A Very Slow Boat to Sicily (Part 1)
The time had come to move on from Napoli. The plan was that we took the overnight ferry to Palermo on Sicily, get the bus from the train station to the airport and pick up a hire car to drive off to our next accommodation. The boat was a midnight sailing and arrived in Sicily at 11:30 am the next morning.
During our week in Napoli we had already done some extensive research on how we were going to execute this: the closest metro; Universita (the guide books say Municipio, but there are loads of roadworks, so use Universita). Time of check in 10:00 pm. Being a bit obsessed with not being late, I decided that we should arrive at 9:00 pm. Also, thinking back to the other night, we had no idea what time the Metros would finish, so better to get down sooner than later.
We left our apartment for the last time at 8:00 pm dragging the mahoosive case (and I mean dragging. I have spotted a fundamental design flaw in this case which I shall be taking up with Tripp on my return. Yep, I have turned into one of those type of people). We arrived about 40 minutes later at the port (so 20 mins earlier than my “earlier than boarding time”. I had obviously built a bit of redundancy into my timings). The first, worrying thing, was the lack of boat.
All week, whenever we had caught site of the port, there had been a ferry in. So we expected that 3 hours before departure, there should be a ferry. You can hardly turn a ferry around in 20 mins like an EasyJet flight can you? I wondered if perhaps it was like the David Copperfield trick where he made the Statue of Liberty disappear by just rotating the audience a bit. Perhaps as we got closer, we would catch sight of it. But no. And what’s more, the place was deserted.
We made our way to the office to check in. The man behind the desk (who was the spitting image of Peter Andre) began typing a bit, found us on the system and said:
“Ah Mr Fenner, you know about the 3 hour delay?”
“Errr, no” Much tapping on the computer.
“Ahhh, we don’t have a contact number for you, if we did we would have sent you an SMS”
“Ah, ok, so what do we do know?”
“Come back at 1:00 am and we will start boarding”.
“Is there anywhere we can wait?”
“No, the waiting room closes at 9:00 pm. Try going to Gran Gusto, there is a bar there which is open until late”.
“1:00 am? Really?”
“Ok, come back after midnight and we will check you in ready to board at 1:00 am”.
Gran Gusto was a bar, pizzeria and a supermarket (yep, I often think about putting those 3 things together as well) and we could see it about 100 meters down the road. In our amazing bit of food planning, we had eaten large at lunch time and had a party pack of Sushi in our bag to eat when we got on the boat…at 10:00 pm. The problem was that we were already hungry. When we reached the bar, it was empty, but we thought we could hardly eat our sushi in there. So we ate it on the street outside. It was as I was eating my Supermarket sushi, using a planter as a table, on a run down street in the port area of Naples on a Saturday night, I began questioning my life choices. Suddenly doing the washing seemed a holiday highlight.
Once we had finished eating, we dragged our cases into the empty bar. The bar staff looked horrified to see us. (Which is usual. Yes, if we have been before, but this was our first time there.) It transpired that they closed in 10 minutes (so not late at all) and really did not want to serve us. We left dragging our cases, thinking of our next move. It was now 10:00 pm.
Then it came to me. McDonalds. Now without wanting sound snobby, McDonalds is not an establishment I frequent often, and definitely never on holiday. But we knew where it was and found out it was open until 1:00am, and you can usually find a corner to hide in. If needs must, I would have a Big Mac to keep up the pretence. Oh, and they also have free WiFi. Perfect. It was probably about a 20 minute walk, so we picked up our cases and headed off.
As we got closer to our destination, I spotted lots of people eating McDonalds in the street. This was a good sign as it meant it was open, but why were they all eating about 100 metres away from the restaurant? Once we got into Gallerie Umberto, we saw why. It was carnage. Every seat was occupied by a teenager and every table appeared to have the person siting at its meal, and the debris from the previous 3 occupants. The tables sprawled out across the ancient black and white tiles of the gallerie, the rubbish generated, blowing around. As we entered, dragging our cases, we had to wade through a river of spilled coke, sloshing around our ankles.
We eventually managed to get a seat, parked the cases and began tidying up. Its funny, I have this tendency to tidy before I start a big project so its not a distraction; Karen tidies after she has finished a big project as a reward for completing it. If we did not tidy in this case, we couldn’t have physically sat down or had anywhere to put our food. Three trips to the bin later, we were ready to order.
The ordering is like most McDonalds, via a screen and you collect it from the counter when your number appears on the screen; a bit like Argos. I ordered 2 large Coke Zeros and a breakfast muffin (purely for looks of course). I waited for my order. As I looked around, I felt like I was the responsible adult at a Youth Club. These kids were young. They dressed old, but you looked at their faces and you realised that they were young…and sober. The girls were all dressed up as if they were going to a club, the boys like they were going to a football match, but they all seemed quite sober; even sultry. This was not like a late night McDonalds at home where drunkards (great word) go for a their fix of processed meat and salt. This was a definite meeting place.
There was bouncer on the service desk whose main job seemed to be avoiding a mass rush when orders were called. Eventually, my order was called and I returned to Karen with our drinks. However, because we had spent nearly 2 hours dragging our cases around in the most humid city in Western Europe, we were so dehydrated that we wolfed down our drinks and were sat with empty cups in a matter of moments. It was 10:40 pm. We still had to hide out for at least a further 80 minutes. Round 2 of drinks then.
Karen braved the fore this time and came back with a pot of Earl Grey tea and a coffee. By now we had 2 girls sat on our left and a family with 3 kids on our right. As Karen came back with our drinks. The tables fell silent. They gawped in disbelief. One of the children looked on in horror and nestled a bit closer to her mother. What on earth had we done? One of the girls took a picture of Karen such was her amazement.
Eventually the dad said “English?”.
The tables relaxed, but they kept staring. It transpired that drinking a pot of Earl Grey tea in McDonalds at 11:00 in the evening was akin to the behaviour of a psycho killer…or an English person. More photos were taken by the girls and Insta stories posted. Eventually the girls left, so I cleared their table. I reckon that I earned at least one gold star at McDonalds that evening. We then killed a bit of time laughing at IT memes on Facebook and at midnight decided it was time to make our move.
We returned to the port and checked in. The lady behind the desk (It was obviously the end of Peter Andre’s shift) checked us in, handed us our tickets and told us:
“Come back at 2:00 am and we will board you”
“What!!! We were told 1:00 am!”
“Boat’s not ready. Board at 2:00 am, leave at 3:00 am”
We headed off to a closer bar we had passed on our way to the port. We bought a drink, jumped on their WiFi (password 1234567 in case you are in the area) and killed another hour playing games. We actually headed back around 1:30 am (always early, that’s my motto) and as we entered the docking area, a group of men in a Portacabin popped out and checked our tickets. They then offered us ham sandwiches;
“They are free” they said. Well, I had only had Sushi and a McDonalds during the past 3 hours, so it would have been churlish to refuse. We headed down a dark alley and turned left to see the wonderful sight of a boat being loaded with lorries. A man in a hi-vis jacket then told us to follow the yellow path into the belly of the boat and take the lifts to the 6th floor. At 1:45 am we were in our cabin and we set sail at 3:06 am. At last we were on our way.