I’ve got two words for you this week: sleeping car. Though in the United States, no one really takes trains anymore, especially for far distances or even onto islands, Europe does. I took a train from London to Amsterdam during fall break, traveling underwater for some of the journey. And then on my trip to Sicily this weekend, they split the train in half and threw us onto a ferry.
That’s how my journey at least started. Just after a quick two-hour train ride from Florence to Rome, we hopped into a train with cars with beds instead of seats. The concept of this is fascinating to me.
I struggled through the night with sleep: a couple of hours here, a half an hour there. So in my many hours of free time that evening and early morning, I was stuck watching endless amounts of “Archer” and wondering just who was this service for?
A family on a weekend trip? A businessman rushing to a meeting in Sicily?
In a world where we rush from thing to thing, I couldn’t think about anyone other than my school group who would want to take this 12-hour journey.
Which probably worked out in our favor, as 40 or so of us could snag two full train cars of beds for the way there and the way back.
We arrived too early to check-in on the way there. So with a quick bite of breakfast (some moist cake thing and an incredibly large cup of black coffee to help my less than functioning brain process information), we were off on a walking tour of the Sicilian town of Catana.
Unlike many cities in Italy, where there’s a Frankenstein-like patchwork of styles, Catana is different. Usually, centuries and centuries of architects would build buildings based on what was popular at the time, but Cantana is mostly the style of Baroque. Highly dramatic, with lots of twisting and turning; you’d know it if you saw it.
This style is due to the original Catana city being completely destroyed by earthquakes and a volcanic eruption at the end of the 17th century. It forced the little city to rebuild even with the still active Mt. Etna looming behind them, reminding them that it could very easily all happen again.
This mountain doesn’t look too scary while climbing it. My friend even saw a mountain dog just before we started our “hike” who was incredibly friendly. I mean, less friendly after a guide walked over to her and said, “Please don’t pet that dog, we know him, he has fleas and parasites.” Yuck.
And I am not an athlete. I was always the kid to walk the mile in gym class with my friends. So the concept of climbing up a volcano in the cold doesn’t really appeal to me. I mean, honestly, it did a bit more after we were told we were hiking towards our lunch spot.
But none of us dressed appropriately for this hike. Sorry to my guide in his heavy winter coat and actual lace-up hiking boots, I did not pack in my one little suitcase Emergency Mountain Boots, nor did I say to myself, “Well you never know!” while throwing in a pair of hiking sticks.
I mean, I was doing better than the two kids from upstate New York attempting to prove something by making the climb in nothing but a t-shirt and a beanie. And the hike, after the initial couple heaves and hoes and general complaints from the group, was genuinely kind of nice.
The views were extraordinary and a couple of cute pictures were taken to send home to mom. Our bellies were filled with some warm pasta and then we were off to Taormina.
Taormina is a unique gem in Italy. As on any high-ish point in the city, you can get some extraordinary pictures. The water is almost ridiculously blue and with all the earthy tones of the town itself, it looks like the unreal background picture of a Windows computer.
We were here for the ruins of the Greek theatre. Ruins would be a bit of an exaggeration, as a good portion of the theatre still exists. So with a little bit of help from a guide in some lovely blue eyeshadow and blue sunglasses, we could really see what the Greeks were up to in their free time.
These Greeks must have had calves of steel! The steps all around the complex are just freaking massive, and the city itself is built on a bit of a hill. Meaning you’re usually either walking up to something or down to something. Even just to ice cream, as Sicily is known for its gelato, I felt like I was working out for my dessert.
Part of the reason you go to Sicily is for the food. Some gelato here, then a potato pizza there and of course the famous arancini. For those unaware, it’s basically a breaded fried ball full of rice and other goodies. It’s freaking delicious. I had a ball stuffed with ham and cheese and thought I had left this sphere of reality and entered another one ruled by the Arancini Clan.
This ridiculous lunch was of course followed by a three-course meal for dinner because…Italy. And I had just enough substance in my body to completely knock me out for the half a day journey back. Thank you Sicily!