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Malta to Bosnia, by land and sea

Travelling from Malta to Bosnia without flying seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, overall it was a good idea. I'm just really tired right now, the morning after.

Ferry 1: Valetta (Malta) to Catania (Sicily)

I took a 9 hour night ferry from Valetta to Catania. The ferry was called Barbara. Hi Mum.

There are two ports at Valetta. Forni was all closed up, and the one I wanted was Pinto (deduced from the office address on the Tirrenia website, not through any helpful where-to-checkin instructions). Pinta is at the very far end of the Valetta Waterfront, after all the shops and restaurants. The point that is labelled on the big wall maps as Pinta was dark when I reached it, and panic started to rise. I checked my GPS and backed up a bit in case I'd missed it. I hadn't. I charged forward again to look for signs or secret doors I might have missed. Aha! Tirrenia was at the far end of this particular structure, opposite to where it is labelled. A small printed sign directed passengers around a corner, through a waiting room and up some stairs. I entered a small office, where a smiling old man said 'Hello! We've been waiting for you!'. I'm not kidding. I was a good hour early at this point. He directed me to take a seat, and took my ticket and passport, and scribbled some things and typed some things, then printed a sticker with a barcode on it which went on the back of my ticket. Then another gentleman said 'come, I will escort you to the ship.' I felt quite important. We picked up another guy from the waiting room, and we were shown across the carpark to the ferry.

Turns out we were the only two passengers. The other was a pleasant Ukrainian man named Vlad. We had our pick of sofas in a very small room next to the cafeteria, where a few ferry staff were eating and the TV was blaring.

I went up on deck until we had cleared Valetta port. The stone walls and forts around the town were lit up and made an impressive sight. The sky was mostly clear, the moon almost full, and the stars on display. The further we got from land, the windier it got until I almost couldn't breathe. I leaned my head over the side, and felt like a dog sticking its head out of a car window, cheeks flapping. I felt as though if I relaxed enough, the wind could just take me. When I was thoroughly chilled through three layers of clothing, I returned to the sofa. All things considered, a whole sofa to myself was pretty luxurious. The boat rocked substantially for a while, but I think I slept well.

Black sky and water, with an orange-lit fort in the center A brown sofa with blue and red coats on; a backpack on the floor by a chair Pink and blue sky, with a sandy-coloured city (Catania) in the foreground and a dark snow-capped mountain in the background (Mt Etna)


We arrived in Catania, Sicily, at 7am, about 30 minutes late. Mount Etna was looming, the sky was blue and pink, and the sun was already warm. Vlad seemed to know where he was going, so I followed him into town. I left him in MacDonalds, and continued down Via Etnea, taking in statues, piazzi, churches, columns, and dodging crazy drivers. I strolled through some gorgeous gardens, quiet in the early morning. I eventually found my way into Parco Gioeni, which over looks Via Etnea and the port and beach in the very distance.

I found some eduroam wifi, and discovered that I was already too late for the public bus to Mount Etna, as well as any more expensive guided tours; they all seemed to want to leave at 0830, and I finally got around to trying to plan my day at 0835.

Interlude: Open Street Maps app refused to open. I sat at a bus stop where there was eduroam for about half an hour trying to fix it, or find an alternative map of Catania. Eventually three reinstalls, plus booting it through happycow rather than directly brought it back to life. Panic over.

I charged on to the only vegan restaurant in the vicinity, Haiku. It appeared to be closed, though I arrived 20 minutes after the listed opening time. I sat down on the step and pulled out my phone to see if I could find some wifi, or decide where to go next. Then a lady arrived and rang the bell and was let in, so I followed. They were open after all, but no lunch until 12.

I settled in the back with power, espresso and a vegan tiramisu to start the day. The wifi didn't reach to the back, but I drafted plenty of blog posts and rested my feet, which were already starting to complain.

When lunchtime arrived, one of the waitresses described every dish on the menu to me in English, and was very proud of herself for doing so. They were all really friendly in there, and all the food sounded great. I had a carrot and pumpkin miso soup, with a pasty stuffed with vegetables and seitan. It was all wholesome and delicious. Two items from the lunch menu was 10EUR.

They have a really great looking pizza menu for dinner time, too.

It started to get really busy, so I packed up and left not longer after I'd finished eating.

To the beach!

