it was still hot in lucca so we decided, once again, to take a field trip to cooler climes. this time our adventure took us to cinque terre, five charming towns perched in the hills above the mediterranean, just a bit north and west of lucca. since there are no cars allowed in cinque terre we decided to take the train. “no problem” the man in the ticket booth told us. “first you take the 10:30 train to vireggio, change at viareggio for the 11:27 train to la spezia and change at la spezia for the 12:54 train to cinque terre, arriving, on the dot at 13:11”. for those of you who are not european or did not serve in the military, 13:11 is 1:11 p.m. if you are going to travel anywhere in europe, it is crucial to understand military time. fine, he said no problem and so we took ourselves to our favorite travel agents and they booked us one night in monterosso, the largest of the five towns.
bright and early thursday morning we took off for the seven minute walk to the train station. we got as far as the next piazza, in the already broiling sun, and realized, a: for a change we had overpacked and b: we were the only human beings left on the planet who did not have overnight bags on wheels. we were never going to make it to the train station on foot and so we hailed a taxi. two minutes and six euros later we were at the station. knowing where you are going and at what time is only half of the game of traveling on italian trains. you also have to know what track you are leaving from. usually, the tracks are posted on an overhead monitor, but we have learned from experience that those postings are subject to change. so, we waited on line to confirm the right track with the ticket seller. she confirmed it was track five. in order to get to track five, or any track other than track one in italian train stations, you must go under ground in what they call the “subway”, walk through a tunnel until you come to your track. not a problem, except that in order to get to the subway you must climb down a flight of fifty steps, trust me i counted, and then back up fifty steps when you arrive at your correct track. again, that would not be a problem, unless it was ninety degrees and you were each carrying an overpacked, overnight duffel. but hey, we’re tough and so we made it to track five, boarded the train and sat back and relaxed in what we discovered was an un air conditioned car. it was too much of a hassle to change seats, and the ride was under twenty minutes and so we opened the window and made due with a breeze.
when we arrived at viareggio, we found the right track, only to be told we had to wait forty minutes for the next train. of course, once again, we had to go down into the subway and up again to our correct track. at this point we had climbed a hundred steps and still hadn’t gotten any where. fortunately, the track had an overhang providing shade, it was quite breezy and we were already that much closer to the sea, so the wait was bearable. of course, mr. mayor struck up a conversation with every person within five feet of us, in each direction, so the time passed quickly.
we boarded the train for la spezia and relaxed. it was a forty minute ride and this time we lucked out with an air conditioned car. when we arrived at la spezia, it was a madhouse. there were hundreds of people, all trying to figure out what train to take and on what track. finally, we were told, by another tourist that the train to cinque terre was leaving in ten minutes on track six. off we went, lugging our bags, down a flight of stairs to track six and then up a flight to wait on the platform. as soon as we found a spot in the shade a woman, who apparently worked for the railroad, came up on the platform and announced that there was a change of track and we had five minutes to get to track three. by now, i am sure you’ve got the picture – down a flight, over, up a flight. by the time we got to monterosso we were exhausted but not done yet. we came out of the train station, one flight down one flight up, and one flight down again to street level, only to discover that our hotel was about a kilometer from the train station. one kilometer is about a little over a half a mile, a nice stroll along a beautiful seaside path, if we weren’t lugging our duffels. fortunately, i asked a garbage man for directions. he indicated that it was way to far to walk and he pulled out his flip phone and in two minutes a cab appeared.
since our hotel was in the old town, our cab could only drive us to within two blocks of our destination but that was good enough for us. we got to albergo amici only to be greeted with a staircase, but only twenty five steps. at that point, what’s twenty five steps? we check in and were told our room is on the third floor. of course they have an elevator but the elevator is the size of a small coffin. i take one look, hand my duffle to howard and proceed to walk up three flights of stairs. sixty-six steps.
there is the doorbell. our doorbell never rings. to be continued….