Following on from the great train journey down to Bari with stupendous views and wonderful experiences we move to the return journey – quite another story. So as promised here is the story of our return trip to Torre Pellice and home.
It started off so promisingly – we had booked tickets on the 2000 train from Bari to Torino – riding overnight. We would be sleeping in a seat – not a cuchette/bed. This doesn’t sound to good unless you know that on most overnight trains in Italy you travel in a compartment with 6seats – 3 on either side. These seats have an amazing sliding mechanism which allows you to slide the seat forward until the seats opposite each other meet in the middle – and so you have a single bed – well almost – and of course there are 2 of you lying with feet meeting head!! Not the most elegant or sensible seating for a good nights sleep but it isn’t so bad usually. Having done this several times before in Italy we were prepared to be in a compartment with a very well made Italian man who could do with some hints on personal hygiene or some other kind of travelling companions. We had prepared our picnic to keep us sustained through the 13hour journey back to Torre and so we set off. We carefully arranged for our friend to take us to the connecting station at 8.30 which would bring us to Bari at 9pm in plenty of time for the train.
All went well we caught our connecting train and transferred stations to take our seats on the 2000 train to Torino.
From here on in the story gets gradually worse by degrees.
As the more observant among you will already have noticed I did say we were to catch the 2000 train. So it will come as no surprise to all you Miss Marple aficionados out there that we had of course missed our train – as we had arrived at Bari at 2100. This was another lesson for me in my own fallibility. Despite the fact that I had spent virtually 22years of my working life recording dates of birth using the 24hour clock i had once again fallen into the trap of mistaking 2000 for 10pm and not of course 8pm!! This should act as a reminder to all you husbands out there who deal with travel arrangements etc to always get your wife to check over your tickets etc. It is a bit like when you are driving somewhere and she is navigating but you think you know where you are going – or you would like to think you know where you are going. In fact you are misreading the signs while perhaps she is misreading the map but the cardinal sin is you refuse to stop and ask someone. It’s that kind of scenario on the richterscale of stupidity and stubbornness.
On showing our tickets to the only railroad official we could find and asking him why we could not see our train on the departure board – he looked at as rather perplexed and said ‘E andato via’ – which roughly translated means ‘It’s left already!’
He helpfully told us that the next train to Torino was scheduled to depart at 2340hours and we may be able to get on that if there was space!! So we had another 2hours or so to wait in Bari – in a temperature of around 26/7 degrees and humidity levels very high. We spent some time ‘sightseeing’ around the centre of Bari although remaining very close the station as we did not want to give ourselves too much walking in the humidity while carrying bags and also we did not want to become to disorientated in our wanderings that we would lose our way back to the station.
After this the tragedy just gets worse and this time it is nothing to do with my mistakes but all down to inefficiency of the so wonderful Italian train system which had brought us to Bari in relatively good time and comfort (for the most part!)
So we return to the station to discover the platform for our train had changed – so we were glad we had waited outside rather than going directly to the platform as we would have then had to change platforms with our luggage (which is okay if you are thinking British stations but in Italy you have to go down a large amount of stairs and then up a similar amount of stairs to change platform usually).
When we reach the platform we hear an announcement which I think means the train is 15minutes late. This followed by several other announcements in which the time of arrival gets to almost 35minutes late. I am thinking -‘Well it is an overnight train so it will make up some time probably!’ So we hear the announcement that the train is about to arrive and we should stand behind the ‘linea giallo’ -‘the yellow line’ which is announcement that you hear almost every 5minutes in Italian train stations sometimes even when there is no train arriving!! However being good British subjects we make sure we are well clear of ‘linea giallo’ and watch our overnight train pull in. The challenge for me is twofold – first – I have to find the ‘Capotreno’ – ‘The Guard/Ticket Inspector’ and then I have to try and get 2 seats without being charged some extortionate surcharge for this ‘privilege’.
