I had been looking forward for several months to my trip to Italy. This was the first time in years that I would be away from home for more than a few days. In the last years, my only trips abroad were to judge, and then they involved one day travelling each way and two days judging in the middle. I do enjoy these judging trips as it is always fascinating to see dogs in other countries, but they are certainly not a vacation. But with this trip to Italy, I would have two weekends of “work” – giving seminars – and the whole week between would be a vacation! Wow!
I even had a flight at a normal hour – in the middle of the day, meaning I would not have to be at the airport in the middle of the night, and I would also arrive at a reasonable hour. I was flying on EasyJet, my first experience with this airline. The problem was their restriction to one piece of cabin baggage of a certain size. Since I had to have my laptop and projector for the seminars, I would have to take a regular suitcase, not just a carry-on. But since I would be away for almost two weeks, it was nice to have plenty of space for clothes, and to add several books that I was bringing.
I got to the airport and checked in. My suitcase was 22 kilo, to my surprise. It was the addition of the books, as it was far from full. And even though it had wheels, it was still heavy! And I had my backpack with the laptop and a few other essentials. And a supply of sandwiches – one of the characteristics of the economy flight is that food is not provided – either you buy it en route for a hefty price, or you carry your own. I carried.
EasyJet was very efficient, and the flight was surprisingly comfortable, with excellent cabin crew. We landed on time, I collected by suitcase without problems. My good friend Isabella who would be hosting me had given me precise instructions - first to take the airport shuttle bus from Terminal 2, where I had landed, to Terminal 1, and from there to take the train to Milano Centrale. From there I could take another train to meet my hostess. It seemed easy enough.
I exited the terminal, looking for the shuttle. There were many buses lined up there, to many destinations, included buses to Milano Centrale. But being quite an obedient type, since I was told to take, the shuttle bus, that is what I would do.
After walking back and forth in the bus parking area, finally I was directed to the shuttle to Terminal 1. The other buses that I had seen were normal buses, with a compartment underneath to put luggage. The shuttle bus – which one would assume was intended for people travelling – had no luggage compartment at all. I had to drag my suitcase up the steep stairs into the bus, which was small and crowded, and try to find a place where it would not block the other people getting on or off, a pretty impossible task.
At least it was a short drive to Terminal 1. I dragged my suitcase off the bus, found the train station, got my ticket. It was possible to buy only the ticket to Milano Centrale, the next ticket I could only buy when I got there. The train was not at all crowded, there was a place for the suitcase, and very few stations. In an hour I had arrived at Milano Centrale.
Milano Centrale still appears to me in my nightmares.
Milano Centrale is a huge station. There are very many tracks, and the Malpensa Express from the airport arrives on a track at the very far end of the station. So now, dragging my suitcase, I had to proceed from the arrival point into the station to find the place to buy my ticket to my next destination. There are kilometers of very modern shops, spread out on several floors accessible with ramps and stairs, (I was told afterwards that there are elevators, but I never saw one), and I think that I traversed all of them looking for the ticket sales. Asking people was not a great help, as most, though very polite, did not know English and I didn’t know the Italian word for tickets. The police officer stationed there waved me vaguely in the direction of the opposite end of the station, of course down many more stairs and ramps. I was getting very tired…
Finally, I did find the ticket area. There were a number of desks with clerks sitting at them, a number of empty desks, and a lot of people that seemed to be just casually standing around. I looked around to see who I had to approach, and was directed to a machine from which it was necessary to take a number. I got the number 389, and then I was pointed to an electronic sign board which indicated which numbers could step up to the desks. The next number being called was 165!!!! Could it be possible that there were more than two hundred people ahead of me???? Yes, indeed it was!
I stood there in despair. Obviously, my distress showed, and a man who was waiting for his turn asked me – in English! – “Why don’t you get a ticket from the automatic machine?” Well, several reasons – one, I don’t really trust these machines, two, I wasn’t sure how to work them, and three, the instructions were all in Italian….”OK, I help you,” he offered.
We went over to the machine, and he asked me where I was going. My brain at this point was in neutral from exhaustion and being bombarded by Italian all around me. I tried to concentrate and remember where I was going….started with a “P”…yes, Pisa!
My helper punched in the details, put in my payment, and I was rather surprised at how much it cost – this was a lot more than what Isabella had told me. But there was no time to think, the train was leaving in ten minutes and the track was, of course, two flights of stairs up and at the other end of the station. Seeing that I was starting to panic, my helper grabbed my suitcase and started running to the train, with me stumbling along behind him trying to keep up. We got to the train with about two minutes to spare, I reached for my suitcase, and my Samaritan announced, “Now you need to give me something for helping you…”
Well, no time to argue…I pulled out 10 Euro, grabbed my suitcase, and dragged it on to the train.
As I looked around trying to find a seat and place to put my suitcase, I had the feeling that I had gone 100 years back in time. The train looked like something from an old spy movie. The whole car was made up of separate glassed in compartments, each compartment with a door, and six seats inside. There were narrow racks above the seats for possessions. I walked down the aisle looking for a free seat, and fortunately asked another passenger, who explained to me that my ticket had the car number, the compartment number, and the seat number on it. Of course, the car I was in was the wrong one, so dragging my suitcase I wandered through the train looking for the right number. Finally, I found it, got my seat, with my suitcase pressed against my legs – there was very little space between the seats in the compartment, which were in two rows facing each other. The train began to move, and I started to relax.
Milano has a number of stations, and the train stopped at them all, and then it seemed we were out of the city area. I had no idea how many stops there would be or how long it would take to get to Pisa, so I decided that it would be good to ask another traveler for some information. There was a well dressed businessman sitting opposite me, and I asked him if he knew what time we would get to Pisa. About three and a half hours, he answered, the train would go through Genoa first….
My brain was starting to work again, and I began to feel a bit worried. This definitely did not sound right! The cost of the ticket was much more than Isabella had said, and the time was much longer – Isabella had told me that it was about an hour from Milano…I dug into my backpack, where everything including my laptop was stuffed in, as on EasyJet we were allowed only one hand bag, and found the piece of paper with Isabella’s instructions. And there was the destination I should be going to – Parma! Well, yes, with a “P”, and famous – Pisa for the tower and Parma for the cheese…
Now serious panic set in! What should I do???? Thank goodness for cell phones! I called Isabella and tried to explain to her that I was on a train to Pisa…
After the first shock, we figured out where I was – by opening my GPS app on the cell phone. The plan – I had to get off at the next station, go back to Milano, and then take the train to Parma.
The next station was tiny and deserted. Of course, I had to drag the suitcase down the stairs, buy a new ticket back to Milano and then to Parma, drag the suitcase up the stairs to the opposite platform, and wait for the next train. I have become an expert on stairs in Italian train stations – very long and steep. When I got back to Milano (not to Milano Centrale, thank goodness, but to the station before), it was already about 20:30, there were few trains, very few people around, and even the toilets were locked for the night. I had to wait about an hour for the train – of course, I had to change platforms and go down and up the stairs again…(I know, everyone tells me there is an elevator…)
I have to say that people throughout were very nice, polite and kind, tried to answer my questions, and there was even a woman who helped me with my suitcase on the stairs. (Please note – suitcases have wheels these days, yes, but the wheels are no good on the stairs of a train station).
But I was really, really happy to get off the train in Parma and see Isabella waiting for me there with Olga the bracco, who was bored by the whole thing…