Under the Tuscan Rain
Trip Start Jan 12, 2010
14Trip End May 20, 2010
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So, Friday we don't have classes. Saturday we had planned to go to Venice, so I wanted to take a day trip on Friday. I talked my room mates into it, and was trying to plan it, and then we decided to just show up at the train station Friday morning and hop on a train to wherever we decided to go. (Keep in mind, this is totally feasible in Italy, the trains are great.)
So we got to the train station Friday morning. (Early, folks, as we normally get up at 11 a.m. at the earliest. We were READY.)
I knew I wanted to go somewhere in Tuscany, and so someone said Siena. Okay, Siena, let's go. Oh wait, the train for Siena leaves in two hours. We don't have that much time, we'll go somewhere else.
So I mentioned Cortona, which is, naturally, where one of my favorite movies is set. (Under the Tuscan Sun) Sounds good, okay, let's go to Cortona.
So we try to figure out how to get a ticket to there. I volunteered to stick some money in the auto-ticket machine (as compared to buying one from the mean lady at the desk) and get a ticket to Cortona, roughly two hours by train. So I got a ticket, but none of the trains on the platform appeared to be going there. Kind of a bummer, as a ticket doesn't do much good unless a train is actually going to your destination. So, went back to the mean ticket lady and asked her (kind of, in a mix of Italian and English combined with her huffing and my not being able to understand her through the glass) when the train for Cortona left. She rolled her eyes, muttered some things I'm glad I couldn't understand and then wrote the times on the back of my ticket. Also, from this conversation I gathered that we had to take a train from the dinky station where we were to another, bigger, one. With this confirmation that a train was actually going to Cortona, my rommates also bought tickets.
We ran back to the platform and looked around for the right train. Still didn't know what the heck was going on. So my brave room mate Cara hopped on a stopped train and sort of asked, in Italian, where those lovely people were going. Well they just looked at the two of us like we were Avatars or something. Then, an angel from heaven dressed as an attractive Italian man started speaking English and asked where we wanted to go. HALLELUJAH SOMEONE WAS BEING NICE. He said he wasn't sure but pointed to the guy to ask. Cara and I sprint the length of the train and ask someone who may actually work for the railroad where to go and finally, he says, we should go to (this is not important and is for my own memory in the future) Ostensia station and the Termini station. Then we can leave Rome-Termini station and go to Cortona. WTF?! Whatever, at least we sort of know where to go now.
*Now I need to insert the information that there were five of us--Sydney, Steph, Korissa, Cara and Kelly. I was the instigator who wanted to do this thing in the first place, so I felt responsible, which, I mean, I guess I was. So me not knowing what to do was BAD. It wasn't hard to pick a place to go or find out what time the train left. It was hard to figure out how the heck to navigate the Roman/Italian train system. As we are running around these platforms, up and down stairs, I am hyperventilating a little bit and trying not to freak out and cry. I was having visions of myself crying in a bathroom alone for the rest of the day while my room mates plotted my death. I thought I would end up paying them back for their train tickets and being scared of them for the rest of these four months. This may sound dramatic, actually it sounds dramatic to me now as I type this, but I'm telling you, I was terrified.
Now, we board train #1 and head to Ostensia. I'm starting to breathe easier. At least we were on a moving train. As soon as I have caught my breath, the ticket man comes around and starts checking. He got to Steph, Korissa and Kelly first. When they showed him their ticket he went off, and I mean OFF, in Italian and was waving his hands all over and being scary. Of course no one knows what he's saying. So he switches to broken English. All I can think is "It's all my fault, we're going to get thrown off a moving train, Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God." Apparently we needed to validate our tickets. WHO KNEW?!? It was a miracle we were on a train. So then he moved on to me and Cara. (My roomies had big blue tickets from the evil lady at the counter. Mine was skinny and white from the auto-machine.) He clicks Cara's and then I hand him mine. Oh boy, his eyes bugged out of his head and he went off again. I didn't know what to do and it was a humiliating scene. He finally settled down and gave me the validating-your-ticket speech. (Again, not as much of a speech as an emotional arm flinging and English-Italian scream fest.) I just kept saying "Okay, okay, thank you, thank you." Finally he left and we got to the first station.
