Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Travel Journal, Part VIII - Final


07/25 - Monday

The train arrived at 9:30 am in Palermo's central station. I had a few troubles finding the hotel because Palermo is huge and the information I had was wrong. I had to get in a subway to arrive at the hotel (that was distant from the historical center).

The Sicily was the scenario of many important history facts, since it was called home for Arabs, Greeks, Romans and it was the ring of many bloody battles and the stage of many artistic developments.

Today I was so tired that I just decided to take a walk around Palermo, stopping at coffee shops as lazy as I could get. My legs hurt because of that climbing yesterday. My intentions before arriving were to walk to Monreale, but I just couldn't. Hopefully tomorrow I will feel better and I'll go.

Everybody knows that Sicily through the last two centuries has developed the famous Mafia stories (yep, The Godfather), that something you don't see just walking around, you don't see Don Corleone having his hands kissed on the streets. Not that I expected to see that, but it would be interesting. But that's just the fairy tales taking over my rational mind for a moment or two.

Anyway, from the Central Station starts the most famous shop street of the Palermo, Via Roma (If you noticed almost all cities I've been have a street called Via Roma.) Since it's Monday most shops don't open, so I visited the squares and churches.

The Santa Caterina church is a great example of the changes the baroque style had in Palermo. Right in front of it there's the Piazza Pretorio, where it's places the Fontana Pretorio, built around the XVI century.

It was great, but not amazing until I found the Duomo di Palermo. It's one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in this city. It's huge and it has a golden sparkle around it.

Above there's this arch that conects the church to the Bishop's Palace. It's the first time I saw an arch like that.

Inside the Duomo, the decoration reminded me something a little Islamic, fascinating, with an altar of silver and purple velvet. The tombs of Sicily Kings are there like Frederico II, Henrique IV and Rogerio II (with their wives).

There's a room with the imperial treasure which I reached through a thin and small staircase. Everything was deserted except for the lady that sold me the tickets to enter the church and the treasure room; it was almost like a haunted church, it's the first time I didn't see tourists walking around. I was alone in that huge, magnificent church and it excited me beyond comprehension.

The treasure room has not only the king's jewels, but also the all the Sicily bishop's treasures. Giant golden crosses, golden bibles with precious stones, diamond and ruby rings, crowns and clothes made of gold. There was an emerald and silver ring that must have around two inches (I'm not exaggerating!) with the imperial symbol from the XII century. The Queen's crown was also magnificent.

From the treasure room I walked straight to an empty room with a huge table because I thought it was the way back to the main isle, but then I found myself lost in another room and then another and there wasn?t anyone to guide me out.

And then I saw a sign written 'this way to the crypt'. Somehow my inner desire to be in a creepy horror movie just surfaced inside of me, blocking all alerts that what was left of my superstitious mind must have sent me.

I was obsessed.

I found this hole on the ground with a thin staircase and dusty and dark walls that lead me under the church foundation. It felt like a vampire movie or even a mummy movie because of the colors and torches hanging on the brownish walls. The roof was low was almost suffocating, but what made me smile was to see more than fifty dusty tombs right there in front of me and there as no one around, so I could explore and touch everything I wanted.

I didn't even care of there was worms and insects around there. I was blind with ecstasy! I read all the scrimptions that was written in all tombs. Some had been buried around the XI century and the most recent ones just two hundred years ago. Some scrimptions had been removed by time so I couldn't read all of them, but basically all the bishops of Sicily were there inside their stone, vampiresque tombs.

It was really dark in there, but I yearned for even more darkness and creepy things. I found this small door, which I had to enter lowering my head and I couldn't see a thing in front of my nose as soon as I entered there... but I couldn't resist. I turned on my camera and walked through that thin corridor describing the deafening silence, how the walls felt like and the old dusty smell. Then I hit something. I couldn't see what it was so I touched it with my hands trying to figure out what it was. It wasn't something very high, it just reached above my knees and it felt like another stone coffin.

Why would a coffin be there in the end of a dark corridor? Was it because nobody was supposed to see it? Who was inside there anyway? But I couldn't find my answers. I tried walking around the tomb so I could continue through the corridor but I reached a dead end. It was like that corridor was built just to hide that one tomb.

So I walked out of the corridor, back to the crypt, saw a few more tombs and left. I found my way back to the main isle and left the church. I spent maybe an hour sitting around in that beautiful garden just outside the church. I'm so very tired because of my activities yesterday that I barely had the strength to go back to the subway station.

Maybe it was around 7pm when I managed to return to my hotel room. The sun was high, but I needed a long bubble bath to get my energy back. I had a mint ice-cream for dinner and now I'm ready to sleep, right at 9pm... with the sun still on my window.

07/26 - Tuesday


Today I've got in a train for the last time. Agrigento is a city just one hour and half away from Palermo, so I left my begs in the hotel and at 7am I was already traveling all the way down to south Sicily to meet the most famous Greek temples that they have here.

Other than the Greek Temples, Agrigento has an infamous inhabitant: the novelist Luigi Pirandello.

The temperature was amazing, 110F at least and I was dressed in a skirt I bought in Rome and a black shirt that almost made me faint. It surely is the most hot city in Italy until now (thank goodness that since I come from a tropical country I can stand a lot the hot weather or I'd be already dead).

