……… I thought I was home. Looking out the window of the Frecciarossa fast train to Bologna, I was sort of nodding off and when I opened my eyes I saw a low flat body of still water, a little green, lots of plants sprouting around the edges and rolling lush green, green, green hills slopping up from it. It was like I was on the train to Kenai. Never mind that the smooth delicious taste of a creamy cappuccino, sweet only from the milk was still in my mouth and that should have been a tip off that I was in Italy, but I came back to reality fast. The landscape north of Rome is totally different from where I have been for the last 5 months. Although I have seen this route on previous trips the memory of the lushness was forgotten. It could also be that I was never here in the summer before, always in the winter. It is remarkably beautiful when the vineyards are green and the fields full of sheep are verdant grasslands. You know that thing about, ”He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” – well the guy who wrote it must have been from around here. It could also have something to do with the fact that the windows are actually clean and I can see out of them, another perk of the red train.
The Frecciarosa is a big upgrade for me, I usually take the intercity or regional trains, cheaper, a bit slower by manageable, but I always make sure I have an empty bladder when I travel on the local trains. The Red train is something else entirely, sort of like flying first class. Clean roomy bathrooms, bigger than on airplanes by a long shot, wide aisles, though not quite wide enough for the monster suitcase I am dragging along with me, and very comfy seats, with a table right in front of you – and electric outlets. Quite the ride. Of course, I am in second class, first class gets some free beverages, but not worth the difference in cost.
I am a firm believer in one bag travel, and maybe a small carryon/computer case sort of thing. Now, I have to add a cpap to the mix and even though it doesn’t count for baggage there is nothing phantom about the extra weight I have to tote around. Over my time here I managed to buy an entire suitcase full of stuff. Everything thing from coffee, to guitarra pasta cutters, to bits of ceramics from everywhere I went. This collection required a serious baggage upgrade, something that would accommodate all my purchases and all the sort of things the governments won’t let you take on board these days. (Did you know that cheese has the same x-ray profile as plastic explosives?) I surely would have bought more, but I was always watching my cash, good thing or I would have had to hire a private jet to take me home. As it is the luggage would make a great overnight accommodation in a pinch. I packed it full, and then had to take it down 4 flights of stairs, making 3 trips to get it all down there. Deminico, the savvy cabbie who was taking me to the train station didn’t come in the door so he wouldn’t be invited to assist.
Being an independent traveler accustomed to taking the cheapest way around, unburdened by massive luggage, I was not prepared for what I had to face at every train station. I sort of forgot about the sottopassagios (underground passages to get to outlying train platforms) and the accompanying flights of stairs down and then up again. In order to avoid at least one set of arrivals and departures I cleverly booked the cab to take me to Catanzaro Lido. I could have walked to the Soverato station, but then I would have to make 2 changes and board three trains, one piece of heavy baggage at a time. Although I still had a one hour stint to get cross country to Salerno, I figured it was worth the 15 Euro. I had already planned 250 € for travel, knowing it was going to cost me more for faster trains and more taxis than busses. So, imagine my surprise when the bill for the trip turned out to be 30 Euro, darn, I could have gone all the way to Lamezia and skipped the changes altogether for another 30 €. Ok, what are going to do, it costs what it costs. I arrived with plenty of time to find the right track and haul my luggage down and then up again. Turns out it was unnecessary, there was no train, it was to be a bus. That is good news, less urgency to the stowing of luggage, plenty of room for it under the bus and a completely comfortable ride, with air conditioning. The bus arrived a few minutes early and I crowded in to get in line for baggage loading but the driver was turning people away. He was saying something that sounded very negative and he used a word I still don’t have the meaning for exactly but roughly translated, “We are not going to Lamezia today”. The last time I heard that phrase I found myself in Honduras instead of Belize. While I was mentally working up the language to ask the ticket agent what was happening, I was relieved of the task by simply listening to the crowd of people ahead of me who had full command of Italian and knew how to use it. There was much to be said about the validity of the tickets they had just purchased, the veracity of anything Trenitalia had to say, and a few brief evaluations of the government in general. I think I even heard Belisconi’s name in there. I didn’t need to ask. The “Eh” accompanied by a shoulder shrug, from the ticket agent said it all. She couldn’t do anything about it; she was as much a victim of the trains as we were. The reason for the very thick glass separating passengers from ticket takers was coming into focus. I heard her recommendation – taxi. Oh good grief, a taxi, that is going to be another 30 €. Well, there was no going back, I had a train to meet in Lamezia and they don’t brook lateness very well, see the Bari blog.
