On every planned overseas trip (even on escorted tours), something will inevitably go wrong. The trick is to have a sense of humor, recover quickly and to not let a hard earned learning experience ruin your holiday.
There are a few plans that we wished we had done differently. I always want to share any newly developed knowledge.
The one major cultural event that I would not want to ever repeat is the overnight inter-city train trip from Rome to Palermo, Sicily. We had planned to travel this route on the 5th day after arriving in Italy. Unfortunately, I had this idea that because this trek would take over 10 hours by train or ferry, that an overnight train ride from Rome to Palermo would be practical because we would not be wasting daylight hours when we could be having fun. Also, this would be a substitute for a night in a hotel room.
From the north of Italy to Naples/ Salerno in the south tourists have the luxury of access to fast trains which are cost effective and comfortable. Passengers don’t have to endure security lines as well as luggage weight restrictions. However from Naples to anywhere in Sicily, there is only the Inter City train which is much slower.
The italiarail.com website indicates that there are excelsior, executive and first class cabins on the Intercity sleeper trains from the mainland of Italy to Sicily.
However when I pulled up the schedule (in Italian), for the overnight train, there was no reference to any excelsior, first class or an executive cabins but there was a note about a 4 bed couchette for the evening of June 5, at a higher cost. I did book this (PNR/ CMTL7N) for 2 beds at a cost of 156 euros or $175.66 usd/ $87.83 per person. After I was emailed the ticket, I noticed that we were assigned beds in different cabins.
After I and my friend reviewed the problem of being assigned separate cabins, we resolved to fix this fubar shortly after we landed in Rome, Italy. We did this with a travel agent but we were advised that it was too late to make any changes to our ticket. However, we were also reassured by more than one representative that the train conductor could make last minute adjustments before we boarded. We had no choice but to rely on this information.
At this point, I was not overly worried. I was comforted with childhood memories of taking European trains including in Italy with my parents. My recollections were of a cabin with seats that would be transformed into a comfortable bed by an attendant. While looking out the train’s window, I can still visualize sitting down at a dining table covered with a white tablecloth, bone china type dishes, crystal looking stemware and utensils while having a waiter in uniform presenting us with a menu.
I faced the reality of being in a time warp when I saw our cabins. As you might guess, the conductor could not be bothered to help us with our dilemma. When I opened the door to what I thought was my cabin, I literally started screaming, Italian style as I saw three men trying to sleep. I’m afraid I woke folks up. Fortunately, I had opened the wrong door. The next cabin that I was consigned to consisted of a nice elderly couple with one young lady who did speak some English. The cot that I slept on had the thinnest mattress and pillow that is possible to manufacture. I managed to store my luggage while I adapted to the shock of the threadbare furnishings. I can’t even begin to describe the condition of the public bathroom. The little nourishment that was offered included some orange juice, water and a small snack. There was definitely no dining room. For anyone who decides to take this over night train, please bring a picnic dinner and breakfast with you.
Finally, a train agent came by to check on my train ticket. I was able to convey my displeasure by explaining that I and my friend had expected to change our ticket to where we were sharing the same cabin and that she had possession of our only ticket. Then I provided him with her cabin location. He did take time to find her in a room with three bed cots and two men. Fortunately, he did search for the conductor to have her moved to a more appropriate cabin with a family.
Rick Steves makes the following recommendation as reflected in the below link:
“Tirrenia and SNAV each operate a year-round daily overnight car ferry between Naples and Palermo. The crossing takes approx. 10 hours, and fares start as low as 42.66 Euros for a reclining seat. Cabins cost extra. Cafeteria, restaurant, shopping arcade, slot machines, public lounge and movie theatre on board. During the month of August, both companies have supplemental DAYLIGHT crossings on the weekends.”
“There is also a daily Intercity Night (ICN) direct train departing Naples at 22:48, arriving in Palermo 10 hours later. A reserved seat costs 42 Euros in second class (or 34 Euros with the advance purchase “AMICA” fare). There are also single/twin/triple sleeping compartments and C4 quad couchettes available on this train at extra cost. The overnight ferry is much preferable to the overnight train.”(Note: This is based on older data).
I did check the airline costs with adequate advance notice. The airlines Ryan air, Iberia, Vueling, and Ailtalia advertise rates from 54 to 102 euros for flights between Rome and Palermo or Catania in Sicily.
Dear Italiarail.com Company, Please consider sponsoring an overnight sleeper train car that is extremely comfortable to encourage tourism in Sicily. If it is not feasible to invest in the fast train, then compete by providing for a truly pleasurable experience.
Naples/Palermo Travel Options – Rick Steves Travel Forum https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/italy/naples–palermo–travel-Oct 1, 2009 Tirrenia and SNAV each operate a year-round daily overnight car ferry between Naples and Palermo.
Airlines – Flights to Sicily – Palermo Catania Trapani – Best of Sicilyhttp://www.bestofsicily.com/airlines…Direct Flights to Palermo (PMO), Catania (CTA) or Trapani (TPS) … service to Rome…
Night Trains in Italy, Overnight & Sleeper Trains …http //www.italiarail.com/night-trains Night Trains in Italy; … Overnight trains Rome to Palermo…