I do not understand why ferries have to keep such ungodly hours. Our trip from Kalkan to Rhodes was the only ferry trip on this voyage with a reasonable starting time (9:00 AM) although staying an hour away from Fethiye had forced us out of bed at 7:00. The Athens ferry had a fine departure time (6:00 PM) but after a long overnight voyage, arrived at 6:00 AM. All rather ghastly.
The Maria Dolorose, which I loosely translate as the Painful Mary ― not a name that conjures visions of a happy-go-lucky trip ― was scheduled to depart Valletta for Sicily at 7:00 AM. When we picked up the tickets, the agent had told us to be at the terminal at 6:00. Put that together with a 25 minute walk to the terminal (dragging suitcases) and we have yet another early departure. Herself assures us that this will be the last one of the trip ― well, we shall see.
The Maria Dolorose is a catamaran, and at 7:00 she thrummed to life, slipped past the turrets and walls of Valletta glowing in the golden light of dawn, then rolled out onto an easy working sea. Ninety minutes later, we reached Sicily, debarking at the sprawling, unloved town of Pozzallo. We caught a taxi to the train station. This wasn't as easy as it sounds, for our driver argued that we would be better off catching the bus to Syracuse. Unfortunately Grace's stomach was weak this morning and we doubted whether she could stand the motion. With a final shrug, our driver acceded to our wishes, and took us to the train station. He was probably right in counseling us to take the bus. The train station was deserted, vandalized, and graffiti-stroked. According to the schedule, it would be three hours before the next train arrived. We settled in to wait, sprawling on the brick platform because someone had stolen the benches.
It wasn't the most pleasant welcome back to Italy that we could have imagined. We intended to travel from the extreme southern end of the country (Sicily) to the northern border. Although we've visited Italy a number of times, this was our first trip in the south. Popular prejudice asserts that the south is less-pleasant than the north, and we have come to see for ourselves.
Here's a funny little anecdote: the spray-painted ticket machine would not accept bills, and we did not have enough coins to purchase all of our tickets. Since there was no ticketing office inside the station (from the smell and broken windows I would say that the structure had been colonized by a covey of pigeons) the only remaining option was to purchase tickets on the train.
Our solitary wait was broken around noon, when a small group of passengers arrived. We met a woman who spoke English, and when our train finally hove into view, our new friend interrogated the conductor about our plight. Much to our dismay, the conductor insisted that he could not sell tickets, and if we didn't have tickets in our possession when he inspected our car, he would fine us fifty euros. Apiece.
Two hundred euros seemed like a pretty steep fare for a one hour train ride (the normal fare is sixteen euros for four people). Our translator said that our only recourse was to walk back into town and find a travel agent who might sell us tickets. Of course that would mean missing this train and having to wait another three hours for the next one.
We began squawking mightily in disbelief. Surely there was something that could be done. It wasn't our fault that the ticket dispenser was broken. Our translator laid into the conductor again, and fortunately, at that moment, the train's engineer strolled over. Our friend pleaded our case to him. A bemused grin twisted his mouth, and he exchanged a few words with the conductor.
Whatever he said had great effect, for we were allowed to load ourselves, our suitcases, and the blue anvil aboard the train. We would have to procure a ticket at the next stop. It wasn't clear how this was going to work, but the conductor, our former nemesis, had been converted to our cause. When the train stopped, he helped Mary work the ticket machine and secure the proper tickets. The train stood idly at the station, waiting patiently for them to complete this transaction.
All is well that ends well, as Ma Ingalls used to say.
When we reached Syracuse, I took one look at the map and decided that it was much too far to pull the suitcases. We engaged a taxi. Five minutes later we were at our flat. Unfortunately the owner wasn't finished cleaning it yet, so we had an hour to kill. We left our suitcases in the doorway and set off in search of lunch.
Everyone was looking forward to our first Italian pizza of the Euro2008 tour, but when we sat down in a local pizzeria, the waiter told us that they didn't have any pizza. No pizza? What sort of nonsense is that? Pasta instead.
We are staying in the oldest part of Syracuse, the island of Ortigia. This small island is connected to the rest of the city by a pair of bridges. Before dinner we went for a stroll, circumnavigating the island. I don't know if this is going to be an easy place to love. It is frightfully rundown in an non-romantic way. I'm prepared to give it some time, and indeed we are scheduled to be here for a week, but I wasn't dazzled by my first impressions.
Nor was it easy to find a restaurant for dinner. The entire crew was exhausted by the 5:30 start to the day, so by 6:00 PM we just wanted to eat something and then turn in. But at every restaurant it was the same story: not open yet. As far as we can work out, no dinner is served in Syracuse before 7:30 and 8:00 is the more common starting time. At last we found a Chinese restaurant that was willing to serve us. They had warmed their microwave up earlier and were ready to get cooking.
Dire, but edible.