As mentioned in an previous blog, after we survived our night train debacle from Rome to Palermo, we were ecstatic when we arrived in front of our hotel, Massimo Plaza. As we were about to comment on the several steps leading up to the front door, peoples started rushing towards us to grab our bags. We were welcomed by our hotel hosts. They quickly registered us while they prepared our room for us. As we waited, we were rewarded with some delicious croissants and cappuccinos.
It wasn’t long before our room was ready, so that we could freshen up. The room was luxurious with high ceilings, crown molding, Italian furniture with a well appointed bathroom. Italian hotel rooms are rarely as large as those in the US but this was lovely. We did have air conditioning, free WIFI and sky satellite TV. This is a cozy boutique hotel with a wonderful staff.
In the mornings we had the choice of having our requested breakfasts delivered to us in our room or to sit at a table in their parlor near the bar. We could ask for just about anything from a cappuccino and juice to an omelet, yogurt, fresh fruit, cream filled croissants, cheeses and meats. Some times in the evenings when we were exhausted with all our excursions, the hotel hosts would assist us in having food delivered to our room from local places, in addition to providing us with a tray, dishes, and utensils.
Our hosts, Jennifer, Rosa and others were very gracious in assisting us with booking side day tours, a car with driver, taxis, a day at the Hamman Spa, providing directions and suggestions to help us have a great time in Palermo.
Even though our hotel was where the action was until the early mornings, when we closed our windows, we could not hear anything.
The location of our hotel was ideal as it was across the street from the Teatro Massimo. To the left, (west) as we exited the hotel on Via Maqueda, we quickly reached the Quattro Canti (four corners) where the streets Via Maqueda and Corso Vittoria Emanuela, intersect. This is the heart of the city where Palermo is divided into four quadrants. From the hotel, as we strolled to the right (east) on Via Maqueda which turned into Via Ruggero Settimo and then into Viale della Liberta, we discovered the famous Turkish bath spa, Hammam off the street, Via Torrearsa.
Pauline Frommer describes Palermo in my favorite guidebook about Italy in the following terms (This conforms to what we observed during our first day.):
“The city is multicultural, not only in its eclectic architecture but in its sultry charm. Over the centuries, various rulers tried to impose logic on the city plan, building arrow straight streets (like Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda, which intersect at the heart of the city–the Quattro Canti—dividing it into 4 districts), but Palermo couldn’t be tamed, as you’ll see when you wander along the narrow, meandering back streets. Here you’ll come upon tiny shops selling exotic textiles and ebony statues alongside conventional Italian pottery, and stumble on small ethnic restaurants abutting traditional Italian trattories. Over the years, Palermo has been inhabited by Jewish merchants, Turkish and Syrian craftsmen, Persian artists, Spanish royalty, and Mafia dons—and each faction has left its mark.”
“Palermo’s historical center with its web of narrow, winding streets, is parsed into quadrants by two pencil-straight thoroughfares, Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda. These streets intersect at Palermo’s core, the Quatto Canti (four corners). “New” Palermo is to the north of the old city, on either side of Viale della Liberta. There aren’t as many sights here, per se, but you’ll get your share of wonderful local flavor if you spend time on these streets and duck into neighborhood shops and restaurants.”
“The Quattro Canti (again where Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda meet) is the best point of reference for exploring the city. Spreading back from each corner of the intersection are the four distinct districts of historical Palermo: Albergheria (southwest quadrant); Il Capo (northwest quadrant; Vucciria (northeast quadrant); and La Kalsa (southeast quadrant).”
The main attraction just south of the Quattro Canti intersection is the Fontana Pretoria which is a huge fountain. The following is the description of this attraction found in Lonely Planet’s book, “Southern Italy:”
“This huge and ornate fountain, with tiered basins and sculptures rippling in concentric circles, forms the centerpiece of Piazza Pretoria, a spacious square just south of the Quattro Canti. The city bought the fountain in 1573; however the flagrant nudity of the provocative nymphs proved too much for Sicilian church goers attending Mass next door, and they dubbed it the “Fountain of Shame.”
In the evenings, we might stop by the Vespa Café/ Bar to the left of our hotel for a Spritz and for something to eat. Early in the day, they would make sandwiches that we could take out to munch on later.
Our favorite find for a restaurant was from an expat’s tip who was living in Palermo. And we approved of the Bisso Bistro on the Quattro Canti corner, next to a book store, Liberia Dante. Link: Bisso Bistrot – Lonely Planet http://www.lonelyplanet.com…Collections Top things to do in Palermo … northwest corner of the Quattro Canti, recently converted into a classy but casual bistro. Lunch and dinner menus range from traditional Sicilian pasta, meat and fish dishes to sardine burgers…
Some popular street edibles which just means carry out are arancino, fried rice balls; sfincione, thick Sicilian pizza topped with tomatoes, onions anchovies, cheese with a dash of oregano; pane panelle e crocche, panelle are little square fritters made with chick pea flour / crocche are potato croquettes. There are a host of other treats, including granite Sicilian which is like a slush but more delicious.