Saturday, June 21, 2014

Circumetnea railway (Sicily log 2)

Before we came to Italy, my wife had been talking about a railway ride which goes around Mount Etna. It transpires that she's been referring to the Circumetnea railway, which is a single track, narrow gauge railway. It turns out that the data in her guidebook is inaccurate.

With great difficulty, I managed to find a timetable for the railway, one which came into operation only a few days ago. One has to take a train from Catania to Randazzo, then get off and wait for another train which goes from Randazzo to Giarre. Apparently one can catch a normal train from Giarre back to Catania. There is a train leaving Catania Borgo station at 7:51 in the morning, but this seemed to be too early - especially as this station is not the station near us but elsewhere in Catania. The next train leaving Borgo is only at 10:44, and this would have entailed a 40 minute wait at Randazzo. 

It occurred to me that it might be better to first travel by regular train from Catania to Giarre (7:49 am, with the station five minutes walk from our hotel), then board the special train at Giarre at 8:53, arriving at Borgo at 12:10 with only a ten minute wait at Randazzo. So this is what we did. It's interesting that no one who wrote a review at Trip Advisor considered this possibility.

The first step cost 2.85 euro/person and was very comfortable. I should point out that we were helped in buying our ticket from the automatic machine by an old man who was waiting by it. He proved very helpful - until at the end, when he asked me (in Italian) for a contribution towards a cup of coffee (as I understood it). In other words, we had to tip him for doing something which I could probably do myself. I suppose that it's one way of making a living.

Once we arrived at Giarre, we disembarked and walked maybe a hundred metres to the other ferrovia station; this seemed to be totally abandoned, although a few more people (some local, some obviously not) turned up. On time, the small train - two carriages - appeared, and we set off on our trip around Etna, a still active volcano which reaches over 3000m at its peak. The ride to Randazzo takes an hour and the view was quite interesting. It appears that there are many agricultural smallholders; we would see houses dotted around, each with its little vineyard along with lemon and olive trees.

At Randazzo we disembarked, and after a few misunderstandings with the local staff (none of whom spoke English), we waited ten minutes until a second train came along. This one had only one carriage and so was almost immediately filled up before leaving. Unfortunately, the view from here back to Catania was very uninteresting and did not hold our attention; it was also quite hot in the carriage. 

At one of the stops, we were told to disembark and get on a bus which was waiting by this station. We were only too pleased to do this as the bus was air conditioned and the seats were more comfortable. Unfortunately, after about twenty minutes (after having passed through a few dirty towns), the bus stopped outside another train station and we were back on the ferrovia for the final ride into Catania.

I wouldn't recommend this ride to anybody, but if pressed, I would suggest riding from Catania to Giarre, taking the first hour of the trip to Randazzo then returning to Giarre and thence to Catania.

We found the metro station which would take us back to the main train station but of course we had neglected to purchase suitable tickets in advance (there was nowhere in the metro station to buy them). I belatedly realised that we would be able to purchase the required tickets in a tobacconists, so I retraced my steps to the ferrovia station where there was a tobacconists. I tried to buy metro tickets, but when the cashier saw my ferrovia tickets, she said that we were entitled to two free metro tickets (again, this is what I understood from her Italian) and gave me them to me.

Thus equipped, we went down into the metro and took the first train back to the main station. Actually, we got off at Corso Italia for I imagined that we would easily be able to find somewhere to eat in that area; this turned out not to be true but I won't go into that.

All in all, this was not a good day! The public transport in Catania isn't very good, the streets are incredibly dirty, it's difficult to find somewhere to eat and nobody seems to speak English. This is not a destination for foreign tourists! The contrast is especially great after coming from Sorrento which is clean, pleasant, filled with restaurants, geared for tourists and almost entirely English speaking.

Fortunately, tomorrow will be our only other full day in Catania (we leave for Palermo on Monday morning), so today's lessons will be taken to heart.

[Edited 10 July 2014 to remove repeated words and phrases]

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