Back on the rails again. Got chatting to a couple from Melbourne who had spent 8 days in Syracuse. ‘Don’t get me wrong’, he said, ‘we loved it, but it does need a bit of TLC and some of these old buildings want demolishing’. Ah, the Aussies…
Today’s trip involved taking the train to Catania where after a 2 hour break there was a connection to Sicily’s capital, Palermo. The first train was brand new, with comfy leather seats and welcome air-conditioning. The only problem was that it was packed with over-excited teenagers on their way to Rome, and an even more excited teacher who screamed at the top of her voice, constantly waving her arms, pulling passengers from their seats, waving bits of paper and yelling at her charges to sit in their assigned seats. After about 20 minutes her pupils were all finally seated when the train conductor arrived to break the news that they were in the wrong carriage. More yelling and waving of papers, but at last they departed.
On arrival at Catania with 2 hours to kill, I asked at the Customer Service window if there was any left luggage facility. Without lifting her head from her Bella magazine, the Customer Service representative said ‘no’. Do you have any WiFi in the station? ‘No’. Well, do you know anywhere nearby where I might be able to access WiFi, such as McDonalds or Starbucks? ‘No. We have nothing like that. Nowhere.’ I wondered if she had contemplated a career with the Catania Tourist Information Service.
I had a hot but interesting walk into the city centre, laden with luggage. The main Duomo Square was beautiful, but the rest of Catania looked like a poor relation of Syracuse, only bigger and more built up - and the litter - cigarette butts everywhere - where were the Glasgow Central Fag Police when you needed them?
As it was a few hours since breakfast and I would be on the train to Palermo for the next 3 hours, I decided to take a packed lunch on board, given my experience of Trenitalia catering. I found a nice little coffee shop with a smiling senorita who explained she cooked everything herself and it was all health foods. By this time it was too late to make my escape, so I opted for a spinach and ricotta cheese flatbread. She cut me a square with the precision of a surgeon and carefully packed it in a crisp white grease proof envelope. ‘Van ov my desserts, perhaps?’ she suggested with the insistence of Frau Blücher from Young Frankenstein. I pointed to the least offensive - one of her whole meal chocolate and pistachio nut offerings and thought she wouldn’t win any prizes from Mary Berry. A bottle of home made Sicilian lemonade later and I started cramming the goods into my already packed backpack. ‘Oh no’ exclaimed Frau Blücher, ‘you must carry eet like thees’ and held the package up flat on her outstretched palm, a presentation worthy of the adoration of the Magi.
I returned to catch the train balancing my precious goods and found an unoccupied table seat for four. As I reached for the luggage rack, my precious bakery item slipped from the envelope and landed ricotta side down on the floor. The two girls opposite thought this highly amusing, but I thought what the hell, and picked it up, dusted it down and ate it. Well it was either that or starve.
I had bought a half kilo of cherries from a fruit stall outside and then proceeded to devour them instead of the nut tart. They were delicious, but the juice from an overripe one squirted over my shirt. By this time the girls were biting their lips and giggling helplessly. I couldn’t quite catch what they were saying, but it was something along the lines of ‘Poor old soul, he really shouldn’t be let out alone’. All I could think of was the lyric from that Francie and Josie song ‘Dae cherry stains come oot?’
I enjoyed the journey to Palermo - lovely countryside with more oranges and lemons. I hadn’t realised how big Sicily was - the largest island in the Med, with a population similar to Scotland’s. Regrettably there wasn’t time to see much of the capital city, but I would love to come back. I found my way to the docks and boarded the GNV Ferry - Atlas - and was pleased with my cabin accommodation for my overnight sailing to Naples. So long, Sicily, it’s been good. Mostly.Read more