The little train chugs along the slopes of Mount Etna, one of the active volcanoes in Sicily, Italy. Passing quaint villages, you are treated to beautiful sights of orchards and vineyards flourishing in the fertile volcanic soil. As you climb up, it’s the grim site of black, hardened lava. But you can’t ignore the stark, somewhat frightening beauty of the terrain.
Ferrovia Circumetnea (FCE) is a narrow-gauge railway line in the outskirts of Catania, Sicily. Starting from Borgo and ending in Riposto, it almost encircles the volcano Etna. Armed with Lonely Planet – Italy and a couple of words of Italian, I reach the Borgo station after some misadventures.
Lonely Planet lists two options to reach Borgo from Catania town. Take bus 429 or 432 and ask to be let off at the Borgo metro stop, or catch the metro from Catania’s main train station to the metro station Borgo.
On reaching the local bus station, I immediately spot bus 429, and get in with no idea of how to recognize the stop. Driver is in a glass enclosure and talking to him is discouraged. A couple of fellow passengers I turned to, but no one could help. So as Lonely Planet suggested, there is no one I could ask to let off at the Borgo metro stop. To my luck, the bus was a circular one, and after an hour or so of impromptu ride across Catania, I am back at the local bus station. Now, I decide to try the metro. The railway station and bus station are next to each other. The ticket clerk tells to go to the last platform to catch the metro. And I wait at the last platform for some time with no trains or even people in sight. I could see little colourful trains at a distant platform every now and then. It seems obvious that I am on the wrong platform. A few college students happen to come to my platform, and they direct me to the colourful trains. There are platforms beyond the last platform!
Once on the metro, I reach Borgo in a few minutes. From there, FCE station Borgo is easy to reach. By the time, it is afternoon. The next train (and the last one till Riposto) is a couple of hours away, so I explore around. Finally, I find via Caronda, where I was supposed to get down from the bus to reach Borgo. An unremarkable place. No wonder I could not locate it from the bus, I console myself.
Back at the station, I find the train is already at the platform. The very helpful ticket clerk explains to me to get down at Giarre (just before Riposto) for catching a main-line train to Taormina, the place where I stay. He looks up the timetable and tells me I should catch the 18:51 train. And that the next train would be a couple of hours later. Circumetnea train reaches Giarre at 18:18. Perfect, I think, there is more than half an hour gap.
Munching a sandwich and clicking photos, I am glued to the sights of neat little houses, rich farms, and wilderness. Most of the passengers are locals, returning from the city. There are many students too. Their parents wait next to the station in cars to pick the kids up. Nice to see this glimpse of Sicilian village life. But the joy ride didn’t last for long. A longer-than-normal halt at one of the stations disturbs me. Will the train reach Giarre on time? Will I miss the Taormina train? So there I sit comparing the actual time of arrival at each station to the time listed on the timetable. Restless, I realise that I should be lucky to catch the Taormina train. Finally, at 18.35, the train reaches Giarre.
And I rush out without knowing which direction to go. I ask for directions to the first people I see on the road. A few minutes pass by before they understand what I am asking and point me in the right direction. Meanwhile, I spot an Indian-looking boy and a girl rushing in the same direction. I reach the main station and the ticket clerk assures me that I have a few minutes to spare before the train comes. On the platform, I spot that couple again and smile. They too reciprocate; the Indian-origin British boy and his girlfriend are also waiting for the same train. They, on a 3-week trip to Sicily, too stay at Taormina. So I have company till Taormina station and then to catch a bus from the station to the town. It is a great relief to meet someone who can speak English.
Enough adventure for a day. I take the cable car back to the hilltop where the hotel is located. And treat myself to a glass of Sicilian red wine and pasta with sardines. Seeing me clicking photos of the food, a friendly guy from the next table offers to click me with the food.
Though we did the Italy trip together, Bindhu explored Catania alone when Unny was busy discussing with his colleagues about the next big leap for Maxus at their management conference.
Catania is a city on the east coast of Sicily, located at the foot of the volcano Mount Etna. This tenth-largest city in Italy is known for its destruction by earth quakes and volcanic eruptions. Catania is well connected by air and Alitalia flies regularly between Rome and Catania. (Catania-Fonatanarossa airport)