50 Shades of Red in Messina

50 Shades of Red in Messina


It was the beginning of September. After a glorious couple of days in the charming city of Syracuse, I had a couple of days to spare before my trip to Naples, so I decided to see a city that is generally off the beaten path in Sicily, Messina!

While most Italians and Sicilians know Messina, it remains relatively unknown for people outside Italy. The city was founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC, and has grown ever since. Infamous perhaps for being the main port of entry of the Black Death which devastated Europe in the Medieval period, and the scene of a devastating earthquake/tsunami in 1908, means that most of the city is relatively modern, although there are parts which retain some historical significance.

The heat was around 30 degrees. Pretty mild for the average Sicilian, but for someone of Welsh Descent, it was like an open oven. The train station in Messina was a basic station, situated close to the city centre. It was nothing fancy, it did it’s job as a station, but left little else to wonder. What I noticed is that there was a large group of people, who looked of East African origin waiting at the station, but for what, I was unsure of.

I met Katy, a friend of whom I met in Catania, who was travelling in the same direction as I was, so we hired an air b&b room, and set off to find it. After reaching the place, there was a slight problem. The door was too thin for my backpack and I to fit through. With one major push, I was through, much to the screams of the owner of the apartment to be careful. The owner was friendly, albeit traces of social awkwardness; he was a student at the local university. After reading us the rules of the house; Katy and I dropped our packs off, and began exploring the city of Messina. After some sightseeing which lasted for a few hours, we decided to find a supermarket and make an Italian-esque dinner.

At the supermarket, we decided that we would attempt to make our own version of carbonara. We headed to the cheese counter, and used our knowledge of Italian to acquire us some real Italian “Parmegano”. However, there was a slight problem with the translation. While the attempt was to get a small piece of cheese, we accidentally obtained a huge chunk of about 250 grams, worth 20 euros as the cheese counter worker seemed proud, yet slightly concerned we were buying this amount of cheese, without us realising how much we were buying. I don’t even like cheese, and we’re paying that amount for it! Nervously  we pondered by the soft drinks area to decide what are we going to do about the cheese? After tense moments, the plan was this: Katy was to drop it with the rest of the pre-packaged cheese in the hope it would camouflage with the other dairy products, while I asked a member of staff to help me package some vegetables, and then together, we bolted to the checkouts and then after paying for the pasta, meat, vegetables, and vastly cheaper cheese; we ran to the apartment. with everything else. I bet today, they are still searching the culprits of the case of the misplaced cheese.

In the evening, we offered to cook for the hosts, as a thank you for hosting us. When I reached for the pasta that I bought (Small, cylinder pasta) their faces dropped like a stone, and I finally saw the intimidating wrath that Sicilians are famous for. I was deafened by the loud screams of blasphemy as I brought  the wrong type of pasta, and in an act of disgust, they made us their own pasta. Eventually, they were so afraid I would screw up, that they decided to make the meal instead. Instead of feeling guilty, Katy and I shared a bottle of peach vodka, and went to sleep early that night.

The next day, the temperature was 38 degrees, even for the Sicilians, this was hot. Nevertheless, Katy and I decided that while we have one more night in Messina, a sunbathe shouldn’t go amiss! We arrived at the empty beach and applied sun cream. Well, Katy did. Previous experience had told me that as a natural tanner, I didn’t need sun cream, I want a darker tan. “Don’t be a dick, put some sun cream on” said Katy. “Nah, I never burn” I said rather arrogantly. Oh how those words would come back to haunt me. After falling asleep for a few hours in my swimming trunks , I was woken up to the laughter of Katy pointing towards a thin, elderly man in budgie smugglers constantly staring at her (Or me, possibly) while adjusting his private areas. We decided we should try find somewhere to grab a bit to eat. Within 2 hours, I went from being proud of never burning, to becoming a downward spiral of feeling a stinging sensation from my shoulders, chest, abdomen, groin, and thighs. I don’t believe it. I’ve been sun burnt!!

