Night Train to Sicily

When starting to research how to do this trip without flying between stops, we discovered there is a direct train between Rome and Sicily. Its an 11 hour train ride which you can do during the day, or a sleeper train leaving Rome late and arriving in Sicily not too early. While the scenery is gorgeous during the day, 11 hours straight is A LONG DAMN TIME ON A TRAIN.  

However, I could not find any up-to-date reviews for it.  Most of what I found on tripadvisor were horror stories, local experts warning against it, people advocating for the quicker and sometimes cheaper flights.

But we were on a mission.  We wanted to make this journey by land or sea if we could! So we took the risk, and it paid off.

I mean, I guess I need to qualify this by saying that Shawn and I are train people.  We love the pace, the ability to get up and walk around and being able to bring your own treats aboard! If you hate all of the above, and really just want to get to your destination, you will probably hate an 11 hour train ride.  
We also took this train in early October, so the weather had cooled enough at night that we weren’t sweltering in our room.
Oh yeah, the night train is not the sleeper trains of yore.  So manage your expectations! But, despite all the warnings, it was safe, cheap and on time!

Ok, qualifier aside, you should really take this train! It is such a fun adventure! Plus, you are traveling and sleeping at the same time, so you’re saving yourself a hotel room.

I booked us into a standard sleeper, and I booked 5 months ahead of our trip as we had our dates pretty set in stone. Again, all the work has already been done by the amazing Man in Seat 61, so just follow his instructions if you plan on booking https://www.seat61.com/trains-and-routes/trains-to-sicily.htm Because I booked so far ahead of time, we only ended up paying $195 CDN for this sleeper compartment.

You get a sink, your beds, room for your bags, outlets, a window, a very secure locking door and toiletry kits! They were so cute and totally unexpected!

The train was scheduled to depart at 11pm, and it was on time! It showed up at 10:30pm, so we were able to board, get settled in our room, and we were off!

I was a bit nervous, because I had read some of the horror stories about people being robbed, but they had also mentioned that they hadn’t properly checked their door. So we did that before turning in for the night, made sure the door locked tight! Shawn took the top bunk, and was passed out in minutes. I had the bottom bunk and slept alright for an hour or two, but kept waking up, feeling a bit nauseous, perhaps from the late night snacks and glasses of wine?

I managed to get a few hours of sleep, and then woke up as the train was being loaded on to the ferry. Yeah that’s right, the train cars are uncoupled and shunted on to a ferry to make the passage across to Sicily! How cool! And, you don’t have to leave your room at all. We thought we might go check out the ferry and see the sunrise, but Shawn slept through it all. Totally dead to the world. I heard a little but chose to keep on sleeping.

I woke up for good once we arrived in Sicily around 8am. Shawn was still asleep! I finally woke him up by opening the blinds to see the view.

The train rushes past the mediterranean and gorgeous black sand beaches. You can also get great views of Mt. Etna from standing in the hallway.

The conductor came by with juice boxes and pastries for our breakfast, which we were not expecting. That was a nice treat.

I hope this post helps other travellers who were considering taking the sleeper train. It really wasn’t anywhere near as bad as tripadvisor makes it seem!

Roaming Around Rome – Day 2

After an exhausting first day of hitting all the sites in Rome, we had another full day.  Our sleeper train to Sicily didn’t leave until 11pm so we had a lot of time to fill.   Side note, I have a separate post about the night train experience.

We treated ourselves to a bit of a sleep in i.e. we got up around 830, instead of 6 as we had been for the last 3 days!  We had a lovely breakfast in our hotel, cappuccinos, local meats and cheese and fresh bread.

We sadly checked out and left our bags with the hotel to start our second day of seeing the sites!

Our big planned adventure for the day was the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Forum.  We bought time entry tickets months before to skip the long line.  Do this! Seriously! The line up to get in the Colosseum was crazy long! Your timed ticket is good for entry into any of the 3 sites at that time, and you can visit the other ones in the same 24 hours.

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Next up was Palatine Hill, a much more chill experience.  Much more room to wander without other people jammed in your space.  TIP: Palatine Hill has the shortest entry line – It seems like people skip Palatine Hill, and only do the Colosseum and Roman Forum if they’re short on time.  And once you’re in, you can effortlessly pop into the Forum without having to go back outside and wait in yet another line.

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And finally, we ended with a visit to the Roman Forum.

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All in, I think we spent about 3 hours wandering all 3 sites, with most of our time spent in Palatine Hill.  We really enjoyed it the most and that was due to less tourists shoving up into our business.  Oh and the shade!

