It is a good thing that I am not superstitious because we travelled to Palermo on Friday the 13th.
Actually the journey did include a few mishaps starting on the way to the airport with an incident on the motorway when the driver of an articulated truck wanted to use a part of the carriageway that I was already occupying. At the airport car park the booking in procedure had been changed and I couldn’t get my prepaid ticket without a lot of fuss and bother and in all of the confusion I mislaid my wallet and went into a terrible, but really rather unnecessary panic, when I convinced myself that it was lost. It wasn’t of course but to reduce the danger of anything else going wrong I thought it best to sleep through the early morning flight to Sicily.
That was easily achieved and I knew nothing more about the journey until we landed and Ryanair played a trumpet fanfare to celebrate our ahead of schedule arrival.
The bus into the city dropped us off beside a square and a museum that we were unable to identify from the inadequate map in our guidebook and we were completely lost. After sitting for a moment of two in the sun baked square we decided to try our luck in an easterly direction that we sensed would lead us towards the port. It turned out to be a very good decision because very quickly after that we identified our position from the street signs and realised we were close to the road where we had booked our hotel.
We located Via Roma and in the realisation that it was a little over two kilometres long hoped that we were at the right end of it. Luckily we were and after a short walk we were in the cavernous lobby of the Grand Hotel Et Des Palmes. Perhaps Friday the 13th is not all bad luck after all.
The hotel was excellent and the attentive porter showed us to a spacious and superior room at the rear of the hotel with nice furniture and decoration, a recently refurbished bathroom and a mini-bar. This was so much better than our last hotel in Ljubljana; this was a touch of class. It was one of those early 1900’s type hotels and built in the grand design of that time. It was originally the residence of Benjamin Ingham, a wealthy English industrialist who settled in Sicily in the early part of the nineteenth century when it was briefly a British protectorate, but sold after his death in 1861 and that of his son in 1872 and converted into its present use.
It wasn’t dissimilar in style to the Hotel Royal Victoria in Pisa but not nearly so unusual and with a room on the back, and therefore not overlooking the busy Via Roma, we hoped not nearly so noisy either. I checked out the mini-bar but at a prohibitively expensive €7 for a small bottle of beer quickly closed the door again and decided that I could wait until we found somewhere with sensible alcohol prices.
Outside the hotel the road was busy and getting across was a bit of a challenge and after we had successfully negotiated that we walked towards the port down an uninspiring road of uninteresting buildings and the occasional shop. At the port our first impressions were not particularly favourable. It was untidy with dirty footpaths and the harbour side bars looked unappealing and tired. Some local men were drinking at the worn out tables with plastic chairs that desperately needed replacing and we declined to join them and made our way back towards the Via Roma. The traffic was noisy and impatient with the usual medley of car horns, which is a feature of Italian driving or course. Already I could see that the drivers in Palermo made those in Florence look positively sedate.
We were hungry so found a little trattoria where we were the first customers of the day and had some difficulty in locating anyone to attend to us. There was someone outside at the back sweeping the storage area behind and just as we were about to leave he noticed us and made haste to get us seated and served. He took our order for pizza and beer and then went off to the kitchen to cook the food. I hoped that he washed his hands before he started to throw the pizza dough and add the toppings but the reality is that I suspect that he didn’t.
There were signs up declaring the establishment ‘no smoking’ but this didn’t seem to concern him greatly and he showed scant regard to that as well. We ate the food in anticipation of an upset stomach but it was tasty enough and the Italian beer was welcome and refreshing but this wasn’t the sort of place to hang around for after dinner mints and conversation so as soon as we had finished our meal and paid the very reasonable bill we left and continued on our way towards the city centre.