Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Taking the Night Train from Palermo Sicily to Rome

(June 2016) It was primarily a budgetary issue that caused us to take the night train from Palermo to Rome. The airfare was too expensive for our group, especially with all of our luggage. Besides sleeping on the train would also save on one night’s lodging, and it would be an adventure. We had no idea what a great adventure it would be, or how much fun. Many people said it was one of the more memorable events of the trip.

So we took the bus from Cefalu to the Palermo train station, about a 40 minute drive. As we passed through Palermo, we were a little disappointed, because we had heard great things about the city, but all we saw were dirty buildings, graffiti and crowds.  I’m sure there must be some nice sections, but we did not see them.

Relaxing on the Night Train from Palermo to Rome

 Our 6:30pm train was delayed for nearly an hour, but eventually we climbed aboard and settled into the two last train cars. Most people had booked cabins that had sleeping bunks for 3 to 4 people, but several of us, including Janeen and I, had a cabin with only 2 bunks. When the beds were in the wall, there was room for 6 to 8 people to sit in each cabin. Sheets, pillows, and blankets were provided, and a small table in each cabin. There was one tiny airplane style bathroom for each train car, and surprisingly no food or drinks for purchase.

Sharing Food and Wine on the Train

However, we had been warned to bring our own food, and soon there were multiple parties occurring within different cabins, as everyone brought out pizza, wine, fruit, sandwiches, candies, and many other items to share. We ended up party-hopping between cabins and had a great time. A few other people in our train car who we didn’t know joined us, and we ended up sharing many bottles of wine.

Impromptu Parties on the Train

But, despite being warned multiple times by Lorenzo, our guide, that we should never leave our cabin or items unattended, one person left their iPhone on his bed and thieves slipped in and stole it. The police were called, the train was stopped, and the thieves caught and questioned, but the iPhone was not retrieved.

After all of the excitement, people started pulling their beds from the walls and going to sleep. I fell asleep around midnight and woke at 6:30am. The rocking of the train helped me sleep, though other people complained it was difficult. In fact I slept so well that I missed the train being placed upon the ferry to cross the Straits of Messina. During this time you can get off the train and go upstairs to watch the sea from the ferry crossing.

Sunset on the Train Tracks

Despite all of the delays, the train actually arrived in Rome only 10 minutes late, so many of us were scrambling to get ready and jump off the train with all of our luggage at 7:15am. Since our hotel, the Gioberti, was less than a block from the train station, we all dragged our luggage there to drop it off and then go search for coffee.  Amazingly about half of our rooms were ready, so I was able to check in and take a shower.

Visiting the Vatican and St. Peter's in Rome

Last Day in Rome - Visiting the Vatican & Colosseum

At 11:20 we met our Rome guide, Giuseppe, in the lobby and he led us to the subway and then to the Vatican for a tour of the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Square. It was raining lightly, but that didn’t stop the crowds. You had to push through masses of people, but the La Pieta, Michelangelo’s statue of Jesus and Mary, was just as mesmerizing as the last time I had seen at in the 1980’s – even though it was under glass now.

La Pieta by Michelangelo in St. Peter's Basilica

After a quick pizza lunch in the square, we caught the subway to the Colosseum, and toured that from 4 to 6pm. The sun came out and the light on the ancient walls of the stadium, as well as the Palatino & Roman Forum was beautiful. Later we had dinner at the rooftop restaurant of Mecenate Palace Hotel and watched the sun set behind the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.  It was a beautiful magical last evening in Rome.

The Grandeur of the Roman Colosseum

Flight Home to San Francisco Via Istanbul

The alarm went off far too early, around 3:30am, and we left the hotel at 4:30am to arrive at the airport at 5am to catch our 7am flight to Istanbul. After a short layover, we connected to a nonstop flight back home to San Francisco, where amazingly enough, no one sat on either side of me, so I was able to stretch out on 3 economy seats and sleep most of the 10 hour flight.

We arrived back home just in time for rush hour traffic, and watched in horror a week later when the Istanbul airport was bombed. Our prayers to Turkey, another country with an amazing wine history, that I hope to visit some day when it is at peace.

Sunset Over Santa Maria Maggiore and Hopes of Peace in the World

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