Saturday, November 10, 2012

Palermo, and some other stuff

I finally made it to Palermo last Friday. And now I’m desperate to go back because I feel like I hardly saw anything. It’s a strange city, and the last few years have not been very kind to it. It’s a city full of grand buildings, especially on the Via della Libertà which is lined with incredible architecture, but there is a definite sense of neglect, and I couldn’t help but think that it must have been so different just a few years ago.

We started the day by going to a shopping centre on the outskirts of Palermo. I thought that this would just be for an hour or so, but 4 and a half hours later, we were still waiting to get back in the car and go into the city. I didn’t mind too much, I’d been able to visit some familiar shops for the first time in 2 months (I did all my shopping in H&M and Accessorize, which is terrible – I could have bought all the exact same things on Argyle Street), and finally tried the local speciality ‘panella’ for lunch.

When we finally reached Palermo, it was like a condensed day trip. We dashed from church to church, stopping at cathedrals, theatres, and famous piazzas. It was all so fast I didn’t really have time to register names of places. I took photos though, so I can prove I definitely saw the sights, even if I’m not 100% sure what they were.

There is a beautiful fountain in Piazza Bellini, and the girl I was with (from Palermo) was encouraging me to take photographs, and walk around the piazza. At the same time, however, there was a protest taking place on one side of the piazza, of workers who had been made redundant, and workers who had not been paid for months. I felt quite uncomfortable taking out my camera, because as soon as I did, protesters at the edge of the group watched us like hawks. I felt that they must think I was some wealthy tourist, completely ignorant of their problems, but at the same time I couldn’t ask to leave, because I didn’t want to offend this girl, who was obviously so proud of her beautiful city.

I don’t know if it’s because I’d been warned so much about visiting Palermo, that I shouldn’t go on my own, and that I need to keep money in my pockets rather than in a bag, that I need to hide any jewellery from sight, etc., that I felt so nervous and uncomfortable the whole time I was walking around. I’ve visited cities, and lived in Glasgow for 2 years, and I’ve never felt as uncomfortable as I did in Palermo. In many ways, it’s a city like any other – proud of its history, with so much evidence of past wealth, but there was also an open desperation that I’ve never before encountered. I still want to visit again though, I feel like there is so much more to see.
I’d like to go again before Christmas, to spend more time taking in the sights, and to be able to see the markets. After this weekend, I’ve only got 5 weekends before Christmas, so I will have to organise myself.

Last Saturday, I went up La Rocca. I thought it would be a lot like going up the rock in Gibraltar, but it’s a much harder climb. In Gibraltar, the climb is all up roads and purpose-built paths, but La Rocca is quite different. The first half of the climb is mostly steps, which was easy, and the views out from Il Tempio di Diana (Diana’s Temple) were incredible. It was a perfect day to go up, with clear skies and sunshine, and looking out over the town, and the sea from the battlements was spectacular.

From here however, the climb was a lot more difficult. There was a rocky path leading up to the castle at the top of the rock, with a lot of loose stones and plants straggling onto the path. It was well worth the effort to make it to the top though, with views for miles along the coast, and from so high up, (270 metres, fact-fans!), the sea was glittering turquoise. It took about 2 hours to get to the top, and then less that half an hour to get down. This made me feel a bit sad.

The rest of this week has been a battle to get paid. I’m still waiting for my Erasmus grant, and received a worrying email on Wednesday telling me that if I didn’t hand in my forms by Friday I’d be removed from the Erasmus programme. The thing is, I’d sent the forms in 2 weeks ago and heard nothing back. I even emailed the university Erasmus department on Tuesday because I was concerned that I’d heard nothing from them! I replied to the email straight away, and I should (hopefully) be receiving my grant next week… but we shall see. In other financial news, the Italian ministry for education has delayed payments to ELA schools in Sicily until the second half of November. Despite the contract stating that ELAs will be paid by the 5th of each month, my school (helpfully, they seemed to think), offered to just pay me double in December, when they have the money. I politely declined this offer, and asked them to let me know as soon as the funds have become available. According to the ELA facebook group, it seems like everyone else has been paid, but I’ve argued with the school so much, I don’t see what else I can do. It’s a good thing my dad booked my flights home for Christmas a month ago – I’d been counting on booking them ‘as soon as I get my grant’ – I’d never be getting home otherwise.

Anyway, it’ll probably all be fixed by this time next week, when I will be OLD.

22 sounds SO MUCH older than 21. I don’t know why. I hope the weather’s as lovely as it is today. I mean, I’m not expecting to spend the day on the beach, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a birthday when it didn’t rain. Surely a birthday in Sicily is the best chance I have of changing that?

This weekend I’m off to spend two days in Castelbuono, a town about 16km from Cefalù, which should make a nice change. I’ll add photos to this post, and write about this weekend when I get back. I like that I’m getting busier, because I don’t want to waste my time here. I know I’m really lucky to be living in Sicily for 8 months, and it’s flying by already. So I’m off to make the most of the sunshine now – see you next week!

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