Palermo – Roccapalumba-Alia – Agrigento

One of the things I have said repeatedly about Interrail travel is don’t plan ahead unless you absolutely have to. Things change so often for all sorts of reasons that booking a hotel AFTER boarding the last train of the day has been a very successful strategy for me.

However the previous trip was out of season and not mid-July, to a tourist hotspot on the Med. I’d booked my hotel in Agrigento a few weeks ago. It was non-refundable by the time I was ready to leave Palermo.

Last night I booked the train from Palermo. This wasn’t going to be an Interrail pass day, the ticket only costs €10.90 so it’s not worth using a day of the pass. That was the point at which I discovered that the second half of the journey would be on a replacement coach service. Ah well so be it, it worked well in the Baltic States a couple of months ago.

I’d also picked up reports of extreme weather conditions, and soon established Agrigento had been 10 degrees cooler that Palermo yesterday. I’d already done a bit of planning for summer weather, as I don’t cope well in heat. I remember really struggling in Rome in 2007 when it was 40 degrees and wasn’t putting myself through that again. This time I’d be aiming to travel between 11 and 5, when temperatures are at their highest.

I arrived at Palermo Centrale in good time for my 11:43 departure. A few minutes before it was due to go, a 10 minute delay was announced . Then another 10 minutes. Then it was cancelled. They run every hour so not a huge deal. I settled down in a sheltered spot to do some work.

At 12:43 the same thing happened. This time a 5 minute delay, then 10 minutes, then cancelled. I went to find someone to talk to. Apparently there was a rail strike and no regional services would be moving before 15:00, but they have to give the drivers a chance to show up. It was suggested that I go for the 14:45, which would leave shortly after the end of the strike.

Delayed passengers debating what to do next

By now I was thinking that I’d rather have had a second night in Palermo and skipped Agrigento. There’s the forward planning thing again. However there was the promise of cooler weather and that was tempting.

I had a very productive couple of hours at my “desk” and headed back to the platform. Sure enough, straight after 15:00 assorted staff members appear, but we’re not let on board. Then some more staff in hi-viz appear and disappear inside. The train was powered up and I could immediately hear the air conditioning on the roof, working flat out. Then someone turns up with a mop and bucket. This is not looking good.

Finally just before 15:30 we’re allowed to board. Five minutes later we’re told that this train isn’t moving and we need to get onto the one opposite, which is the 15:45. I guess that leaving a powered down train in full sun in a heatwave is not a great idea. Helpfully the one we were moving to had been in the shade of the platform canopy.

Broken train on the left; working train on the right
Broken train on the left; working train on the right

We left on time, well, 4 hours late in my case, and the journey passed without incident. The scenery is pleasant along the coast, but you wouldn’t have caught me on one of the many crowded beaches.

Roccapalumba-Alia station is in the middle of nowhere, but is a junction. As with so many stations in this part of the world, the station is in the valley and is named after a town on a hill some miles away. Thankfully our replacement coach was waiting, indeed there were two coaches to choose from. Even in a couple of minutes transferring I could feel that it was really hot here so I wasn’t entirely surprised to see a display initially reading 40 degrees. In our air-conditioned comfort that was not a problem and I could relax and enjoy the ride.

The coach more or less follows the railway track all the way to Agrigento, with evidence of the work going on in various places. The two were out of sight of each other only when the railway went through tunnels. It looks like a spectacular journey and I will come back and do it some time. I noticed that all the rails had been recently painted, which is done to reduce the risk of buckling on days like this one.

As we approached the city I noticed something odd – lots of buildings that are partially completed and occupied, but here is no suggestion of the upper floors being finished off. Here are a few examples, both commercial and residential.

The final part of the journey into Agrigento took us up the hillside on some elevated and looping road sections. Some of the construction work left a little to be desired, but it was quite spectacular.

We finally arrived shortly before 7pm. The original reason to come here had been to visit the Valley of the Temples, a really fabulous archaeological site. However, it was a couple of miles away and I figured that I should probably find something to eat instead. I’d been given a map of the centre so after a brief look towards the valley and the sea beyond I headed for the city.

The picture above shows the view towards the Valley of the Temples (about half way to the coast.) Click the image to view it in full screen and you can just about make out a couple of the temples, to the left.

Agrigento isn’t a huge place, but being on a steep hill takes some climbing. The signposting isn’t great but I’m always happy to wander.

There a cars and motorbikes everywhere, and in the narrow streets you have to keep a good look out all around. I was amused by a young lad who came past me, driving one-handed down the most crazy hill, talking into his phone at the same time, pausing momentarily to thank me for stepping out of his way before expertly negotiating a hairpin turn into a space only marginally wider than his car. That’s him disappearing out of sight down the hill in the picture below.

At the top of the hill, I spotted some interesting graffiti. The more I looked the more I found, but only in this one area, and clearly all in the same hand. My enthusiasm for good street art has come up earlier in this trip, when I visited Waterford, so this was a lovely and completely unexpected find. I particularly liked the lamppost. I’ve never seen that done before.

The centre of this “city” is only small, basically one street, but sprawling slightly at a few points. There aren’t a huge number of places to eat and an annoyance that I’ve encountered elsewhere is being blanked by restaurant staff as a solo traveller. Eventually I found a place that would give me a seat, tucked into a corner.

Dinner was uninspiring, but what followed as I walked back to my hotel was a bit of a revelation. I’d spotted in Palermo that brioche and ice cream was a thing here, and I had to give it a try. Improbably it is a brilliant combination. I’m not a fan of brioche generally, but this undoubtedly what it was made for. Try it (though perhaps not in paper while walking down a street.)