After exploring more of what Messina has to offer, including some grotesque statues outside the town centre (Refer to main picture), the pain was getting to the point where I needed to get home to apply something. As we arrived to the apartment, out of mercy, the owner gave me some aloe vera to apply, and I saw the extent of my burns, which was full frontal. The back was untouched and pale, while the front was the same colour as a tomato. That evening, there was a festival which Katy and I decided to visit. It was a light festival which portrayed images onto the cathedral of Messina to display an impressive art show of masterpieces. Sadly, while suffering from agony, I could not carry on, and wanted to go back to try to recover. That night, the pain was so unbearable, that the only thing I could do, was to drench my towel in cold water, and put it over my torso to cool the burn. A temporary relief.

The next day, we had to leave the air b&b at 10:30am, and wait until 10pm to get the bus to Naples. Poor Katy, she had to spend 12 hours with a constantly moaning, loud and negative person that day, yet never said a word in anger; an angel! Before the afternoon, we decided to go to a pharmacy to see what I can put on. Using my charming Italian, I said I was red. As usual, my charm failed, as she seemed annoyed and confused as to what I said. Rather than say it again, I unbuttoned my shirt and showed her. The screams of “Hospital, Hospital” came quickly, yet I said no. After shaking her head, she went to get a bottle of Aloe Vera, and told me to “Put on burn!”. With the advice noted, we headed to what was the only place I can apply it, the train station toilets. While Katy patiently waited in the main hall, possibly thinking what sort of idiot she was stuck with, I headed to the toilet, where I closed the cubicle with no lock; stripped myself to my underwear, and started applying aloe vera to my upper body. I would be lying if I didn’t make certain “ooh” noises. Suddenly, the door violently opened, and as I turned, it was difficult to see who was more shocked. Myself, or the group of Eastern African gentlemen who opened the door to wonder what was going on. There, they saw a 6’4 (194cm) Englishman, pretty much naked, applying aloe vera over himself in the public toilets… This was a pretty weird situation. Thankfully, they were so shocked that before I could say “Hello”, the door shut; so I quickly finished, put on my clothes, and headed out to continue to feel sorry for myself.

The rest of the day was filled with exploring Messina, with a lovely town centre covered in trees, and waiting for the bus. Finally, it was time to head to the bus station, which was actually next to the train station! While there, the same group of Eastern Africans that had caught me short handed had appeared in the bus depot, trying to get a chocolate bar. After asking people if they speak English, I was approached, and I said yes. They asked how much a chocolate bar was in the vending machine. It was 90 cents, and all they had was 40 cents, and there were 3 of them in the bus station at that time. After speaking to them, I gave them enough for each of them to have a chocolate bar. They were refugees from Eritrea, waiting for a pass to reach the mainland.

Finally the time had arrived, the bus arrived to pick us up. As we got on the bus for the 7 hour trip to Naples, I took a seat next to an elderly woman looking particularly unhappy that I was sitting next to her. While sitting down, the pain escalated, and knowing this was an all nighter bus ride, it was one to remember. Onwards to Naples!

Cost of Air B&B: 80 euros for 2 people, 2 nights(will be much cheaper if booked early, whereas we booked at the last minute)

Food: 20 euros  (Not including the cheese we mistakenly nearly bought)

Travel to Naples: 30 Euros


The Train from St Petersburg to Moscow

The Train from St Petersburg to Moscow

After a fantastic few days in the beautiful city of St Petersburg, I find myself on the train with one of my Russian friends on the train from St Petersburg to Moscow in an overnight train. My flight back to London leaves the next day, so this is a slightly important train to catch! After grabbing a surprisingly nice sandwich at 10:30pm in a cold evening, we went through the airport security style at the station, and headed for our platform. Before we could get on the train, we had to queue to have our passports and tickets checked by the carriage conductor (Person who is in charge of the carriage). After waiting patiently, it was all built up to this moment, my time to shine. After excitedly giving my passport to the conductor, her face sunk, as she knows she cannot communicate with me in Russian, unless the terms “Tits” or “Carrier Bag” are used. Thankfully, it all checked out, and I was actually on the train.

