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Circling Sicily on Its Regional Trains


I used to be pacing impatiently in my hotel room on the Via Etnea, one among the major boulevards in the middle of Catania. Looking from my balcony, I wondered if the rain was ever going to stop. I’d arrived here on the eastern coast of Sicily earlier within the day, planning to finish a 2.5-week trip to document the Italian island’s culture of regional train travel, however the weather didn’t look promising.

The thought for the project had come to me several months earlier when, on a vacation with my partner, I’d traveled by train on the slopes around Sicily’s famous — and famously lively — volcano, Mount Etna.

As stunning because the views from the windows were, I used to be not less than as intrigued by the seemingly outdated diesel train, quaint and romantic, that shuttled us past lava fields and olive groves. I made a decision to return back for a photograph essay.

On Trenitalia’s website, I narrowed in on the three routes where commuters were depending on the old-fashioned trains that I used to be focused on: the Ferrovia Circumetnea, a narrow-gauge train that connects the villages around Mount Etna; the Syracuse-Gela-Canicattì line, which traces Sicily’s southeastern coast; and a route near the western tip of Sicily that links the village of Piraineto and town of Trapani, via the town of Castelvetrano.

I’d imagined a visit where I’d hop on and off the regional trains, visiting rural villages with beautiful Italian names and experiencing the charm of regional train travel at this southern fringe of Europe. I also hoped to capture portraits of the people I encountered — day by day commuters and train operators — who populated this corner of southern Italy, which is poorer and fewer developed than the country’s comparatively wealthier north.

Even for a Dutch person, I’m an excellent planner. Based on train timetables, I built an itinerary and booked hotels in places I didn’t know existed. But I soon learned that I might only experience the charm of infrequent and slow train travel if I used to be willing to let go of my overly fastidious schedule.

Looking down from my balcony in my flip-flops, I watched the road under me turn right into a river. Cars got stuck; alarms went off; terrace tables and chairs floated away within the swirling floods.

Not wanting to lose one other day to bad weather, I left my hotel the subsequent morning, purchased the most important umbrella I could find and hurried off to the railway station, operating under the wishful illusion that I could force my way through my itinerary. There I discovered all trains on the primary trajectory were canceled until further notice.

To salvage the second leg of my trip, and for the reason that trains were still running, I traveled to Syracuse and decided to take a brief trip to town of Noto, some 20 miles to the southwest, on a colourful — and mostly empty — one-wagon train. Giuseppe Mandolfo, one among my few fellow passengers, told me that he takes the train five days per week to finish his studies on the police academy. “I can’t wait to purchase my very own automotive,” he said, since this particular train was “infrequent, slow and unreliable.”

Immediately after he told me this, the train screeched to a halt. We waited an hour for one more train to reach, hopped aboard and continued our journey.

Afraid I’d get stuck again, I returned to Syracuse and opted to attend for the incoming Medicane, or Mediterranean cyclone, to pass. Soon your complete city appeared to shut down. Making use of my rusty Italian, I discovered that buses had been scheduled as replacements on among the routes on my list. I made my way back to the station and, soon enough, a giant travel bus pulled up in front.

Stefano Giluno, the bus driver, was blissful to see me, his lone passenger. He steered the bus with impressive agility through flooded streets and curved alleys to succeed in the town of Rosolini.

And so it went for much of the trip. Though I might never have expected to see so few trains on my regional train trip, I used to be nevertheless blissful to proceed with my journey by bus, hopping on and off at the varied stops, blissful to glimpse so many aged train stations along the regional outskirts of Sicily. The atmosphere of fading glory on the peeling buildings was reason enough to rejoice. I used to be also intrigued to search out the stations getting used as communal gathering spaces, particularly for young people trying to escape their crowded houses and unwind.

I knew from previous travels in Sicily that public transportation might be tricky to navigate on Sundays, so I planned a soothing day in Ragusa, a hilltop city along the Syracuse-Gela-Canicattì line. On Monday, though, I used to be thwarted again: The train had been canceled due to a spiritual holiday. Laughing at my bad luck, I lingered for one more day in Ragusa, a stupendous place, spending much of the day in a surprising cemetery on the northern fringe of town.

Travel Trends That Will Define 2022

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Looking ahead. As governments internationally loosen coronavirus restrictions, the travel industry hopes this will likely be the yr that travel comes roaring back. Here is what to anticipate:

Lodging. Throughout the pandemic, many travelers discovered the privacy offered by rental residences. Hotels hope to compete again by offering stylish extended-stay properties, sustainable options, rooftop bars and co-working spaces.

Rental cars. Travelers can expect higher prices, and older cars with high mileage, since firms still haven’t been capable of expand their fleets. In search of an alternate? Automotive-sharing platforms may be a more cost-effective option.

Cruises. Despite a bumpy begin to the yr, due to Omicron’s surge, demand for cruises stays high. Luxury expedition voyages are particularly appealing without delay, because they typically sail on smaller ships and steer away from crowded destinations.

Destinations. Cities are officially back: Travelers are desperate to dive into the sights, bites and sounds of a metropolis like Paris or Latest York. For a more relaxing time, some resorts within the U.S. are pioneering an almost all-inclusive model that takes the guesswork out of planning a vacation.

Experiences. Travel options centered around sexual wellness (think couples retreats and beachfront sessions with intimacy coaches) are growing popular. Trips with an academic bent, meanwhile, are increasingly wanted by families with children.

Ultimately I used to be capable of resume my journey — this time by train, based on a timetable. And for in the future it was exactly as I’d imagined it to be: I slowly wound my way through breathtaking landscapes in an outmoded one-wagon train, the sun finally making its belated appearance.

Eventually I arrived in Gela, a coastal city whose train station was completely devoid of ladies. Local men gathered and gambled on the bar. Feeling barely uncomfortable around them, I struck up a conversation with Giancarlo Zaccaria, a machinist with the train company. I watched as he walked to at least one end of the train to remove red filters from the lights, which he then carried to the other end, attaching them there. Something about his mannerisms jogged my memory of what I loved about my time across the regional trains — the shoestring mentality, the informality.

In western Sicily, blessed with nice weather, my trip took a more predictable turn. I divided the 100-miles route into three travel days: one each for Castelvetrano, Marsala and Trapani. Along the best way I learned that on this often forgotten a part of Sicily the train is essentially utilized by African migrants. I learned how the conductors not only check passengers’ tickets but additionally should manually control the traffic lights. And I learned that almost all Italians don’t need to depend on the trains, since they are sometimes slow and unreliable.

And yet, despite the exceptionally bad weather, the regional railroads — and the substitute bus services — managed to get me across the island of Sicily for lower than $100. It’s a challenge that I might recommend to anyone who desires to give up to the charm of slow travel. Only one bit of recommendation: Check the weather forecast before you go.

Sanne Derks is a Dutch freelance photojournalist and anthropologist. You possibly can follow her work on Instagram.

Her project on Sicily’s regional trains was supported by a grant from Pictoright, an writer’s rights organization for visual creators within the Netherlands.

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