By train to Taormina

“Six thousand kilometres!” I exclaimed.

“No problems,” replied my companion.

The challenge was laid. We had been talking sustainability and how, as travel writers, we spend our lives encouraging people to fly. That is despite knowing that an economy flight to the western USA can dump 1.6 tons of carbon dioxide per person into our already polluted world. Fly business or first class and that figure can easily double. Officially, no one should produce more than 1.6 tons of carbon dioxide in a single year, and certainly not a single flight, if mankind is to meet its ambition of restricting global temperatures to sensible levels. In some countries, a citizen can produce ten times this allowance singlehandedly.

To generate 1.6 tons of carbon dioxide is the same as using 157 gallons of diesel, or burning 1770 pounds of coal, or charging a smartphone 195,000 times. It is equivalent to 20% of a home’s annual use of energy. To sequester this tonnage of carbon dioxide, and be carbon neutral, would need 26.5 tree seedlings to be grown for a decade. Flying is a problem, made worse by the knowledge that only 20% of the world’s population has seen inside an airplane. For the remaining 80%, flying is a mystery.

My task was simple in design, albeit difficult in the doing. I was to walk from my front door in the United Kingdom’s Lake District and head for Taormina in Sicily by train. I was to do my best to avoid anything powered by fossil fuel on the journey. I realised it would not be simple as Taormina is a mighty 6000-kilometre round trip from where I live.

The entire out-and-back journey took me ten days, added to 145 kilometres of walking. Trains may be quick, a TGV can hit 300 kms/hr, but it is common to change stations in big cities, and that means I walked. I plodded across Paris, from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon. I did the same in Milan, from its Porta Garibaldi to the huge Milano Centrale, the largest station by volume in Europe. Naples was different, as I arrived and left from its central station so barely walked at all. Had I flown to Sicily, four hours after leaving London Gatwick I would have been sipping Amaro Averna in Taormina. Sustainable travel takes time.

It was important to stay light and not an occasion for a wheelie suitcase. I chose a rucksack-cum-duffel so both hands were free. I carried food, and was glad I did, as the guard with the drinks trolley between Milan and Naples allowed me only one microscopic espresso for the full five-hour journey. Pandemic had closed many dining cars, so by the time I climbed the steep cliff paths into Taormina from its seaside station, I was starving and could easily have gobbled my duffel.

Photography has never been a personal skill, and my sustainable journey made it no better. Mostly I held a mobile telephone against a train’s grubby window as the fields, pylons and villages flashed by. The result, sadly, was plenty of blurred images but a few good ones, too.

I was glad to have hard copies of everything as I have a knack for breaking technology. I have lost count of the mobile telephones I have mislaid, drowned, or fractured, so for my journey to Taormina I relied on paper tickets throughout. Disappointingly, many of my seats faced backwards, so I rapidly became expert at knowing where I had been rather than where I was headed. On my train south of Naples I was in a seat with no window at all.

The high spot of the journey? Easy. The ferry to Sicily, across the Straits of Messina. The Italians put the train physically on the boat. It is said to be rail’s greatest secret. There are only two places in Europe that do this. The other is the train between Germany’s Sassnitz and Sweden’s Trelleborg and even that is for only part of the year.

The Straits of Messina are also the home of Scylla and Charybdis from Greek mythology, who drowned sailors for amusement. There are frequent mirages, too, which they call Fata Morgana. I saw one in the early morning, a sunrise with two suns. I have no idea which was real, and which was fantasy, but there were certainly two glowing, orange orbs.

My trains to Taormina taught me plenty, at a time of life when I thought there was little left to learn. The trick to sustainable travel, the skill that will keep you sane, is not to overthink where you are going. As with life, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson ring true. Sustainable travel is about the journey, not the destination.

Next Steps:

If you’d like to book a rail journey, complicated or more straightforward, visit silvertraveladvisor.com/rail. You can also call 0800 412 5678 to talk to our Silver Travel Advisors.

Should you wish to follow me:

I wore a pedometer for the journey, so you can see how far I walked each day.

