Friday, June 17th
Friday morning, I checked out of my hotel and took the bus at Piazza Italia to the Perugia train station. I had about 30 minutes before my train departed. While waiting, I purchased my next train ticket to Sirmione for the following Monday at one of the automatic ticket machines.
The last time I was in Italy, there were automatic ticket booths in a few of the train stations. They now seem to be available in most train stations. These automatic ticket booths make it much easier for people that do not speak Italian to purchase train tickets and they also provide information about all of the trains that are available on the day you wish to travel. You first choose your language and then choose the departure city, arrival city, time, etc. all with a touch screen. You can pay by cash or credit card.
After purchasing my ticket and making my seat reservation, I walked down the flight of stairs to go under the sottopassaggio to get to my binario to wait for the train. I found a bench with room to sit while I waited and was very fortunate to sit next to a woman that teaches Italian to foreigners. She was very kind and we ended up sitting together for the ride to Firenze (Florence) where I needed to change trains. I was so glad that I was sitting in roomy first class as the second class cars were packed. The two hours passed quickly. The woman gave me her business card so I could contact her about studying Italian in Perugia. *[I wonder where I put that card?]*
The Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence is quite large. You do not have to go up and down stairs to get to another binario (track) when changing trains, which is quite nice. Here are a couple of different types of trains parked and ready to go!
When I arrived in Firenze, I heard an announcement that the next train leaving for Empoli would be 15 minutes in ritardo. This was not the train I planned to take. so I was not concerned.
I headed for the train that was to leave 5 minutes after this “late” train was originally supposed to leave. After stopping to purchase a panino for lunch, I walked to binario 3 to board the train. I was not very happy when I saw that my train was an older train with only a few cars and that it was already very full.
Because I had my luggage (backpack and roll on), I decided to stand in the portion of the train that is between two cars since it was only a 30 minute ride to Empoli. Although there were still a few seats, it seemed to be more of a hassle to put my luggage on the rack above the seat rather than just standing for the 30 minute ride. A couple of minutes later, a large number of people started to board the train. My guess is that they were planning to take the train that was now running late and so the train I was on ended up being very crowded with no empty seats and people standing in the aisles.
The section between the two cars on this train was bigger than most. I soon found out that it would also be very hot in this section once the doors were shut since there were no windows and the doors in the two adjoining cars were both shut.
Four other people stood with me as the train departed. The train was supposed to be air conditioned but the air condition was not working. One woman proceeded to change out of her top/pants and into a sundress in front of everyone.
The bathroom which was located in the section between cars was locked and I guessed was not working. Every five minutes or so someone would come out of one of the train cars to use the bathroom and we would try to tell them that the bathroom was locked and did not work. One lady was quite upset and started to argue with me and another woman about the fact that the bathroom did work. She tried for a minute or so to open the door and then finally left in a huff.
About 20 minutes into our journey, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. The heat started to become unbearable! When I woke up this morning, I was so happy that it would finally be a warm day, but the heat on this train was not at all what I was wishing for. It felt like I was in an oven!
At one point I wanted to try to pry the doors open and walk the rest of the way. I figured how far could the walk be if we were 10 minutes away from the Empoli train station. I also started thinking about how it must feel for people that are smuggled into train cars when crossing the border.
An older man that was standing in the aisle in one of the cars opened the door after we were stopped for about 10 minutes and a very small breeze blew into the area where I was standing.
The train finally started up again but stopped two more times – after over 30 minutes of being stopped in the middle of nowhere we finally started to travel again towards Empoli.
I don’t think I was ever as happy to arrive at a train station as I was when we finally arrived in Empoli and the doors were opened.
Here in Empoli, I will be staying with my dear friends, Irene, Francesco, and their new little girl, Sara, who just turned one. It was wonderful to see Irene at the station when I got off the train!
We drove to Irene’s house where Sara was with her nonna (grandmother). I was excited to finally meet Sara. She was just starting to learn to walk, had a vocabulary of about 10 words, had big eyes and the cutest cheeks, and was a very happy little girl with a huge smile! It was fun hearing her speak Italian and it was interesting hearing which words she spoke as a one year old.
We talked for a while and then I went next door (where I would be sleeping at Francesco’s parents’ house) to unpack my things. I discovered that all the clothes that I had hung in the closet in the hotel in Perugia smelled like smoke. I asked if I could hang my clothes out on the line to air them out. This did the trick as later when I took them down, they all smelled like fresh air instead of smoke!
Irene prepared a wonderful dinner as we chatted and I played with Sara while waiting for Francesco to come home from work. It was great seeing Francesco when he arrived home!
Two other couples, Gianni & Stefania and David & Sabrina along with their son Matteo came over for dinner. The food was fantastic! Irene prepared ravioli, both burro and salvia (butter and sage) and with a white walnut sauce. She also prepared two big trays of antipasti (prosciutto, cheese, other meats), bruschetta, focaccia bread, and a salad. We had two types of gelato for dessert.
After dinner, we sat around and talked for a couple of hours. Sometimes, I understood very little, and other times, I could understand enough of the conversation. I find that if I know the topic being discussed, I can usually understand much more.
I was so happy to be spending time with my friends in Empoli again!