or both.
Palermo has plenty to offer from history to architecture to incredible food, but it is far from a tourist mecca, and therefore seems to have retained much of its inherent charm.
After a press trip to Sicily last Fall, I stayed a few extra days in Palermo to roam, to eat, to absorb. And to take a few pictures.