Sunday, 9 October 2011

Italy 2011, Not One Of The World’s Great Great Train Journeys

In the morning there was further evidence for why this hotel was so cheap – the breakfast was truly dreadful, probably the worst hotel breakfast that I have ever had with no buffet to speak of, no fresh bread just some dry toast biscuits and no butter to make it remotely edible and some pre-packaged croissants. On the positive side there was plenty of hot water so we could drink as many cups of tea that we wanted.

When we had finished we made final personal preparations for the planned trip to Rome and we set out for the train station. It was very warm already and even after a short walk we were rather hot and bothered so sat in the shade waiting for our transport to arrive.

What a shock that was as a Trenitalia train, at least forty years old and liberally covered in graffiti, creaked into the station and pulled up at the platform. The hiss of the doors opening could well have been mistaken for a sigh of relief at the end of a heavy chore. Inside the carriage it was clean but uncomfortable with utilitarian plastic seats that made your bum sweat and a worn out air conditioning system that rattled and groaned with old age.

It was punctual however and the train left Albano precisely on time on a journey that was scheduled for fifty minutes which seemed unlikely to me as it travelled ponderously along the single track making regular stops at towns along the way. An examination of the map revealed that the track didn’t go the most direct route towards Rome but first of all followed the shoreline of the lake and then made an extravagant loop as it passed through more towns on the way. The reason it had to go slowly was because the track looked to me to be some way past its sell by date with decaying wooden sleepers and old fashioned rails which made a reminiscent and satisfying tch tch, tch tch, tch tch, tch tch noise in the way that I remember that trains used to in England before all of the track improvements were made.

After half an hour the train pulled into Ciampino and I estimated that in distance we were about half way there and surely behind the clock but here the line joined the modern high speed track and out of the station the train gathered speed and the tch tch, tch tch was replaced by a whoooosh as it speeded up on the modern streamlined steel track that now followed the same route as a two thousand year old Roman aqueduct that told us that we were getting close to the city.

It was about now that I realised that although we had bought the train tickets I had forgotten to stamp them in the machine that validates them for travel and with hefty fines for travelling without a date stamped ticket I fretted about this all the way into Roma Termini where despite my doubts we arrived dead on time. No one checked the tickets so we had made a saving there because we would now be able to use them again tomorrow.

Roma Termini was heaving with people and activity and mindful of the advice to be on the lookout for thieves and pickpockets we clutched our bags and wallets tightly and made our way through the concourse and into the busy streets where people tried to sell us bus tour tickets and others offered us taxis but we didn’t need either because it was our plan to walk to the main attractions and unlike the day before this time I had a map and a plan.

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