I’m not sure if it was the alcohol or the fact that we were all a little emotional about returning back home the next day, but when Vincento explained to us that to him, Palermo, his home town, is 'magic', something clicked in me.
"Italy without Sicily leaves no image in mind: only here is the key to everything." - J.W. Goethe
Have you been to Palermo before? I hadn't, until last month. I’d heard of it before of course, and I knew where it was but I didn’t know any friends or family who had been there before. This alone made it intriguing for me to go and find out what this place was all about.
I’m currently in Germany with my New Zealand partner, working remotely and spending time with my family and friends while trying to figure out what we want to do next and where we want to live. Since we’ve touched down in Germany, my motto has been to say “yes” to any travel opportunity that would present itself to me so we could make the most of our time in Europe.
After a couple of long weekend trips to London and Amsterdam, as well as a few day trips to other cities in Germany and the Netherlands, my best friend Anne asked me and Nick if we wanted to join her and her friend Lisa for a week in Palermo. At that time, I wasn’t quite sure what we’d be doing around mid-May but, true to my motto, I said YES pretty much immediately and a week later we had everything booked.
From the minute we touched down in Palermo we were all living in the moment, soaking up the sun, eating way too much pasta and gelato, drinking way too much vino and having way too much fun to worry about any of the things to worry about in life - work, visas, guys, money…
The only worry we had was our rental car. We had gotten an “upgrade” that turned out to be disastrous. The Ford Focus we received instead of our requested Ford Fiesta filled us with joy for less than 10min. All we needed was turning into an average size side street to realise that even folding away the side mirrors wouldn’t make us fit through the narrow street.
The warnings we had received from everyone, including our parents, our landlord and several people at the airport, including the rental car guy, about Sicilian drivers being the worst and most ruthless in the world, turned out to be true. While I tried to keep a CCRF (cool, calm, relaxed face) on the outside, I was screaming in terror on the inside every time Nick reversed out of a car park onto the main road, tried to fit through a way too tight side street, tried to maneuver his way through the most chaotic roundabout I had ever been in... Everything in Palermo is pretty much in walking distance so let me tell you guys, no one needs a car in Palermo! Driving is life threatening, parking is a nightmare and unless you are driving a Fiat 500, don’t even bother trying to get around any streets within the city center. Rental car rant over.
Leaving the driving situation aside, Palermo is a city so incredibly beautiful, that no matter what corner you turn, you find a new gorgeous alley, chapel, fountain or simply house facade that fills you with so much awe you are simply too distracted to waste any time thinking about anything else but enjoying yourself.
Despite the water temperature, May is an amazing time to visit this place! The weather is sunny and dry and you can walk around in summer gear during the day without melting in 30+ degrees heat. The city is full of locals loving life without being flooded by tourists yet, and the beaches (Mondello is a must see!) are empty enough to find a comfy space with plenty of room between you and the next group of beach towels.
Pretty much everyone we met in Palermo was incredibly friendly and accommodating too. You can tell that people in Sicily genuinely enjoy life and are not letting anything get in their way. This feeling really was contagious.
No matter whether we spent our days on the beach, soaking up the sun and swimming (well dipping our toes into deep turquoise waters - the Mediterranean Sea in May is still rather cold), or wandering through the streets of Palermo for hours on end, every night I went to sleep - no matter how exhausted I was - I simply couldn’t wait to get back up and start all over again.
Spending time with my best friend and my partner at the same time was the icing on my travel cake. For the past five years, while living in NZ, I had to constantly choose one or the other, having them both with me while discovering a completely new place, literally combined all my favourite things in the world. To top it all of, Anne’s friend Lisa was the best travel companion anyone could imagine and the four of us couldn’t have gotten along any better if we tried.
On our last night, we went to our favourite bar (yup we managed to find our “local” within five days), the owner of the bar was so excited about our presence long after everyone else had left, that he shouted us a round of NZ 42Below vodka and told us about his father who is part of the Sicilian mafia. I’m not sure if it was the alcohol or the fact that we were all a little emotional about returning back home the next day, but when Vincento explained to us that to him, Palermo, his home town, is "magic", something clicked in me.
We all agreed that what Vincento had said was true and important on so many levels. Anne and I started talking about how magical we thought Palermo was and how we wish we could stay an extra couple of days but then Anne told me that, “no matter where I go, every time I come back home, I am so excited to be there.” She said she was never excited to go back to work of course or deal with daily chores, but she was genuinely excited about her life in Cologne. The moment she said this, I realised that I had felt the exact same way about Auckland. Even after my visits back home to Germany, which always made it insanely hard to leave, the minute I touched back down in New Zealand, I was genuinely excited to be there. This realisation and the feeling both Anne and I experience when returning “home” for me is true magic.
I always say that I would love to spend my life traveling the world and I mean it. However, when you do live in a place that you are genuinely excited about being in, the meaning of travel kind of changes a little. For quite a long time, travel, to some extent, meant “escape” to me; escape from work, escape from daily life, escape from boredom, routines and problems but once you don’t feel like “running”/ “escaping” anymore, you can enjoy travel for what it truly is - the exploration of something and somewhere new as well as a change in perspective that, really can be, life changing and magical.
Author - Natalie Gruner
A travel girl at heart, Nat co-created Travelher and is currently working remotely on a few different projects from her homeland, Germany. She is planning to settle in New Zealand in the near future, while building a more flexible life for herself that allows her to live in paradise without compromising regular home visits and continuous globetrotting.