Anyway, my only objective here was to see the archeological ground of the Valle dei Templi (The Temples Valley) and indeed it was worth coming here.

As soon as I arrived I saw the temples on top of hills and the ruins all around the place. This city is really small (just 57 thousand inhabitants), the Greeks lived here around two or three thousand years ago and the myth says Dedalus was the one who founded this city. It remained out of the conflict between Athens and Syracuse, passing through the hands of the Byzantine Empire after the Roman Empire fell.

The region of the valley looks more like a desert. It's arid, dry there's sand everywhere. It's a complex of ruins and some structures are amazingly preserved even after being plundered century after century, mainly by the Christians in the VI century who accused the temples of being labor of pagans. There nature didn't help much because of the earthquakes that destroyed what as left.

First I went to the Hephaestus Temple that is completely destroyed, except for a few columns on the ground, then the temple of Castor and Pollux that was reduced to three columns on the edge of a cliff. The temple of Zeus must have been immense because I saw a few huge statues on the ground, unrecognizable if you?re not an archeologist.

The Temple of Concord is the most intact, but obviously the tourists can't walk inside there. Historians say that the only reason why the Christians didn't destroy it was because it was converted in a church. When it was built, it was made of pure white, but now it's brownish, completely covered in dust. In one side there's a cliff and the sight of the shore with the blue Mediterranean Sea. The Temple of June is a little further up and just like Concord, it's pretty much intact, high in the hill, far away from the mere humans and accessible to the gods.

I was already dying for water and a shower when I climbed down the cliff and to my relief, down the catacombs there are toilets and running water from fountains for the tourists. I practically bathed in that fountain. I was dripping wet when I left and was refreshed for the rest of the day.

The catacombs are another messy field, almost impossible to walk through, I fell on my butt twice and after that I didn't need much encouragement to leave. I loved the temples, seriously, but I just can't walk around it for more than six hours after climbing the Vesuvius.

So, I got the bus back to the station and then back to Palermo for more an hour and half of trip, leaving the beautiful Agrigento behind.

I stopped in a bakery on my way back to the hotel and had the biggest slice of bread with chocolate drops in my life! Then, after that, I fell dead on my bed.

07/27 - Wednesday

I wanted badly to visit Monreale today, but since it's my last day here, I decided to be a little generous and buy my family and friends a few souvenirs (I just bought things for me until now). So I woke up late, had breakfast at the hotel and left for shopping explorations.

I bought shirts, skirts, books (I found this huge library and I didn't want to leave it!). I walked back to Via Roma and then I took an alternative way through Via Maqueda where's the La Martorana, a medieval church built around the X century. Those streets are very famous for their typical Sicilian shops. The Vucciria Market is a thin smelly street where you can find all kinds of hams, wine, fish, cheese and homemade Sicilian dishes.

I passed through the Oratorio Di San Lorenzo, I really wanted to go in there but there was a wedding so I decided it wouldn?t be nice to have tourists walking around in your own wedding, so I just looked at it from outside, besides I was carrying around twenty bags, I couldn't explore a church like that.

At 3pm I remembered I haven't had lunch, yet so I decided to have my last meal in Italy in a fancy restaurant with the typical Sicilian cuisine (I haven't have dinner for days now). I had this meat in a stick with so much pepper that I had to drink two coke cans with it, but it was amazing! One of the best things I tried here. Then the second dish was spaghetti with a Sicilian sauce that I loved as well! I looked so delighted with all that food that even the waiter asked me if it was the first time I tried those dishes (my Italian was so good at that point he hadn't noticed I wasn't an Italian girl!). It's needless to say I befriended with the waiter and he sat down on my table to chat while I ate.

I was so full I could barely walk (and carry those stupid bags) back to the hotel. When I got there it was past 7pm, which means I only had ten hours left to enjoy Italian grounds.

I still had one task in hand before falling asleep, though. I had to put everything back in my luggage and make it fit inside the bags. I wrapped everything made of glass (so many perfumes!) in the middle of my clothes? by the way, my clothes were filthy! I hadn't realized until I took a good look at them. They won't get clean ever again!

I had to sit on top of the bag for it to close and I still thought I forgot some thing or another.

When I was finished it was around 9pm and my plane leaves tomorrow at 8am... so I must wake up at 5am, call a taxi to go to the airport.

At least I know I can sleep on the plane...

07/28 - Thursday

Oh no! I'm in a plane back to Brazil, that stupid, boring, artless, cultureless country!

The first plane left Palermo and stopped at Florence, then I changed planes and flew from Florence to Madrid (Spain). I waited there for three more hours, wishing I could just walk away and grab my last chance to never leave Europe again!

I found some Brazilians there chatting about their vacations and I spent my last hours in Europe people-watching. This is so depressing.

Right now I?m on the plane back to São Paulo (Brazil) and I have some ten hours of flight ahead of me. If I count the time since I left Palermo it would be an 18 hours trip.

To return to Brazil's reality is going to be harder than I presume. You can't just get used to the glamour, the lazy afternoons walking through coffee shops and museums and then just return to Brazil, where you spend two hours stuck in the traffic every morning to get to work, where people look at you like you're a piece of meat and where you can be the victim of a robbery or even be kidnapped at any second because of a couple of bucks.

I made my decision that I will return to Europe and live there for the rest of my days. It's the goal of my life now.

Adesso mio cuore è italiano!!!

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