I hauled my luggage to the taxi stand where one car remained and told him I wanted to go Lamezia, how much? He said settanta. 70€. I could not believe my ears; that could not be right. But, of course, it was. Last cab, I had to go, I tried to argue, but I had no card to play. It didn’t occur to me to get on the phone and call Deminico back to take me on the last leg until after I was at Lamezia. I offered 60 and he seemed to be OK with that, so I loaded up and sat crankily in the back seat and looked in my wallet, 40€. Well, I thought I would keep that bit of info to myself until we were well under way. I said I needed a bancomat (ATM), he said there wasn’t any around here. I know that wasn’t true, but I was just as happy to get to one in Lamezia. When we were on the highway, where he probably wouldn’t just dump me on the side of the road when he found out I couldn’t pay) I asked about stopping at a bancomat in Lamezia. He told me there were none there either. I asked about a gas station, “No, no, no, not in gas stations.” Now, that I knew to be an out and out lie so I kept my eyes peeled. Apparently he didn’t want to make any unnecessary stops along the way slowing down his return to Catanzaro Lido to bilk another unsuspecting train orphan. As we came up on an AGIP station I asked him to stop, he said, “No, no bancomat.”, then I saw it, the actual bancomat, right outside the building. I said in my big girl voice, BANCOMAT! Apparently, that is what was needed. He jammed the brakes and jerked the wheels into the parking lot talking all the way about how it wouldn’t take my card. Of course, it worked fine. After I had money in hand and was back in the cab, I informed him that I didn’t have enough to pay him if we didn’t stop. We were both sort of grumpy the rest of the way.
When we finally arrived at Lamezia I paid him my 60 Euro and grappled my bags to the curb but he was insistent on 70 Euro by then, after looking into my wallet as I pulled out his payment, and I was using all the energy I had not to get overwhelmed by the situation and simply paid the extra 10 and moved on. In the last 45 minutes, I had used fully half of my entire travel budget and I hadn’t left Calabria yet. But, a t least I was at the train station, about to get on the Fast Red train and a cool, quiet, comfortable trip lay before me. I could deal with moving the baggage up on the train and back down again, beside, people are most helpful when you have a bunch of luggage, and especially when you have white hair.
I found my platform, no need for a sottopassagio thank God, and waited for the train’s timely arrival. It sped into the station and I found my carrozza (coach), waited for the door to open, but it didn’t. I rushed to the other end of the carrozza and entered through those doors hoping my seat was on that end of the coach, which, indeed it was. Helpful hands hoisted up my huge, bags and I thought – Home Free! NOT. While my seat was very close to the door that was working, the luggage rack was on the opposite end of the car. Far too big to go overhead, I had to manhandle the suitcases down the aisle to the other end of the coach. Small bags, no problem, one trip. Large bag barely squeezed through the aisle, slower going, but done. Meanwhile my large bag, the bedroom on wheels (BOW), is standing half in and half out of the seating area blocking the passage of all the other folks trying to get on and seated. Embarrassing, but I am doing the best I can. They have all been there so people seem reasonably patient with the process. I haul the BOW as far into the seating area as possible and wait for everyone else to get situated before I start the long haul down the aisle once again with the monster suitcase. I have to turn the behemoth sideways to get it to fit in the aisle. Of course, it has a set of wheels, but they face the other way, so rolling is not an option. The only way to get it from point A to point B is by clean-jerking it up a little by the handle, kicking it forward with my knee, and then taking one step further up the aisle and repeating the process. This took a while. I finally got it situated and then stood guard over it since I had recently heard a story of someone absconding with a piece of luggage from the holding area just before the train took off.
Eventually, I found my seat, got in it, breathed a sigh of relief, and promptly fell asleep. When my station was still a half hour away I began the trek of the carry-on’s once again. First the small bags, then the big bag, and finally the BOW. Folks were a bit more annoyed at this parade of luggage once they were all snuggled in their seats and I got quite a few irritated glances. I was self-conscious about all the slow lumbering trips up and down the passage but tried not to hurry; I could see in my mind’s eye me going a bit too fast, kicking a bit too hard, losing my balance and falling headlong over the bag, wedged between the seats, clogging the entire carriage while waiting for a crane to hoist me back to an upright position. On the last leg of my trip a kindly woman suggested, in a very low voice, that there was a door on the other end of the coach. I let her know, in full voice, that the door was broken and wouldn’t open. This brought nods of understanding from everyone within earshot. Vindicated!
It was with great relief that I unloaded the last suitcase to the platform when I arrived in Bologna, a huge station with ALL platforms on the same level, and headed straight for the taxi stand. I was not even going to consider the bus for this leg, at least not today, and I made a mental promise to myself that I will buy a complete set of travel clothing from Travel Smith before my next journey.
Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here. (Then you could help me with my luggage)
- The Kichen Help