We get off at Ostensia and validate our tickets immediately. Then we found our train to the main station in Rome, from which we could actually get to Cortona. Turns out, the scary validate man was going with us, as as such I showed him my validated ticket while we all stood together, the six of us, waiting for the next train. He rolled his eyes and muttered something, then tried to be our friend and explain the situation. Language barrier, but at least he is no longer going to kick us off a moving machine.
We got on a train to the main Rome station and got there, finally, and found a lovely lady who spoke English and informed us that the next train for Cortona left in an hour and a half and told us where to board. Lovely woman. I am so grateful, since being here, for patient people who speak English and don't dislike American tourists. With time to kill, we went to McDonald's for a bite. Turns out Italians pay for their ketchup, who knew? It was a SWANK Mickey D's though. It looked like a fancy restaurant. Cool.
Finally, we got on a train to Cortona after another trip to customer service, where, thank heaven, the same kind woman was working. The train was cool. Harry Potter/Hogwart's Express style. We got our own booth thingy.
Upon arrival in Cortona the rain commenced. Being in Tuscany makes rain bearable. Just open the umbrella. In the US I avoid getting wet at all costs. I'm so much cooler in Italy.
Anyway, Cortona is a hill town. It literally sits on top of a hill. (Diane Lane DOES NOT mention this in the movie, by the way.) The train dropped us off at the bottom of this mini-mountain and we started to hike up. It was so gorgeous and when you looked back down you could see miles of country around you. Honestly, maybe the most romantic place on earth. I can't describe how pretty.
Halfway up the path we realized it was actually a really long driveway and wouldn't take us into town. Oh crap, oh well it's been pretty. We'll just walk down and find another path up. Sounds good. So we went back to the civilization at the bottom of the hill and started up again on an actual paved road. It was raining pretty hard, though not pouring, and we were wet, but still excited to get to the top and actually be in Cortona. Granted, it was starting to get a little dark, but, I mean, they have electricity at the top, so no big deal.
We kept going, and on the way, in the rain, my really cheap umbrella which was already in two pieces, inverted and cracked. I left it in a fence and went ahead with a hat instead. Wet wet wet wet wet. And chilly. Still happy, though, because it is of course, awesome. Almost to what may be considered the top, Steph realized we are actually not on a sidewalk, the cars are whizzing by, and the road starts to curve back and forth along the side of the hill the way it does in mountains that are to steep to drive straight up.
Well, now we needed to make a decision. It was freezing. We were wet and the road was dangerous and dark and there was a good chance that if we did keep going we wouldn't make it back down in time, or alive, for the train back to Rome. This unserstood, the five of us turned around and hoofed it back to the bottom.
My train of thought was something like "This is a little miserable, but I won't verbalize that because I got us into this mess. I would like some food, please, and a nap."
So then we walked through the town at the bottom of the hill (not Cortona, not that pretty) and looked for a resaurant. Nothing was open, so we got pizza at what seemed to be the Friday night hang out for high schoolers. It's intimidating being around sixteen year olds who are staring at you and saying who-knows-what about the rain soaked americans. They had this pizza, though, made of Nutella. I will just say, the trip may have been worth it just because of the Nutella pizza.
After food, we walked around a little (found a Ford dealership, hah.) and decided to take an earlier train back to Rome because we had to be up early to leave for Venice Saturday morning.
In the end, we didn't actually get to Cortona. We got halfway up to it. We got wet and we got pizza. We did, however, learn how to navigate Italy's trains and how to get to the main train station from our neighborhood. It was a learning experience for sure. However, I no longer have the trust of anyone I live with, as far as planning things goes. And I am still a little afraid they're mad at me. Probably, I would be mad at me too, but being me and not them, I keep thinking, I really didn't know and how was I supposed to know?? Rick Steve's guidebook didn't say how to use the train system.
What I did realize, however, is that in a section of the guidebook not related to Cortona, but in the introduction to hill towns in general, it says that usually one must take a bus after getting off a train, as hill towns are actually on top of hills. This would have been useful information about six hours earlier. Ugh. Sydney, nice try. I'm filing this one in the "you live, you learn" category. I think that's it for now. Pics if I can figure out how to upload them.
PS: Just wait for the Venice entry. Oh boy, Cortona was nothing compared to Venice.