I descended the hill into Minori and found the tourist information office. Most of the town was still fixed on the football match that would dictate Italy’s world cup campaign. I could hear the cries from the windows of houses and restaurants as I passed. The lady recommended a place to me called the Hotel Europa. She said, its near the road, not anything fancy, but cheap. Sounded perfect for me. She gave me a postcard with this colourful, pristine depiction of an idealistic holiday resort. It may have looked like that once upon a time, but now it was looking a bit tired. As I approached the building, this little old lady approached me and started beaconing me to come in. Pointing and waving he hand like she really meant business, while muttering something in Italian I couldn’t comprehend. I got of my bike and walked it into the foyer of the building, with the little old lady fussing over me, pointing at where I might rest it. There was another lady at the counter, probably in her forties with thick curly hair and think rimmed glasses who cried out in a shrill loud voice “HELLO! You want a room?” I got checked in and parked my bike in a little room of the dining hall, then made my way up the stairs to my room. A group of four Italians were playing cards on the balcony and we exchanged a quick “Ciao!” as I passed. Heading back to the main town square, it seemed appropriate to dine at the Café Europa for dinner, while I sat surveying the activity of the waterfront, before retiring to bed.
The next day, I woke to the sound of traffic so clear, it was like it was in the room with me. I had a quick shower, then headed downstairs for breakfast. The duo from the night before were putting on a scene reminiscent of Fawlty Towers with the younger woman barking out “Mama!” and the old lady muttering in Italian before shuffling off to take care of the latest errand. There were a number of hotel guests around in the dining hall, and it became clear that the younger woman at the hotel had one one volume for her voice. At one point she came over to give me the Wi-Fi password for the hotel, and with her head leaning over my should proceeded to belt out more orders to “Mama!” and carry on a passionate tirade with another customer. I winced as the sound pounded into my left ear while trying not to laugh out loud at the spectacle.
Eventually I packed my things, checked out and said goodbye to Minori. With the extra distance I had done the day before, today would be a very easy ride. The next village was Maori, another quiet little place set among the hills. The road was still quite busy and now i started to see a few more lycra clad cyclists that i had seen the day before. one of them came up behind me and passed on a team sky Pinarello. I sat on his wheel and he asked me where I was from. I told him “Australia. Just like Richie Porte. You’re riding his bike.” we chatted for a few minutes before he said he had to stop now and go to work. Not bad to have a quick blast down the Amalfi coast before heading off to work at 11AM I thought! I passed a big group of people on scooters who were parked at one of the turnouts taking pictures. When I called out “Ciao!” as I went by there was an enthusiastic roar of “Ciao!” followed by cheers which put a smile on my face.
My guidebook warned me that the roads coming into Salerno would be confusing. It was the end of the little coastal villages and hello to a big port city. My first thought was to catch the ferry from Salerno to Sicily (or even Malta if possible). I managed to find my way across the lanes of traffic and follow the road that ran along the water front, hoping that the ferry terminal would be pretty obvious, or there would be some information point there. I continued along this way for a while, until I saw a sign for the passenger ferry. That must be it, I thought but as I pulled in to have a closer look, there was not much there and the sign was for smaller ferries to Sorrento and Amalfi coast. So then I decided to follow the signs to the tourist information centre, but after a while they just disappeared. The first sent me down the water front, which I kept following, until I reached the end of the pavement and ended up on the road heading out of town. So I gave up on the phantom information centre and the ferry and went looking for the train station. Train stations are generally big and easy to find. When I got there, the next train to Catania was leaving in 20 minutes. From Catania, I would need to make my way to Pozzallo where the ferry to Malta would leave on Friday. With my bike, the conductor told me to get on the last carriage where I left it precariously in the doorway and locked it to a hand rail. Since my reservation was for another carriage, I just found a seat wherever.
The train had these little compartments with 4 seats facing one another, like a modern version of the Hogwarts Express. I found a cabin where a couple were sitting, and sat down. They guy was sleeping and the girl was reading a book, so I got my laptop out. After a little while, the guy woke up and I noticed that they were signing to another. Always keen to meet new people, I got out my notebook and introduced myself. “Hi. My name is Phil and I’m from Australia. What’s your name? Where are you from?” The girl’s eyes lit up as she grabbed my notebook and replied “Hi Phil from Australia! We are from Hawaii! Misella and Bryce.” We carried on the conversation for a while passing my notebook back and forth. Misella has been here since April with Bryce just joining her. They will spend 2 months touring around Europe together. In July they will be camping with other deaf Europeans in the UK. It was lots of fun and I enjoyed getting to know them, and sharing some of my stories.
Suddenly there was a commotion with the engine driving the train being removed, and some of the carriages being disconnected. We all jumped out of the cabin to investigate. Then I realised what was happening, the train carriages had been shunted onto a ferry and we were going to sail across to Sicily. I did wonder how we would get there, whether there was a bridge or something. Then I spotted another guy in the carriage and called out to him. He was excited to hear someone else speaking English. He introduced himself as Joe from Bristol, and I introduced him to Misella and Bryce.
Once the train was secured on the ferry, we were free to roam about so the four of us went exploring. We made out way out the back where we could see the water, then another passenger told us we could access the upper deck, so we headed up there. On the upper deck it was quite windy, but we had a great view as we came into Messina. The ferry trip was very brief, so we had to jump back onto the train, but we watched with interest as the engine was reconnected and then coupled to the other carriages. Joe came and joined us in out little cabin, and we went on chatting, passing notes to one another. Bryce and Misella were getting off one stop before Joe and I who were going to Catania. We waved them good bye and exchanged details so we could keep in touch.
Joe was booked into a hostel in Catania. Since it was late, and I had nothing arranged, I decided I would make a reservation there too. That way we could keep each other company (and I wouldn’t get lost, hopefully). The hostel was a short walk from the station, and despite the cryptic directions we made our way there. It helps that it is located directly opposite an enormous Medieval castle! When we checked in we were both surprised at how nice, new and clean it was for the price. We dropped off our bags in the room, set up our beds and headed to the restaurant next door for dinner.
With the rush to get the train, I had skipped lunch. We shared some nibbles on the train, biscotti, prociutto and Misella even gave us some of her delicious homemade strawberry jam, but I was still pretty hungry. At the restaurant, a band was playing and it was packed, so we had to sit inside. It was good really, because we had a great view of the band, particularly the drummer. They played a mix of Italian songs, then some in English – lots of the Police and other classics of that era. The pizza and salad that I ordered was great, but too much to finish. We hung around for another song or two before heading back up to the hostel. It had been another great day, meeting more great people but I was ready for bed!