Literally, there was a fly in the plane; it buzzed above our seats and flew with us from Rome to Palermo. It probably could have been avoided if not for my dear husband, but it was only partly his fault.
Rewind to 10 hours earlier, i.e. 5 a.m on the 1st of December. We had to have the early start to get our selves and our guests out of the apartment, factoring time for V to have tantrums #1, #2 and # 3 (during forced waking, brushing teeth, dressing respectively), for clearing the spare room and any last-minute packing. The shuttle van came early, we stumbled out into the cold dark city, feeling glad we had somewhere far away to escape to, if only for a few days.
We got to the airport in good time for coffee, croissants and a good read of the magazines and newspapers of the day. When we boarded the plane I was surprised to see that the seats were upholstered in green but it didn't occur to me until much later that we were flying with Alitalia. We had booked Air France tickets, but Air France ran out of seats for our 9.30 a.m. flight (something to do with our cheap tickets husband informed me) and put us onto an Alitalia one (the two are code share partners) at 10.15 a.m. In the short flight we were offered drinks with a layered white cheese sandwich (okay) and a scary cake.
Our plane landed in Rome Fumicino airport in good time (i.e only 20 minutes delay), leaving us with at least an hour to catch our connecting Alitalia flight to Palermo. We made our way to Gate 6 as directed on the airport screens, and finding ourselves a little hungry (actually V was complaining) we ordered a plate of cured meats (salumi) from a bar-stand. Then we waited. After a while we noticed that there were not many passengers besides us, so we went up to the door and found out that our flight was not leaving from Gate 6. The attendant shrugged and told us to enquire at the Alitalia counter, which had a long line of people waiting to speak to the two staff on duty. Husband looked at the overhead screens which indicated we should go to Gate 31 which was quite a long way away especially considering he had to carry V who could not run that fast. When we got to Gate 31 it was completely isolated, no other human beings there, therefore the plane could not possibly leave from this gate. By this time we were 15 minutes away from the expected take-off time, so husband ran all the way back to the Alitalia desk, this time he did not bother to be nice and jumped the queue. Sighing, the attendant told us nonchalantly that the gate has been changed to #12. Off we ran again, all panicky and sweaty, only to find that the plane has not even arrived! We waited another one hour, meanwhile V had a tantrum on the floor, we dealt with that by pretending we were not acquainted with her, another passenger even tickled her tummy. After a while she gave up, and consented to take some sips from a bottle of water.
By this time another plane had come and picked up passengers for Bari. Husband asked the staff for the reason of the delay. The cleaners, they couldn't find any, the hapless guy said. What? But no problem, the flight is only an hour, there's no need to clean the plane, that's what my husband suggested. The man shook his head, no, not possible, so we waited some more. Unexpectedly, 20 minutes later, he conceded and decided to let us all board anyway. Hurray!
In the plane, we found a big fly circling above our seats. It buzzed occasionally, but when the attendant came along he knew better than to make any noise. V slept during the flight, she didn't miss anything, only the mini-crackers or chocolate chip cookies offered as refreshments. Our plane finally landed in Palermo and after some time getting our rental car we finally drove to the city, arriving at our hotel after 5.30 p.m. factoring time circling for non-existent parking spot before giving up and surrendering the keys to the hotel for what then seemed like a reasonable daily parking fee of 18 euros.
We loved our hotel. I found it at booking.com at a good price at 145 euros for a double plus extra child bed. Our room was spacious with beautiful bathroom and decorated in a tasteful, quietly opulent fashion.
By this time we were all starving. The concierge said Sicilians don't eat dinner until 8 pm but all we had all day were coffee, industrial croissants, more processed yet insubstantial food so we had to eat something. V and I walked to a nearby coffeeshop and took away a portion of what looked to be pasta pie along with a doughnut. The three of us devoured the pasta pie ( I know not the actual name). Tender pasta, just the way I like it, with a meaty and mellow tomato sauce brightened with peas and topped with breadcrumbs was unexpectedly delicious, the Sicilians can do extraordinary things with their breadcrumbs as I was soon to discover. They also put breadcrumbs on everything and anything. Anyway, even if we were not starving we would still have enjoyed this simple dish.
The doughnut was also another revelation. Despite it being late in the day and probably sitting on the counter for a long time as evidenced by the melted sugar and reapplication, the insides were stretchy and bready and sweet. The ricotta filling was marvelous, I've never liked ricotta up to this point because to me ricotta taste of nothing. Yet the ricotta here was sweet, tangy, silky, light, rich, all at the same time. An amazing doughnut that was. We were still hungry, so we ate Pink Lady apples I rescued from my kitchen table in Paris (see last-minute packing in second paragraph).
Fed and bathed, we let V nap to recuperate her energies. It was a Monday night and most places were closed. Husband looked in his Rough Guide and booked us at a place that wasn't. I had not done any homework because my well-travelled friend who eats at Michelin places all the time told me with great confidence that one can walk into any restaurant in Sicily and have a great meal. Well, I made one lunch reservation just in case, but that was not to happen until the fourth day of our trip so in the meantime we have to see how lucky we get.
Sant'Andrea is about 15 minutes walk from our hotel. It is located on a tiny piazza of the same name, a little off Piazza Sant Domenico. Inside it is bright and the welcome was warm. Being listed in the tourist guide meant our fellow diners were from France, Hong Kong and UK but there was also an Italian gentleman eating a solo dinner just behind our table.
Husband's first course of cod paste over onions and toast was tasty at first bite, boring the second. He couldn't stop saying how delicious the braised carrots were. I think I got the better deal with my mixed appetisers. Meaty tasting olives, some delicious fritters of various seafood, also triangular chips of chickpeas and my favourite, a type of meatball with fresh sardines inside, that was spectacular though one itty bitty ball was like not very generous.
It was easy to predict what husband will pick, if there is squid on the menu he will always order it. This was grilled, the crust was subtly herbal and nutty, and he was contented because the squid was sweet and very fresh; the barley risotto in particular was very good he also insisted. V didn't eat much of what we ordered but loved the complimentary breads and the olives from my plate.
I was pleased with my choice too. At first I had wanted fried sardines, but decided to try instead the local speciality which is spaghetti with fresh sardines. What arrived was a tangle of noodles in a gorgeous green sauce of fennel and pine nuts studded with golden raisins which were juicy and plump, their yielding fruity sweetness provided great balance with the pasta, the sauce and the fresh sardine fillets. A little dish of breadcrumbs is served on the side, to be sprinkled on the pasta according to one's inclination. My only complaint was the noodles were too al dente for my taste but overall it was a magnificient dish that came across surprisingly lightly in spite of its number of ingredients.
After finishing the pasta, I was ready to call it a day but the Italiangentleman behind me ordered these raviolis and I had to have some too. The raviolis were stuffed with orange scented ricotta, deepfried then sprinkled with icing sugar and served with a saffron-infused citrusy sauce The skin was light and short, crumbling and crunching most satisfactorily, the filling ethereally light, like melting, making the sauce seemed almost redundant. Outstanding.
The restaurant was also very accommodating. Noticing that bottled mineral water was only 1.50 euros for a large bottle (vs 5 euros in Paris for example) and it being too late to shop at a convenience store and our intention to avoid the minibar in our room, we asked to buy a bottle but they refused and gave apologetic excuses which we could not understand because we spoke no Italian and they spoke no English. What they did instead was to give us a large bottle of iced water to take home, gratis, so very kind of them and very much appreciated by us.
So ended our first day of vacation. A bit tumultous in parts but the ending was good. V fell asleep on the way back to the hotel, she too had a long day. We settled in for some rest, tomorrow the holiday starts.