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Taking the Train to Sicily (Taormina)

Nancy L (Nancy L) from TX

Taking the train from Sorrento to Taormina, Sicily

After three days in Sorrento at the Hotel Bellvue Syrene, it was time to move on and leave the Bay of Naples and the ever present view of Vesuvius behind me. I knew that I would miss my morning cup of cappuccino, taken each day on our hotel balcony as I watched the Sorrento fisherman glide to work in their little blue boats. This was my slice of heaven.

We were taking a train south from Naples to Sicily, crossing the Messina Straits on a ferry. We had booked the number 719, an IC Plus leaving from the Naples Campi Flegrei station at 9:22am. It was due to arrive at the Taormina-Giardini station at 4:08pm after a change in Messina. The travel consultant Sally Watkins had suggested that we leave Sorrento at 7:30am, whereas our driver from Benvenuto Limo strongly pushed for a 6:30am departure, expecting heavy morning rush-hour traffic. We compromised on 6:45am, which was perfect, for it gave us time to stop for coffee on the Via Corso as we were leaving Sorrento.

In spite of heavy traffic, we sailed into Naples, arriving shortly after 8:00am at the Campi Flegrei station. I admit that I was a little disappointed at its size. It is a small station and was practically deserted at that early hour, with only one ticket counter open. I asked the lone ticket agent, "Dove il binario numero 4?" He replied with a big smile and pointed one hand to the left and another to the right. My husband had to interpret for me, "He said that we can go either way, to the left or to the right!" Binario 4 was directly behind the building in the middle of the track. To my dismay, there was no coffee bar, not even a coffee machine. I also noticed the absence of an automatic ticket machine. Half an hour later, a lone man opened a small kiosk selling cigarettes and newspapers – and that was it.

By the time our train arrived, a few passengers had trickled in. We boarded in short time and were off. First class IC Plus trains now have six-passenger compartments, and the four of us had ours all to ourselves. There was sufficient rack space above the comfortable seats for all our bags. It seemed that we were in Reggio Calabria in less than an hour (I had actually napped, so don't know the exact time) where the train cars to Sicily would be pushed onto the tracks in the body of the ferry. This procedure took forty-five minutes instead of the usual fifteen, and there was concern that we wouldn't make our connection in Messina.

Train car on the ferry to Sicily

Train car on the ferry to Sicily

It began to rain heavily just as we pulled away from the dock, and three of us decided to go up to the observation level to watch the crossing. Heavy rain and mist obliterated any view we might have had of the Straits of Messina, and we soon returned to the train car. There were four tracks inside the ferry and a second-class IC car was parked next to ours. Interestingly, our first class railroad car had no electricity, but the second class car did. Our companion who stayed with our bags in the compartment while we were on the observation level told us that two separate beggars had come to the car while we were away, asking for money, and it seemed that they had boarded at Reggio Calabria. We would have used our cable locks on the luggage if she had not stayed behind. I thought it was curious that we had not seen a train attendant in all this time.

There was no food and drink service of any kind, although I did spot a cold drink machine on the observation deck. There was a person going through the cars selling bottled water from a large bucket who appeared to be a local just trying to make a few dollars. Luckily, we had shopped in Sorrento the day before and carried a sizable picnic on board of wonderful cheeses, salumi, delicious Sicilian olives, bread, and lemon cookies. The crossing itself took about forty-five minutes, and reconnection about twenty, and we were back on solid ground, once again on our way to Messina.

Our train followed the coast for most of the trip giving us all a glance of Mount Peloritani, which is actually part of the Apenines mountain range. The train tracks seemed to be built on the beach itself, and the colors of the sea kept us mesmerized most of the time. Our car was sparsely populated, and by hour four, we knew the other travelers quite well. It was obvious that none of us had any information about the change of trains in Messina. We knew that some were going to Taormina, and others to Palermo, but we didn't know who would be changing trains. We had decided to remove our bags from the racks above our seats just in case we were changing trains at Messina and were actually in the midst of a confab with other passengers, when a young female train attendant/conductor materialized and cleared the confusion. As it turned out, our group to Taormina stayed on the train, while the group to Palermo changed trains.

Stepping onto Sicilian soil for the first time was an emotional moment for me, and I couldn't help but think of my Sicilian-American ancestors who had inhabited this land generations before.

Lessons

  • We traveled on a Wednesday morning at the end of September, and two hours was sufficient traveling time for the car service from Sorrento, but only because there were no major traffic delays.
  • Always stop for coffee, and, when in doubt, take your own food and water on the train.
  • When the conductor/attendant comes by to check your ticket, ask all questions pertinent to your trip – you may not see him/her again.
  • Never leave your bags unattended unless you have secured them in some fashion.
  • Relax, enjoy the ride, prepare yourself for great scenery and a couple of good naps.

This was definitely slow travel. If you're in a hurry, you can fly into Catania.

Resources

Slow Travel Classified: Sally Watkins, Travel Consultant

Slow Travel Classified: Benvenuto Limo, car service in the Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast area

Slow Travel Italy - Trains: Detailed pages on using trains in Italy

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