A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

So off to Mt Etna.

All-focus

Hisilicon Balong/

The Ferrovia Circumetnea is a 950mm marrow gauge regional train line in Catania, Sicily, Italy. It is privately owned and was built 1889 and 1895. It circles Mt Etna and is 110 km in length. The trains are diesel powered and relatively old. The track is steep in parts and two separate engines are needed for the steeper parts. I think they are essentially one unit with two driving positions for and aft and what looked like two six cylinder diesel engines which I would put at 300 – 400 hp. (Later research suggests they are 2 V12 Fiat diesels and 1300hp).
Fortunately for us the railway station is an easy 15 minute walk up the hill from our apartment, not signposted and hard to find but distinctive when you finally see it. As you see from my description above the trains are ancient, sparse and

 

IMG_20161010_125507.jpguncomfortable, no AC (just open the window) and mostly no toilets, the FCV company that owns the line has also some more modern rolling stock but not for the tourists. We bought our tickets after much bickering from the waspish tabbichera as she insisted the time we were departing was not the tourist train. The line is essentially a workers commuter train and the tourst one only does three departures to do the whole circuit which takes 6 hrs plus the train or bus commuter from up the coast back to Catania , so a long day and the guides suggest you overnight somewhere on the way. We had decided to go as far as Andrano, hop off and catch a returning train. Unbeknown to us that really only showed urban downtown industrial Catania, some rural views and good south views of Mt Etna. After Andrano there is some stunning scenery although Trip Advisor has quiet a few ‘disappointing’ reviews. There were about five passengers aboard the smart little train when the guard came through and shooed us off onto another rather scruffy version, Never mind, we were off up a gradual incline and then into some different scenery. Many lemon and olive groves and an abundance of prickly pear (Enrica in Naples cooked us a Sicilian dish of prickly pear which was delicious. It grows like gorse). Much graffiti but also some encouraging signs of new housing moving away from 6-8 tenement blocks to two storied buildings. Then unexpectedly, we stop, as anothe FCV pulls alongside of us going back to Catania packed with students. We are shuffled out onto the platform, they are transferred to our bigger train, we board their smaller train and proceed on. Its now apparent that the train is struggling as the steeper inclines the poor old thing is barely moving with the V12 Fiat screaming at full revs. I wonder what is happening as the driver runs down the train at the next station and fiddles around in the rear cab. Looks like he is trying to start the other engine, but we move on. Finally at Val Corrente we draw to another stop where a little old lady comes out and hand cranks the crossing arm down. Everyone is dashing about with keys and instruments of repair or diagnosis and finally the driver lifts the engine cover right by our feet and here is the diesel covered Fiat doing absolutely nothing. Its not going, wont start, wont crank. He short circuits the starter motor to see if its an electrical problem which is accompanied by a great shower of sparks and I fear we are all going to go up in flames or he is going to collapse after being electrocuted. However we all survive and he gives jt another go, to no avail. I can hear the solenoid clicking which suggests that the ring gear or the starter motor are involved and you can sometimes fix this by bashing the solenoid with a spanner which temporarily fixes the problem but Antonella has not included these words in the basic Italian lessons and despite my best efforts at miming the actions he just ignores me and we are shuffled off tee train to await rescue. Two of the passengers just give up and wander off as if this is an everyday occurrence on the FCV line. The little old lady is looking on amused as I try to work out with the female passenger where she is off to and what her options are. We only manage to work

out where she is going (the end of the line) but I cant pronounce correctly the hellhole that Ancora (described in the Lonely Planet as a lovely little village but when we finally get there seems to be full of drunken men, screaming loudly at 1030am. ). Finally another train appears (the tourist train) which we hop on but that is filled with surly uncommunicative English people who you can tell by their pale skins and bad teeth. Everythings back to normal and we have a female driver who really rings the horses out of those Fiats. The track at times is tilted and she has really got the knack of accelerating through the curves as if she is driving a Ferrari at the Norenburg Ring. She also gives the two V12s a workout in the inclines and we are flying. I tried to record thus for Gordons Carriage with whistles and toots and frantic Italian chatter but my first playback shows it all very quiet. I may be able to enhance it when I get home and have better editing facilities. I imagined Gordons guests arriving to a three minute soundtrack of a real train – sure to get some comments. I really enjoyed this part of the journey but it ended to soon. We reach Ancora and find NOTHING. Apart from a seriously overmedicated psych patient (pill rolling, tongue rolling, shuffling gait, rigidity, the works) and a bar full of seriously drunk men. It being Monday it probably means their football team won yesterday and they are still celebrating, our it could be that this is like The Hills Have Eyes. Two English women have also got off and they disappear down a back alley telling us that the return train is 1130. We never see them again. Back on the return train and believe it or not we stop at Val Corrente , back up, change lines, while the little old lady hand crankthe barrier up and down, lines of cars are honking and yelling, AND WE HOOK UP THE ORIGINAL DAMAGED TRAIN AND DRAG IT BACK TO HOME BASE. All in a typical day on the lovely tourist FCY line.

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2 Comments»

  Rosalind wrote @

It is wonderfully entertaining, hope you have months of travels left. What is a little astonishing to me in some of your posts is the huge number of tourists you encounter. I thought we were in the high season with the tourist bulge and you were going to be almost an endangered . Seems everyone gets the same number. Too many people overall.
It has been mostly grey skies and chilly since my return, am wishing for some of the heat of Europe. Hard being back

  graemedixon wrote @

Yes. Lots of tourist still. Mainly older people off cruise ships and lots of Germans. Waiting on a plane to Malta at Catania airport. Change of pace and I get to practice my English.
Thanks for comments


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