The carriage itself was full of beds, left, right, and centre. The name for these trains in Russian is “Fermeny” which is a typical style of train in Russia, but not necessarily in Europe. Whilst arriving at my bed, I was greeted with a folded mattress, sheets, a blanket, and a towel. “What a wonderful gift from the train company!” However, whilst appreciating my sanitation needs, I realised that everyone, man, woman and child were synchronized in making their beds for the coming night. Everyone had started, and finished at similar times, where as I had not started. “You do not know how to make bed?” said my Russian friend. To prove her wrong, I made it, albeit in the worst condition of the carriage. Now that I am actually on the train, and made my bed, the next thing I need to do is to now get in it. How hard can it be?

I had the upper bed, which meant I had to climb on to it, but it was not so easy, especially being a 6″4 and being quite a large gentleman, this was going to be a challenge. There was no ladder, so it made the situation more difficult. Even worse, there were people I could see that were on the upper bed that were about to climb up to it. but every time I wished to observe, something else would demand my attention, and 2 seconds later, they were tucked up in bed half asleep. After various concerned looks from fellow passengers, I finally found an iron piece on the rail, and saw that as an opportunity. After taking the leap of faith, my upper body was on the bed! Whilst jubilantly celebrating, it suddenly occured to me one slight problem… My arse and legs were dangling off the bed and causing a queue of people traffic! Judging by how I must have looked, I might as well of made Sea lion noises.

After finally getting down from my attempted (And grossly failed) climb, and subsequent apologies to disgruntled Russian passengers, I tried a new tactic. The aim was simple, to get in the bed using the table. After drawing up a plan, I took a deep breath, put my foot on the ground bed, and now on the small table in the middle of 4 beds. Good so far, now I’m just standing like a statue in the train, which drew the attention of fellow passengers. This was it, no going back now! After a few moments of heavy breathing, I did a majestic-Swan like ballerina leg twirl succesfully onto the bed! Yes! One of my legs are in the bed! The only slight issue now is that my legs are wide open, which I can imagine only looked like an overly sexual position to reach the bed. Now to get my whole body to slide in. Gingerly, I used the support of my leg-in-bed to swing my other leg into the bed, and finally, I swiggiled and swooted in like a glove!

After the adrenaline finally dissapeared from my body after finally getting into bed, I realised that there was one more problem… I forgot to change into pajama clothes, as my worn, wet and cold daytime clothes were still on. As the legroom was not good, the only thing to do was unfortunately do a striptease for the whole carriage, as I slowly unbuttoned my trousers and pulled them off, while trying to convince the Russian gentleman below me to pass me my bag. Finally, the agreement was reached, and I was able to put on my night clothes and sleep the night away on a Real Russian train.

As dawn broke, and many stops between St Petersburg and Moscow stopped and passed, I thought the drama and adventure on the train would be over. There was one more minor issue I had to deal with. As I went to the lavatory to freshen up, I tried to turn on the tap for water, but there was one problem… How in God’s name do you turn it on? In the UK, most of Europe and I imagine, most of the World, there is usually something obvious like a lever to turn the tap on. However, there was no obvious way to draw the liquid. Thinking it might be an automatic tap (Of course, on a 1970’s standar Russian train!) I begin to do some Tai-Chi movements to turn it on, slowly moving my hand under the tap to it to respond with flowing (and prefferably clear) water. Suddenly, after hearing a cough, I turned round to find a Russian gentleman looking incredibly confused by what he has just seen, which is basically a large man practicing tai-chi in the bathroom. I asked “Pa-Angliski?” (Speak English?) To receive a mild grunt as a response. I pointed to the un-functioning tap, and imitate running water. He was obviously very talented at sherades, because he got the message very quickly! It turns out you have to push the tap UP for water to come out, although it’s not very convenient as only parts of your hands are bathed in water, but that’s my humble opinion!

We arrived in Moscow at precisely the time it was scheduled to arrive, to my astonishment. At that moment, I wondered what would have happened if this train was in the UK covering the same distance? Most likely would have been an hour delayed….

For anyone wishing to do the same trip, I wish you a pleasant journey. The Russian people are far more friendly in these situations than they are made out to be. But please, don’t be me. If you are a tall individual, and unluckily have a bed at the top, behave in a dignified manner, and above all else, wash your feet!