12th July – a new Interrail adventure begins – with a flight

Wrenbury – Crewe – London Euston – Tottenham Hale – Stansted Airport – Palermo Airport – Palermo

A few months ago I bought a ticket for a concert in Sicily and having enjoyed the previous Interrail adventure so much, the idea of doing it as a rail trip from the UK was quite appealing. I realised that I could slott in another couple of concerts further north in Italy in the following week and a plan was coming together. A further opportunity (excuse!) to visit Italy at the end of August then came along and at that point I started to consider a 2 month passes. Not a continuous pass this time, but 10 days over 2 months.

I also decided quite early on that I’d fly one way, as Sicily is a very long way by train and I’d make better use of my time that way. However flights I was very late in booking this, and being mid-July the flights were very full and what was left was quite expensive, so I ended up going out from Stansted rather than a more local airport. That meant using the first of my 10 days straight away.

All that preamble leads to me standing on Wrenbury Station in Cheshire on a grey Wednesday morning, having left my car on the tiny parking area, and struggling with the lack of 4G to activate the first day of my pass.

Why Wrenbury? Well this time, Bream is moored a few miles away in Swanley Bridge Marina.

The train was a few minutes late, but not so late that I was at risk of missing my first connection. From here, it was short hop into Crewe (with a quick look at the ever-interesting bits and bobs in the sidings as we approached the station.)

I have again chosen to travel first class on this pass. It costs a bit more (£353 against £278, on the day I booked) but is absolutely worth it for the comfort and space. You also get the occasional benefit, like free hot or cold drinks, snacks and very occasionally a complimentary meal, tea and orange juice, as I did here. Not a bad start at all.

A small aside, the train manager on this Avanti West Coast service was the first person I’ve met in the UK who was able to scan an Interrail pass. I guess that’s what you get with an Italian-owned operator! (Everyone else smiles and waves you through.)

I do try to stay on top of work stuff when I’m travelling and the UK is one of the few places with pretty decent mobile coverage on the rail network, so I had a productive hour or so after eating.

We arrived on time in Euston and after a couple of quick work calls, I dived into the tube station to cross town. London Underground is not included in the Interrail pass. Not many urban transport systems are, I think Berlin is the only one I used on the last trip. Not that it bothered me here; I always enjoy an opportunity to get out the Oyster card, it’s a little reminder to myself that this is my home town.

At Tottenham Hale I swapped the busy Victoria Line train for a relatively quiet Stansted Express.

This was the first time I’ve done self check-in for my bag, a simple process and better than the one I assisted Kayty with at Manchester the week before. It was only after I’d gone through security that I realised that I’d still got a banana and a few apples in my rucksack. Not sure they are allowed but I wasn’t going to throw them away now.

The flight was delayed, partly (as they announced) by air traffic restrictions over London, but also by the most dreadful boarding process. Ryanair keep tinkering with it to squeeze a few extra quid out of people, and the latest version is a mess. I was standing in a queue on the apron for a good 10 minutes.

It was only when I got on board that I realised that the problem was that they were allowing too many quite large bags into the overhead lockers. Fortunately I only had my rucksack so could sit down quickly. Lots of other people were getting very stressed and two passengers almost came to blows after one made an inappropriate comment to another. In the end the crew told everyone to sit down, leave their bags in the aisle and they would sort it out. Some bags were moved to the hold, others were shuffled around until they fitted.

We left the terminal an hour late, just before 6pm. The mild weather had changed to rain just before we took off, and I could see the storm clouds ahead.

Predictably the first 20 minutes were very bumpy, prompting a few gasps from passengers on two particularly “exciting” moments, before it all settled down. I saw us cross the French coast and from there it was easy going, barring a few minutes over the Pyrenees, where we again passed through storm clouds.

It was dark by the time we landed in Palermo. I headed for the railway station, which is below the terminal, and very badly marked. I walked right past it before finding a way in, as it’s not on any of the overhead signs. That might well be why there were only half a dozen people heading into town this way, as the bus and taxi options are much better signposted. A shame as it is a quick and comfortable service. I quite liked the station, Punta Raisi, which was quirky enough not to be dull.

I wonder if I’m the only person who ever did Wrenbury to Crewe and Palermo Airport to the city on the same day of an Interrail pass?

It’s less than 10 months since I was last in Palermo, and I staying in the same hotel so had my bearings straight away. I dumped my bags and went for a wander. Even well after 10pm the town was lively, with bars and shops open. It was still very warm so I couldn’t resist a midnight ice cream.

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1 Comment

  1. Celia Lyon

    I’ve got my notebook at the ready to see what you recommend in Italy, Steve. I want to do more, especially in the south, so will be good to see where you get to.

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