Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Italy - Train Scramble, Pomodoro Love

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25 miles - Sunday, October 23

At first light I stumbled from the tent, pulled on flip flops, and headed across vacant campsites to investigate inside the mysterious door where the couples had disappeared the evening before. Andy surmised it was a gambling operation. However, when I discovered a long hallway with several motel-like doors ajar, I couldn't resist peeking inside a few rooms. Rumpled sheets covered each double bed. It was now clear that hanky panky filled these bungalows with occupants leaving before sunrise, often disturbing our sleep. I was mad. And because more automobiles arrived than rooms available, it was even more irritating that this nasty business was concluded so close to our tent. Disgusted, I got out of there; soon an attendant would come by, stuffing dirty sheets into a shopping cart.

This was our last straw with southern Italy. Andy and I packed up and left.

Photo credit: Art Fire
We headed north around Mount Vesuvius, hoping for less congested roads. Rack after rack of garments flooded roadsides, village after village. Fall clothing seem to hang out over us, proprietors yelling and selling like car dealers. Definitely the garment district. It's like window shopping without the window, I mused. I laughed, entranced with vendors selling women's undergarments. Bras are unpackaged, folded, and stacked with white points presented like mushrooms, filling sidewalks. As I spun my wheels, careful to pay attention, lest I crash quite embarrassingly into the clothing piles, I couldn't help but wonder, “so where, in all this cacophonous miscellany, do women try bras on?”
Early for our train ride at 23:28 (11:30 p.m.), we roll through older region of Naples, relaxed, and inhaled McDonald's Italian salads as the sun set over the Mediterranean. Afterward, inside the train station for 8 hours, we pass the time writing, reading, and strolling – one at a time. It gives us time to think. We aim to break with convention. Instead of the recommended bike transport on Monday morning, whereby we catch the evening train ride to catch up with our bikes – not an acceptable solution for us, which necessitates Naples accommodation and separating ourselves with bikes for nearly day – we decide to wing it and try carrying the bikes with us on this evening's scheduled train.

We plan to disguise bikes and panniers as regular luggage. By 22:45 we dismantle bikes, hiding frame and wheels in garbage bags. At the same time we befriend a conductor, asking permission to lug our bicycles with us. He understands our plight – even speaking some English – and by further breaking down the bikes: removing handle bars and pedals in a frantic rush – by now it's minutes before departure. Italian trains are punctual!

With two minutes to spare the employee relents and waves us onward. I scamper to an open car, lugging panniers in each hand, wearing my backpack, followed by Andy who hands me two frames and wheels then disappears to get the other gear. I stand inside the car sweating, waiting. And then, the door closes. The train rumbles and starts moving.

I wonder if Andy's made it onto the train.
I jumped off that car and sprinted 100 yards to retrieve the rest of our gear. Fortunately, at the conductor's urging, four kind Italians helped carry all the packs to the nearest open door – two cars away from Anne. All this time, I expect to be stranded on the platform. However, I leap onto the car; the door slammed shut and away the train rolled – late.” -Andy
I stand in a tight hallway with other passengers, surrounded by our mountain of stuff that prevents everyone from moving throughout the car. I'm nervous. I don't know what to do. Then I realize there's nothing I can do if Andy hasn't made it on board. I'll wait in Brindisi for him to arrive 24 hours later.

Gosh. I wish it was this easy to take a bike on a train in Southern Italy. Photo credit: Singletrack
Passengers start to move about, struggling past me. 15 minutes go by and hallelujah, here comes my bearded husband, grinning, arms full of panniers! Together, we find a nearby open compartment and begin shoving everything inside. Phew! We settle by 1 a.m. and take inventory: 2 bikes, 4 wheels, 8 panniers, 2 backpacks, 2 helmets, 2 seats. It's all there.

After a stressful evening with erratic sleep, the seven hour train ride drops us in Brindisi on the Adriatic Coast. It's the year-round port for ferries to Greece and Albania. We understand the Greek union that runs tourist/archeological sites is on strike, closing popular venues. We recall the one day bus strike in Rome. It happens. We are committed to taking the ferry to Greece.

This closely resembles fresca pomodore . Photo credit: Pizza Pomodoro
Arriving in Bridisi, we are tired and hungry. Within a block we spot a panificio or bakery. It's a non-descript entrance, reminding us of a wholesale business. Maybe they won't cater to walk-ins. But once inside – the aroma is heavenly – there's a display of fresca pomodore (fresh tomato), olive oil pizza. 14” square, thick crust. All for 5,000 Lire (USD 3.50). We polish off the entire pie outdoors in the alley. The pizza does not have cheese. It's the most basic pizza I've ever eaten and amazingly full of flavor. Andy and I look at each other. It's fate. We buy another pie. Bellies are full, but additional sustenance is needed for the overnight ferry ride. And who knows? It might be the last pizza we consume for a long, long time.

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