To Sicily by Train

The second sleeper train of my holiday was from Rome to Syracuse in Sicily. Yes, the island of Sicily….on the train….how? Quite simple, they put the train on the boat! I had a solo cabin again for this 13 hour journey which cost around €100 and was very similar in style and comfort to the Paris – Venice train.

Around 6am the train arrives at the last station on the mainland, San Giovanni, and is split into two portions on the yard and shunted onto the two tracks on the special boat to cross the strait to Sicily. Half an hour on the water and the process begins in reverse at Messina in Sicily. You stay in your cabin when this happens, but it’s a fairly noisy affair and this was another sleeper experience where sleep was at a premium.

The weather when I disembarked at Syracuse on the South-West of the island was scorching and I walked into town through a bustling market and down charming alleyways to my b+b.

Syracuse is a beautiful city, there are several small pebble beaches and decks for you to swim in the clear blue sea. The main piazza overlooked by the church is lined with cafes, and alleyways lead off it in all directions with small bars and restaurants. Washing hangs from balconies and locals chat animatedly sat outside their houses.

In the afternoon a wedding was taking place at the church on the piazza, which was an absolute joy for a seasoned people-watcher, complete with singing and dancing and no little glamour. I sat in a nearby cafe and watched the scene unfold with wonder. The food and drink here is delicious and, although you do hear plenty of non-Italian voices, it does feel like authentic Sicily. I’d come back to Syracuse in a heartbeat, hopefully these photos will show why…

The next morning it was back on the train Northbound to Taormina, a popular seaside resort, and high above the beach and accessed by cable car, the town itself.

I was staying at a hotel overlooking the sea and the small island of Isola Bella, which you can walk on the causeway to when the tide is low. The view from my hotel to the island was perfect, and there’s a large public beach surrounding the causeway, and I took another opportunity for a dip in the sea.

I had a very late lunch of pasta with anchovies to start, locally caught seabass and gelato to finish. Appetite sated (and then some) I walked along tot the cable car station and arrived at Taormina town. I’d hoped to go to the Greek amphitheatre but Andrea Bocelli had selfishly commandeered it for a concert, and I didn’t have a spare €500 (!) for a ticket.

I did stumble on another wedding, if anything more glamorous than the one in Syracuse, and the passeggiata in the evening had some quite extraordinary outfits and characters. It was incredibly busy and definitely seemed more touristy than Syracuse, but there was a fun atmosphere and I particularly enjoyed a jazz bar and their local white wine.

The next morning I caught the day train back to the mainland. The shunting process is the same as the sleeper, but this time it’s on daylight and you get a much better view of what is happening. And you also go up on deck during the crossing, looking down on the carriages. Pretty soon I’d left gorgeous Sicily behind and was back on the mainland, heading to Naples for my next adventure…

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