We worked off our breakfast and were ready to eat, so we headed over to Roscioli for our lunch.  We had made reservations ahead of time, which I strongly recommend you do as well.  It was crazy busy and people were being turned away.  We picked to sit downstairs in the wine cellar, which I think only tourists do, but it was nice to be away from the front door which was super crowded and most likely a very annoying dining experience.

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Shawn enjoying some afternoon vino

Again, this dining pick was courtesy of Katie Parla’s website and I followed her dining instructions.  Get the burrata, some cold cuts perhaps, and pasta.  Avoid the mains.

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Over ordered again!

We both had a pasta dish.  Shawn got the matriciana o amatriciana, a delightful pork and tomato pasta with a bit of kick, and I had the insanely decadant raviolo di coda e pecorinola, a ravioli filled with oxtail and cheese in a foie gras sauce.  They were both so incredible.

We were way too stuffed for dessert, but they gave us little cookies with a chocolate dipping sauce to finish us off!

We decided we needed to walk lunch off, so we wandered our way through the streets to the spanish steps, tried to sit on them in the shade and rest, but were yelled at by the cops and had to keep moving.

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We hit 22,000 steps by the early evening, and still had 4 hours to kill before we could get to our night train! So more walking, through the shady Villa Borghese, before heading back down towards our hotel.
Treated ourselves to a few spritzes, and some sitting in a cute bar near our hotel trying to kill time.  I think that ends up being the one downside about catching a night train, trying to fill your day with activities, and then wanting to just sit somewhere comfortable!

We finally grabbed our bags from our hotel, bought some big bottle waters for the train ride and on our way to Termini found another cute wine bar with nice outside seating. We had a few glasses of wine and some brushetta. IMG_1074

Our train left at 11pm, so we got to Termini for 10 pm, passed through security to get on our track, and the train actually showed up on time! An actual night train miracle.

So long Roma, it was a busy 32 hours, but we had so much fun!

Roaming Around Rome – Day 1

In only 32 hours!

Not ideal, but since we seem to find ourselves in Europe quite often, we figured it would be a good first taste for Shawn, and I had been once before.

We arrived mid-afternoon after a 3 hour train ride from Milan.  It was HOT.   We schleped our bags the 20 minutes from Termini to our hotel, Residenza Torre Colonna Rome – which just happened to be in a 15th century guard tower! Essentially right next door to the Alter of the Fatherland and the Roman Forum!

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Residenza Torre Colonna Rome

The Residenza Torre Colonna Rome was a delight.  Its a boutique hotel so there are only 5 rooms total, each room is an entire floor of the tower.  And the customer service was out of this world.  I had indicated on our reservation that we were traveling around Europe for Shawn’s 50th, so they had a bottle of prosecco waiting for us!  And suggested we enjoy it on the roof. OVERLOOKING THE FREAKING ALTER OF THE FATHERLAND!

It was really hard to leave this.  We could have spent the next 32 hours just chilling in this hotel.  But, we had things to see.  I decided to give Shawn a world of wind tour of Rome.  As many sites as we could see in 32 hours.  And, I kind of killed it.

First up, obvs, the Alter of the Fatherland, since it was right next door.

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Then a stroll down to Largo di Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar was murdered all those years ago.

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I think my favourite part about Italy is you’ll be walking down a modern street in a major city and then BOOM, this amazing piece of history is right there.  And then turn another corner and BOOM, more history!

Next up was the Pantheon, my absolute favourite to visit in Rome. IMG_0979

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We made a brief stop in Piazza Navona to try and see the fountains, too many other tourists.  So a quick stop for amazing gelato from Grom (get the pistachio!) and we were back on the move.

Headed over the Ponte Sant’Angelo to get eyes on the Castel Sant’Angelo.  Since I’m an atheist, Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican don’t tick a lot of boxes for me.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re gorgeous.   But, not my jam. And this area seems to be swarming with the scam tricksters who are constantly trying to get you to buy something or have you let your guard down for 5 seconds so they can steal all your shit.

So we went, and saw and then escaped as quick as can be, with all our belongings still intact.

And headed down to the Tiber for a stroll towards the Trastevere neighbourhood.

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Come on, how GORGEOUS is this city?!

Keep in mind, we banged all this out in around 2.5 hours.  Rome is so insanely walkable.  Another reason I love this city so much.  We were actually early heading to our dinner reservation in the most southern part of the Trastevere neighbourhood.  So we walked into a bar across the street, enjoyed some spritzes and waited for them to open… only to discover there had been a family emergency and they were closed.

Now what? Well I follow Katie Parla on instagram and used her restaurant suggestions on her website to book this now closed restaurant, so I hoped back on her site and looked for places in the neighbourhood over – Testaccio, a more working class neighbourhood, but one that would be on our way back towards our hotel.

And, like usual, her recommendation did not disappoint! We ended up choosing Piatto Romano, for a more roman dining experience.

That’s local wild greens in an olive oil dressing, rabbit with sauteed broccolini, black garlic pasta and a tiramisu.  We were stuffed! It was fantastic.  We got a carafe of house red, and it turned out to be a very reasonably priced meal.  If you’re in Rome and looking for a delicious meal, head to Piatto Romano!

We continued our walk home by heading back to the Tiber and following it towards the hotel.  We ended up passing by more ruins and the gorgeous Teatro Marcello.  We also learned that the ruins are loved by rats at night.  All of them were swarming with rodents! Bleh!

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We finished our day’s adventure passing by the Alter of the Fatherland, and briefly checking out the Trajan forum from above before crashing into our beds.  In total we did 24,695 steps!

Tirano to Milano – a long day on trains

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When you decided to train your way from Zurich to Sicily, you know its going to take some time and you’ll spend a lot of time on trains, but this day was rough.

We were only 4 days into our trip and already on our 3rd country.  Plus we’d just spent 4 hours on the Bernina Express, so we’d been sitting for half the day.  Which is why we decided to break up the day by spending two hours wandering around Tirano.

The Bernina Express ends in Tirano and you can race across the town square and buy tickets for the regional train to Milan that leaves in 20 minutes.  Or you can wait it out.  We recommend a wait.  Tirano is a lovely town, with loads of restaurants and some beautiful churches and scenery.  Why rush to sit on a train for another 3 hours?

We wandered away from the square surrounding the two train stations, because all the menus were geared toward tourists, and only 2 blocks away found Lo Scrocchiaro for some pizza and wine!

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Back in my happy place

Once fueled up, we walked the main street toward the cathedral we had passed coming in on the train Santuario della Madonna di Tirano.

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This town was a serious feast for our eyes.

After wandering around the church and back to the main square, I grabbed a couple beers for the next long train ride and we settled into our regional train for the journey to Milan.  Its just under 3 hours if the train is running on time… which didn’t happen.  It took us over 3 hours.  But the scenery was gorgeous.

After passing through farmers fields the train suddenly turns along the Lake Como coastline. I spent the next 45 minutes trying to find George Clooney 😉

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George? Where you at?

We finally arrived in Milan, just in time to stand in line again at a Tim Mobile store to get our Italian sim card.  It was another painful 30 minutes before I got out of there, but listen, if you plan on using your mobile phone abroad, I would hiiiighly recommend getting a local sim.  And here’s my “travel hack” –  I bring my old iphone and insert the foreign sim into it, essentially turning it into a wifi hot spot I can carry around.  That way my current phone still has all my phone numbers stored, my friends and family can reach me while I’m abroad, but I can still connect to the internet (and google maps!) without racking up “roam like home” charges.  Plus, the phone plans in Europe are so much better than our Canadian ones.

For 32E I received a plan good for 30 days, unlimited local calling – that’s every country in the EU, not just Italy – and an insane amount of data, like so huge I cannot remember it because I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.  And you can roam in other EU countries with these plans, so my phone worked in Malta and France by the end of the trip.

We used the data on that Italian sim constantly for the remaining 3 weeks of our trip, and we didn’t run out.

Anyways, back to Milan!

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How gorgeous is the Milan train station?!

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It was a brief walk from the beautiful art deco train station to the incredibly chaotic checkin at our hotel.  We stayed at the Hotel ibis Milano Central, as Milan was just a brief stopover for us.  We got a reasonable price and the hotel was clean.  And that’s about all of the positives I’ve got.

Dumped our bags, took showers, and took off to see the sights and EAT. MORE. PIZZA!

This post is getting long, but here’s another story for you.  I’ve been instagram stalking a pizza restaurateur, Gino Sorbillo, for years.  Constantly cursing that for all my trips to Italy (this is #4) I’ve never made it Naples to do a pizza pilgrimage.  Well reader, he has not one, but two!! pizza restaurants in Milan.  So we went to the one right off the Duomo.  And it was as religious of an experience as you can have as an atheist pizza enthusiast.  The pizza was perfect, my spritz was perfect, the waiters were so lovely.  I had the best time, and cannot wait to go try his OG location in Naples… one day… siiiiigh.

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In actual heaven

Still fighting the jetlag we did a quick zoom by the Duomo and then wandered back to the hotel to pass the F out.

 

Zurich and Chur, a stopover on the way to the Bernina Express

When we started planning this trip and decided we would try and get from Paris to Malta without planes I decided we should probably take a scenic train through the alps.

Turns out that can be very expensive. Switzerland ain’t cheap. Thankfully the Man in Seat 61 has a killer workaround for getting tickets on the Bernina Express for cheap! https://www.seat61.com/BerninaExpress.htm

We followed his advice but decided to spend our overnight stopover in Chur instead of Zurich for a bit of a sleep-in.

We left Paris at 7:30 and arrived in Zurich at 8:45. A very quick and cheap train ride into the main station later we were ready to explore. Fun fact! Nothing is open on Sunday’s in Switzerland. No clothing stores or other shops. Only a few restaurants and bars. It was a weird tourist ghost town.

After a quick breakfast we decided to hit the art gallery. And if you have a Sunday in Zurich, you should really visit. It’s so quiet. It was the most chill experience ever. We got to actually enjoy the art. And get up close!

We did struggle to fill the rest of the day. Which is really not that bad. We did some wandering, ate some bratwurst, wandered more. And then found Oktoberfest at the train station! Perfect way to wait for your train!

We grabbed our train to Chur, which took about an hour and a half. The scenery was gorgeous, mountains set against lakes.

We got into Chur just before 7pm. And it was like the town that feared sundown. There was no one out. No restaurants open. We checked into our hotel and then set our for food. And came up short. A Swiss Bierhalle was open but they didn’t have a great menu. So we kept winding our way through the tiny streets, becoming more and more disheartened until we finally found a kebab shop! And it was open and they were massive and amazing.

We stayed at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck, would recommend. Easy walk to and from the train, large rooms, great breakfast!

Constant Vigilance in Paris

We started our trip in Paris, which for me was super anxiety inducing. You see, Paris and I don’t have a great past. I’ve been sexually harassed and terrified in Paris and also pickpocketed. That was trip one and two. So why did we fly into Paris? Because Air France had a banging deal and I LOVE that airline. I’ve never had a bad time with them. They make air travel enjoyable. So I figured what the hell, let’s give it a third try.

And you know what? It worked. Was it my rock bottom expectations? Or maybe the fact that I was so ON GUARD THE ENTIRE TIME WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME THAT WAY oh sorry.

Paris was only a layover, and we did it the Anthony Bourdain way, no major sightseeing, no plans, just wandering to cafes and wine bars and seeing the sights whilst fighting the jet lag. Highly recommend.

I can also recommend Ob-la-di in the Marsais. A teeny little cafe producing delightful and highly Instagramable avocado toasts and beautiful pastries. Plus lovely ass coffee.

We had a nice relaxing brunch and then strolled down to the Sein. We did pop over to visit Notre Damn and view the destruction. Then a lovely long walk up to Canal St. Martin to have wine and cheese at La Vache dans les Vignes.

Let them pick your cheese, we advised what we were into and picked our wine – Pinot Noir- and he came back with three amazing cheeses. One blue that was very bluey but also smooth? If that makes any sense? And then two really rad goat cheeses. Of which I have no names. Sorry. Guess you gotta go there.

After crushing that awesome cheese plate and those rad wines we were ready for sleeps. Headed back to the airport and the Holiday Inn Express CDG, which due to shitty old people, I feel I need to endorse. It’s fine. Stay there. It’s like super clean and convenient . Yes you have to walk like half a block from the CDG airport train but it’s not an issue. And if you’re a member of whatever hotel chain group that IHG is in you get free early check in!

EuropeanFive0

My lovely, wonderful Shawn turned 50 this October so we (ok me) decided what better way to celebrate than to tour around Europe for 3 weeks. You know, cause I need a reason to visit…

We hashtagged the entire trip on Instagram with #europeanfive0 so feel free to catch up there as well as the accompanying posts.

We covered a fair amount of ground and I answered a lot of questions I had before we left. So maybe this blog can help some other traveller out?

Or it’ll be an everlasting testament to our best 3 week holiday.

This is our itinerary:

Paris – 1 day

Zurich and Chur – 1 day

Tirano and Milan – 1 day

Rome – 1.5 days

Sicily – 4 days

Malta – 10 days

Our goal was to fly into Paris and then train all the way to Sicily, ferry to Malta and then fly Malta-Paris-Home.

We ended up flying Paris to Zurich as the flight was substantially cheaper than the train. We also flew from Catania, Sicily to Malta as the ferries get cancelled if the waves are more than around 6 ft and we didn’t want to take that chance. Turns out we could have ferried as the weather was perfect the day we were to leave, but Ryan Air was really cheap and surprisingly on time.