Chaotic Italy and the Kindness of Strangers

On one of his travel shows Rick Steves warns travelers of the chaos that can occur in Italy.  We experienced this on a few occasions, but we found the Italians to be most helpful.  It is as though the locals recognize the chaos and pitch in when necessary to help one another – or tourists – out.

We took a Flixbus from Milan to La Spezia, on our way to Cinque Terre, not knowing we would be dropped off in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday afternoon, with no taxis in sight and no sign of public transportation.   We had assumed we would be near the train station where we needed to catch our train…bad assumption.

We walked several blocks hoping it was toward the centre of town, with temperatures in the high thirties.   We asked a couple of people for directions.  Although trying to be helpful, they had limited or no English.  The best we could get was “your feet will not get you there.”

OK, a clue.  Garry and I headed to the first bus stop we could find, where I asked a woman waiting if this bus would get us to the train station.  She motioned she was going there too.  I must have looked weary, because she grabbed my bag from me and hoisted it onto the bus when it arrived.  After several minutes, she hurriedly signaled us to get off.  She grabbed my bag once more and quickly ushered us onto another bus.  We arrived at a nondescript, unmarked back entrance to the train station.  We entered, and she waved and smiled and headed off to her own destination.  Phew – how lucky travelers are to encounter people who help without reservation.

Second instance.  In the Rome train station, after experiencing a high level of confusion about where to purchase tickets to the airport at six in the morning, we were finally safely tucked onto our train clearly labelled ‘aeroporto’.

Then came the dreaded announcement saying our train was first class only and anyone without a first class ticket should immediately exit the train.  It had no noticeable markings that read, first class.  We got off as did about half of the passengers.  We believe the other half simply stayed on board as we should have.  We thought it was just a move to another train parked behind us.  Nope, turned out we had to wait thirty minutes for the next train.  By then we were highly stressed and in danger of missing out flight to Bari.  So we had some exercise running through the Rome airport.  Just made it…whew!

The third instance involved another near missed train.  In Bari we boarded the train to Matera.  Listed on the car’s information board was our destination – Matera.  However well into our journey Matera disappeared as a destination.  Hmm, we spoke to a young girl who had next to no English.  She conveyed to us that this was the last stop.  We jumped off the train and asked a train employee how to get to Matera.  He pointed to the same train which was now splitting.  He and a couple of other people started signalling and shouting to board the other car.  Within seconds of boarding, the doors closed and we were on our way.  So some cars went to Matera – but others terminated at this station.  Who knew?

 

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