Around the world in 80 ways: train ferry

Travelling on a train is pretty common, as is travelling on a ferry. But how many people have been on a train and a ferry at the exact same time?

Ferry crosses the Straits of Messina

Probably quite a few actually, but now we can also add our names to that list.

Train ferries used to be a lot more common than they are now, and the train to Sicily is one of the few places where the train still actually boards the ferry for the crossing. There are only a few countries which operate train ferries for passenger use, including one between Hamburg and Copenhagen.

View of the train on the ferry

After our long wait at Lamezia Terme, we finally board the train which is practically empty except for a family in the compartment marked on our tickets. Unfortunately the people in our compartment didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Italian (no matter how many times the head of the family repeated himself, at various speeds and in different octaves, we still failed to learn Italian). Eventually the family begin to move compartments just as the carriage attended told us we could sit anywhere. Alas, it was much too late for such helpful information. Finally we settle into our compartment and enjoy the view of the Calabrian coastline.

The train to Sicily meets the ferry at Villa San Giovanni for the short journey across to Messina. Tracks in the vehicle bay of the ferry are carefully lined up to tracks on the ferry ramp and the train slowly inches on board. There has been talk to discontinuing the train ferry, or of building a huge bridge across the Straits of Messina. For now though, the train ferry continues.

Train driving onto the ferry

You can stay on board the train if you like, but most people take the opportunity to go up on deck for the view and fresh air. You can also go to the cafe on board, but curiously the only thing they sold was arancini balls. Contrary to what we expected there was no snack or dining car on our train, so we stock up on the dry and tasteless arancini balls.
Once across the strait, the train splits into two, with some carriages going west to Palermo, others south to Syracuse. All this splitting and shunting carriages around takes a while, but it gives us time for a daring run to the vending machine bay to supplement our arancini ball dinner with chocolates and biscuits.

Watching the sun set over the Straits of Messina

The view along the north coast of Sicily is spectacular, but before too long the sun sets and we continue the rest of our journey in darkness. Conveniently, this makes it more believable when a beggar comes past and we all pretend to be asleep. Twice. (Yes, we are horrible people).

After a long day of travel, we pull into Palermo at around 11pm. Although there is a cliche about travel being as much about the journey, it’s hard to remember why so late at night. It was an interesting experience, seeing a lot of things we wouldn’t have seen by flying. Also we got to be on a train and ferry at the same time.

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