Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Train To Italy

To set the scene, I am sitting in the deserted upstairs lounge of the Paris Bercy train station. By this time, I had been waiting for around 2 hours. I got up and went in search of a bathroom, and, in doing so found the first class lounge. I went in and asked, and the nice man said there was one in there.

I was allowed to sit in the nearly empty lounge with nice chairs for about an hour an a half. It started to get busy then, and I headed out and downstairs to the platform.It was about half an hour or so before the train departed, and people were finding their way to their coaches. Mine turned out to be the last one of the train, just a few meters down the platform.I got in, and saw that it was the stereotypical train car. It had a narrow passage down one side, and there were compartments coming off of it with fold out beds.

I found mine, and stowed my bag. Other people started coming in, and by the time the train left, all 6 beds were full. None of them spoke english, so I did not talk much with any of them.

At the strike of 20:33, the train started pulling out of the station, perfectly on time. I stood in the back of the car, where the door to the next car would be, and looked out at the receding station. I like things like that so it was really cool.

Standing there for the next 30 mins or so as we left Paris, I watched other trains slide past us in both directions, and all sorts of cool things you don`t see looking out the side of a car.

Settling down into my seat, I read for a little while, then headed forward to the dining car where I purchased a sandwich. It was the first Italian I had to speak as the train was a TrenItalia service.

A few hours later, we converted the compartment to sleeping mode, all 6 beds folded down, and the seats non existent. with the lights turned out, I slept for a while, waking up whenever we stopped in the stations along the route.

At around 5 in the morning, I decided I was not going to fall asleep again, and I got up to watch the world go by. We soon pulled into Milano, a huge station with many trains going in and out even in the early hours of the morning.

To my surprise, when we started moving again, it was in the opposite direction. Milano is a terminus station, so we had to go back the other way for a bit to get onto the track we wanted, but it was sure a shock until I figured it out. We were now the first car in the train, a locomotive having attached itself to our car.

I watched the black morning sliding by, slowly getting brighter and brighter. Eventually, as we were approaching Verona, the sun came up.

The train by this time was about half an hour late, and we pulled in to Verona Porta Nouva at 7:55 instead of 7:25.

The first thing I saw after stepping off the train was a palm tree brightly lit by the sun. Quite a difference from Rouen the morning before. I went out the main exit and found Jakob, who was just arriving himself.

We walked out of the station, and accross the expansive bus terminal, and into the city to his apartment.It is near the station, and in fact, near to just about everything in Verona. The downtown area is quite compact, and walking everywhere is possible.

The first thing I saw upon entering the appartment was the most massive jar of Nutella known to man.

That is a 1 liter jug of milk beside it. The behemoth weighs in at 5 kilos. It is awesome.

I got a tour of the flat, quite expansive, and very nice, then we headed out to town to go to the library. We took a little bit of a detour to see the main square, Piazza del Erbe, and eventually ended up at the biblioteca.

The library is the only place were there is internet that I have found so far, so to go online it is a half hour walk, then another to get home. Welcome to modern Europe.

The city is amazing. Totally different than anything I have seen so far. The roman arena, and old city wall, as well as the churches and cathedral are all made of red brick. We walked past Juliettes balcony and saw all the messages people have written on the walls.

After an hour or so in the library, we had to head back to the apartment as we were going to Jakobs house in the afternoon, and his mom was already in Verona. It was my first time meeting Astrid, although the whole rest of my family had.

I also met the other three people living in the apartment, including Jake`s brother Mathias. We went out again, looked at a piano store, then went to eat lunch. I was introduced to my first real Italian food, and it was amazing. There were 4 courses to the meal.

It started with litte open faced sandwich things, then went to some pasta soup stuff, then to a vegetable and meat dish, then finnally an amazing dessert. Also present were a few glasses of wine, and some mineral water.

That completed, we went back to the apartment and to the car. Jakob drove us out of the city, towards the autostrada. Once on the highway, we started accelerating. It is quite the experience.

By the time we got up to cruising speed, we were going faster than I had ever gone in a car, around 160kmh cruising speed, and still were getting passed. When that happened, we moved over into the right lane where the trucks are, all traveling at 80kmh, then zoomed towards the truck in front, then zipped back over into the left lane.

Crazy drivers.

We soon entered the first of the different kinds of valleys we would that day. This one was wide, with a flat bottom, and many fields stretching accross it.

The valley got narrower and narrower, until it no longer had any flat places in it, and the highway crisscrossed from side to side, weaving in and out of tunnels, and crossing many bridges.

After a few hours, we got off the highway, about 40 km before it enters Austria, and turned into another valley. The road was now narrow, and really curvy. By this time, the valley was just a narrow cleft in the folds of the earth, the land dropping off to one side of the road, and soaring up to the other.

We eventually reached Brunek, or Brunico in Italian. The native language in this part of Italy is German, as well as many many local dialects. We spent quite a time in Brunek, dropping off the flatmate we had given a ride, picking up Sophia and Tobi, the two who had visited our house in the summer, and eventually getting Jakobs girlfriend as well as another of his brothers.

When we finally got on our way again, another half hour of driving ahead of us, it was very dark, and the road was even curvyer. After turning off into another valley, it headed up, gaining probably a couple thousand feet of altitude.

The road in this valley was strait for long sections because although the valley has no flat in it really, it is fairly strait. Right at the end of the valley, starting up the hill towards the mountains, and past the last town is their house.

As I stepped out of the car, I stepped down into a thin layer of snow. Quite a change from just a few hours before.

I finally met the rest of the family after having heard about them for about two years. We had a marvalous supper of lasagne. They are the kind of family that just absorbs any extra people and makes them feel a part of their life.

I settled in for a nights sleep in the perfect silence of the mountain air.

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