First challenge seems easy as there is usually only one of these guys to a normal train. However I find that for night trains (which have some carriages with couchettes) each wagon or section has its own Capotreno. So the first guy I approach says he is full – no spaces at all but he helpfully advises me that if I go further down the train I may get a place. Sounds encouraging as he doesn’t mention anything about extra surcharge or suchlike – so of I go towards the back of the train. On getting closer I can see that the coaches I am approaching are very full – there are even a lot of people standing in the corridor outside the compartments – not a good omen!! I cannot get near the Capotreno but I very quickly realise that there is no way we are getting a seat in a compartment unless they add a few more compartments. So we decide to try and get ourselves ont he train and then await the Capotreno when he checks tickets and have the discussion when we are safely ensconced on the journey. We think in this way we might not get kicked off so easily as it is a night train and does not make a lot of stops. As is the custom for Italians whenever the train stops anywhere there is an immediate mass exodus from the train for a cigarette on the platform. (Yes you can smoke in the train stations but not on the trains- although some do of course cos rules are only suggestions in Italy!!)
So the platform is pretty busy as we try to get on the train and find a spot where we can at least stand if not sit. We eventually find a spot at the very end of the train and we get our cases in a position which will protect our space. We are very close to a loo and I am praying hard that it not one of the many smelly ones as we will be very near it for another 10hours or so.
Although this story sounds pretty bad I can assure you the worst is yet to come! After a bit of time trying to establish what time the train should be leaving now that it is pretty late we discover that there is a lot of different information circulating among the passengers and many seem very disgruntled already. These folks had already been on the train and from what we can make out they are not happy as the air-conditioning system is not working very well. Others are complaining and the train being too busy and that there should not be as many people as this allowed to remain standing for such a long journey. We are praying that we don’t remain standing either but also thinking there may a distinct possibility that we may be asked to get off the train because they will tell us there are not enough places! Please no!!
It very soon becomes apparent if not officially that this train is not going anywhere very fast! Among the rumours that are circulating the smoking fraternity on the platform is one that says the train on the opposite platform is going to lose 3 coaches which will be added to our train. This rumour makes us very happy as we are thinking we are closest to the rear of the train so we would be in a good position to get a seat. We should both know of course that Italians (especially southern Italians) love to speculate and make suggestions of what they think is happening and usually without very much evidence to support their theories! It is inevitable that rumours will circulate when there is absolutely no official information and we are delayed for almost 1hour and a half before we eventually start moving. That is 1hour and a half after the train arrived – so for those who are good at arithmetic will confirm – that is more than 2hours late already.
Our position is near the door of the train and outside the main corridor at first does not look to promising for a night’s journey. However we quickly discover an advantage which we have over those who are in the compartments – we are in pole position for the air-conditioning outlet and it is very welcome in the humidity that is still very high even well after midnight.
Our biggest discomfort is that we are trying to sleep on top of our cases as this is preferable to the floor – however nobody has yet invented a small cabin size suitcase which converts well into a mattress.
Coupled with fact that we are also immediately opposite the toilet entrance we realise we are in for a night of disturbed sleep.
I realise that at this point you think this blogpost is way to long – but it is not as long as our journey was so get over it!
We are in the company of a young man who tells us he is travelling to Torino for an interview with the United Nations and we have some time to chat with him and tell him about our reason for being in Italy and tell him we will pray that he is successful. He asked for our number and email and we oblige by writing this in an interesting biographical book of 4 christian musicians. He says he will let us know the outcome.
Our position near the toilet turns out to be if not an advantage at least not an obstacle when it comes to gaining a seat. We get to chat with people as they wait in the queue and the are interested in us we are obviously foreigners and we have some good conversations about lots of things including God. One couple who we had talked with as they waited obviously take pity on us and tell us that as they are leaving the train in Bologna we can have their seats after they leave. This is a real blessing as Bologna is just more than halfway in the journey and by that time we really are feeling the aches of lying on suitcases.
Eventually along the way Il Capotreno appears. I explain my mistake in missing the train etc and he says that is not a problem but as this is a superior class of train (he must be kidding me!!) we have to pay as surcharge – however it is only 5.50euro so we pay and smile as I am sure if he wanted he could find all kinds of reasons to charge me more (for instance the fact that I did not validate my ticket before I boarded the train – although that was because all the machines were out of order!!)
Anyway we praise God for His care and guidance and that our journey could have been a whole lot worse. In fact Rose even saw some benefit from it – as we missed our original connection she was going to miss her outing to the local market in Torre Pellice however as we arrived in Torino late she was able to visit the large market in Porta Pallazzo in Torino and get considerably better deals on her groceries! Every cloud has a silver lining – or so they say.