Our group of 15, including Barry the tour leader, was due to return home on Sunday, 18 April at the end of our tour of Sicily. Ramblers Walking Holidays had extended our stay in Palermo by 2 nights, while they came up with their cunning plan to “repatriate” us: we were to take the sleeper train from Palermo to Rome, where we would meet up with other groups from Malta, Dubrovnik and Rome, and then all continue to the UK by coach.
We duly boarded the sleeper at 6.30 pm, Tuesday. We were each given a narrow strip of sheet, a tiny pillow and pillow case and a comfort pack, consisting of paper slippers, 2 paper toilet seat covers and a paper towel, but no blanket. “Sleeper” turned out to be a misnomer! It was uncomfortable, noisy and cold – our window blew open every time a train went past or we went in a tunnel! There was nowhere to eat or drink on the train and toilet and washing facilities were very basic.
We arrived at Rome station at 7.15am, Wednesday, tired and grubby. We were taken to the hotel and bought an excellent breakfast, but no rooms were available for a wash or shower.
At 1.30pm, 34 of us set off in our coach for our 24 hour journey across Europe. By 2am we had left Italy. At 2.30am we broke down on a Swiss motorway! Anxious for our safety, the Swiss police organised 2 police vans to take us the nearest police station. Initially, we were left shivering in the station yard, but they then took pity on us and 2 rooms were made available for us. We lay on the floor or sat around trying to get some sleep until 6am when the police took us to a service station café where we had breakfast.
By late morning, we knew that they couldn’t repair the coach. Diane, the tour leader of the Malta group, organised some rooms for us in a nearby hotel so we could have a lie down and a shower, while Barry collected our luggage from the coach.
By 1pm Thursday, Ramblers Walking Holidays had organised flights for us from Zurich to Heathrow. We caught the 7pm flight and arrived back in the UK at 8pm – only 4 days late and very grateful to Ramblers Worldwide Holidays for all their efforts!