When we went to Lucca this week for the Graham Nash concert, we had our first Italian train frustration in at least a decade. But it brought back some interesting memories. The morning went according to plan. IKEA made it to our apartment on time, and we headed out the door for Lucca. First stop Aulla. That was an interesting train station. It was a large building, and TOTALLY deserted. I thought I had taken photos, but alas no! But there was a huge server room (that you could see through windows). It looked like a large communications hub. We walked down to look for a bar caffè, and there was a big sign that everything was under construction. Not a soul in sight. We had an hour until our next train, so we walked about 10 minutes into town and went for a caffè.
We got back around 15 minutes before our train was due, and 5 minutes before the scheduled arrival there was a very matter of fact announcement that the train was simply canceled. Sorry for the inconvenience. Since there was no one there to help with rerouting, I got out my handy dandy iPhone apps and managed to get us to Lucca at 8:00 (rather than 7:00). In time for a quick dinner, and then off to the concert at 9:00. It was fairly uneventful since we had apps to redirect us. Nothing like the experiences I had as an 18 year old foreign exchange student my first time in Italy!
Back in 1978, the first partial disaster was heading to Vernazza. My friend Kristine and I were standing on a platform in Genova (Genoa), waiting for our train to Vernazza. It was the appointed time, and a train pulled in. There was a lot of speedy Italian over the loudspeaker (none of which we understood), and we jumped on the train. When the conductor came along to punch our tickets, I told Kris I was going to try some Italian. So I handed him my ticket and said something like “Quanti minuti a Vernazza”. He threw his hands up in the air and started speaking very fast. Kris gave me a look like “I knew you couldn’t do this” and I looked at him for some reassurance. After a bit of confusion, it was determined that we were on the wrong train, heading the wrong way! Back in the 70s, if I train was at the station on-time, it was probably the wrong train – hehe. He scribbled something on the tickets (probably “these are dumb Americane who got lost”) and put us off at the next stop to wait another 90 minutes for another train!
Of course, that wasn’t all! On the way back to Switzerland from Vernazza, we reached Milano Centrale FIVE MINUTES after the last train for Switzerland had left. This was about 10:30 PM. Being broke teenagers, we had no money for a hotel. So we decided we would stay in the train station overnight. Joe tells me that you can’t do that any longer, but in 1978 a lot of people were doing the same. Boy, oh boy were they! I think we were “propositioned” in one way or another about 50 times that night.
The first man to come up to us was a little sleazy (okay, a lot sleazy), and he spoke only Italian to us. We were trying to figure out what he wanted when he pulled a bulging wallet out of his back pocket. I thought “oh my – he’s going to try to buy sex from us”. Oh no. Instead he pulled out a stack of wallet sized photos of himself. In bikini briefs. Doing body building poses. I’ve never been so disappointed in myself as that night. I wish I had had the forethought to ask for a photo as a souvenir! Eventually he tired of us and went away.
At some point they cleared out the waiting area to clean it, and we were all out in the main terminal hallway. It was quite late, and we were exhausted, so Kris and I sat against a wall, waiting for the all-clear to re-enter the waiting area. We were approached numerous times, once by a guy who just stood over us, pressing his shoe against my shoe.
Eventually we were back in the waiting area, and had a number of other men come up to us. We saw two men approaching and Kris and I just looked at each other with a “not again” posture. The men started talking to us in English. They told us they were Israeli, and had been watching our plight. They offered to sit across from us and keep watch so that we could relax and get some sleep. We did manage to sleep a bit, but I would occasionally open one eye to make sure that THEY were not the ax murderers.
So, all in all our trip to Lucca was uneventful! Just as well I guess 🙂