• James Eric Fristad

Just Get On That Train, Eric

Simple, of course. I had already bought e-tickets for the trip from Orvieto to Sestri Levante, up the coast, some weeks ago. Simple online, reasonable, fairly economical. It would require three trains (two transfers), arranged with a decent amount of layover "padding" between, in the event one of the trains was a bit late.

Except that it (the first it) was even later. The station loudspeakers routinely do broadcast such recorded messages to tell you of these surprises, suggesting to me that such happenings are not as rare as I'd supposed. Apparently there was a "track obstruction" out there, somewhere, that prevented our Number 510 from getting through. They didn't actually say there was a seriously ailing or dead engine yonder on the rails; but my imagination supplied such a scenario anyway. At any rate our train did manage to come in to work that morning, about 40 minutes after its start time, and carted us away: me to Florence (Firenze S.M.N.), my first change of rail line.

Whose second (for me) train had just left that binnario. Drivers of Italian trains seem rarely to arrive promptly at the next station, but are renowned for leaving punctually. Rats.

There were of course many alternative trains going from Florence westward to Pisa (a main rail-freeway of sorts), and so I trundled onboard the next one and took a seat. Now, had I taken the treno that left about 15 minutes earlier, which was less a milk-run type of scheme than the one I had got onto, the trip would have been a lot quicker. And I would not have pulled into the Pisa Centrale Stazione just as my reserved train left the adjacent platform bound for Sestri Levante. Dang, this is getting old.

It isn't rocket-science, quite, finding the next train to where you want to go. Posted along the platforms on stanchions between tracks 3 and 4, say, are eye-level plexiglass encased signs with every rail departure and arrival you can imagine. So you first make sure you're looking at the correct side. It's always PARTENZE for me, since by definition at such times I only hope to get outta there. You run your visual (or maybe actual) pinkie down the hour-sections, identified by blue lettering, to narrow down the field of research; you make a mental note of the current time and begin squinting in earnest at maybe 6-point type which gives you the actual stations served by that particular Rail Italia line. It helps to have some barest notion of the location of major cities.

I mentioned "actual stations served," above. If the place ain't writ down, that train don't stop there. Mine would be a kind of semi-express run: so it was curious to find myself careering along the tracks northwest up the Ligurian Coast without stopping, as I had often done before, at those wonderful, colorful, tourists-packed villages. After La Spezia I watched idly out the window as the train quickly rumbled along ... "Gee, I remember from years ago there's an sunny stretch of straight track just like this one we're passing through, with a sea-wall on the Mediterranean side, like this one, except-except-except we always stop there ... Wait, that picturesque village fading into the distance, superglued to the face of that cliff, really looks just like Corniglia."

It was Corniglia. Then beautiful, postcard Vernazza flashed past, like the shutter of an old-timey camera: CLICK.

So I did alight (preposterous term for getting off a train, but there you are) from my Carrozza in this present city, Sestri Levante, about an hour after I'd assured my host that I would check in. As I began to apologize, he just kind of smiled and did a subtle Italian eye-roll, and I knew it was all good.

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