When I booked the nine-hour train journey from Naples to Palermo – leaving Naples at 9.50am and arriving in Palermo at 7pm – I was wary and excited at the same time. I couldn’t find much online about it, but I hoped the train line would take a coastal route down the boot of Italy.
I wasn’t disappointed. The coastal views that would emerge from the mass of disorderly buildings were like opening the curtains in a darkened room. A sudden glimpse of azure sea and cliff-top towns, of waves pounding beaches that we were practically travelling along … And then back to suburban sprawl of tightly spaced apartment blocks with washing strewn from balconies.
I didn’t know how the kids would cope with such a long train journey, but they loved it. The train had carriages of six-person booths with a corridor running along one side. We managed to acquire our own booth by not sitting in our allocated seats, which would have put us with a sleeping elderly lady and a businessman and would not have been fun. We looked out the windows, counted the tunnels, played on the iPad and – thankfully -they also both slept for a good hour lying flat along a couple of seats.
The only thing that took us by surprise was that the train didn’t have a buffet car and we were fortunate that we’d packed enough snacks and bottles of water to see us through until the train boarded the ferry and we were able to get out and order arancini (rice balls filled with ragu).
Yes, that’s right, to get across to Sicily the train has to split in two and board a special ferry that has tracks in its hold. The journey across is about half an hour and was from about 3.30pm until 4pm. We had a much-needed cup of coffee and watched the buildings of Messina come into focus. Of course this was great fun for the kids (I can just imagine older children getting corrected by teachers returning from holidays: ‘we went on a train that went on a boat’. ‘No, you went on a train and then on a boat.’).
It broke the journey up nicely. By the time we were back on the train and resettled there wasn’t so long to go and the coastal views of Scicily were even more spectacular than the mainland ones. And despite rumours of notorious delays we were also right on time. Pulling into Palermo at exactly 7pm.