Siracusa – Villa San Giovanni – Roma Termini

I left my hotel before breakfast this morning, though they were happy to let me grab some fruit and a croissant to take with me. The temperature at 7:30am was pretty much perfect for me, though with a full day travelling in an air-conditioned space it was unlikely to be a factor today.

Siracusa station

Most if not all of the long distance services from the mainland to Sicily run to both Palermo and Siracusa, joining or splitting at the Strait of Messina. My train therefore only had 5 coaches. It was very quiet as we departed, only me and two other people in First Class, but unsurprisingly picked up as we went through Catania.

I’d not seen this section of the line one the way down, due to the windows of that train being graffiti painted over. One point of interest was this ship graveyard, a little way out of Siracusa.

After Catania, we got a much better view of Etna than yesterday. Having been half way up last year, I’m sure it was pleasantly cool up there, compared to sea level. I’m not sure how relaxed I would feel living in one of the many houses on the slopes of the volcano, much higher and closer than the ones seen here.

I know this section of line from my previous visit. It would have been nice to stop in the stunningly beautiful town of Taormina again, but even I can’t do everything, and before long we were pulling into Messina.

I like the old loco shed just before the station, with it’s working turntable. I wonder if they ever see steam trains down here. The station itself is fairly grim concrete, barring the end where ships are loaded, but is a place of interest as trains are hauled on and off the ships, or dispatched to Palermo, Catania or Siracusa. I changed here last year and took a good look around. I will perhaps write that trip up for this diary some time.

One significant and welcome change to my previous trip was that the loading process was quick and efficient. First the Palermo section was attached to the rear. A push tug was then linked to the back of the train and the whole lot slowly moved forward onto the ship. Once half of it is in, the train is split again, then the rear section reverses briefly, the points are changed and it is pushed into another track. There are four tracks on the ship but I’ve only seen two used. In no time at all we were on our way. You don’t stay on the train for the trip (it’s not allowed) but who would want to with great views of the Strait?

My train was going to Rome, but I’d decided to change at Villa San Giovanni, on the mainland side of the strait, so that I could use the famously fast Frecciarossa, which despite a wait of an hour here, got me into Rome an hour and a quarter earlier than the one I’d got off.

It was good to have a little time in Villa San Giovanni to watch the loading process. I’d not previously worked out why the push tugs had two flat cars between them and the train they are moving. I now realise that it has two advantages, Firstly it improved visibility for the driver as he can see the lineside team. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, most of the tugs are electric, but the overhead lines (understandably) end some way short of the ships.

Our Frecciarossa turned up right on time and I settled into my very comfortable and spacious seat. Almost immediately I was offered a snack box and a drink. All very welcoming, I was impressed (though I don’t especially like travelling backwards.)

The first half of the journey was unremarkable. The train was very comfortable and makes it’s way north, rarely out of sight of the coast until just before Naples, when it takes a route around the inland side of Vesuvius. Rather than going into the city it stops well to the east before accelerating towards Rome.

This section of line is designated high speed and it showed. Within no time at all we were at 260kmh (162mph) and stayed there comfortably for some time. On the section around Patrica, my ears popped as the driver opened her up to a touch below 300kmh (186mph) and held it there for about 5 minutes. It’s the fastest that I’ve ever travelled by rail, but is surprisingly smooth. I shot a few seconds of video while we were moving at 298kmh, according to the on-train display.

The last part of the journey into Rome was slow. There were quite a lot of delays so trains were being stacked for arrival. We paused in a very busy urban area that was oddly attractive to my eye, but I’m not sure why. Maybe just that there is a lot going on.

We pulled into a platform alongside another high speed train and I realised just how long they are. I know I’ve said it before, buy why we aren’t increasing passenger capacity in the UK in this way rather than digging up whole swathes of countryside between London and Lichfield is beyond me.

Roma Termini is not the most exciting station I’ve visited. It reminded me more of Euston than anything else. Certainly none of the drama of Milan, which is what I was hoping for (and yes I know that sets the bar impossibly high.)

The one thing I noticed here more than anywhere else is the number of people who are smoking on platforms, the concourse, even in the doorway of trains and in the queues for the exit barriers. Just horrible, I couldn’t get out of there quickly enough.

I had a fair walk to my hotel near to Trevi, but it was a good place to be based as everything is a reasonable distance from there. After a quick look at the fountain I headed down towards Piazza Venezia and from there towards the Colosseum. The views in all directions are fascinating.

As I approached the Basilica di Massenzio I noticed the amount of scaffolding and support. It turns out that a new metro line is being built through this area so I presume that the supports on various structures are there as a precaution. I’m sure they know what they’re doing…!

When I previously visited Rome, some 15 years ago the Palatine Hill was my favourite part of the city. However it was now mid-evening and closed, and there was no chance of me coming back to visit in the heat of the day, so I contented myself with a view from outside.

One thing I do like about Rome is that they are very welcoming to solo travellers. I had no problem at all in finding a good seat in a very pleasant restaurant and enjoyed an excellent meal, without breaking the bank. I walked back to my room though still busy streets in another city that looks as gorgeous at night as by day.