My arrival at the terminal yesterday caused a huge confusion. Numerous men in different uniforms were examining my ticket and came to a surprising amount of different conclusions over what should I do next or where should I go with it. The only thing that they all seemed to agree on was that in order to get on board my “agent” will need to show up and check me in. At 3 o’clock things were starting to get a bit nervous as the ship was leaving soon while the jury was still very much out on how to deal with an unexpected passenger – and then suddenly, in walks my friend from the day before. He recognises me, comes to shake my hand and inquire about my health and whether I managed to get the ticket. Upon my explanation that I do have a ticket but this doesn’t seem to be of much help Paulo seemed to take personal offense. “Wait here, no problem, I fix it”, he told me, walked straight to the bunch of men in navy-coloured sweaters brandishing signs such as “Customs” and “Pulizija”, said a few sentences in maltese, turned around on his heel and walked back to me. “It’s all right, all right” he confirmed, took me firmly by my sleeve again and, waving off all the guys in navy sweaters, he proceeds to walk me straight past customs and passport control to the quay and points to a ship. “I told them to fuck off” he announces with a broad smile and wishes me bon voyage. I wonder why didn’t I try that myself.
At the ferry I had to wait for five minutes for someone higher up the food chain to come down and examine my ticket once more, and as everything seemed to be in oder I was finally admitted to board. The ship was positively huge. The elevator took me a few decks higher where I arrived at the reception, manned with three people in green waistcoats. My ticket was once again scrutinised and graciously accepted and I was shown to a very spooky-looking “business lounge” – a room with about thirty blue leather business-class seats and a dusty flatscreen TV attached to the wall. I opted for a sunny restaurant down the corridor – it has about a hundred seats and I was the only passenger. It felt like Twin Peaks. Just before taking off two Italian truck-drivers arrived, so I wasn’t completely alone.
Once we got out the the harbour the ride became quite choppy for a couple of hours and at one point I was closer to throwing up than I have been since the first acquaintance with alcohol back in the high school. Luckily the last leg of the trip was in the shade of Sicily so there was some time to recover before we pulled into the Catania port almost at midnight. I got royally ripped off by a taxi that took me to the center and after being booted by two hotels I finally got a room at third, close to 1 o’clock at night.
The morning was sunny but the forecast promised some rather miserable weather for the next few days, confirmed by some ominous-looking clouds gathering at the horizon. After taking a short walk I decided to flee the weather and head north.
Catania and other settlements along the eastern coast of Sicily look literally dark as they have built out of black rock that Mt. Etna has, often to the despair of the local population, graciously distributed for centuries over the whole area. In Catania, somebody has carved a huge block of volcanic rock into a statue of elephant and impaled it on a tall pillar on the Piazza del Duomo, around which old men gather to sit and socialize. Compared to Malta, the quality of food and espresso at street-side cafeterias has increased by the same order of magnitude as driving habits have deteriorated. There is also an obvious and drastic increase of obsession over how one looks – the jeans are ripped, jackets are hooded and sunglasses cover the whole upper half of face.
Getting to Messina and crossing over to the mainland was a straightforward affair and after another short walk in Reggio di Calabria I waved goodbye to snowcapped hills of Sicily and narrowly escaped the arriving rain by boarding another train. And now, some 8 hours later, I am where all the roads and railways lead to – in Rome.
And Royal Mail never made it. Pfffft.