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When thinking of Italy minds too often drift to Rome, Florence, Milan, or Venice. But what many people don't often consider are the islands of Italy and their respective cities. I admit, I used to be one of those people, but after seeing Sicily (if you imagine Italy as a boot, Sicily is the island that it's kicking) and specifically Palermo, its most populous city, my heart will forever yearn to return to its affordable food, crystal clear water, and one-of-a-kind nightlife.
Palermo is famous for its ancient open-air markets, some of which historians argue are the oldest in all of Europe. These open-air markets serve up a plethora of Sicilian staples – from freshly pressed orange juice to delicious fried, cheese stuffed balls of risotto called Arancini. I can give first-hand testimony that these warm, gooey, crunchy balls are the perfect hangover food, honestly, I'm just waiting for someone to bring them back to the states.
Apart from the delicious street foods available in the markets, Palermo is also famous for its interesting yet irresistible flavor combinations (one of their most famous pastas includes sardines, fennel, and raisins). However, as amazing as that dish was, my heart and expectations were forever in awe of the eggplant, swordfish, and mint concoction that literally changed my life.
Before Palermo, my expectations for beaches on the Mediterranean Sea were pretty low. I'd learned that they're often amazing to look at, but not the best to relax on. I'd become accustomed to overcrowding in Barcelona, football-sized rocks in Nice, and coarse sand in Mykonos. However, the sand in Palermo was the softest, most comfortable sand I've ever squished between my toes. By no means was the beach empty, but it was full mainly of locals who added to the fun atmosphere with spontaneous Italian singing and beach-soccer games.
Getting to the beach was also incredibly easy and affordable. We took a 30-minute bus from the city center, and it only cost about five euro for a round-trip ticket.
When traveling at length in Europe, you quickly grow accustomed to club scene that seems to envelop the entirety of Europe. Don't get me wrong, at first it's incredibly fun and thrilling, but after a while it feels slightly monotonous, and the cost of fancy club drinks quickly depletes any student's bank account. The scene in Palermo was completely different. The famous open-air markets that served food during the day transform into hubs for gathering at night. The entire city flocks to the old town and turns the narrow pathways into impromptu music and dance circles. The EDM and electric-pop of clubs are replaced with guitars and foot-stomping. There aren't really any fancy bars, but rather windows of shop that serve you drinks with on the street.
I ended up meeting some nice locals that spoke English, and they led us around the whole city ensuring that we left no hotspot unseen. It was honestly one of the most amazing nights out I've ever had, and even though my travel partner would argue that I had too much to drink, I remember it as clearly as most other nights out on the town I've had in Europe.
If you ever find yourself in/around Italy, I 10/10 recommend ditching the tourist hot-spots of Rome, Venice, and Milan and visiting the little-known haven that is Palermo. Although fair warning, the Italians are SUPER into PDA, so don't be surprised if you see people making out next to you on the beach, it happened to us a few times!