Sunday, July 19, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses, Part III

Mike on a regional train

 “...what thrills me about trains is not their size or their equipment but the fact that they are moving, that they embody a connection between unseen places.”  ― Marianne Wiggins

Before I continue with the story about our crappy pleasant second train ride last Friday, allow me to explain the Italian train system a little better so that all of this makes sense.  There are different levels of train service, as I noted before.  The fast trains—Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, and Frecciabianco—are also the long-distance trains and always include seat reservations.  They are all air-conditioned and have a cafe and attendants who come through the coaches offering refreshments at affordable costs.  They travel at 185 mph, 155 mph, and 125 mph respectively and travel between major cities.

Frecciargento fast train

The intercity (IC) trains, which travel from 100-120 mph, a step down from the fast trains, and they stop in big cities. Seat assignments are mandatory, and the coaches are air-conditioned.  The Regional Veloce (RV) and Regional  (R) trains operate within a region (Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, etc.) or between adjacent regions.  The RV trains stop in main stations along the lines while the R trains stop in every station along the local lines.  The tickets do not include seat assignments, and the trains may or may not be air-conditioned.

Regional train

Friday, Part II

Once we arrived at Tiburtina station, Mike sat with the luggage while I ran to the ticket machine to buy our tickets to Sulmona. Because Sulmona is neither a major nor a big city, we would have to take a regional (RV or R) to get there.  The next train left a little over an hour after we got to Rome, and it was scheduled to take over three hours to get there.  That little fact is interesting because the 190-mile trip from Bologna-to-Rome took just under two hours.  The 90-mile trip from Rome-to-Sulmona would take 33% longer.

We headed to the platform about 30 minutes before we were due to leave and found the train already there.  Since it was a regional train, it looked old, dirty, and tired.  I sighed because I knew we had a long ride ahead of us and I was afraid that we might not have air during the trip.   A week prior, we had been stuck on a regional train that didn't have air. L et me just say that it was not pleasant in the Italian heat and humidity.

As we walked down the platform, we saw that the windows on the first couple of cars were open. Not a good sign.  Mike headed for the first open door.

"It looks like the windows on the fourth car are closed," I said to Mike.  "Let's go down there and check for air."   We hauled the suitcases down the platform, up the train steps, and opened the door to the coach.  Sweet cool air.  We put our luggage on the seats next to us and sat down.  There were only a few others in the coach.  "Thank heaven," I sighed.  "I couldn't take three hours on this thing without air."

As we waited, more people came into the car.  We noticed that a few people climbed into the coach in front of ours, sat down, and quickly stood up and headed in search of cooler air.  As more and more riders found seats in our coach, the temperature rose.  A couple with a screaming toddler in tow headed down the  platform.

"No.  No." I frantically whispered to no one. "The other coach. Go in the other coach."   They hauled the stroller up the stairs, looked through the door to our coach, and turned to go in the coach in front of ours.  "Thank you, Jesus," I whispered as they got the stroller secured and sat down.

Barb, Jerry, Ed, & Kathy seated in the fast train.  Note the table.

I gave thanks a little too early.  After sitting no more than three minutes in the other coach, they headed to our coach.  "Crap," I said to Mike.  "How close are they sitting to us?"  He assured me that they'd chosen seats at the other end of the coach.  "How many more seats are there?" I was sure everyone in Rome was going to board our train, come into our coach, and suck out what little cool air was left.

"There are a lot of empty seats," Mike told me.  "It's time to leave, so we'll be okay."  He is so optimistic.

As the train pulled out of the station, a guy who'd been sitting in the coach in front of ours jumped up and transferred to our coach.  He looked at the seat next to me (DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, I mentally chanted.), the rest of the coach, and plopped down in a seat across the aisle.  The gal who was sitting there had parked her two pieces of luggage on the floor, so his sitting there forced her to move both pieces in front of her. She had no leg room, and his was less than it should have been.

In all honesty, she should have put her luggage on the rack above her head, so her lack of legroom was partially her fault. On the other hand, the dude had the choice of at least 20 other seats, so his lack of space was entirely his fault. 

As I said before, our 90-mile journey took over three hours because we had 13 stops before reaching Sulmona. Luckily, the screaming toddler quieted down not long after we took off, and no one else came into our coach.  I took out my iPod and my iPad and settled in.

The dude across the aisle started fidgeting.  He stretched his legs across the aisle.  He pulled them back. He shifted in his seat to look out of the window.  He shifted to look at me.  He straightened up and looked forward.  He turned in his seat and looked back at the rest of the car.  He stared at the ceiling. He stared at the lady sharing his space. He stared at Mike. He stared at me.

Head down so I could read my iPad, I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I stared back at him, and he shifted to look out of the window again.  For over an hour, he constantly moved. Stretch. Shift. Stare. Stretch. Shift. Stare.  I couldn't concentrate on my reading, so I gave up.

After a few people behind us got off at a stop in some little town, Shifty got up and sat in one of their now-empty seats behind Mike. At the next stop, the gal with whom he'd shared his first seat left.  He stood up and slid back into the seat he'd first occupied.  He stood up and slid into the seat facing his first seat.  He stared out of the window.  He grabbed his backpack and pulled a large cellophane bag out of it. He opened the bag and pulled a little packet of some food out of it.  He tore the packet open, sniffed it, and pulled out what looked like a lacy piece of dry, grey I-don't-know-what.  He crunched it down quickly.

Italo has only fast trains.

After a few minutes, he shifted in his seat, pulled another packet out of the bag, opened and sniffed it, and stuffed it into the trash container for his seat.  By this time, the train was at a standstill at a little station in the middle of nowhere, and for 20-30 minutes or so, we waited while something went on. Trenitalia personnel  never told us why we sat there for so long.  Since  there was little we could do, I tried to read.  Shifty, however, had food on his mind.  For the entire time we delayed wherever and for the last hour of our journey, he kept trying to find a comfortable position and food that wasn't spoiled.  Shift. Sniff. Stuff. Snack. Shift. Sniff. Snack. Stuff.  (Let me just say that whether the stuff smelled good or not—and there was no way I could tell—it looked horrible, and you couldn't have paid me to eat it.  Then again, he didn't offer any up, so all that was a moot point.)

I'll be the first to admit that this trip wasn't the worst we'd had.  By no means was it as bad as the earlier fast train with the armrest hog.  That said, it wasn't the most comfortable, either.  More than three hours in a slightly air-conditioned coach was not fun, but it was better than having to ride in a coach that had no air at all.  The worst thing for me was Shifty.  His constant fidgeting drove me crazy, and because there are some not-so-normal people in the world today, I just could not relax wondering what he was doing.

We arrived safely in Sulmona, as you've probably guessed, and spent a nice weekend with Novelia and Peppe.  Novelia has told me more than once that we should consider taking the Arpa Bus from Rome to Sulmona and vice versa because it is faster.  After the delays and such on this particular day, I decided that I'd look into taking it back to Rome on Tuesday.

I did, and we did, and that bus trip was, well, I'll tell you about *it* tomorrow.

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