Trains to Sicily
I don't know how the hell I did it — I don't know who else to thank, so I'll thank G-d — but after the reunion drinks and the crazy adventure last night, I still managed to wake up at 5am this morning (tired and hung-over), and to jump on a train out of Rome at 5:45am. And what do you know: 11 hours, 3 train trips and a ferry ride later, I was in Sicily! It was a long day on the train — and with my crazy bike with me, I was quite the unorthodox passenger — but I got through it, and now the adventure of a lifetime can begin.
I turned up at Rome's Termini station this morning, about 5 minutes before train no. 1 for the day departed. Just managed to haul myself and my bike on in time, before it chugged off. It turned out that as promised, the train was equipped especially for passengers with bicycles — however, not as well-equipped as I'd hoped. I had to hang my bike from a metal hook, right at the front of the train (lots of wheeling it down the platform to get there), and take all the saddlebags and stuff off it. Anyway, all turned out well: the bike didn't fall off; I had the train virtually to myself; and I slept most of the way down the first leg of the journey.
The train journey was in three parts: Rome to Naples; Naples to Paola (a small village on the south coast of Italy); and Paola to Villa San Giovanni (the village from where you can get a ferry across to Sicily). Rome to Naples was uninteresting and early, and I slept through the better part of it. The change of trains at Naples was really frantic, as I only had 15 minutes to scram across platforms — bike and all — and there was no bike-friendly compartment on train no. 2. Naples to Paola was a long journey (about 4 hours), but it was very scenic — I'm glad that I did it during the day, and that the weather was nice — and once again, the train was empty.
I had a bit more time to change at Paola — around 45 minutes — and it was a lot easier, as I didn't even have to switch platforms. This provided an opportunity to go to the toilet — which hadn't been possible all day so far — and to stretch out a bit. The final train — down to Villa San Giovanni — was the nicest: I didn't have it to myself, but my fellow passengers were very friendly; it was a modern, comfortable train; and there was a proper set of racks to place my bike in. It also seems that the trains here in Italy are all punctual to the minute: all of the three trains that I caught today departed and arrived exactly as indicated; and this avoided extra unwanted worrying about not making the connections.
The scenery continued being beautiful, all the way down to the tip of Calabria (i.e. southern Italy). For almost the entire time, the train tracks followed the gorgeous west coast of Italy's south, going from one sleepy little resort town to the next, and passing by a seemingly endless collection of sun-drenched bays, beaches, peninsulas, and cliffs. It all looked so classically Mediterranean — all filled with such a soft, romantic beauty — I couldn't help but be envious that I don't have time to see more of the south than just Sicily. I think it's the kind of place you could stay in forever! Anyway, one day when I'm a rich middle-aged businessman (ha — as if more than one of those three things will ever happen!), I'll come back here for the summer. For now, I'm just a poor, crazy young backpacker, who's insane enough to try and get all the way around Sicily on a bicycle.