Time for a quick update.
We’ve managed to get ourselves employed again in a school called British Institutes in Palermo on a 6-month contract: time enough to ensure we’re back in Blighty for my big birthday bash at the end of July; please start marking your calendars and diaries now. We’re into our second week and have a few classes already. We’ve moved into a flat in a typical Italian-sounding street called Via Whitaker: this guy was a British entrepreneur of the 19th century who made a fortune peddling the local tipple, Marsala wine, around the world.
It’s actually quite cold at the moment, we’re almost in single figures Celsius and it’s raining all day! Our flat has very little in the way of heating and we can’t have more than two electrical devices on at the same time as the fuse blows. Still, I’m sure we won’t be moaning about the cold when the summer comes.
Palermo itself is not the most beautiful city in the world. It suffers excessively from the usual piles of crud and excrement on the paths as many cities and there is an over-abundance of vehicles clogging the streets. Indeed, it is often difficult to walk either on the path or get off it to cross the road: cars are parked so tightly. In British English, the protrusions at the front and back of cars are called ‘bumpers’ (‘fenders’ in the US, which are the classic, Hendrix-type guitars to us Brits!) and are perfectly named here. In order to get in or out of a parking space, you must nudge the cars on either side of you. Consequently, all cars have knackered bumpers.
Driving here is, unsurprisingly, a nightmare. We hired a car for two weeks to go down south (see Pozzallo below) and were shocked when we had to drive back into Palermo. It’s almost as though you are invisible – cars simply come out of side streets directly in front of you, or AT you. I thought it was just me but I was relieved to see in my rear-view mirror a motorcyclist being smacked by a car and delivered fuming with his mangled bike into the crud and canine turdage strewn on the sidewalk.
There are some interesting sights here. You’ll remember the final scene in The Godfather Trilogy where Al Pacino attends the performance of Cavalleria Rusticana only to have his beloved daughter gunned down on the steps of the theatre. This was filmed at the Teatro Massimo in the centre of the city.
The city is surrounded by some impressive mountains so we hope to get up one of them this weekend. Birding in the city is limited to, yes you’ve guessed it, the feral pigeon!
Fantastic oranges and pizzas (who would’ve thought?). Cheap wine. Rose-ringed parakeets in the botanical gardens. Who could ask for more?
Over the Xmas and New Year period we took off to the south eastern part of the island and spent a couple of weeks in a small town called Pozzallo. We chose this area because the surrounding area looked promising for national parks, and it proved to be a very good spot. There’s a fantastic reserve called Vendicari nearby where we spent much of the time and largely had the place to ourselves.
It is chocker with flamingos, spoonbills and herons and a delightful place to walk around. You can even see Mount Etna, rising menacingly in the distance.
The roads around this part of the island have some stunning views with baroque towns perched on hillsides and breath-taking viaducts spanning valleys with villages dotted beneath you. The drive from Palermo across the island takes you for most part on stilts – really quite weird. We got lost as we drove into the clouds and visibility was reduced to a few yards; the road-signage here is not exactly up to UK standards!
Pozzallo and Vendicari pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/100342402825089704103/20121218PozzalloVendicari
Vendicari and surrounds birding photos: https://picasaweb.google.com/100342402825089704103/20121219VendicariBirding
17.01.13, Palermo, Sicily.