Palermo | Ending On A…Weird Note

The heat in Catania had been a struggle for me, so I booked an early train with the hope I could make the walk to the station without sweating too much – I know, so attractive. Thankfully I made it there relatively cool and sweat free, and enjoyed the first train to Messina chatting to a couple of older Italian gentlemen who told me all about when they lived in London and paid £36 a month rent…in the 90s. Such lovely people though, and even helped me with my bag when we arrived in Messina, where I had a quick pit stop before jumping on a train to Palermo. Although the journey is quite long as you go all the way along the coastline, it does mean you have amazing views for the majority of the journey. Look out of the window and see a volcano – check. Look out of the other window and see the sea – check. It sure helps the time pass quickly!

Before long I was in Palermo and checking in to the B&B I was staying in. As the guy came to meet me for check in, he insisted on carrying my backpack for me. After politely declining multiple times, he led me up 4 flights of stairs and I was quickly wishing I’d let him carry the thing! Dropping my stuff off, I was soon out for a spot of shopping – I needed to find bikini bottoms to match the bikini top bought in Barcelona, so I could spend my last few days soaking up the sun on the nearby beaches. After realising it wasn’t to be and I wouldn’t find the full set, I settled for a new bikini, had a look around the city centre before heading back to the B&B with a pizza from a nearby pizzeria. After the amazing pizza I had in Bologna, I didn’t think anywhere could live up it, but this one was terrible! The middle was so soggy it was stuck to the pizza box. Serves me right I guess…

The next two days I had in the Palermo area were spent at the beach. The first day I attempted to visit the popular Mondello Beach, and after that catastrophe decided my next day would be spent at Cefalu. I can only say it was the best way to spend the last day of my trip, and I spent the evening with an inner feeling of happiness, helped with a yummy pizza from a place I’d walked past and had just been drawn to. So cheesy, just like the delicious pizza! 

Next morning it was time to pack up, check out and make the most of the last few hours, not only in Sicily but also on this trip before flying home. I’d prebooked a place to leave my bag last night, and having an allocated drop off time meant I didn’t sit around being lazy but actually was up and out by 10am. I’d already seen a fair bit of the city on my previous wanderings, but had yet to venture out to the cathedral. And anyone who knows me will know how much I love a good church! 

Just a short walk from the luggage storage, I was soon at the gates of the gardens in front of the cathedral. After a quick wander around, it was straight in to the cathedral to check out the bright and impressive interior. Although there were many other people milling around, as well as school groups doing tours, it was still nice to take a seat and just soak up all the small details you don’t get on a quick walk round.

With just enough time to visit another ‘sight’, I decided now was the time to venture out to the catacombs I’d read about online. When in Paris a few years ago, I’d had a failed attempt at visiting the catacombs there, and thought this would something similar – a lot of bones. Passing through Villa Bonnano gardens to take advantage of the shade, walking under Porta Nuova and out of the old city, I felt like I was getting to see extra city highlights on the way to the catacombs. Great choice!

After stopping for a coffee in the most local cafe I’d been to in a while – you know the kind where they stare at you because you’re not a local? – I carried on with what felt like the longest walk in ages, along residential streets all the while hoping for some shade and respite from the heat. Arriving at Catacombe dei Cappuccini, I paid €3 and stepped down in to the basement, thankful that it was already cooler.

With an expectation of something similar to the catacombs in Paris, Catacombe dei Cappuccino was an absolute shock to the system. Hanging from the walls were corpses in varying states of decay, dressed as the person would have in their life. Initially there were two rows of corpses along the walls, and further in were some glass-sided coffins stacked up the walls. Some were just the skeleton, and it was a bit of a surprise to see a skeleton dressed in a suit, but as I ventured further in, I noticed that some of the corpses had been preserved and as such had retained skin. Some had patches of hair, those with the near-full face of skin had a look of screaming where the bottom jaw had dropped.

It was such a shock for me, to realise these were people and they were now hanging from the walls. I did a tour as quickly as possible, trying to stay in the middle of the pathway to not get too close to any of the coffins or corpses hanging. Probably the most uncomfortable I have been in years, it only elevated as I rounded the corner and found the children’s section. Propped up in chairs or in a baby basket, I couldn’t believe these were real life children that they’d chosen to preserve in this way. It was a huge cultural shock for me, and although I did a complete tour I left very quickly.

As I made my way back to the city centre, I couldn’t help but reflect. Not wanting the last thing I did on this 6-week trip to be visiting corpses, I went back to the cathedral and tried to appreciate the light and expansive space full of life. Before long it was time to collect my bag, take one last walk to the train station and head to the airport. Not entirely sure of the timings, I erred on the side of caution to make sure I didn’t miss my flight and ended up at the airport super early, soon on my way back to England after an amazing trip!

< Catania | #30 | Mondello Beach >

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