Our Slovenian adventure had come to an end and now we were excited to start the last leg of our 10-month odyssey in the south of Italy on the island of Sicily. At the crack of dawn, we dropped dad off at the airport in Ljubljana for his journey home and continued towards Venice, Italy where we would return our rental car and board a 2 ½ Hr flight for Palermo, Sicily.
We were making good time on the drive having crossed the Italian border and finding ourselves ahead of schedule so we decided to make a pitstop for a coffee and some breakfast. We exited off the highway and headed into the center of Palmanova, a small Italian city close to the Slovenian border (little over an hour from Venice, half hour to Udine, Italy) that seemed rather industrial and non-descript at first but it turned out to be such a pleasant surprise! We drove into what seemed like the center and parked in front of a cafe, we ordered chocolate croissants and cappuccino’s that we enjoyed in the early morning sun out front of the shop. Sipping on our coffee’s we watched the town wake up, shops started to open and people were heading to work. Some soldiers stopped by for a coffee on their way to what must have been a nearby base and the streets began to get a little livelier, it was about 8am now. We still had some time to kill so we thought we’d take a little walk down the street and if nothing interesting came about we’d head back and continue our drive.
Heading down the street our curiosity was peaked a little more, at the end of the road leaving the ordinary streets that didn’t give any indication of what was around the corner. Suddenly we entered a large, pentagonal piazza and to the left a beautiful baroque church instantly drew our attention so we decided to go and have a look, lucky for us it was open early in the morning. The Chiesa Del Santissimo Redentore, Palmanova or the Duomo Dugale was built in the first half of the seventeenth century, it’s Venetian architecture on the outside gives some indication of the elaborate baroque decorations on the inside. To find your way here put Piazza Grande,1 Palmanova in your GPS and park just outside the piazza which is a pedestrian only zone. For you shoppers, Palmanova also has a large outlet mall and I’ve attached a link. The GPS address for the mall is Strada Provinciale 126, Palmanova.
We left the church and wandered around the parameter of Piazza Grande, one of the largest we had seen in all of Italy. Turns out the city was built at the end of the 16th century by the Venetian Republic and was designed as a Utopian city of the Renaissance. The city is a concentric star with three nine-sided ring roads intersecting the main radiating streets, a large star surrounded by walls that defend the city. It’s quite amazing and the piazza is the center of the star, the heart of the city, surrounded by cafes and shops that benefit from the concerts, activities and events where people gather here. A beautiful outdoor café caught our eyes and we had to have another cappuccino to sit and a savor a few more minutes in this lovely town before continuing to the airport. Here’s a link to a drones eye view that someone else took of the town and I thought was interesting. If you want to see the rest of our photos on Palmanova, here is a link.
Arriving at Venice International once again (our fifth time here) we returned our rental car and headed to the gate where we had over an hour before it opened to except our luggage. When the desk finally opened we got to experience again how some Italians work a lineup, order is just a suggestion and even though we were second in line having stood there for over an hour people tried to move in front of us. We experienced this at a tabaccheria lining up for a bus ticket, at a café waiting for coffee, at the grocery store in line to pay……didn’t matter if you were ahead in the line someone would always try to butt in, one of the daily frustrations here and a cultural thing that takes some getting use to.
We were flying an Italian discount Airline called Volotea and it was chaos from the get-go. It was lineup after lineup, each with the same line jumpers working the crowds…from the baggage check to security to the boarding gate, then lining up for a bus, then lining up to enter the plane. It ended up over an hour late and delayed because at the last minute as they were closing the doors they had to let someone off who had gotten on the wrong flight-how does that happen! We landed in Palermo late in the afternoon and exited the plane onto the tarmac, the mid-afternoon heat struck us like a glove across the face, a large mountain looming in the background and the sweet smell of sea air and we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore!
Buses took us to the terminal and we soon had our rental car which was scarred with the damage of past encounters which we would soon find out were typical of driving in the chaos of Sicily. Exiting the airport, we made our way through the city at the beginning of rush hour and got quickly versed in survivals skills for the Sicilian roadways. Lanes, right of way, speed limits, stop signs and even red lights are just a suggestion, courtesy is only for the weak and timid and if you offer some a Sicilian will look at you like ‘what a loser’. It seems that everyone here went to driving school in Naples or vice versa, driving in Sicily is a constant game of Chicken!
We made our way into a small town called Campofelice di Rocella and nervously drove through the chaos of the city center where we were to meet our Airbnb owner. Although a half hour late she was lovely and directed us to our apartment which was up in the hills, overlooking the sea and hidden in the thick of an overgrown orchard.
We settled in for the night and made plans to meet our hostess the next day to show us some of her favorite beach spots in the area. Tomorrow we would start exploring what Sicily had to offer and our first day of what would be many, at the beach. Next post we are off to Cefalu!