Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Day 33, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Today we are in Palermo, Italy on the island of Sicily, which is famous for being the birthplace of the Mafia. Palermo is a big city with a population of around 1.2 million in the metropolitan area. Like so many cities we have visited on this trip, it is also very old, founded in 734 BC.
We didn’t dock until 10:00 so we slept in until 9:00 after a very good night’s sleep. Today we have a Cruise Critic tour organized by roll call member Julie. We will be visiting an olive oil factory and a winery where we will have lunch and wine tasting.
We met with our tour group at 10:00 in the Ocean Bar and then went to the pier where we met our tour guide, Alfie, and were happy to see there were two minibuses instead of the three vans they had scheduled. The minibuses are much more comfortable than the cramped seating of vans. The first part of our tour was a slow drive through Palermo mainly due to the very heavy traffic, but it also gave us a good look at the city as Alfie described the history and culture.
The term Mafia is actually a generic term, which refers to any criminal organization, so the Sicilian Mafia is actually called the Cosa Nostra. A lot of the later history revolved around the Mafia and evidently 40 years ago, Palermo was a very dangerous town that nobody would visit. At one point, two men decided they’d had enough and started a campaign to make Palermo safe again. After 13 years they actually succeeded, but were killed themselves. However, by that time, it was too late for the Mafia and they were largely ineffective from that point on. People were joking that the Mafia is probably stronger in the US now than it is in Sicily.
After leaving Palermo, we drove through the countryside and made our first stop in a small village to visit an olive oil factory. This was a small neighborhood processing plant where local people brought in small batches of olives and then picked up their olive oil in small containers, which they carried home. It was very interesting and we got to sample some freshly processed olive oil as it came out of the spigot into the container. Alfie had brought bread for us to put the olive oil on and the taste was very different, and much better than the olive oil we get in stores. It is much stronger, earthy, and the olive taste is much more prominent.
|Olives waiting to be processed.|
|They're brought in the pressing plant.|
|Washed and then pressed.|
|And out comes olive oil.|
From there we continued our drive through the countryside of Sicily. Sicily is very agricultural and as a lot of places we have visited on this trip, reminded us of the area we live in. Our drive ended at the historical Principe Di Corleone Winery, which has been run by the same family since 1892. It is about a mile from the town of Corleone, which is infamous for being the birthplace of five of the most powerful Mafia leaders. It just so happened that today was the funeral of one of those early leaders who had just died in prison a few days earlier.
|The grounds of the winery were beautiful.|
|This is where we would be having lunch.|
|The patio area.|
|More of the vineyards.|
We were given a tour of the winery and the processes were explained as we went. Since Val and I live in wine country and the owner of the company I worked at before I retired also owned a winery, this wasn’t anything new or of much interest to Val and I. Val and I really enjoyed the beautiful day and the beautiful area.
|Although the winery owner's son (in the tie on the left) spoke pretty good English, some things had to be translated by our guide, Alfie (in the middle).|
|This was a pretty good sized winery.|
After the tour we were led to a patio before lunch where wine was served and everyone seemed to really enjoy the wine. After that, we went into the dining room where we were served a delicious Sicilian dinner. First we were served several different dishes and all of us thought that was our dinner, but it turned out that was only the antipasto course and it was followed by several main pasta courses. We were all full, but it was all delicious. Throughout the dinner, various wine pairings were served and our hosts were very generous.
Finally, it was time for dessert and a plate of cannolis was served. These, we were told, were made the traditional way using sheep milk. Everyone groaned at more food, but they soon disappeared as they were delicious. After dinner wine was served (again) and the chef came out and was introduced to a round of applause. People were given the opportunity to buy some of the wine and many took advantage of it as they said it was excellent.
|These cannolis were so good. And they were made the traditional way using sheep milk.|
|The owner's son and general manager, Alfie, the general manager's son and our driver and second guide.|
|One last picture of the beautiful vineyards before we leave.|
Finally it was time to board the bus and there were many happy, but very full people on the ride back to the ship. We were actually supposed to drive back through Corleone, but we had spent too much time at the winery and didn’t have time. It took us about an hour to drive back through the same countryside we saw on our way out, but the sun was going down and it gave everything that golden glow that you see near sunset.
All aboard today was at 5:30 and we arrived back at the ship in plenty of time at 5:00. There were street vendors outside the terminal so we spent some time looking through them before getting back on the ship. Even though Val and I didn’t drink any wine, we thoroughly enjoyed our tour today. Alfie was a very good and personable host and the drive through the countryside gave us a good feel for what Sicily is like. We especially enjoyed the visit to the olive oil factory, and the winery and dinner was very, very good.
We were still pretty full from lunch so we decided to skip going to the dining room, but we did go to trivia. We also decided to visit the casino and were glad we did, I had a good night and Val had an even better night. Tomorrow we will visit our last port of the cruise in Italy, Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.