That Tricky Train

I do not have a case of siderodromophobia – fear of trains. But using them for transportation here in Italy has been rather tricky for me to say the least. And I find that a wee bit strange.

It seems like it should be very straightforward. Trains run on a set schedule. You buy a ticket and get on and off. What could be more simple?

Lots, actually. I have a little anxiety over the unknown but only a normal amount. I don’t know the area well, I worry that I read the train schedule right, and there is a significant language barrier. Not to mention the steps. Lots of steps in the station to get to the correct platform. Awkward steps getting into the train. And not much time to maneuver. The trains come and go fast. They don’t wait for anyone. There is lots of running in train stations!

So with that background, here is my experience getting back to Lucca from Montecatini Terme last evening…

ImageMT is not big and neither is the train station. And since I was a half hour early for the train, I sat on a bench along the back of the building to wait. It was just getting dark but the area was well-lit so I got out a sudoku puzzle to work on.

Since it was between times for trains, the area had cleared completely out and I was alone. Except… every few seconds, a young man would come whipping around the back side of the building, walk past me and go in the back door of the station. I don’t know where they were coming from, but none were too savory looking. And I’m sitting there with my purse around my shoulder and an attractive carry-on bag beside me. A little too prosperous-looking to be hanging out alone behind a deserted train station.

I hightailed it back inside but the only people in the station were two questionable looking characters who didn’t look like they had a ticket to go anywhere. I kept on going into the bar. It was a depressing looking place, but at least there were a few people in there. I bought a pack of Mentos so I could sit at a table and wait for 20 more minutes. But first I took off my coat, put my purse over my shoulder again, and put my coat back on over it. Then I waited.

Five minutes before the train was due, I went back outside. Now there were some people there and I got in the middle of them. I don’t like being on the edge of the crowd when there are men slowly walking back and forth along the platform like they are casing the place. They probably are. And I want to stay far away from them.

And having watched a number of trains come and go during the day, I knew that many of them don’t stop for long. Some are only in the station for about 3 or 4 minutes. I swear one barely stopped for 1 minute and it was off again. So with my agility level, it is best to be standing near the edge of the platform when the train pulls up.

ImageI was so proud of myself for being on time and being prepared. I felt like I am mastering this train business. When the train approached, I stood beside a girl with a large suitcase, ready to jump in front of her and get on board. I am the boss of train travel!

The train came to a stop, I stepped to the door… and it didn’t open. Other doors had opened and people were piling in. The girl and I both reached out and grabbed a door handle. It didn’t budge. She pushed the green button and still the door didn’t open. She gripped the handle of her suitcase and took off running for the next door.

I broke into a hobble-jog right behind her. The rest of the crowd had already disappeared into the train but we made it. I went to the right and down to get a seat. I sucked in my breath and wondered why if there is one non-working door on this train, it is the one that stops right in front of me. Oh well, par for the course. I seem to be a magnet for such things.

Now earlier in the day, I had made sure I knew how many stops I was going. From Lucca, MT was the third stop. I counted. And I listened carefully. On the morning train, every time a stop was coming up there would be a bong-bong sound and a voice would announce the stop. I knew right where to get off. And I could see the station sign as well.

On this train, in the dark, it was different. At the first stop, there was no bong sound and no announcement. Maybe I just didn’t hear it. I strained to see the station sign out the window. Alto-something. Not Lucca. But then it couldn’t be. It’s only been a few minutes. Calm down.

Second stop, no announcement again. I really can’t see anything. This doesn’t even look like a train station. And when I’ve been on the train before, it sometimes made weird stops in the middle of nowhere that didn’t seem to count. Was this one of those? I don’t know…

Before the third stop, people were hopping up and going to the door entrance area. They obviously ride the train all the time and know their stops well ahead. I find it hard to walk on the moving train, but I got up to look at one of the overhead maps. I can’t figure it out. I would ask what the upcoming stop is, but no one seems to speak English.

ImageThe train stops and on either side is another train. I can’t see any signs to know where I am. It looks like the Lucca platforms, but maybe all the train stations look alike. I’m not sure what to do and get up to look at the map again. A lady has just gotten on the train and I point to the map and ask “what stop is this?” She doesn’t understand. I point to the stop I think it is and she shakes her head no. She puts her finger on the word Lucca.

All of a sudden I feel alarm. “This is Lucca!?” I cry. She shakes her head yes. “Lucca???” I say again in astonishment. She sees I’m in a panic and grabs my coat sleeve and pushes me toward the door. It doesn’t open. I push the button and it still doesn’t open. The lady points to a sign on the door that has a circle with a slash through it. This is the same door I had tried to get in from the outside earlier and it doesn’t work!

The lady spins me around and pushes me toward the door at the other end of the car. I try to run but only stumble along the aisle. It has been several minutes and I can’t tell if the train is moving. My brain is thinking, oh no… oh no…

Thankfully, the lady doesn’t let up. She keeps nudging me and reaches from behind and pushes the door button. It opens and the train is sitting still. I am flooded with relief and jump down and turn to thank her. She smiles but she has to think I’m some sort of nut case.

