Saturday, September 11, 2010

The last train to Lucca

As you will recall, in my last post I told you that trains were the best way to see Italy.  I stand by my position, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that there are a few little issues you should be aware of when traveling in Italy by train.  First of all, the trains are occasionally late.  OK, I said full disclosure, so let's be honest here, how about often late...even...usually late.  Normally that's not a problem,  except, and this brings us to little issue number 2, when your connection is due to leave 10 minutes after your original train is due to arrive.  It is virtually guaranteed that if you have 10 minutes between train #1 and train #2, train #2 will be long gone by the time you get to your connection point.  Unlike #1 trains, #2 trains are always on time.

This brings us to our next little issue.  The next train leaving for your destination leaves in either 1 1/2 hours or 1 1/2 minutes.  Do not, I repeat, do not allow the guy at the ticket counter to change your ticket to the one that leaves in 90 seconds.  I don't care if you are a world class sprinter, you cannot catch that train.   These trains wait for no man and you will reach the train just as the door closes.  I don't know if it's a rule, or a law of physics or something, but take my word for it,  I have a lot of experience with this phenomenon!  

My train station - Stazione Brignole

Another similar phenomenon is one that only occurs in the larger train stations like mine in Genova. That is the last minute change of platform.  When train #1 is really late, 30 seconds before your train pulls into the station, there will be an announcement that it is arriving at a different binario, or platform, than the one you're standing on.  If you're lucky, this announcement will be made in a language you understand, but oftentimes, it's only in Italian.  Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the rest of the travelers on your platform.  If they suddenly start running for the stairs, do not assume that there's been a bomb threat.  Grab your stuff and follow the crowd.  Not that you're going to catch this train, because it will invariably be 6 platforms over and require running down one flight of stairs, through the tunnel, running up another flight of stairs and leaping over luggage, dogs and other travelers in the process,  but you can't claim to be a competent traveler if you don't at least try.

My other train stations Stazione Principe 

Without going into the gory details of our particular train trip, yesterday Ollie and I went to Lucca to meet my long-suffering friend Alyson and her daughter Antonia.  I say long-suffering because Alyson has been on the receiving end of my erratic travel schedule on more than one occasion.  Knowing full well that the odds of our getting to Lucca at the planned rendevous time of 10:30 were remote at best, she still embarked from Florence on her mission of mercy,  namely... bringing me some chorizo from Spain.  Fortunately, she likes Lucca, so when I textted her that our train was making funny noises and moving v...e...r..y slow, she was able to happily occupy herself until we got to our meeting place at 12:45.

My favorite train, the Eurostar
Something new to entertain the travelers.  That's a bed of nails at his feet.

As an aside, and because we spent most of our time in Lucca enjoying a great Lucchese lunch and visiting with Alyson and Antonia, and thus only took a couple of pictures, I want to tell you about another hazard of Italian train travel.  That is train station bathrooms.  There are two kinds of bathrooms.  Regular ones like you'd see in any city in the US or Europe, and self-cleaning ones.  The train station in Viareggio, where we languished for an hour and a half after missing our connection, has the latter.  The self-cleaning ones require that you insert a 50 centesimi coin into the slot allowing you to enter into a fully automated toilet.  It's self flushing, dispenses only 10 sheets of toilet paper, 10 seconds worth of water 2 times, an appropriate amount of soap, and a quick blow dry.  When you're done, push a button and the door opens.  But here's the scary part.  After you escape from this stainless steel box, it washes itself.  If you're standing outside, you can hear the thunderous roar of water jets hosing the place down.  Makes you wonder what people have been doing in there. 

Do as I say, not as I do.  Validate your train ticket, cause you'll be €40+ euros poorer if you don't

The trick of these toilets,  is that you have to use the aforementioned items.  I happen to be married to the only guy I know, over the age of 17, who will spend 50 centesimi to comb his hair.  As I'm standing outside, waiting for Ollie to come out, I hear a loud pounding coming from the bathroom.  Ollie, is that you?  The door won't open!  Did you push the button?  Of course I pushed the button!!!  Well push it again!  Not that button, you just set the alarm off...I scream over the squeal of sirens.  Did you flush the toilet? I didn't use the toilet!  Well flush it anyway!!  Between the sirens and the flashing strobe light over my head, I'm beginning to get a headache, but finally the door opens.  There he stands, brush in hand, but with beautifully combed hair, looking only a little distraught.  I probably shouldn't have told him my fear of being involuntarily washed down in one of these things. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, no one ever showed up to help.   This causes me to wonder how long he might have been stuck in there had we not figured out the magic sequence to make the door open.  It's one thing to miss your train because your connection was late, another thing all together to miss it because you were locked in the auto-toilet.

Porta San Pietro, one of the entrances into the centro storico

What little we saw in the short time we spent in Lucca has caused us to plan a trip back in the next few weeks, but for a couple of days rather than a couple of hours.  I will, however,  post a few pictures to whet your appetite for a post all about this beautiful and elegant city.

The centro storico is completely encircled by these walls.
Piazza Cittadella with a statue of Puccini near his home.
One of Lucca's attractive streets.
Lucca is a city of bicycles.  Sometimes this is good, sometimes not depending on the skill of the driver.  At least with a motor scooter you can hear it coming.


  1. Hmmmm you're not helping my train station phobia Mary!!! ;-D

  2. Indiebird, they can't kill you and they can't eat you. What's the worst thing that's going to happen? You'll just enjoy a nice restful espresso in the station bar and catch the next train. Easy!

  3. I'm willing to bet that Ollie has a completely different perspective on your train adventures, Mom. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who was traumatized by the auto-toilets...though I'm proud to have never gotten stuck in one.

  4. I think I've unfairly ignored Ollie's take on our experiences, so I think I'm going to interview him for my next post.

  5. Just like to add that after you've trapsed all round the station looking for a machine that works, when you've validated your ticket, check to see if there was enough ink to make it readable. Otherwise, it's a fine! No amount of, 'but I validated it/not my fault there was no ink/no other machine was working' etc will not get you off the hook:-(((( Also, when you buy a ticket, it is not the sellers job to tell you that the train isn't running. He'll sell it to you and then you'll have to queue up again to get a refund! But Mary's right. It's a great way to get around.

  6. I called by this evening to see if you had a blog badge to add to my new collection and was amazed to see you have been busy posting and I have missed them all as my google reader has declined to update me!! It seems like I have missed quite a lot you might be even moving. Still I am here now and will try and find another way of keeping in touch with your post updates :)

  7. Hi LindyLou, I changed my feed so maybe that affected your Google Reader. I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time, but I'm really happy to see you back.

  8. I am happy to be back feed still not working, do you put a link on FB when you have a new post?

  9. Dear Mary,
    its me again, i don't know if you got my previous message, but at the very least could you make it visible to be seen? I need the credit in my class, and its due tomorrow!