There's a great expanse of sand called La Playa. It's protected from non-wheeled invaders by an enormous and hideous motorway however. I pressed on, hoping to hit upon a pleasant seaside or something soon. Instead, a lady pulled over her car and offered me a ride to the nearest accessible bit of the beach, fearing for my safety.

I paddled, and soaked my aching feet in sand and sea.

Blue sky with white clouds; green trees with a church and a palm tree sticking up in the center An expanse of beach in the foreground with an orange backpack, with a dark snow-capped mountain in the distance, blue sky Feet covered in sand and sea, from above

Soon it was time to head back in search of food again. I had three veggie restaurants shortlisted. They were all closed. I trekked the loop a few times to see if they'd open as 5pm approached. But this is far too early for Italians to eat; I came across some wifi and found they all opened at 7.30pm or later. Instead, I made my way to an Indian restaurant near the Vincenzo Bellini monument I'd spotted earlier. The signs and the outside looked kind of sketchy, but inside was quiet and clean.

I ordered way too much food. It was suspiciously cheap. Two pakora (1.50EUR), a samosa (1), aloo paratha (1.50), mung dahl (3), mixed vegetable curry (3.50), and cardamom tea (1). I took most of the dahl and paratha to go. I had a second cardamom tea; it was thick and dark and so so good. As I was coming to terms with moving my legs again, a friendly guy from Milton Keynes came in, picked up on my accent, and made conversation about travel while he was waiting for his to-go order. Then he insisted on paying for my food. I will pay it forward.

Stomach full and legs still jelly, I headed back port-wards, with two hours to go and expecting to have to quest hard to find the ferry. Because...

Ferry 2: Catania to Napoli

Italian ports. Are. A. Nightmare.

From prior experience I already knew they are a nightmare though, so I was mentally prepared. But it's still a nightmare even when you are expecting one. Catania makes Ancona look like a well-signposted walk in the park. I couldn't find a hint anywhere on the TTTLines or Carrenta websites about where to check in for the ferry. There is a small box by the port on Open Street Maps labelled 'TTTLines' so I headed there. This is absolutely not accessible to anything that isn't a car. I looped around, went back and forth, under train tracks, over train tracks, across duel carriageways and back, under and over some chain fences, through carparks, over a wall. Eventually I broke through and got myself on a road that led to the box on the map. The footpath quickly dwindled, and I pretended to be a car as I approached an automatic barrier. Fortunately a fellow human was supervising it; we failed to communicate for a few sentences until I waved my hands and said 'Napoli!' and he pointed me through: 'TTLines! Bus!'. In the distance I could see the box on the map, materialised as a real building labelled 'TTTLines'. I went inside. Mumble mumble.. 'Napoli?'. A lady told me this is the wrong office, and pointed at her blinded window: 'bus'.. When? I wondered. But then a white minibus pulled up. 'Bus! Bus!' said the lady. I ran outside. 'Napoli?!' got an affirming sound from the driver and he loaded me in. First we stopped at another TTTLines office, where I presented my ticket and passport, and got another piece of paper in return. Then a few more minutes, across the length of the sizeable port, and I was dropped at the ferry itself. Inside was an escalator and a reception! High tech.

The place was already buzzing, with a lot of very young children and old people. Also quite a few dogs. All of the sofas were occupied, though mostly by coats and luggage. I took over a table, two chairs and a powersocket as the next best thing. There was even wifi on this ferry, although I wasn't able to get any of my devices to connect to it. When it was time to sleep I relocated to slightly comfier looking chairs. I'd had my eye on a sofa occupied by a young couple with a small child who seemed likely to be heading to a cabin eventually.. but so did someone else, and he was sitting closer, so when they got up to leave he got there first.

A green ferry deck with a white rope turning device. Black water and city lights in the background. An orange chair and a plastic table by a curtained window inside the ferry The side of a ferry with the sun rising behind it over blue and orange water


12 hours later, I arrived in Napoli.

In hindsight I should have made the effort to get out to Pompeii and Mt Vesuvious, but in the moment I thought this might turn out to be expensive, and stressful to get back in time. Probably would have been better than what I did do though.

Which was to wander around searching for vegan food. Everything on happycow was closed despite the listed hours. I ate leftover food from the night before in a park. The scenery was all nice, but every human I encountered was loud and abrupt. All restaurant staff looked like they were standing outside to scare people off rather than offer them a seat. They were often smoking and/or yelling at someone. I wandered in the sun for hours. I found myself in a horribly crammed touristy street. I got catcalled or approached by gross old men several times. Eventually made my way in the direction of the bus station, and collapsed at a table for a pizza marinara and an espresso, before the bus at 1530.

