Monday, October 10, 2011

The train trip that almost wasn't

Last fall Leif and I went to a chestnut festival in the rain hoping to see the ceramic work of a friend of his named Lena. (Yes, she is Swedish. There are so many Swedes here I'm beginning to wonder if Sweden is actually trying to very quietly and sneakily colonize Italy.) Because it was raining that day she decided not to go to Maradi so we never saw her stuff. We had fun anyway. Today she was in a different city at a different festival with her work. I decided to go. I had nothing going on anyway. Leif left today for a five day tour so I'm alone. It sounded like fun.

I bought my ticket at 8 this morning after Leif caught his train for Rome. According to the machine selling the tickets there was a train every hour to Dicomano. I considered taking the 9:57 train. But that seemed a little early for my new kind of life. (When we were young trips to the state fair started before dawn and ended before lunch so we would miss the crowds. Even though it drove me nuts it's a hard habit to break.) So I decided to come back to the station to catch the 10:57 train.

I only live about 5 minutes from the station so about 10:30 I went to the station and looked at the printed departures to see which track to go to. Instead of a little number in a blue circle next to the train listing I saw a little blue bus. A little confusing. I checked the monitor for the latest info on trains leaving the station and behind the 10:57 train to Dicomano were the letters PE instead of a track number. I still have no idea what PE stands for, but I am at a loss as to why Trenitalia, a train company, would sell me a bus ticket. That's what the many bus companies in Florence are for. The machine that sold me the ticket didn't tell me that it would be a bus. I wasn't sure where to catch this train/bus or where it would drop me off. And I was just a little po'd that the machine didn't give me the information up front. I decided to take the 11:57 train, even though every fiber of my being was now screaming that daylight's awastin'.

One more trip home and back to the station at 11:30, where I discovered that contrary to what the machine that sold me the ticket said, there is no train at 11:57 on Sundays. The next train (this time I checked with the printed schedule and the monitor) was at 13.01. My day was rapidly spinning out of control. On the other hand I was so pissed at Trenitalia for their callous treatment of me, a valued customer, that I decided there was no way I wasn't getting to Dicomano today. I triple checked the times before leaving the station and headed for the park near our house. I didn't want to climb the stairs to our apartment yet another time.

At the appointed time (12:30) I went to the station prepared for any disaster they might throw at me. The train was five minutes late, but other than that things went smoothly. And as the train was pulling out of the station I think "Hmm, the machine was wrong about these departure times...what if the return times (I already bought my return ticket) were as much of a lie as the departure times?" I felt the laughter bubbling up, the kind of laughter that could become hysterical or become tears...tough to say. And once I got that under control I decided that I'd get back somehow.

Really, I've never been truly stranded anywhere. There are always options. I just usually have Leif with me. He is so calm. Sometimes it drives me crazy, that calm. But the longer I'm here the more I realize that there isn't any need for the stress that I put myself through. It really does all work out in the end. I knew that there was nothing I could do till I got to the station and looked at their schedule, being careful to look for those "this train doesn't run on Sundays" note. So I sat back and enjoyed the ride through the mountains of Tuscany.

Once at the (tiny) train station I checked the schedule and found that the machine didn't lie about  the return trips. I had 2 hours to whoop it up in Dicomano before the train left. I walked out of the train station into a little street and thought (I've done a lot of thinking today, haven't I?) "I have absolutely no idea where this festa might be at. But certainly not on this little dead end street," and walked away. Trying to remember a few landmarks cuz I have to get myself back to this station somehow. I didn't bring my bread crumbs.

I stopped a man on the street and asked him in my worst Italian (probably) where the festival was. He looked at me mutely for about 5 seconds before repeating my question and finally telling me where it was. This is a common reaction. I am not some kind of stunning here. I'm just blonde and blue eyed and they need a moment to take that fact in before they can concentrate on what I'm saying. Thank goodness he was right with his directions. I would never have chosen that street if it weren't for him.

It was your typical small town festival. The local rotary (or whatever it might be here) had a stand with chestnut ravioli and roasted chestnuts, wine and beer. All the good things in life. Almost everything being sold there was handmade or antique. Jewelry, needlework, wood working, ceramics, soaps, you name it someone was trying to sell it. My favorite (besides Lena's booth) was the man making shaped felt hats. I freely admit I was this close to buying one. I love hats. Lena was there with her ceramics and her dad had driven his genuine Swedish wood crafts all the way from Sweden. I bought myself a sweet little coffee cup and saucer with little ladybugs and flowers on it.

There was a Harley ride through the mountains, but there were more Ducati cycles than Harleys. They had their festival princesses dressed up in period costume, walking around town wearing paper crowns and carrying their wine glasses greeting the crowd. I was sitting in the central piazza in town and it was slowly filling up with other folks in costumes. I was pretty excited because I thought I was going to get to see one of those Medival pageants that happen just everywhere here, but that I never get  to see.

As the minutes slowly ticked towards my departure time I started to get anxious. I really was looking forward to seeing some sort of costume parade, maybe even with flags. But this is Italy, and even if it was scheduled to start at a certain time it's important to remember that it's only a guideline, this schedule thing. They'll get to it when they get to it. And not before. You can't rush them, it only makes the wait longer. Finally I had to leave so that I wouldn't miss my train. I was disappointed (still am) but I will find a costume gala to attend and photograph and be completely awed by. I bet it totally knocks the socks off anything that happens at Ren Fest.

I managed to find my way back to the train station in plenty of time for my train. It gave me lots of time to eat some of my chestnuts and watch a family who were waiting for the same train. Their youngest  daughter (about 2-3 years) had the greatest outfit on. She is proof positive that marketing, no matter how ridiculous, works on the young mind. She had on a red/black plaid skirt, pink Hello Kitty leggings, yellow and sky blue socks with some other character on the sides and white Strawberry Shortcake sandals. Maybe she's a Highlander fan, which would explain the tartan skirt.

It seems a little anti-climactic to say simply that I got home all right. But I did. And the whole trip would have been worth it just for the ride home. In a brand spanking new train, the kind that are articulated so that there is a clear view down the aisle to the front and the back of the train. It's too bad that "that new train smell" resembles a porta-potty, but nothing's perfect.

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