Train travel in Italy is, well, different than I expected.
Mind you, I’ve only headed south from Rome and while I have nothing but praise for the Frecciarossa (red arrow) from Rome to Naples, fitted out with comfy seats, clean toilets and wi fi-connected, the other lines which I caught left a lot, as they say, to be desired.
As for the Circumvesuviana line – forget it.
This line is recommended everywhere as the best way to get to Pompeii but, believe me, it’s not. Your best bet is to stick with Trenitalia and take their train to Pompei. (The excavations are at Pompeii and the new town – Pompei Nuove – has only one i in the spelling). You can take a bus up from the station and walk back down through the Scavi to the new town again.
I caught that rotten Circumvesuvania a few times, to get to Sorrento, to Herculaneum and to Villa Poppaea. I stood up by choice, the seats were foul and the interior walls filthy. The photo above is of a carriage from the Circumvesuviana.
Anyhow, enough complaining. You don’t want to hear that.
The good part is coming!
I left Pompei on All Saints Day
This is the Pompei Cathedral at night.
If only I could have caught the flashing lights with my camera, the cross was shining on and off like xmas tree lights. It was a holiday of course, a holy day, All Souls Eve or Halloween in other places. When I was at school, November 1st was a Holy Day of Obligation and if you didn’t attend Mass you would burn in hell.
Throwing caution to the winds, I didn’t go to Mass here either.
The Train down to Sicilia
Instead of going a half hour south to Salerno on the Circumvesuviana, I went a half hour north back to Naples to catch Trenitalia down to Sicilia. Well worth the extra hour of travel for a clean seat.
Overnight the weather had turned, bringing rain with lots of thunder and lightning (how apt for Halloween) and the early morning train ride along the coast showed me a storm on the Bay of Napoli.
Wild waves were crashing over the breakwater and foam reached the first floor terraces of numerous houses.
The train tracks seemed perilously close to the Bay and, on one heart-stopping occasion, foam dashed my carriage window. I wasn’t the only one who shrieked. The woman in the aisle across from me whipped out her rosary beads and began praying loudly. Still, we got to Naples safely. It may have been due to the intercession of the Virgin, who knows? I’m in Italy and things are different here.
Ten Hours of Train Travel to Sicilia
No dining car. No snack wagon. You can’t drink the water from the toilet taps.
Non bere Signora! came the shout when I was spotted heading for the toilet with my empty plastic bottle in hand.
L’acqua è male!
OK. The water is bad. I’ll possibly dehydrate and pass out in this non air conditioned train with hard seats and windows you can’t open over the next ten hours. No matter, I have travel insurance.
I mimed my discomfort.
Ho sete I muttered in tones close to a whimper. I have thirst.
Dieci ore e senza acqua! This is bad Italian but I managed to convey my horror of ten hours without water.
A miracle occurred! Those frantic rosaries I witnessed earlier were working overtime.
A young family with a brood of dark-eyed children sent one of them up to my seat with an enamel mug and a bottle of Fanta. A senior man produced a can of Coke and pressed it upon me. Two teenage girls gave me grapes.
People are just wonderful, aren’t they?
When I revealed that I was Australian, there were loud cries of admiration. The children asked me about sharks, squali, crocodiles coccodrilli and of course kangaroo, canguro.
So for the rest of the day we all engaged in chatter, my stumbling Italian producing great hoots of laughter and many repetitions of Brava! Brava!
So it was a happy journey indeed and the time flew by until, suddenly, we were on the ferry to cross the Straits of Messina.
This is a satellite photo from NASA with the names added to it.
The ferry, complete with train, crossed from Villa San Giovanni to Messina, a bit of a rough trip but with the extra help of the Virgin, a safe one.
Ulysses, Scylla and Charybdis
Ulysses sailed through here, braving the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. Charybdis was an enormous whirlpool that threatened to swallow the entire ship and, following Circe’s instructions, Odysseus held his course tight against the cliffs of Scylla’s lair. As he and his men stared at Charybdis on the other side of the strait, the heads of Scylla swooped down and gobbled up six of the crew. Scylla is by far the better option than her sister.
You can still see modern day Scilla, the “savage, extreme, rude, cruel and invincible” monster who eats crews six at a time and Charybdis continues to haunt the Straits of Messina as the natural whirlpool on the northern end of the strait but, fortunately, she has declined in strength over the years.
I’m on the trail of Ulysses now, I know where he went all those years ago and, with Odyssey in hand (on my kindle), I’m going there too.