I Want “Paler-mo” Of It!

I Want “Paler-mo” Of It!

 

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

 

The Capital Of The EU Just Got Served: Brussels

The Capital Of The EU Just Got Served: Brussels

 

Starting around 10am in Bruges, I hopped on the hourly train to Brussels for 9 euros, arriving at around 11am. Then I took Tram 82 for 2.10 euros to get to my hostel at Meininger Hotel & Hostel, dropped off my stuff (since check-in wasn’t until 3pm), and headed out to explore Brussels for the day.

After about 15 minutes of strolling through the northwest neighborhoods, I first hit Bourse.

 

 

Right by it is the first ever Le Pain Quotidien.

 

 

Don’t miss the comic-strip designs on some of the buildings.

 

 

Brussels’ symbol, Mannekin Pis, is a few minutes walk from Bourse; it’s a 60cm high statue of a kid literally taking a piss in a fountain and has been adopted as the city’s symbol since the 1400s.

Various theories of his origin exist: One is that he was the son of a Brussels nobleman who got lost and then was found doing the twinkle. Another was that he was exercising his patriotic duty by urinating on a Spanish sentry guard from his window. The most heroic of these was that he extinguished a bomb’s fuse with the first thing he could think of (while happening to be wandering around naked of course), thus saving the Brussels Town Hall.

On holidays you can find him dressed up in over 800+ costumes that are now on display in the Musée de la Ville.

 

Mannekin-Pis just got served

 

I then headed to Grand-Place, the main plaza surrounded by beautifully gilded buildings, museums, and the Town Hall. This whole square was demolished by the French in 1695, the Town Hall being the only original building still standing, but was rebuilt by the Belgians on a even grander scale within 4 years.

 

The Town Hall

 

Close by Grand-Place is the beautiful line of shops of Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen (Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert).

 

 

Among the winding streets immediately north of Grand-Place is a small alleyway leading to 2 more notable Belgian treasures.

 

 

One of them is Delirium Café/Bar which won the Guinness Book Of World Records for serving the most number (2000+) of different beers in one location.

 

 

The other, facing Delirium Bar, is Jeanneke-Pis. It’s a similarly small statue of  that was built in 1987 as the female counterpart to Mannekin-Pis.

 

 

Afterwards I headed north to 18th century Place Des Martyrs, where 500 martyrs of Belgium’s 1830 War of Independence lie in state.

 

 

East of Place des Martyrs is the only museum I bothered to check out: the Belgian Center for Comic-Strip Art, which explains the history and social/cultural impact of the comic book strip.

Except for an exhibit on Tin-Tin, The Smurfs, and the history of the comic-strip dating back as far as caveman-art, all the rest of the exhibits might only appeal to the local Belgian (none of the comics are in English).

 

 

I then walked southeast to Cathedrale des Sts-Michel-Et-Gudule of 1226, a Roman Catholic Church that’s been known as the “purest flowering of the Gothic Style.”

 

 

Afterwards I walked by Palais de la Nation

 

 

…through Parc de Bruxelles

 

 

…landing at the Palais Royal on the southern end of the park.

 

 

From there I took a metro train to Schuman Station, the heart of the European Union (FYI Brussels is the capital of the EU) and where 25,000 people now work in a 1.2 million square meter space to run the entire EU. The European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of Ministers are all here.

On top of Schuman Station is the X-shaped Palais de Berlaymont, the former headquarters of the European commission.

 

 

Across the street is the Council of Ministers:

 

 

Then with a stroll through nearby Leopold Park, you’ll end up at the humongous post-modern structure that is the European Parliament.

 

The European Parliament just got served

 

In the middle you can find the official statue of Europa:

 

 

More of the European Parliament:

 

The EU just got served

 

I then headed back to the Brussels city center, swinging by the Eglise St-Jacques-sur-Coudenberg.

 

 

Flanking the church are 2 squares, the cafe-lined Place Du Grand Sablon:

 

 

…and on the other side, the recently renovated Place Du Petit Sablon:

 

 

At the very south of the city center is the Palais de Justice. It’s the highest point in Brussels, and where you can catch a great sunset over the city.

 

 

The Palais de Justice itself is an architectural marvel. I ignored the front scaffolding and headed inside.

 

 

It’s worth a look:

 

 

After that, you’ve pretty much seen all of Brussels has to offer in one day, save for the 75+ museums I decided to save for another trip.

Time to end this 4 day weekend and head home.

 

- At time of posting in Brussels, Belgium, it was 1 °C - Humidity: 88% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

In Bruges

In Bruges

 

I have to admit, the first time I ever heard of Bruges was when I saw the trailer to Colin Farrell’s dark comedy “In Bruges back in 2008.

A little context for the post’s title…

The film makes fun of Bruges as a place “no one has ever heard of” but also cherishes it for being one of the loveliest, most romantic city in Western Europe.

Either way, the film locked Bruges a spot deep within my social consciousness; if I would be in the region, I would go. Amsterdam became nearby enough.

From Amsterdam Centraal, I took a 9:17am NS International Train to Antwerp Centraal, arriving at around 10:31am.

 

 

Then I switched to a train heading in Belgium’s direction. You have to be careful here as you might have to change again at Ghent, lest you may continue onwards into France or the edge of Belgium. And I did just that: I overslept my stop at Ghent and woke up at around 12:20pm as the train was pulling away from Wevelgem.

Too tired to curse to myself, I stumbled off at the next stop at Menen and spent an extra 9 euros to take a 12:38pm train heading in the opposite direction. I got off at Kortrijk at 12:56pm, just missing the connecting 12:56pm train to Bruges. No fear, however, as the European rail system is quite comprehensive; I only had to wait an extra half hour to get on the 1:35pm train to Bruges, arriving at around 2:20pm. Crisis averted.

From the train station I took Bus 4 (14 also works) heading northwest, stopping right in front of Snuffel Hostel. After checking in, I walked southeast towards The Markt.

 

 

Once you come across The Markt, you’re at the main hub of Bruges.

 

 

On the southern part of The Markt is the Belfry, where for 10 euros you can climb up 366 steps to its bell tower, even as its rings a song every 15 minutes.

 

 

The views of Bruges from the top of the belfry:

 

 

Adjacent to The Markt is The Burg, similarly surrounded by an array of medieval buildings, including the Town Hall, the Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Liberty of Bruges.

 

 

From The Markt and The Burg, everything to see in Bruges is within a 10 minute stroll, so take your time to explore the canals and the various exhibits each building has to offer.

 

 

On the southern part of Bruges is the Princey Beguinage of the Vineyard at the Minnewater (Lake of Love), a tranquil spot to walk around if you’re getting tired of all the cars and traffic in the city.

 

 

I found a beautiful gaggle of swans swimming in one of the canals, following them up north as they headed towards The Markt and The Burg.

 

 

Afterwards, I headed back up to Snuffel Hostel, grabbing dinner before calling it an early night. Eat your heart out Colin Farrell!

 

 

- At time of posting in Bruges, Belgium, it was 3 °C - Humidity: 86% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: drizzle