There was so much eager anticipation as our bus drove up the winding road to the top of Mount Pellegrino. Our 48-seater coach negotiated the narrow Italian road up the tip of the 606-metre-high mountain.
Looking down we could see the stunning view of Palermo, the capital city of Sicily, perched along the harbour.
We were on our way to see the cave in which a famous devout religious girl, Rosalia, lived as a hermit. She died alone in 1166. Today, Sicilians have two special events a year dedicated to her.
Rosalia became a saint in 1624 when Palermo was hit by a plague. She appeared to a young boy in a dream and told him where her body was located in a cave.
She asked the boy to have her bones brought down the mountain and be paraded in a procession through the city. After the procession, the plague stopped and to this day Rosalia is a revered and dearly loved saint of Palermo.
A sanctuary has been built around the cave that she lived in. Wanting to pay tribute to the saint that changed the trajectory of Palermo, a few of us went to a vendor at the site selling white candles enclosed in red cases.
And there she was in a form of a grey statue in front of the cave she called home. Standing tall and regal with a cross in one hand and a skull in another.
Around her statue were offerings brought by her followers whose lives she had touched. Baby clothes were draped around her statue from women who struggled to have children, and wedding dresses from young brides seeking a blessing upon their marriages.
There were also artificial limbs representing various body parts that had been healed through the power of Saint Rosalia.
Some cried, some said a prayer and some gave an offering touched by the story of the young girl chosen by angels to save the beautiful city that we were about to enjoy.
Palermo is a beautiful multicultural city.
I did not see any signs of Mafioso, contrary to popular belief, as I walked in the alleyways and back streets of the city. Shopping is also very easy in Palermo as most people understand and speak English.
The best way to get in touch with Sicilian life is to head to the La Vucciria market, which is populated by street vendors tenaciously selling colourful vegetables, fruit, seafood and memorabilia.
Sicilians still hold the tradition of going to the market to buy fresh ingredients for their dinner.
Our hotel was located in the city centre on Piazza Ruggero Settimo, one of the city’s popular squares. Located on the square is the Teatro Politeama, the second most important theatre of the city after the Massimo Opera house, which is one of the largest in Europe.
People love sitting on the stairs to the entrance of the theatre while enjoying a Gelato and watching the passers-by. Being part of a group tour is not as restrictive as I’d anticipated. I was able to break away from the group to discover some other little treasures.
The streets of Palermo are filled with interesting statues, quaint little shops in the alleyways and cute churches almost at every corner. Commercial designer shops also line the main street.
While admiring all the colourful and bold apartments, be sure to be on the lookout for scooters and cars that don’t seem to care about traffic rules. Another highlight in Palermo is the the Valle dei Templi, an archaeological site in Agrigento. There are seven temples which were built between 510BCE and 430BCE.
The well-preserved Temple of Concordia is a big crowd-puller and is the most photographed. This world heritage site is one of Sicily’s major tourist attractions.
The tour was a jam-packed. We took in than 10 regions, listening to the history, enjoying the food and the never-ending breathtaking views.