Friday, May 15, 2009

May 3

Sorrento – Pompeii – Naples – Florence

We woke early, had a bit of breakfast and managed to get to the Sorrento station in time to catch a train at 0850. The train wasn’t as crowded as it had been for our ride out to Sorrento but there were still quite a few people for so early on a Sunday morning.

I had read that there is a “left luggage” depot at the Pompeii Scavi train station. When we got to the station, we asked and were pointed in the direction of the snack bar. Around to the right, right again, back, back, deep in the rear of the snack bar. A couple of bangs on the door: “BRUNO!” Bruno eventually came to the doo and took our bags into his room (which was actually part of the train station’s ticket office). We asked for a receipt and we were handed a scrap of paper upon which some words had been scrawled. Good enough, we’re off to see the ruins. Once again I refer you to for my impressions of Pompeii. Not much has changed over the past 14 or 15 months. There were some areas that had been closed last year and were now open. On the other hand, some areas that had been open last year were now closed. We wandered a great deal more – without the benefit of a map. From time to time we eavesdropped on other guides. The language didn’t seem to matter – Italian, German, French, English – many of the stories we heard being told were the same as the stories our guide from last year told us.

Speaking of last year’s guide, we saw him with another group of tourists. He’s let his hair grow a bit longer, but still looks about the same. I managed to sneak a snapshot of him by pretending to take one of Marg.

Before we left the station, we had checked on the departure times. It was said of Mussolini that he had managed to get the trains to run on time and that is still (for the most part) true so we were mindful of the time.. We managed to get back to the station just in time to retrieve our bags. We were waiting for the train when Marg noticed that we were on the wrong platform. We were literally on the wrong side of the tracks and had to run down the stairs, through the tunnel, back up the other side and directly on to the train seconds before the whistle sounded and the doors closed.

We knew that there was a 1334 departure from Naples to Florence but when we tried to buy tickets at the machine, we found that there were only two seats available. No problem, there are plenty of trains from Naples to wherever you want to go so we settled for a bit later “local” train.

When the train arrived, we went to board, but checked with one of the conductors to make sure we were in the right place. He looked at our ticket and proceeded to spend the next 5 minutes poking the screen of what appeared to be a small iPAQ or Palm Pilot type of computer. After a lot of screen poking, he gave us back our tickets and told us to board. We boarded the train at about 1430 and since no seats had been assigned, we found our own. As I write this, we’re on the train – Marg, Penny and Kevin are playing cards.

Now, you’re probably thinking: “What could possibly go wrong now that you’re on the train?” Well, there’s a funny thing about regional Italian trains; they just keep selling tickets. The reason we couldn’t get tickets on the earlier “fast” train was because there were no seats available. The reason we got tickets on the slower regional” train was because seating doesn’t matter. They keep selling tickets; some people manage to get reserved seats, the rest stand. After Rome, we were part of the latter group.

In retrospect, I believe that the conductor in Naples was trying to find us reserved seats – and spent 5 minutes doing so. The reason he was unable to find any seats was because the train was oversold by about 100%. This should have come as no surprise given the fact that this was a holiday weekend (May Day was on Friday). So we had to stand for the 4+ hours between Rome and Florence.

It was packed. But we did get the opportunity to meet some interesting people. One couple was travelling with their children. He is Italian, his wife and American; he currently works in Wisconsin. We met a student who had spent part of last year in Walkerton on an exchange program. Other people wanted to know if we were British or American they seemed pleased to find out that we were actually Canadian. I guess those stories you hear about Canadians being more welcomed abroad than our North American cousins are true.

At one point, we had a chance to get to another train to Florence, but because of all the people in the aisles and in the doorways we couldn’t get off our train (with our bags) quickly enough. When we finally arrived in Florence, we were at the “stopover” train station (since the train was actually enroute to Milan). There was a “local” train to the downtown station and we ran to try and catch it, but just as we were climbing the stairs back up to the platform, it pulled out and we missed it.
The next train to downtown was in an hour, so we took a cab downtown. We made our way to the designated meeting point at the Trattoria Garibardi and one of the waitresses brought us up to the apartment and showed us around.

After we unpacked and freshened up a bit, we went back to the Trattoria Garibardi for supper (15% discount for staying in their apartment).After supper, a bit of a stroll down by the Duomo and then back to the apartment to collapse for the night.

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