Day 1 – walked to Windermere station

Train: Windermere to London Euston train via Oxenholme

Departure 1224; Arrival 1611

Walked to hotel

Overnight at:

The Megaro

Belgrove Street, King’s Cross. London, WC1H 8AB

Tel: 0207 843 2222

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://www.themegaro.co.uk

Total steps: 35455

Day 2 – walked to St Pancras International station

Train: Eurostar 9004; London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord

Departure 0701; Arrival 1017

Walked to hotel

Overnight at:

Hotel du Jeu de Paume

54. Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île

75004 Paris

Tel: +33143261418

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://www.jeudepaumehotel.com/en/

Ate at:

  • Le Café Pierre, 2 Bd de Magenta, 75010 Paris. Tel: +33140377110; Web: https://restaurantguru.com/Cafe-Pierre-Paris-2
  • Le Quasimodo, 11 Rue d’Arcole, 75004 Paris. Tel: +33143541945; Web: https://restaurantguru.com/Le-Quasimodo-Notre-Dame-Paris
  • Le Paradiso, 81 rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, 75004 Paris. Tel: +33146333546; Web: https://www.leparadiso.paris

Total steps: 19822

Day 3 – walked to Paris Gare de Lyon

Train: TGV Inoui 9251; Paris Gare de Lyon to Milano Porta Garibaldi

Departure 1239; Arrival 1949

Walked to hotel

Overnight at:

Hotel Sanpi

Via Lazzaro Palazzi 18

20124 Milano MI

Tel: +390229513341

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://hotelsanpimilano.it

Ate at:

Total steps: 13082

Day 4 – walked to Milano Centrale

Train: Trenitalia Frecciarossa 9535; Milano Centrale to Napoli Centrale

Departure 1210; Arrival 1712

Walked to hotel

Overnight at:

Re Diego

60 Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi 4 piano

80142 Napoli

Tel: +390813796877

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://www.rediego.it

Ate at:

Total steps: 15632

Day 5 – walked to Napoli Centrale

Train: Trenitalia Intercity 723; Napoli Centrale to Taormina Giardini

Departure 0950; Arrival 1640

Walked to hotel

Overnight at:

Villa Fiorita Boutique Hotel

Via Luigi Pirandello 39

98039 Taormina

Tel: +39094224984

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://www.villafioritahotel.com

Ate at:

Total steps: 11246

Day 6 – day off in Taormina

Overnight at:

Villa Fiorita Boutique Hotel

Via Luigi Pirandello 39

98039 Taormina

Tel: +39094224984

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://www.villafioritahotel.com

Ate at:

  • Ristorante La Botte, Piazza Santa Domenica 4, 98039 Taormina ME; Tel: +39094224198; Web: https://labotte1972.it

Visited:

Total steps: 13582

Day 7 – walked to Taormina-Giardini station

Train: Trenitalia Intercity 1962 (sleeper); Taormina-Giardini to Milano Centrale

Departure 1545; Arrival 1120 (next day)

Ate at:

  • Food I had taken myself
  • Continental breakfast served in my cabin

Total steps: 15705

Day 8 – day off in Milan

Walked to hotel

Overnight at:

Tocq Hotel

Via Alessio di Tocqueville 7/D, 20154 Milano MI

Tel: +390262071

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://www.tocq.it/en/

Ate at:

Visited:

Total steps: 14693

Day 9 – walked to Milano Porta Garibaldi station

Train: TGV Inoui 9240; Milano Porta Garibaldi to Paris Gare de Lyon

Departure 0600; Arrival 1313

Walked to hotel

Overnight at:

Hôtel Helussi,

22 bis rue de Bellefond

75009 Paris

Tel: +33182832020

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://www.helussi.fr

Ate at:

Total steps: 19214

Day 10 – walked to Paris Gare de Lyon station

  1. Train: Eurostar 9015; Paris Gare de Lyon to London St Pancras International

Departure 0912; Arrival 1030

Walked to London Euston station

  • Train: Euston to Windermere via Oxenholme

Departure 1130; Arrival 1455

Walked home

Total steps: 22051

***

Total steps for full journey: 180452 (roughly 145 kilometres)

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Richard Villar

Travel writer, doctor & international mountain leader

2 Responses

  1. What a trip! I really hope there’s a book coming out of this, Richard. If so, I’m first in line for a signed copy!!

    1. Greetings Gillian! Thanks so much for your vote of confidence. A book? Am on the case. Very best wishes. Richard V

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