Sea and rocks in the foreground, a dark mountain (Vesuvius) in the background, with dramatic white and grey clouds against a blue sky A brick castle wall with cannons poking through holes An espresso in a shot glass on a table

Bus 1: Napoli to Roma

This didn't really need its own section. It's three hours from Naples to Rome, and was uneventful and, in fact, quite on time.

Naples bus station is all outside except for a ticket office, which is presumably closed during hours one might want to sleep. It's near a large train station and shopping mall complex though. There are no signs to indicate which bay your bus will turn up to, so I positioned myself to see all buses that entered so I could then chase them down. There were enough passing Flixbuses for intermittent wifi.

Italian buses are strict about luggage and seatbelts. I usually cram my big backpack at my feet; because I have tiny legs it doesn't even get in anyone else's way. But they wouldn't let me on with it this time, I had to put it in the storage compartment.

Bus 2: Rome to Zagreb

I had two hours to wait at Rome Tiburtina bus station. I bought vegan supplies and downed an orange juice in the cafe there, and sat around for a while. This is another one where you have to keep an eye on entering buses to spot yours and follow it to the bay. There's an electronic screen, but it says nothing helpful (except the time). This time I repacked my laptop and food into my small backpack before storing the bigger one in the luggage compartment.

The drivers and many passengers were ~Croatian. I was already feeling more comfortable.

The drive was 12 hours and came in a little early I think. I had a double seat to myself, and slept almost the whole time. The first border crossing was at 5am, into Croatia; there was no stop at the Slovenian border.

Bus 3: Zagreb to Sarajevo

I had four hours to pass in Zagreb. According to the hours listed on HappyCow, the only place with vegan food open on a Sunday was Bio&Bio, a supermarket. I wandered through the center of Zagreb, enjoying a beautiful sunny morning. Market stalls were opening, and there were lots of people around. I'd been here before; it was familiar, but not intimately so.

At Bio&Bio I contemplated the hot drinks and smoothies menu, then wandered around the shelves to grab a few things for the journey. Some staff and photographers were doing a product photo shoot. I helped out by holding things for five minutes, and got a free matcha latte. Score.

Zagreb bus station is pretty huge (not like, Munich huge, but huge for a Balkan country). It has indoor bits and outdoor bits. Despite its size (too big and awkwardly shaped to keep an eye on all entering buses) there is nowhere to read which bay to expect your bus to turn up in. I eventually asked a human at the information desk. Fortunately it wasn't too busy.

There are loads of places to eat and drink coffee, or just slouch around. The toilets are 3kn (less than 0.50eur), and there's a note-to-change machine right by the entrance. There are plenty of money changers (and ATMs) inside the bus station, so I changed 20EUR to kn when I arrived. Open wifi networks are abundant, and all of the coffeeshops offer passworded ones too.

My bus ticket from said it would be serviced by Globtour or Centrotrans. I was a little nervous about this uncertainty. A bus labelled 'Croatia Bus' showed up and accepted my ticket, anyway. Since I was repacked into two bags, I put my big one in the luggage compartment, forgetting that we're now out of Italy and Flixbus jurisdiction, and not only would I have had no problem taking it to my seat, it also cost 8kn to stow it. Oh well.

This leg was 'only' 8 hours, but felt like the longest stretch of all. I thought I might get my laptop out since it was day time, but I immediately fell asleep, and slept on and off for the whole journey. It was a different route to the one I know between Sarajevo and Munich. Lots of mountains. We passed through Jajce just before it got dark, which has a fort on a hill and a giant waterfall. At the Croatian side of the Croatia-Bosnian border I was double-quizzed about whether I had drugs. I've been asked before a couple of times what I'm doing in Bosnia, and if I like Sarajevo.. but mostly nobody says anything at all. So this was new.

The absolute surge of joy I felt upon entering Sarajevo... I wanted to hug the Avaz Tower. I almost promised the city I will never leave again.. but stopped myself just in time. I'm probably outta here for good in two weeks or so. In any case, right now this is home.

All photos from ferries, buses, Catania, Naples and Zagreb.

🏷 sicily naples ferry bus travel malta transit italy catania