After 2 days relaxing in the off-the-beaten-path island of Lampedusa, the gang took a direct evening flight out to Palermo, capital of Sicily, afterwards.

 

 

Founded by Phoenicians under the name of “Ziz” and later renamed by Greeks “Panormos”, which means “all port,” Palermo’s golden age was during Arab rule from 9th to 11th centuries AD when it became one of the most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean and Europe.

 

 

It was referred to as the “city of delights” for its gardens, mosques and palaces.

 

 

After the Normans conquered Palermo, they destroyed most of the palaces and mosques, but replaced it with a unique architectural mix of Arabesque, Romanesque, and Byzantine influences known as the “Arab-Norman Style of Sicily.”

 

 

Modern history, however, would make Sicily infamous for cosa nostra, aka the Mafia that now predominate the popular culture consciousness whenever Sicily is referred.

 

 

Let’s begin.

 

 

Starting from the west side of Palermo, we tried to visit the unique Catacombe dei Cappuccini filled with 8000 dressed up corpses and skeletons, but it was closed at the time of posting. So we walked by the 9th century neo-classical era Norman Palace instead, where the ancient chapel Cappella Palatina is also located; you can find elaborate Byzantine mosaics and paintings inside.

 

 

While here you might as well also peek inside the red-domed medieval church San Giovanni degli Eremiti:

 

 

 

Then working your way beginning east towards the harbor, pass through the symbolic and landmark Porto Nuovo, built in 1570.

 

 

Weave around Teatro Marmoreo and through Villa Bonanno park

 

 

As you walk east towards the water, stop by 12th century Cattedrale di Palermo:

 

 

If you pay the 12-15 euro ticket to access the rest of the cathedral, there’s the gorgeous roof:

 

 

…and the underground tombs:

 

 

Take a detour at the open-air Market Ballaro:

 

 

Head into the winding alleyways further east to find the baroque Chiesa del Gesù, built in the 1630s:

 

 

There’s also Church of San Cataldo, built in 1154 and featuring landmark Byzantine mosiacs, including Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio which lies next door.

 

 

…and equally beautiful Chiesa di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria:

 

 

Inside there’s a monastery you can stroll through for a few euros:

 

 

Then swing around Genius of Palermo Statue:

 

 

…past Fontana del Garraffo:

 

 

…past Fontana del Cavallo Marino:

 

 

…and as you approach Porta Felice, you know you’ve reached the sea:

 

 

There’s also an abandoned UNESCO World Heritage Site Ponte dell’Ammiraglio (“Admiral’s Bridge”) to the south, although there’s nothing much else to do around here:

 

 

Donna and I are taking it easy from here on out, because from here it’s a long way home. Brian knows it:

 

 

Palermo to Rome to Brussels …to Paris

The original plan was fly from Palermo to Rome to Brussels to NYC. So after Donna and I parted ways at the Palermo airport, I did just that. Once arriving into Brussels, however, it felt like …something was pulling me to Paris. I don’t know why since “I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains” …but I trust my gut. 

MXMS and Carla Bruni play on and on in my head.

 

Passing by the very same piano that caused us to miss our flight to Lampedusa 3 days prior

 

While arriving into Brussels, I got on the chat with United and asked if I could change my economy Brussels to NYC flight to a free business class upgrade at no extra cost. The answer: Sure, but you’ll have to get from Brussels to Paris and take a flight from there instead. Furthermore…

  • Evie also left her ONLY charger back in Palermo, and she was going to be in Paris that night.
  • Gina and Priscilla decided on a whim yesterday to extend their layover in Paris an extra day.
  • Priscilla had something personal of mine. And her foot, which had been injured during Yacht Week and became taken under my medical attention, appeared to need extra care.
  • Gina was still probably annoyed Evie, Sabrina, Sampson, Donna and I all barged to crash in her room 5 days ago in Olbia. It was a bad goodbye; I owed her a drink.
  • We would all be in Paris after a united last minute extension of all our trips. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

These were enough signs. And so I booked the next Brussels to Paris Thalys 9388 train at 9:16pm, arriving into Paris at 10:38pm where I would crash with one of them before all our morning flights back to the USA at 10am. It would be perfect.

But as we all know with travel, “perfect” may always involve a snag where the universe tests your will: Soon after booking my train ticket, I would get emails from Thalys every 15 minutes informing me of significant track delays up to 2 hours long. Every email indicated a longer and longer delay, to the point I was worried they were going to cancel the train entirely.

 

 

And yet when there’s a will there’s a way: although I had considered giving up on the idea of Paris as the logistics seemed too prohibitive, the prior Thalys 9376 train that had been due to arrive at 7:13pm in Brussels Midi Station instead pulled into the platform in front of me at 8:50pm. It was also running nearly 2 hours late, but oddly did not show up on the departure board as a possibility.

I immediately asked if I could board this one instead, but the agent at the station informed me that my ticket I had bought for the 9:16pm 9388 train would not apply and I would not be allowed onboard 9376. Once she left, I stowed away onboard the 9376 anyway, staying in between cars looking for a place to put my bags, pretending to wait for the bathroom, and hanging out at the café until the bullet train was well already in France.

Eventually my ruse would be noticed (I’m the worst spy ever), but after a discussion with the onboard police, playing stupid showing them I had already purchased a ticket but for a different train, a copy of a negative test for COVID-19 (with a BivaxNOW self-test kit which I had done with Donna the day before…thanks Donna!), that I was fully vaccinated, and a USA passport to accompany my vaccine card, they had no legitimate reason to throw me off the train when we were already 10 minutes away from Paris Gare du Nord station. Checkmate.

And to even make it more opportune, Evie’s hotel — where I could drop off my stuff — was located immediately outside the train station. Does that sound familiar to the beginning of this trip when I had arrived into Florence train station to briefly meet Patricia? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

Evie would have travel issues of her own: her flight from Valencia almost would be cancelled by a tornado there. Nevertheless it was a false alarm as she arrived, although 45 minutes late. Then from her hotel room we both set out to meet Priscilla and Gina, surprising them both (well, really just Priscilla; Gina had said she always knew I’d had it in me to make it work) that we’d make it in time right before they went to bed. And so our goodbye 5 days ago in Olbia was extended in none other than a midnight in Paris. 

Having stayed up for our third sunrise, we felt the third time is always the charm.

 

 

Then at 8am Priscilla, Gina and I then coordinated a cab together back to CDG where we would be all leaving at similar times back for our onward connecting flights home. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

And of all the business class flights to be upgraded to for free, United would choose SWISS Airlines, with the exact same layover in the exact same city of Zurich . . .  WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

 

 

. . . and in the exact same 7A seat I had flown to begin this trip 16 days ago. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

 

 

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN

 

 

The magic of the universe has and shall continue. Whether in circles or forward, probably the next step for us would be time travel.

 

- At time of posting in Palermo, Sicily, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

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