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Part 4: Cefalů, Palermo, Monreale

22.12: Munich -> Catania
23.12: Acireale - Mt Etna - Acireale
24.12: Acireale -> Taormina -> Acireale
25.12: Acireale -> Aci Castello -> Catania -> Acireale
26.12: Acireale -> Villa Romana del Casale -> Palermo
27.12: Daytrip to Cefalu
28.12: Palermo
29.12: Palermo -> Monreale -> Palermo

30.12: Palermo -> Riserva naturale dello Zingaro -> Trapani
31.12: Trapani -> Erice -> Trapani
1.1: Trapani -> Marsala -> Trapani
2.1: Trapani -> Marsala -> Selinunte -> Agrigento
3.1: Agrigento -> Ragusa
4.1: Ragusa -> Modica -> Siracusa
5.1: Siracusa
6.1: Siracusa -> Catania -> Munich

27.12: Daytrip to Cefalu
Hotel Casena dei Colli, Palermo. The breakfast is not too terrible, but not on the same level as the breakfast of the All Seasons in Acireale. Heavy noise in the morning after 8:30am due to construction works.
Weather: a mixed bag, as the day starts overcast, then the sun comes out, disappears, comes out again and so on.  No rain the whole day.

At 8:30am I feel an earthquake is hitting the hotel. But it's not an earthquake, it's heavy equipment which is used just behind the hotel for some road or construction works. So we get up and have breakfast in the hotel.

Natasha has some cold and we are wondering what to do. In the end we decide to do the daytrip to Cefalů, because Natasha doesn't feel that bad and it's pointless to spend the whole day in the hotel.

So around 11am we leave the hotel and start driving towards Cefalů. This time I take the road which goes around Palermo, i.e. I avoid crossing the centre of Palermo (the hotel is west of Palermo and Cefalů is east of Palermo).

Turns out to be a smart move, as the traffic is much more fluid here than yesterday in central Palermo. Since we are low on fuel we refuel the car at a petrol station (1.78 Euro/litre for the diesel).

This road which goes around Palermo is similar to a motorway, in that it has two lanes in each direction, but there are many speed limits set to 50, 70 and 100km. Once outside the Palermo urban area it becomes a real motorway.

The trip to Cefalů proceeds smoothly and by 12:30pm we are close to Cefalů (we stop at a viewpoint for a photo of the city). We park the car in a road of Cefalů (about 80 cents/hour parking fee).

Cefalů is a small city on the coast, with a picturesque historic core of houses close to each other around a cathedral. A more modern urban area surrounds the historic core as a belt. There is a sandy beach, a few hundred metres long, not too bad, but not that impressive either. Above Cefalů there is a hill with fortifications (a ring wall) and a castle on its top.

We spend the next few hours exploring Cefalů. At 1:30pm we have a light lunch in a simple restaurant. Then we walk along the beach, climbing on the rocks above the sea. Shortly before 3pm we reach the square in front of the cathedral. Quite a cute square, with shops surrounding it. The late afternoon sun pops out to illuminate the facade of the cathedral.

Shortly after 3pm we split. Shirley will stay in the city with Natasha, while Alissia and I will climb on top of the hill. Essentially this is because we don't think that the small one will manage to climb on top of the hill, also considering that she is not feeling too well.

From the cathedral square we walk inland for a few hundred metres, then turn left and start climbing up the hill. It's quite a steep climb. At 3:35pm we reach the level above the walls on the hill. Since Alissia is tired and the hill complex closes at 4:45pm, I decide to skip the castle which is further up the hill and get to the ruins of the St Anna church and to the viewpoint.

The ruins of the church are relatively unimpressive, but the view from the viewpoint is great. Nice panoramic view of the historic centre of Cefalů and the surrounding area. It's not difficult to guess why this area was fortified in the past.

At 4pm we start walking down again and then meet Shirley again in the old town shortly before 4:30pm. Now the shops have opened again. There are lots of souvenir shops. This place is surely full of life in summer, but right now it's quite dead.

At 5:20pm we drive back to Palermo, arriving at the Chinese restaurant at 6:40pm. Then we have dinner and head back to the hotel.

28.12: Palermo
Hotel Casena dei Colli, Palermo. FYI, the toilet flush button in room 172 (where we are) is difficult to operate. You have to press very, very hard for the water to come down. The small one routinely asks me to help her flush the toilet. The door of the room can't be double-locked from the inside (you'd need a special key, which we don't have).
By the way, lots of families with kids in this place.
Weather: it rains in the morning bit and it's overcast. Around 11am the sun starts coming out, and during the afternoon it's a mix of sunshine and overcast sky.

As usual we wake up around 8 something am and have breakfast between 9:30am and 10am. This morning it is raining, so we are not really keen to rush exploring the city.

Since the weather improves, we leave the hotel at 11:10am and drive by car into town. I have keyed in Porta Nuova as destination into the navigation system. After some driving in Palermo's chaotic traffic (you need four eyes, two in front and two in the back, to constantly monitor the traffic since anything can happen), we finally reach Porta Nuova. Quite cute gate, a pity we can't stop here to take a picture.

What then happens is 20-30 minutes of driving looking for a parking. In the end I manage to find a free parking in Via Ponticello, a side road of Via Maqueda. In the process, without knowing it, I have been driving along Via Vittorio Emanuele and by coincidence have discovered the main sights we'll visit today (the royal palace, the cathedral, Quattro Canti, Fontana Pretoria). As a result of this last half hour of crazy driving the kids have to vomit. I should have given them anti-nausea pills.

Anyway, we park the car, get rid of the guy who tried unnecessarily to help us parking (Shirley was assisting me) in order to get a tip, and start walking towards Fontana Pretoria.

Fontana Pretoria is a great, beautiful fountain on Via Maqueda, lavishly decorated with lots of statues. Then we reach nearby Quattro Canti, at the intersection of Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele, where essentially there are four building facades, each circular, beautifully decorated with statues and other stuff.

From there we walk towards the cathedral. Along the way, we have a snack in a cafe. The cathedral of Palermo really looks great from the outside, Cool piece of architecture, can't exactly determine the architectural style. Must be a mix of gothic with something else. Inside the cathedral is nice, but not as impressive as one would have imagined.

We continue walking and reach Palazzo Normanno at 2:15pm, the royal palace, part of which supposedly has been built by the Normans. To get to the main entrance you need to walk beyond it when coming from the cathedral. The ticket costs 8.50 Euro (children are free) and allows you to visit the Cappella Palatina and the royal apartments.
In practice only the Cappella Palatina is interesting, the remainder of the palace is less impressive. However this Cappella Palatina is absolutely stunning and gorgeous, impressively decorated. Apparently the interior has been restaurated in 2008.

After one hour in the palace, at 3:15pm we start walking back to the car. On the way we stop again in a cafe for some snack. I give a try to the Canoli, sort of a pastry with a white filling. By far too sweet for my tastes.

Further down in Via Vittorio Emanuele a group of hot girls, with very hot dresses and long legs stand on the pavement. Hottest females I've seen so far in Sicily. Turns out that they a part of a wedding party.

After a couple more stops here and there we are finally back at the car at 4:15pm. I then key in the address of a self-service laundry (Via Volturno 62) into the navigation system, because we have a bag full of dirty clothes which need to be washed.

It then takes over an hour to cover the 1.8km which separate us from this laundry. One thing is the crazy Palermo traffic, the other thing is that when we arrive it takes forever to find a parking. I reach this spot in Via Volturno 62, then have to continue driving because there is no parking, get lost, the navigation system kicks in again and leads me into a very narrow alley.

Here I'm stuck because there are some scaffolds which make the road even more narrow than it already is and this minivan is just to large to get through. What then starts is some reverse driving manouver which after 10 metres comes to a halt as there is a protruding building and despite all advice received from Shirley and other people on the street I can't manage to circumnavigate. 15 minutes of discussion and advice, finally one of the guys insists that he wants to do the manouver for me. And this guy, a professional truck driver, manages to do the miracle, with the assistance of this co-workers and bring the car out of this dead end alley.

It's 5:30pm when we finally find a parking close to this laundry. We get out of the car, and since it's the blue hour and we are close to Teatro Massimo, I take some photos of this theater. We then walk to the laundry, which is not that far away.

