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By Train to Sicily: Mussolini's Railway Station and the Unprecedented Sea Transport of a Train

By Train to Sicily: Mussolini's Railway Station and the Unprecedented Sea Transport of a Train
photo: Marion Doss / Flickr/Benito Mussolini
14 / 11 / 2023

Did you know that in Italy, there's a train that travels by sea? We embarked on a rail journey around Italy, all the way to the sun-drenched island of Sicily.

Allow us to guide you through our two-week Italian adventure, culminating in Sicily. But first things first. Our journey kicked off with a train ride to Linz. The previous night's heavy storm wreaked havoc on the tracks. Despite the Czech Railway Administration's best efforts to clear the debris and repair the traction line, their attempts were in vain.

Nonetheless, the train conductor's instructions were clear: at České Budějovice, we were to switch to a bus bound for Linz, Austria. It seemed straightforward enough, despite the inconvenience of managing our luggage. However, things didn't go as planned. Upon reaching the station, it became evident that our replacement bus was missing. Amidst a gentle summer rain, we waited at the bus stop for over an hour. Just when our hopes were dwindling and with a tight hour-and-a-half connection in Linz looming, a bus finally arrived. The guide, bombarded with questions from curious passengers, was visibly relieved. They say that's the silver lining in a cloud.

Thankfully, we managed to catch our night train from Linz to Venice. The next morning, we disembarked at a station constructed under the directive of Italian leader Benito Mussolini. After checking into our hotel, we set out to explore the wonders of this famed "city on the water." Fortuitously, tourism was still recovering from the pandemic, allowing us to enjoy the Italian cities without the usual overwhelming crowds.

Ondřej Čech / RAILTARGET

Our second day took us from Venice to Naples, a city often labeled as untidy. We're pleased to report that, based on our experience, this reputation is outdated. Naples has made significant strides in cleanliness. It seems Italians are breaking many stereotypes, including that of poor organization. We can confidently say that most of our train connections were punctual, the trains clean, and the transportation system appeared well-coordinated.

In Naples, where we spent three days, we had the joy of witnessing Italians celebrate their national football team's advancement in the European Championship. Their sheer enthusiasm made it evident that the Italian passion for football runs deep in the nation's soul.

After three days in Naples, it was time to head to Sicily. The most remarkable experience of our trip awaited us on the journey from Naples to Messina. Sicily, home to the city of Messina, is separated from the Italian mainland by a strait. No bridge or tunnel is crossing it; instead, the gap is bridged by sea. The Italians have long sought to connect Sicily with the mainland by rail, and their solution is quite impressive. At the Villa S. Giovanni station, trains are driven directly into the hold of a ship. The crew then guides passengers onboard to ensure safety in case of any mishap. In under half an hour, the ship elegantly transports the train across the strait, allowing the journey to continue on tracks. Soon after, we stepped onto Sicilian soil. That evening, we explored Messina. The next day, following a trip to the nearby Aeolian Islands, we headed to Palermo, a city that has shed its past reputation as a "city of mobsters."

We would love to continue sharing memories, but train enthusiasts might be disappointed as there are hardly any more train journeys to mention. Travel around Sicily is primarily by bus, which, unlike the train network, is quite extensive. We'll confine ourselves to listing the cities we visited, with a brief commentary.

Ondřej Čech / RAILTARGET

From Palermo, we visited Trapani in the south of the island, from where one can drive to the enchanting medieval town of Erice. Next, we headed to the delightful Agrigento, renowned for its magnificent temples, remnants of the ancient Romans. Our journey then took us by bus to the stunning Catania, where we watched the Italians triumph over England in the European Championship final. The emotions we observed and partially shared with the celebrating Italians were beautiful and certainly unforgettable.

We stayed in Catania for the remainder of our trip, taking several excursions from there. Two particularly memorable ones were to the breathtaking Taormina, dominated by an old amphitheater, and the journey to Mount Etna. The trip to Etna involved a two-hour bus ride, followed by a cable car ascent. The bus driver's skill in navigating the narrow and winding switchbacks was astonishing. After disembarking the cable car, we were greeted with a beautiful view, and the proximity to the main vent of an active volcano was exhilarating. Surprisingly, there was still snow in some areas of the volcano, despite the ambient temperature exceeding 20 degrees Celsius.

Ondřej Čech / RAILTARGET

The final days in Catania included visits to local museums. I highly recommend the one detailing the Allied landings in Sicily in 1943 and the significant role of the Italian mafia. At the end of the week, it was time to return home. We boarded the train in Catania just before 7 p.m., bid farewell to Sicily from the ferry, and reached Rome overnight. From there, we continued through Venice and Munich, arriving in Karlovy Vary shortly before midnight on the second day. It was a truly beautiful vacation filled with countless memories, which I fondly recall with a smile on my face.