A Sicilian Cathedral tour offers an unexpected and chilling twist.

Palermo Cathedral Crypt

I usually love the unexpected moments of international travel. This time, my lack of knowledge of Italian in Sicily brought me a chilling surprise. I was on my first trip to Italy with friends  when my friend Herb and I decided to spend the day exploring the city on foot. We stopped for hot drinks and sat in the morning sunshine, enjoying the view of the nearby Palermo Cathedral. After hanging out for short time and taking a few photos Herb began feeling ill. He decided to return to his room, I continued on.

My love of architecture and churches took me directly to the Palermo Cathedral, formally known as Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral. I was excited to discover the cathedral offered a self guided tour. I paid my fee and accepted my ticket. I looked at it and stuck it in my pocket. It would be later that the significance of what the ticket said, would hold meaning to me.

The cathedral is a stunning piece of architecture. It’s history includes many rulers who over the centuries made additions to the architecture to suit the time. This originally Christian church for a time became an Islamic mosque and then in later centuries returned to a Christian church. One entrance showcases Catalan Gothic architecture. Inside the cathedral you see both Neoclassical and Baroque style architecture, while the apse of the cathedral contains Islamic geometric decorations. The cathedral offers beautiful architecture, mosaic tiles and tapestries for visitors to look at. I was thoroughly enjoying my tour of the cathedral and felt fortunate to discover a wedding party preparing for a marriage just before I entered a door that would turn my entire tour experience on it’s head. This is why knowing a little bit of the language is important. Knowing what you’re getting yourself into IS KEY!

Crypt Palermo Cathedral
Palermo Cathedral Crypt

Photo Credit Allie_Caulfied Flickr

What I Would Learn
What I would learn moments later was that the door I entered led into the cathedral crypt. CRYPT, as in graves, ahg! Not only am I claustrophobic but I’m not fond of looking at graves that have stone figures carved atop them. Especially not when I am in a room made of thick stone walls and Roman columns ALONE!

Crypt Grave

A Grave in the Palermo Cathedral Crypt

Photo Credit Simpsora Flickr

As I was refreshing my memory about the cathedral, (just now) I thought I would Google sarcophagus I thought it was the name given to the stone carved figures found on top of the graves in the crypt, but wanted to confirm this for my own knowledge. According to Wikipedia it means<em> flesh eating stone</em> my skin is now crawling.

According to Going Through Italy the crypt holds 21 graves, including the Palermo Arch Bishops, two Roman emperors and a Queen. The website also offers a nice photo that gives you a taste of the graves and the imposing Roman columns. Looking back at the photo I realize it is quite a large area. Yet trust me, it can be a freaky experience to wind up alone in a crypt you didn’t know you were walking into.

If you’d like to visit the Palermo Cathedral, the hours are 9:30-5:30 and there is an admission charge to take the tour. The tour includes the crypt and the treasury.

Three Funny Travel Experiences

After nearly a decade of living and traveling abroad there have been some funny moments. These are three of my memorable moments where humor was required.

Poland

While driving with friends from Germany to Poland I encountered one of my scariest travel moments…I was locked in a bathroom stall and couldn’t get out. The stall was one of those old fashioned types where the door went nearly to the floor… so, crawling out was IMPOSSIBLE. The height was such that even standing on the stool didn’t allow me to climb over. Add in the fact that I’m claustrophobic and it was a scary situation. Thankfully I was with a friend and she was able to go out and pantomime the fact that I needed help. (We were in a mom and pop cafe/gas station where no one spoke English.)

Someone came in after a few minutes and tried to open the door without success. Meanwhile my friend kept up encouraging conversation to keep me from coming unglued. Another ten minutes passed and someone came back with a hammer. They proceeded to spend several minutes hammering the door open. Suffice it to say for several years to come I didn’t go in a bathroom stall without first checking the lock.

Spain

On a solo trip to Spain I endured my worst driving experience ever. Being a fairly adventurous person I like to rent a car and drive in foreign countries. My experiences have ranged from relaxed to funny, to frustrating and beyond. Nerja, Spain falls under BEYOND! While visiting the Costa Del Sol region I decided I wanted to explore the historic city center of Nerja. I made the mistake of driving. The old town was built in 1487, consider for a moment the transportation used centuries ago. The streets within the historic center (unbeknownst to me) become more and more narrow as you drive closer to the center. In addition to this there are many one way streets. Once I realized what was happening there was little recourse. I was trapped in a maze of streets that were narrowing.

Spain

Paul and Jill Flickr

There were two moments that POP in my mind; they are moments I will recall vividly for the rest of my life. The first was well into this nightmare driving experience when I encountered a street where I had literally only inches on each side of my vehicle. After sweating my way past a row of white washed front doors, and turning on to a slightly wider street I thought I was home free. I had no such luck.


View Larger Map

My next moment of comedy came when the one way street I turned on to narrowed; a cafe owner had to physically move a table for me to pass by. At that point my nerves were stretched to the breaking point. I stopped the car yards later and got out to assess the situation. As I walked the next block, scouting the area I looked back at the car and seriously considered calling Europe Car. Please, just pick up my car, I thought. It was a big learning curve. Fortunately after talking to a local as I walked I found the best place to turn and head out of the narrow historic district. I spent the rest of the afternoon drinking a bottle of wine.

Germany

Aspic in Germany

Manthatcooks Flickr

I could write hundreds of funny posts on my experiences living in Germany. This one is particularly memorable. Shortly after I moved to Germany, (four weeks or so in) I went to dinner with new friends. Between us we knew only a few phrases of German and could only read key words on the menu. In addition the waitress spoke almost no English.

I ordered a fish dish, thinking I was ordering grilled or fried fish. When my dinner arrived I’d ordered Aspic. According to Wikipedia, ” Aspic is a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatin made from a meat stock or consommé.” I was nauseous, I couldn’t take more than a bite. I ordered a new meal; safely choosing the same meal one of my friends had ordered.


View Larger Map
A map of Berlin showing Zehlendorf, the district I worked in and first lived in when I moved to Berlin.

Have you experienced memorable moments of humor while traveling? Share them with me.