Shortly before 6pm we throw the clothes into a washing machine (4 Euro, friendly lady at this L'Oblo laundry) and get out with the idea of having dinner somewhere (lady promised she would put out clothes into the dryer as soon the the washing is over).

There are several 'trattorias' nearby (simple restaurants), but they are all closed and only open at 7:30pm. But by 7:30pm we have to be back at the laundry since it closes at this time. So we simply have a sandwich in a bar and head back to the laundry. On the way we buy some fruits on the fruit market (a bit pricey by the way).

At 7:20pm we finally leave the laundry and walk back to the car. After one more stop in a Burger King where Shirley gets some food, we drive back to the hotel where we arrive at 8:15pm. We take the same road we took two days ago, but this time there is less traffic, probably because it's later in the day.

29.12: Palermo -> Monreale -> Palermo
Hotel Casena dei Colli, Palermo.
Weather: mostly sunny, blue sky with some clouds, fresh wind blowing.

We leave the hotel at 11:10am and drive towards Monreale. Heavy traffic and chaos on the streets which ends as soon as we leave the urban area of Palermo. Once out of Palermo there is very little traffic.

The road winds up the hills a bit, then after a few km we reach Monreale. It's 11:40am and the view of the Monreale cathedral on this sunny winter day is great. Great medieval small town atmosphere on the cathedral square. Also great panoramic view of Palermo from Monreale.

We park the car in a side road (1 Euro/hour, there is no machine, you have to buy the ticket from a guy who is waiting at the roadside) and walk to the cathedral. The cathedral is built in its own architectural style, can't remember having seen something similar elsewhere.

The entrance to the cathedral is free. Inside, the cathedral is very richly decorated with mosaics on the walls (lots of gold colour). To view part of the cathedral you need to purchase a ticket (2 Euro, children free). This gives access to a small area with some exhibits inside the cathedral and a room with beautiful sculptures.

After getting out of the cathedral at 12:40pm we check a bit Monreale. Actually we just check what eating options there are. It's mostly bars, eateries, ice cream parlours. I just find a small restaurant in a side street, but the prices are a bit absurd (simple pasta dishes above 10 Euro), so we skip that. Instead we have some food (pizza, pane e panelle) in sort of a pizza bakery. The food in this place is not bad.

Shortly before 2pm we drive back to Palermo, with the idea to have a look at the Vucciria market. This is supposed to be a traditional Palermitan market, with lots of flair and local life.

Driving to this place across Palermo now is much easier than in the past two days. There is much less traffic than before. I wonder if this is because at 2 something pm most people have lunch, or if in the weekend people in Palermo avoid the city centre.

In any case we reach Porta Nuova at 2:25pm, then proceed to leave the car near the waterfront. Walking back along Via Vittorio Emanuele, we turn right into a small street which looks interesting (lots of people going in and out).

We find sort of a small market in this side street, but not the big market as we had imagined. Turns out later that this is indeed the Vucciria market and it is so small probably because it is winter and there are few tourists.

We continue exploring the area a bit, but there is not that much to see. In fact the entire area is quite boring. So, at 3:30pm we walk back to the car and drive to this shopping mall (La Conca d'Oro) I had enquired in the morning in the hotel reception. This is supposed to be the best Palermo has to offer in terms of shopping complexes according to the hotel staff.

La Conca d'Oro lies out of Palermo, a few km west of the hotel. We arrive there at 4:10pm. Parking is free in the huge parking of the mall. Outside the mall we spot an open air ice skating rink, quite interesting, since the air temperature is +15°C. Next to the rink is also a children fun fair area.

The Conca d'Oro mall contains a number of shops spread on one floor, an Auchan market and some other retail outlets. There is even a food court, but the only food available there is pizzas, sandwiches and fast food. There is a "wild west" restaurant, selling meat dishes with salads and French fries.

We spend some time shopping in this place (some shops offer good deals on clothes), then at 6:30pm we have a dinner in this wild west restaurant. After dinner we shop for groceries in the Auchan supermarket, then drive back to the hotel.

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon