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!

The Bernina Express

IMG_0889One of the highlights of our trip was the train ride through the Swiss Alps into Italy on the Bernina Express, which is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world!

Reaching a height of 2,253 metres (7,392 ft) above sea level, it is the highest railway crossing in Europe and the third highest railway in Switzerland.

We had booked our tickets about 6 months ahead of time, because the closer to your date the more expensive train tickets are.  I used the Man in Seat 61’s excellent workaround tips https://www.seat61.com/BerninaExpress.htm and it does make a heck of a price difference! You will have to go to the Swiss rail site to pay to reserve your seats.  If you’re traveling in a group/pair I would suggest doing this.  But when we travelled in early October, we found the first 2 cars were full, but the ones at the end were empty.   We had reserved ahead so we had window seats, as Shawn and I like sitting across from each other, both at the window.

Fair warning, the seat plan posted on the train walls was incredibly confusing for pretty much everyone but myself.  We heard many arguments about who was supposed to sit where, and got into an amazing fight with the stodgiest British couple after they passive aggressively accused us of stealing their seats.  Spoiler alert, I won 🙂

The train leaves Chur just after 8:30am, so it was another early morning for us. Jetlag does help with that. We had arrived to Chur at sunset, so this was a nice surprise from the bathroom window!  IMG_0782

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The Chur train station

We lucked out with the weather, what was supposed to be a cloudy rainy day gave way to a beautiful sunny morning and afternoon.  Our views from the train were completely unobstructed. 

We had paid extra to sit in the glass domed car for better views.  Honestly, in the dome car, it really doesn’t matter where you’re sitting, your eyes are in for a treat from any of the seats.  However, you can’t take glare free photos, so if you are interested in taking the best photos, the regular train cars are the place for you, as you can open the windows.

Now, here’s those killer photos you came for:

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The Bernina Pass!

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The train stops at Alp Grum, which has an elevation of 2,091 m, for a chance to stretch your legs and get some more killer photos.  IMG_0881

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Serving up shots at 2,091 m!

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Shawn enjoying his grappa

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Carly enjoying her schnapps

Once we got back on the train we decided to explore the cars at the end of the train.  They ended up being empty, so we left our terrible seat mates (honestly our entire train car was filed with horrible Brits and American retirees) and headed to the empty train car for a very quiet and much more enjoyable ride down the mountains.

Lago di Poschiavo

Lago di Poschiavo

Quite possibly the most spectacular part of the entire trip on the Bernina Express comes near the end, the Brusio Railway Viaduct – of which I have ZERO photos! I was using Shawn’s phone to take a video of us going around it, sorry! It really was spectacular.

The train pulls into Tirano around 12:49 pm and you can rush across the tiny town square to the Italian train station and buy a regional ticket to Milan for the 13:08 train.  Or you can stick around Tirano for another 2 hours, have a nice lunch and explore this quaint town before moving on.  Which is exactly what we did.

 

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.

Christmas Day in San Agustinillo

IMG_0396.jpgOnce we decided that we’d spend our week off during christmas in Mexico, we had to decide where to go outside of Huatulco.  I think I emailed every single hotel between Huatulco and Puerto Escondido desperately trying to find vacancy with less than 2 weeks to go before we landed.

And that’s how we ended up in San Agustinillo, solely based on our ability to find vacancy.  I’ve never traveled like this before and I was pretty nervous, but it worked out perfectly.

San Agustinillo is a little fishing town on the coast Oaxacan coast between Hualtulco and PE.  If you like surfing this is the area for you.  The waves are intense.  You can still find some spots to swim, but you have to be very mindful of those warning flags.

We got the hotel in Huatulco to call a taxi for us, I knew from previous research that it would cost 500 pesos to get to San Agustinillo and that’s exactly what the man charged us.  He was lovely, spoke a little English, taught me how to properly say all the town names we passed through.  It was about an hour drive but it didn’t feel that long at all.

Our first hotel was Casa Bagus right on the beach.   A lovely French Canadian named Manon runs the hotel, she was super helpful, especially letting us know what parts of the beach were the safest for swimming.     IMG_0349.jpg

We dumped our bags behind the checkin desk and headed down to the beach chairs.  We took some time to watch the waves and try to get an idea of what we’d be getting ourselves into.  There were plenty of younger kids in the water so we figured we’d be fine.   And we were, but holy shit are those waves intense!   Our hotel was in what was considered the quieter, calmer part of the bay and we still fought the undertow and waves every time we dared to venture into the water.IMG_0430.jpg

That’s Shawn being eaten by a wave in front of our hotel!  We didn’t last long, it was a very exhausting workout trying to stay above the waves.

I can’t sing the praises of Casa Bagus enough.  We were so lucky to get a room because the hotel was still very new, if you’re going to be in the San Agustinillo area you should look them up and see if they have vacancy.   It is a bit on the spendy side BUT we had a full kitchen (that we did not utilize), a sofa bed, dining room table, separate bedroom, large bathroom and, the best part, a long private balcony that faced the beach.

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San Agustinillo is very small, with a few restaurants, mostly in the hotels.   Casa Bagus has its own small restaurant run by Chef Oscar.  He told us that he plans the menu around whatever is caught that day.IMG_0398.jpg

For Christmas dinner Oscar was serving filet mignon and tuna steaks.   Shawn got the filet and I went with the tuna.  IMG_0397.jpg

It was quite possibly the best tuna, or fish, I have ever had.  And a massive portion.  Shawn’s steak was perfect.  We each had two margaritas with dinner and ended up paying $40.   We couldn’t believe it.

We headed back up to our room to drink some beers we’d bought earlier at a tienda.  Sitting on our balcony, drinking beers and listening to the surf was the perfect way to end the best christmas day I’ve ever had.

Day 3 – Jesus comes in threes. 

We just can’t seem to get away from Jesus today.

This morning we were worken up by: roosters, dogs barking, a cat fight and a man playing the trumpet.  From what I’ve been told, not unusual for Mexico.

With our early start we made it to the highly recommended Lavanda Cafe for breakfast.   Probably one of the best coffees I have ever had.   And wonderful poached eggs.  Mikil wasn’t a fan of the constant flute music.

On our way to Bici Burro (a local bike shop) we came across this street  At Bici Burro we met the owner and guide Alberto and have signed up for a mountain bike tour on Wednesday.   25 km spread over 6 hours.   Hopefully it cools down a little, everyday so far has been almost 30.

From Bici Burro we decided to wander up a little staircase between houses to see what the view was like at the top.    The view was so worth my shaking thighs.

 And who was at the top of the hill? Jesus!  After we’d gotten our fill of the view it was time to slowly make our way back down to the Centro.  We wandered in and out of shops and talked to a lovely man about his paintings.   There was an owl one I really liked but it was too much money.

Just as we were coming out of his shop we were stopped by an American woman, the stereotypical southern church lady. – big toothy smile and dripping with fake friendliness.    She asked if we were on vacation.   When we said yes she tried to hand us Jesus pamphlets and told us we should come to Mexico City for church.   Being the direct and no bullshit person I am, I said “no we’re atheists”.   And of course being the loud “I have to push my beliefs on everyone” Christian that she was, she did not like my answer.

So she started in on how we could change our minds. Mikil firmly and politely said he didn’t believe in Jesus.   Church lady was shocked and asked  “couldn’t we see the fallacy in our logic” .   Well that was enough for Mikil, he shot back “I can see the fallacy in your logic”.  That shut her up and I walked away laughing while Mikil shook his head in disbelief.

All that theological talk had me hungry and we were close to Muro Cafe, one of the places on my list.  It was recommend on some food blogs for having a delicious and cheap 3 course lunch.

It was easily the best meal of the trip.  Watermelon water, xoichtil soup, nopal tostadas and a chocolate cake. For $130 pesos! (About $10 canadian).  Mikil had a BBQ chicken sandwich and side salad with a watermelon water for the same price.

There is a really good chance we’ll be back there tomorrow.


   That food put us into a food coma and combined with the heat it was time to go home for a siesta.

We pulled ourselves out of bed just in time for the humidity to skyrocket on our half an hour walk to the bus station to buy our tickets for Thursdsy when we leave San Miguel.   The rain started just as we arrived at the station.

Despite all the reassurances (from my work neighbours – the Mexican Consulate) no, everyone does not speak English.    And thankfully I had planned for this eventuality by printing out the schedule of the bus lines and tickets we needed to buy

So I’m pretty sure we’ve got our tickets sorted for our trip to Xilitla on Thursday.

On our walk back from the bus station we passed a tiny dark  shop selling candles and witchcraft supplies.    I am now the excited owner of a Santa Muerte candle for prosperity.  I also bought a coconut one cause it smelled good.   After all that walking we were ready to just sit and have dinner and drinks.

Back to Gombo restaurant for Micheladas, tequila, margaritas and pizza! And again, we got a free appetizer.   It was deep fried and had cheese.   So amazing.


We’re ending our night hanging out on our patio, talking to our lovely landlady Joy and listening to the neighbours dogs go batshit crazy over nothing.