All at Sea
Thomas Jones tries to go on holiday
I've been trying to buy tickets for the overnight car ferry from Naples to the Aeolian island of Lipari. It's harder than you'd think. You can buy tickets for the hydrofoil easily enough online, but you can't put the car on one of them (and without the car, there's no easy way up the mountain to where I'm staying). The sporadic car ferry service is operated by Siremar (Sicilia Regionale Marittima), a division of Tirrenia di Navigazione, which is owned by the state.
You can go through most of the booking process online, but it comes to an abrupt end just before the point at which you'd do the actual booking. So I rang them up (it's a premium line: 18 cents per minute). They told me their computer was down, and that anyway even though I could book over the phone, to pay I'd have to go to a travel agent. I could find a list of authorised agents on the website. It turns out there's one just round the corner from me. Handy! Except that after trying to sell me hydrofoil tickets, they said they weren't in fact authorised agents for Siremar. At last I found someone who was. They only took cash. Off I went to the bank. The agent gave me a handwritten receipt and told me to come back in a couple of days to pick up the tickets. I did that this morning, and am now the proud owner of a photocopy of a fax that I'm to present in Naples a couple of hours before the ferry leaves.
At least I (and the car) will probably get there this year. The state is planning to sell off Tirrenia. They want the money, though can also justify it by pointing to all the bureaucratic slack that will be taken up once the firm is subject to the natural efficiency of the marketplace. Except it never quite works like that, does it. Apparently there's a strong chance that once the firm is privatised, the Napoli-Lipari service will simply be cut altogether.