Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Trains, boats and automobiles
I am so in love. Arrived in Sicily this evening - 21 degrees at 8.30pm and walking distance to a fabulous open air terrace serving yummy food and ice cold Limoncello. What more could a girl ask for?
But I'm getting ahead of myself - and probably being a touch dramatic!
Ok, back to the start of the day. I left Rome this morning with mixed feelings. In many ways, I wasn't sorry to be leaving behind the noise, hustle and bustle, and the crowds. But I still had the sneaking suspicion that I had barely scraped the surface of the city, and maybe there was more to it than I'd discovered in my admittedly short visit. After all, I only really frequented the main tourist haunts, a bit like visiting Edinburgh and never straying off the Royal Mile. No wonder it felt busy and touristy. Maybe I just didn't let rome show it's best side.
To be fair, there were glimpses of it last night when I headed back towards the Pantheon area to find the restaurant recommended to me by my good friend, Deborah. As I blogged yesterday, unfortunately my eating habits and Italian fine restaurant opening times weren't aligned yesterday and it wasn't to be. But the walk there through early evening Rome was certainly a less frenetic experience than I had in Rome up to that point. There were still plenty of tourists around, even those infernal group tours, but they were definitely fewer and further (literally) between, and pleasantly intersperesed with 'real' people - on their way home from work, nipping out for an early evening aperitivo, browsing the shops. The sun was down, and so was the tourist clamour. The softer lights were easier on the eye, and on the buildings. The hot day had given way to a beautifully mild evening that allowed me to relax - or was it the Limoncello!
So leaving Rome Termini this morning wasn't quite as big a relief as I feared it might be when I first arrived in the infernal city. I didn't throw a coin in the fountain, but that doesn't mean I won't think about going back.
And then my train to Sicily arrived - hmmm! Not quite what I was expecting. When it said 'Intercity' on the ticket, I thought it would be another of the ultra modern high speed trains I've been using so far. Nope, it was a train that, let's say, would have made most of Network SouthWest's rolling stock look modern... But looks, it seems, can be deceiving. The train may have looked rickety but it ran completely to time for the entire 9 (count them!) hour trip. The facilities left quite a bit to be desired - very basic toilet, no buffet service - unless you count the man and his shopping trolley selling bottles of water. But it went, and it went to time. And that's often more than you can say for UK trains these days sadly.
Before long - ok, after about 3 hours - the noise and rush of Rome had been replaced by the sparkle of the sea and the warm glow of the golden sand as we whipped our way along the Italian Riviera, past Napoli and plenty of other stations I didn't quite catch the names of.
It really was a beautiful journey - and it was also very real. I thought I'd experienced the 'real' Italy on my train journeys so far. But no, this was something else. None of the hermetically sealed journeys you get on the Eurostar trains, this was full on Italy. For a start, it was a compartment train. All thrown in together there wasn't the anonymity you get from airline style seating. I shared my capsule with 3 Sicilian matriarchs - and while we couldn't speak each other's languages particularly well, we didn't let that get in the way, and they kept me entertained, protected and looked after the whole journey. While our language skills weren't good enough to hold down a conversation, they were good enough for the Sicilian Mamas to tell me I was staying in the wrong place (Taormina instead of Catania) and that my crochet style left a lot to be desired!
And finally, there was the experience I've been waiting for ever since i started researching this holiday - the whole train on a boat thing. We arrived at the end of Italy, they split the train, shunted it on to the ferry, the ferry set sail and there we were - on a train on a boat on the Mediterranean. How much better could it get...?
And then we arrived in Sicily - and food, warmth and Limoncello.
Sweet dreams. I'm certain to have them!