Sunday, 16 October 2011

Travelling hopefully

As they say, sometimes the journey is part of the destination. And other times, they say better to travel hopefully than something else... Either way, I don't think either commentator had ever visited Catania bus station. It surely is one of the 7 circles of hell! Apparently they're building a new one, and if you ask me it can't come soon enough.

To be honest, during the connection in Catania, which saw me walk from the bus stop (confusingly, not in the bus station but on the street outside) to the railway station, back from the railway station, round the block and into the bus departure area - only to have to retrace my steps back round the block to find the cunningly disguised ticket sales office, and all of this in amidst the most horrendous traffic you've ever seen, I did wonder whether I'd made a huge mistake. Cars were whizzing by all over the place, an annoying taxi driver dogged my footsteps the entire time making me grip ever tighter onto my bags and it was the most squalid, flea-bitten, rubbish strewn, down at heel place I've seen in Europe ever. The only place more intimidating was in India!

But, luckily, at the bus stances two local girls took me in hand, showed me where to buy tickets, warded off the (many) beggars and made sure I got onto the right bus at the right time. I know I would have coped perfectly well without them, but it was just easier - for which, mille grazie ragazzi!

Once on the bus it was fine. The coach was luxurious and sped through the Sicilian countryside at a fair lick. We moved through areas of orange, lemon and olive groves into spaghetti western country, through hills squeezed and folded out of the earth's crust, along side barely visible rivers despite the recent downpours until finally, 2 hours later, we hit the northern coast and there was the sea again. Sparkling blue and alluring.

I was very nervous about getting to Palermo. To be honest, if I could have stayed on the coach I probably would have but that would have been no way to spend 3 days so I thought I'd better get off. Fortunately, Palermo bus station was an idyll in comparison to Catania. Next to the railway station, it was sufficiently shielded from street hawkers, beggars and over enthusiastic taxi drivers to be almost pleasant. The hotel on arrival, while somewhat strangely entered underground, is very well appointed and, it turns out, very well located too.

Palermo is ...interesting. Nowhere near as bad as I had been worried about, but still at the same time somewhat on the seedy side. I'm sure it's a lot safer than it felt, but the streets very quickly turn from wide and welcoming to narrow and frankly quite intimidating. I've been for a quick stretch of my legs to get oriented, found a lovely cafe/wine bar round the corner where I had a (very) late lunch and to which I'll probably return shortly for a light supper, and most importantly, I've found out that the tour bus leaves from just outside the hotel. So that's tomorrow sorted, and my proper orientation to what looks like being a really interesting city - even if it isn't the type of place I'll particularly want to be out and about in of an evening.

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