Saturday-Sunday June 28-29 2008
Always an adventure, always an education, the Italian trains.
I'm headed to another little Italian town of Popoli. Three trains to get there. The first train to Ancona is 14 minutes late - and I have, on a good time schedule, 10 minutes to catch my second train. When I get to Ancona, we have made up 12 minutes - which makes me only 2 minutes late... and I jump off the first train, and run down the stairs and up the stairs to the track that has the waiting train - must be mine - but that wasn't it. The second train to Pescale Centrale is also late. Like 45 minutes later.
Hrmph - ran and got all out of breath and sweaty for nothing, and it IS very hot here.
With my second train to Pescale being 45 minutes late, that means for SURE I'll miss the third train which leaves half an hour after I would normally arrive, and that means I will have to call Adriano Marrama, who's picking me up, after I figure out which train and what new time I'll be arriving in Popoli.
The second train finally comes in all its 45-minutes-late gloriousness, we get on, and it takes about an hour to get to Pescale Centrale. We make up a lot of time. My third train leaves at 6 PM. We pull into the Pescale station at 5:59 PM. I just happen to have written down all the stops, so I know when Pescale is coming up, so I am right at the doors, ready to jump off the train - and I check ahead of time to know which doors open which direction. (I'm OK on this train - they both open).
Well. As I jump off the train, there is one other train waiting on another track, and that MUST be my train to Popoli where I'm going - right? Must be. As I start running for the stairs, the clock jumps to 6:00. Crap! I fly down the stairs, and run through the tunnel to the next track, and run, up the stairs, with my heavy suitcase and heavy backpack and computer. I run toward a door where some people are jumping onto the train. "Does this train go to Popoli?" I ask them. They shrug - it makes many stops.
I see train conductors toward the front of the train - about 5 cars down. I start running toward them, (still with all my heavy luggage, mind you) and realize I will never make it - I need to be by a door if they start to shut. The men are too far away to yell and ask. Crap! I see a schedule board and run towards it. 6 PM - that's 18:00... my ticket says the train leaves at 18:00... I see 18:06... scan the stops - Popoli is not on there... 18:13 is next... not my stops - this can't be right - crap! I'm looking at "arrivals"!
I run around to the other side of the board, see "Departures" - find 18:00 - Yes! One departs at 18:00! Popoli is listed! Leaving from track 4! I run back to this train - wait - is this track 4?? - whistle blows, doors click, I leap on - leap on, mind you, with my heavy suitcase (which is now far heavier than 17 kilos) trailing behind me, and the doors close on my suitcase and I yank it in and the train pulls out. My heart is slamming (I haven't had much exercise lately, and it's freaking hot!), and I am drenched in sweat, and I am not completely sure I am on the correct train! This was track four, but that's all I know right now.
Nevertheless, I am going somewhere, so I roll into the air conditioned car and flop down in a messy pile, and I hear the stops being announced - and yes, my stop is called, I am on the right train! Whew! Which turned out to be a good thing, I realized later - I had Adriano's number to call, but he doesn't speak a word of English, and I don't speak a word of Italian! I couldn't have told him I was catching another train and when I'd be arriving - although I did learn a very valuable - and common - word referring to Italian trains: "retirado" - late!
I'm headed back to Gubbio. Three trains.
So far so good - the first one left more or less on time for Pescale, although I have a whopper of a headache, because I did not get any coffee this morning. I don't care WHAT time the next train is to the next stop of Ancona - I am not going to do anything until I have a cappuchino at the station! I have to buy my onward tickets anyway, so I will make the time for one or two.
We arrive at Pescale Centrale, and it is big enough to have a bar serving rolls and cappuchinos. Great! I have one.
Now, I need to use the WC. There is one next to the bar, and it costs E.50. So, I go to the door, put my E.50 cents in, and the green light comes on - and the door doesn't open. Huh? I push it, I pull it, I try to slide it - and the red light comes on. Finished. What the hell!? OK, I'm not trying this again until I see somebody else do it!
Instead, I go to buy a train ticket onward, (two more trains) and, no, I don't want the train that leaves in 3 minutes, I want the next one - 30 minutes later - which gives me time for using the WC and having another cappuchino! I buy my ticket, then go back to the bar/WC area, and hang around. I hope nobody notices me stalking the bathroom - I pretend I am just waiting at the cafe - and finally I see two women go to the WC. You put your money in, and when the green light comes on, you PUSH ON THE DOOR - (I swear I did that) and you go in. Fine.
I have another cappuchino, and I go to the WC. I put my E.50 in, the green light comes on, I push on the door, it opens, I enter. No problem this time! There's a second door. I push it - and - nothing! It won't open! WHAT THE HELL!? I push on the door again - NOTHING! I start to panic and try the door behind me that I just came in - NOTHING! I am trapped between doors to the bathroom - can't go in, can't go out and I've already paid E1! AHH!
Two ladies are coming to the adjacent doors to exit, and they look at me like I'm a retarded foreigner - which I am, because I CAN'T GET OUT! HELP! They pass through their doors, still looking at me funny. Well - I can either stand here till somebody else strolls along to the bathroom - and what are they going to do - pay to get through the first door and get stuck in here with me? - or I can get down on my belly and crawl under the door into the bathroom (I'm not crawling back out, because I want in the bathroom!) So, I lay my suitcase down, take off my backpack and computer, and shove them under the door, just as another woman is coming to exit the other doors, looking at me, of course, as if I'm too cheap to pay E.50 to use the WC. I crawl on my hands and knees - is this not the ultimate humiliation? into the bathroom, use it, thank you very much... then have to face going back out - through the double doors next to the ones that trapped me. Oh, help!
I take a deep breath and dive through the first one... and try the second one - and it DOES NOT OPEN!!!! I wait, think, no, this really is not happening, and I try the second door again, and this time, it opens to let me out.
After that, I deserved one more cappuchino (really had a headache now), then went to wait for, then get on, my next train.
Now, here's a few words on the Italian trains. When a train pulls into a station, you never know exactly (1) how many cars there will be, (2) where the train will come to a stop in the station (in the middle? down at this end? Closer to that end? Will I have to run?), (3) where your second class (unreserved) car will be in the scheme of things, and (4) how much time you have to stroll alongside the train looking for a car you can get on before the doors slam shut and you missed the train. Sometimes the train sits in the station for 20 minutes (late) or sometimes it's less than a minute. It's best to run as far down the train as you can, then pick a door and pile on a car, any car, and sort things out later - which I did on this train.
I ended up getting a little anxious, piling on with many other somewhat anxious people (apparently the Italians have not exactly figured out (1), (2), (3), or (4) yet either), and so, I found myself, with many other people and their luggage, between 2 reserved 2nd class cabin cars. Which meant, if I wanted to make my way down train cars to find a 2nd class coach with a seat that I paid for - it would be like climbing several Mount Everests of people and suitcases in the aisles - who also had seats in the same cars I did and saw the effort as too overwhelming. So, I just stayed in the vestibule - which was fine by me, as it was air conditioned - as did a few other travellers. It worked until the food cart came by and I had to squeeze in a corner, but other than that, it was a pleasant way to pass 1 1/2 hours by train.
The good thing about the Italian trains is - they do get you where you are going (eventually), - sometimes with a bit of extra effort. And while you might get trapped in the bathrooms, at least the bigger stations ARE a good place to get a cheap cappuchino to console yourself with - once you get untrapped from the bathrooms.