Pursuing the expatriate life in Italy–Palermo, DAY 1

Well, I made it to Palermo. And I made it unscathingly. Considering my past travel experiences, arriving in Palermo, even though it’s quite near, is nothing short of extraordinary. No planes crashed, there were no deaths, and I arrived with all my appendages intact. Although, I forgot to pack extra shirts. Tacky American that I am, I will probably just purchase some glittery Lenny Kravitz t-shirts at an outdoor kiosk somewhere.

I had to get up early this morning (7:00 a.m. is early for me these days) to make the 8:10 a.m. bus to Fiumicino Airport in Rome. The day before I had had a long, comatose nap that made it hard to sleep. I sat up in bed last night reading Roots to get inspiration for my next book before realizing it was nearing 2:30 a.m. I needed to get to sleep somehow despite my earlier nap and a twenty ounce Coke at dinner.

Originally, I had figured I would just stay up all night and sleep on the bus and plane. I didn’t stay up all nigth so I programmed the alarm on my iPhone with its pathetic battery, praying that it would go off in time for me to catch the bus. I’m fortunate in that the bus/train station is only two blocks from my apartment.

I needn’t have concerned myself as my inner clock awoke at 6:58 a.m., thereby giving me plenty of time to scrape the crud off my body, grab my bags and high-tail it for the station. I even had time for two dolce at the bar downstairs before my wait.

The bus ride to Rome was three and a half hours and we even hit snow as the freeway climbed the mountains near L’Aquila. Arriving at Fiumicino, I had two hours to fiddle away before the flight left for Palermo.

Walking around, I debated on where I should eat. Two dolce are not enough to keep a growing boy such a I sated. I found a hamburger joint in the airport that looked quite good, if not a bit expensive. Fourteen euros for an American classic burger with fries? I’m there. I had been missing a good ol’ American burger full of fat, grease and artery-clogging red meat.

I was not disappointed. I ordered yet ANOTHER large Coke (because you have to have a Coke with an American hamburger) and plowed through my two-story skyscraper of meat. It was just as an American burger should be–dripping with grease and cheese, ingredients falling out all over the plate. I could feel the left ventricle of my heart slamming shut as I chowed down.

It was fantastic, orgasmic, and decadent. An hour later, though, that gut bomb feeling attacked. I wasn’t sure why I was feeling so cruddy. Then I realized that I do not eat much red meat anymore. I also don’t eat as much as I used to (this is why I’ve lost two jeans sizes). I had to admit to myself that I probably was no longer able to poison my body with such food and it made me sad.

At least I still have pasta.

Anyway, we boarded the flight for Palermo and got there in less than an hour. A taxi was only seven euros ($8.50) straight to my hotel. My lodging at the Artemisia Palace was even better than the photos on Cheapoair. For fifty-three dollars I got a beautifully appointed modern room with a king-size bed! No wussy single beds here. The bathroom is large and modern and the shower is blessedly big enough to accommodate my wingspan when I wash my hair.

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The concierge is a beautiful young lady who generously engaged me in Italian and asked me where I was from along with my work. I gave her the crib note version of my Italian presence and she was suitably impressed (as well she should be). Continental breakfast is 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and I’m quite sure that it will be impressive.

This hotel only has about sixteen rooms. The floors have polished marble in the lobby and stairwells and are tiled in the rooms. The location is in the center of Palermo on Via Roma, within walking distance of the business district and Old Town. Two open-air markets are available during the day and another at night. Cathedrals and museums are a stone’s throw away. The Opera House is nearby–if I can, I want to make it to a performance. I’m feeling a bit peckish culturally.

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However, the weather totally blows–literally. It’s been raining cats and dogs and the wind has picked up. You know what? I don’t care. I’m in Palermo! Tonight, after having a nap (that will keep me up for hours), I went walking into Old Town to get my bearings and find a place to eat.

I walked for an hour past block after block of nothing but bars. I was not in the mood for bar food or the bar scene. Different somewhat than American bars, they seem to focus on coffee, although on Fridays and Saturdays it’s more of a drinking crowd.

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No, I wanted real food. The great thing about Italy is that virtually every restaurant is independently owned, generally by a family. They have a loyal clientele and they treat guests very well. This means that you can pretty much eat anywhere and know that you’ll get great food. No corporate food here, which I love.

Nevertheless, food snob that I am, I have to look at the atmosphere and the patrons. I didn’t want anything terribly upscale, just something comfortable. I was specifically searching for a place that looked like a nonna might be in the kitchen cooking something with a special spice or recipe that no one else on earth had. I didn’t find it.

What I did find was a very smart-looking restaurant on a side street (this is the best place to find good food in Italy). Table cloths and glasses were in place and the atmosphere was nicely lit. I checked out the menu on the front window–seven euros for a plate of spaghetti with clams or mussels. Seven euros for ravioli with spinach. I was in.

I ordered spaghetti with clams, some wine and acqua minerale (water with “gas” or “fizz”). They brought me a large bottle of water and a small pitcher of wine the latter of which held the equivalent of three and half glasses ($6). The spaghetti was exquisite. After dinner, I ordered a caffe’ (espresso), freshly made dessert filled with cream cheese and then a second caffe’. Total: twenty-two euros. After paying, I got up from the table and realized how much wine I’d had. Three and a half glasses is a lot for this wimp.

So here I am in bed, wondering if I’ll sleep after a three and a half hour nap and two espressos, despite the three and a half glasses of wine. My system won’t know whether to wake up or pass out. I’m looking forward to charging through Palermo tomorrow, checking out the atmosphere and neighborhoods and just exploring.

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