Five trains and a few ferries, too

This past weekend, I decided to take a trip to southern Italy in search of two particular cities – Reggio Calabria, Calabria, and Messina, Sicily. I had these cities circled because they are two of the major cities in Italy that my family is originally from. I didn’t know much about the cities, and I don’t know any family there today, but I was excited for the chance to explore and connect with Italy in a new way. So began my 40-hour adventure in which I left from Sorrento at 5:00 am, and eventually made my way to both Calabria and Sicily before returning to Sorrento by 11:00 pm the next day.

It was a long way to travel by train, but that was okay by me – I actually enjoyed the challenge of hopping between trains, and it gave me a chance to catch my breath and take in Italy as I travelled from one place to the next. I began my train hopping by going from Sorrento to Naples, then Naples to Salerno, and finally Salerno to Reggio Calabria. This left me with a nice afternoon to spend in Reggio Calabria, a southern Italy city that sits right across the water from Sicily. Amongst many others, one of the things I discovered here was the “Lungomare Falcomatà” walkway that runs along the sea – a coastline view that has been described by Italian writer Gabrielle D’Annunzio (one of the writers that I have read in my literature class this summer!) as “the most beautiful kilometer in Italy”.

A view of Sicily from “Lungomare Falcomatà” in Reggio Calabria

After exploring this city for the day, I caught an evening ferry ride to travel from Reggio Calabria to Messina, Sicily. It got a little interesting for me at this point in the day, because I was having trouble finding the location for the ferry stop – so I put my Italian to work, and asked a series of locals to help me find my way (it took the help of more than a few people because the ferry stop was not in a very obvious location). Once I found it, I had some questions about the ferry schedule and the ticket I wanted to buy, but I had to ask all of this in Italian as well because the person selling the tickets did not speak English. This was a common theme I found on my trip: the cities that I traveled to aren’t really the biggest go-to spots for tourists, so I found myself much more reliant on my Italian throughout the weekend simply because it was mostly my only choice. Over the whole weekend, I maybe had just a couple small conversations in English with the locals or store owners that I met, but otherwise it was all Italian, and I couldn’t really rely on my English to “bail me out”.

Me in Calabria (side note: I mastered the phrase “can you please take a picture of me?” in Italian over the weekend)

I was able to find my way to Messina in the end, and as the trip continued on, it was a really good feeling to know that I could rely on my Italian speaking skills enough to actually communicate with others, ask any questions I needed to, and ultimately be responsible for myself without using English. I found this to be true again as I settled into my lodging in Messina for the night – the person that let me into my room and checked me out in the morning did not speak any English either, but it wasn’t much of an issue at all (my biggest point of confusion was figuring out the right way to type the WiFi password that they told me, so I’ll take it).

A view of Calabria from Messina, Sicily

After spending the night there, I got up early to explore Messina before catching a train back towards Sorrento later in the day. I enjoyed walking along the coast of Messina as well, and getting to compare the view of Calabria that I could see from Sicily, to my view of Sicily that I saw earlier when I was in Calabria. The Bell Tower and Duomo of Messina were sights to see for sure, and of course I couldn’t skip the Sicilian food – cannoli, arancini, and pizza that was definitely different from the Naples-style pizza I have been mostly eating while in Italy.

The Bell Tower and Duomo of Messina (and me)

The most exciting part of the trip for me may have been the train back from Messina to Naples, because part of the ride involved the train being loaded onto a ferry so that it could cross from Sicily to Calabria before going back on land and up to Naples. I was pretty confused at how the process worked, but I asked enough people around me to make sure I was getting on the train/ferry correctly (sometimes I wasn’t exactly sure what to ask, so whenever we had to switch between train cars or switch onto the ferry, I would just keep asking in Italian to whomever was near me “this is how I get to Naples, right?”)

I went on the train, then the train went on the ferry, so I got out and took a picture of the train on the ferry

The train did get me to Naples eventually, and from there I took my final train back to Sorrento to cap off my trip. All in all, it was an experience I won’t ever forget. Not only did I see a part of Italy in which my family once lived, but I also had the ultimate chance to put my Italian skills to work, and to really connect with life in Italy in a unique way. I definitely pushed myself past my comfort zone a little bit, and it was worth it – at least because it helped me to realize that my Italian studies and practice up to this point might just be paying off a little bit after all.

Ciao for now!