I was so shaken and disoriented I still wasn’t sure where I was. The platform was milling with young people. One boy made eye contact and I asked, “Is this Lucca?” He stared at me blankly. I pointed to the ground and asked again, “Lucca???” He slowly shook his head yes and stepped around me. I guess I should have said “take me to your leader” to prove that I am indeed a space alien. I sure felt like one.

I got in the crush and went down the stairwell. When I came up the other side, I was in Lucca. But I was still recovering from the adrenaline rush as I headed for Porta San Pietro, the gate back into the old city. The street lights were a welcome sight and it felt reassuring to be on familiar ground. And as I passed through the gate, all I could think was, “man, I could use about a bucket of wine right now…”

I mean seriously, these things are not normal. And I am not an idiot. A bit bumbling, maybe, but c’mon. Where were the announcements on the train? Was the sound system off? And how can I get so confused even when I’m paying attention? I don’t get it, I really don’t.

But I’m not gonna let it get to me. I’m not gonna develop a fear of trains and refuse to go anywhere. Even if I had ended up in Viareggio, I would just have had to get another ticket and come back. Not the end of the world.

ImageAt any rate, I was home and I was hungry and I knew just where I wanted to go. I had stopped at a wine bar once before that has rave reviews but I had gone when they were closed. (Naturally!) Well, no time like the present. It isn’t far from my apartment, so I headed straight to Wine Bar di Vinae. I understand they only serve local wines, as well as their own brew. And they’re all on tap behind the bar. They are famous for serving special appetizers with their wine. And, if you bring an empty wine bottle, they’ll even fill it up out of one of the taps!

It is a very small place down a side street. Very quiet. The lady didn’t speak English but I managed to order a mezzo-litro of prosecco. She brought it to the table and asked “mangiare?” (do you want to eat?) When I said yes, she went to the kitchen and brought out two pans of lasagne. One with pomodoro (made with tomato sauce) and one with pesto and pine nuts. I understood that this was what they had for the day so I chose the pesto and said “piccolo” while holding my thumb and forefinger together to indicate a small amount. She nodded.

ImageSoon she returned with a small plate of appetizers. 4 bruschetta with a tomato ragu and 4 with a mushroom ragu. Both were delicious and I didn’t even ask for them. And they did offer me more, but I refused. I would love to have tried a couple more things but I don’t want to order what I can’t eat and I don’t want to offend the owners who don’t understand that I can’t eat very much at once. Another couple had come in and were tasting several things – I wanted to be nosy and see what they were, but I didn’t. So I’ll just have to go back. And I can because it was extremely reasonable. The half-liter of wine was 6 euro and the lasagne was 4 euro. No charge for the appetizers. That’s rock-bottom prices for sure.

I finished the wine, got half the lasagne wrapped up for take-away, and headed for home. It was a great day – even with the traumatic train ride. And I slept like a rock. Too bad Ohio isn’t home to thermal springs. I guess I’ll just have to settle for regular pedicures, an occasional massage – and NO trains! No tricky trains!

Oh – and if you are ever with me and we aren’t sure where we are going – don’t ask me for directions. I don’t mind getting lost alone but I have a feeling it would make other people mad. And I have enough excitement on a daily basis without doing that. Just so you know…

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Paula!
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 15:45:34

    If you don’t have that siderod—phobia stuff by now, you missed a good chance Mrs. P!! I can just see the two of us thinking we are lost on a train in a strange place! Oh my goodness that would be a story for you to tell. But, thank goodness for the nice lady pushing you out the door! The appetizers look really yummy. But again, I’m hungry! I don’t think you have had an ordinary day since you arrived! How it should be!


    • Paula!
      Nov 21, 2012 @ 15:46:47

      Oh! and aren’t those just the quaintest little shops? I would buy something just to go in!


      • thesketchylife
        Nov 22, 2012 @ 06:18:13

        Paula, you would absolutely go into shock if you came to Lucca and saw the shops. I was totally overwhelmed the first few days with all the eye candy. I’ve gotten kind of immune now, but still, when I go down a street I haven’t been, one sometimes draws me in. But I usually just breathe deep and take photos. As for you, I’m afraid you’d disappear and Dave would never find you again…

      • Ellyn
        Nov 22, 2012 @ 09:12:02

        So true about the shops, Mom! Paula is the most serious shopper I have ever known! 🙂

      • thesketchylife
        Nov 22, 2012 @ 11:40:53

        Not just Paula… MB! Put them together, buy a world ticket, and we wouldn’t see either one for at least 100 years! I guarantee it!

  2. Billy D
    Nov 22, 2012 @ 08:07:23

    Any day that ends with wine and lasagne could never be too bad of a day!


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