My travel blogs began with leaving the UK for the first time in around three years as I packed my bag, avoided the Queen’s festivities and jumped on the Eurostar for Amsterdam. Read Part 1 here.
Now it was time to get on a plane for the first time in quite some time and experience some unseasonably hot weather…
Friday, 23 September – First flight in over 2 years
Today, I was boarding my first flight for two-and-a-half years, since flying home from Japan to the UK at the height of the COVID breakout. I was flying from Amsterdam to Palermo in Sicily, Italy, and I’d been warned by several people that Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is a nightmare, so to arrive super early.
My flight was at 11.40am, so I aimed to arrive by 8am. I made the half-hour walk to Amsterdam Centraal, bought a ticket to Schiphol and was there by about 7.45am.
As I only have one bag – a Stubble & Co. Adventure Bag that I purchased to avoid baggage checks – I didn’t have to navigate a fairly lengthy queue at the EasyJet check-in desk. So I walked straight through to customs, where there was only one person – albeit a really dumb guy who didn’t understand the concept of putting all your carry-on belongings into trays and, for some reason, had three carry-on bags. So I was through customs in about two minutes – which meant a three-hour wait for the airport to announce which gate we’d be boarding from 40 minutes before departure.
There wasn’t much to do in the lounge, so I bought a coffee and another substandard sandwich – bacon and egg – and fired up Football Manager for a few hours. Update: I won Copa MX and the CONCACAF Champions League!
The gate was announced just after 11 and we boarded smoothly; then the pilot announced we were likely to be landing earlier than expected. Happy days!
Indeed, we landed about 20 minutes earlier than expected, arriving in Palermo at around 2pm. From there, I walked straight through to the train station connected to the airport, which would take me straight into Palermo Centrale. However, buying the ticket was more difficult than expected as the machine twice took my payment, rejected and refunded it. So I instead purchased one from a slightly confused station attendant and boarded the train – where we were told two minutes before departing that face masks were still mandatory on Italian trains. Luckily, I had one stored away in my bag just in case, as there definitely wouldn’t have been time to get off the train and buy one before it departed, contrary to the train attendant’s claim.
Arriving in Palermo is a beautiful experience, with the airport surrounded by these huge rock structures and mountains. So it was an enjoyable train journey into the city, which took the edge off stopping in every tiny little stop on the way! But when it finally arrived at the central station, I had around a 25-minute walk up to my hotel, the San Paolo Palace Hotel.
The city of Palermo was also a great experience, walking into the old streets and finding my way – in 28-degree heat in September! – out towards the hotel, the San Paolo Palace Hotel, which is well outside the city centre. Regardless, the hotel looks fantastic, with a grand entrance, a small bar and a big restaurant downstairs, a small gym on the first floor and an outdoor pool and the 14th and top floor.
I was pretty tired when I arrived, but thought I’d go exploring anyway. That meant walking all the way back into the centre of Palermo – mainly because I really fancied a pizza on my first night in Italy! So I trekked back into the centre along some often non-existent pavements and went in search of pizza. And that was a more difficult task than it might sound in Italy, as a lot of the restaurants that claimed to be Pizzerias, didn’t serve pizza!
But I eventually found one that did, and I had a pretty delicious Piccante pizza. The next task was to try and find somewhere that was showing the Italy v England football match, which I quickly gave up on because I was tired. So I wandered back home to the hotel to watch it in my room and then went to sleep because the football was terrible.
Saturday, 24 September – First full day in Italy
My first full day in Italy was a chance to get out and explore the joys of Palermo. I tagged all the places I wanted to go and see on Google Maps, popped my trusty walking boots back on and got back to walking the same route I had last night. There are a lot of grand structures on the way into the city, including a big archway and an old castle just before you turn left to head into the Historical City Centre.
I wandered through the old streets, ticking off the various landmarks I wanted to see, then walked further out towards the Palazzo Royale and a Norman Abbey, which reflected the city’s intriguing past. Long story short, Sicily has been invaded by more or less every foreign power in history since around 800BC, which makes for an intriguing mix of buildings and cultures.
My first stop was the impressive Quattro Canti and the Praetorian Fountain then various churches and a couple of Sicily’s famous markets, Mercato di Ballaro and Mercato del Capo. I ended up walking about 10 miles across the city, taking in the sights, various churches and the impressive Cathedral and exploring what some of the local cafes had to offer, then made my way back to the hotel.
I had a nap before deciding to try out the hotel restaurant, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to walk back into town. Although having said that, Palermo is well-serviced by various electric bikes and scooters, which I probably need to start using at some point. The meal was pretty good – despite them not having the mussels I really fancied. But I had octopus tentacles, which were delicious, and spaghetti with clams, which was also really tasty.
Sunday, 25 September – Working on a Sunday!
My Sunday started with being shouted at in Italian by a waitress who wouldn’t let me sit at an empty breakfast table. She picked my plate up and moved it to another equally empty table, for no obvious reason. But fair enough!
I decided to go for another walk this morning, this time turning right out of the hotel and away from the city centre. This takes you down towards a little beach, which was nice and secluded and sandy in patches with rocks here and there. Also, it wasn’t the cleanest beach in the world, as there were glass beer bottles and plastic bottles all over the place, as well as huge mounds of rubbish piled up.
On the plus side, the beach offers fantastic views along the Palermo seafront and out to the mountains. So I had a wander, had a little sit on the beach for a while, then headed back to the hotel to do some work – I know, working on a Sunday, shocking! And I’m usually the kind of person who refuses to work on weekends. But it was needed, as I had plans tomorrow morning and a deadline to meet. But I also worked by the poolside, which was lovely except for some pretty strong winds.
Given I’m a freelance writer, it would be a poor show if I didn’t give you some idea of what I’m working on in these updates! Today I wrote an article for Okta, a security company, which was based on an interview they’d done with one of their employees. The blog was for Cyber Security Awareness month in October, for which Okta is telling stories about the cybersecurity heroes that work for the company, to highlight the great work they do and convince more people to go and work in cybersecurity.
So Sunday was pretty quiet, and I got a much-needed early night ahead of a busy day to begin my first full week in Europe.
Want to see more of Palermo? Check out my video exploring my hotel and wandering down to the local beach here: