Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I met Marco some years ago in Lesson 1 of my "Italian for Beginners on CD."  We were destined to spend a lot of time together and although, eventually, we both went our separate ways, I learned a lot from Marco. For instance, in that first lesson, we took a train trip together and Marco taught me the word sciopero meaning strike - as in, the train workers are on strike. In Lesson 2, (with the strike over) Marco and I were on our way to Genova. We should have arrived at mezzogiorno, just in time for lunch, but a friendly fellow passenger informed us that questo treno è sempre in ritardo - this train is always late.  

Italian friends tell us that Trenitalia has gone decidedly  downhill from its high point in the 1970s when it was a leader in efficiency, technology and service. However, being from Michigan -  where train travel outside the main Detroit to Chicago line is nearly non-existent -  train service in Italy looks pretty good to me. Tickets can be purchased online on a well-organized web site. Trains are reasonably priced, on time more often than not and take you to every part of Italy. You can step out of a train beside the canals of Venice, the Renaissance walls of Lucca or just a stone's throw from the Ducal Gardens of Parma. (To read the Travel Oyster post on Parma, click here.) 

The scenery on the line between Pisa and Parma is beautiful. The first train runs up the coast to La Spezia, with the sea on one side and the marble-rich Apuane Mountains on the other. The train from La Spezia to Parma, just two cars long, is modern and comfortable. It goes up the Taro River valley with views of ancient towns and castles, gently rolling hills and the majestic Apennine Mountains.

Everything went like clockwork until the last leg of our journey at LaSpezia, where we were catching the InterCity train from Genoa to Rome, with a stop in Pisa Centrale.  

As I went to check the schedule board, I overheard someone say - like an echo of my early Italian lessons - "questo treno è sempre in ritardo."  And, sure enough, the board said the train would be late - first by five, then 10, then 20, then 30 minutes. We knew, however, that there was a ordinarily slower regional train that would get us back earlier than the delayed InterCity, especially since it stopped at Pisa San Rossore, a station closer to home. 

What happened next shows that even experienced travelers can make mistakes. In the dark, it was difficult to see all the station names, but we thought San Rossore was the stop after Viareggio. We should have checked more closely because the train makes an additional stop at Torre del Lago -- and that is where we, mistakenly, got off at 9:30 on a Sunday night. Luckily for us, there was one more train to Pisa. Unluckily for us, it wasn't until 11:14 p.m. 

Since we had almost two hours to wait, a nice bowl of pasta in a quaint trattoria sounded like a good idea. Torre del Lago is the home of the Puccini Festival in summer, but on a Sunday night in April, it was deserted. A tour of the downtown yielded only a take-out pizza joint with one wobbly plastic table. We sat down, clinked our plastic cups and ate a slightly-undercooked pizza.  

When we got back to the station, it was locked and dark. A railroad employee arrived, went into the station and managed to set off an alarm. He fiddled for a while to turn it off, gave up and left with the alarm still ringing. An automatic announcement told us that the train was approaching and that the arrival track had been changed from Track 1 to Track 2. (This is something, I must admit, that Trenitalia seems to do regularly and always at the last minute). A second announcement then reminded us that it was forbidden to walk across the tracks. We would have had to leave the station, walk down some steps, cross the street, walk up some steps and reenter the station. 

Obey the regulation or miss the train? I'm not sure what Marco would have done, but we picked up our bags, looked both ways and then ran across the tracks. Right on time at 11:14 p.m, the last train to Pisa pulled into the station. We got on and took it to the next stop: Pisa San Rossore.

To see more photos, click here.


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. I had to laugh at your Marco comments. Before I went to Italy, I made everyone who came into my car crazy-- at that time, I was playing Italian language CD's on my commutes, and I made everyone speak in Italian if they entered the car.

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  3. i tuoi articoli sono una iniezione di ottimismo, sia nel testo che nelle foto; fanno vedere l'Italia con occhi molto diversi dai miei.

  4. Nice one. thanks.

  5. Loved the story of the late train to Pisa, especially the final dash across the tracks.

    Some years ago, I naively thought we could just show up at the station in Milan, purchase tickets, and climb aboard a train to Rome--on a Friday evening at rush hour. Of course, no seats were available. We hung around the Milan station for hours, eventually catching the "milk train" that left about 11 p.m. and finally arrived in the Eternal City about 7 a.m. Since we'd already paid for the previous night's lodging, at least we were able simply to check in and fall into bed.

  6. As always, your posting put a smile on my face. Vicarious traveling is pretty great!

  7. We love Italian trains! Sure, some of the time they are in ritardo, but for the most part they get you where you want to go on reasonable time. And, yes, you do have to check and double check the "binario," but...
    We met the nicest people on the trains: people share their cibo and invite you to visit.
    Enjoyed your adventures.


Thanks for your comments.