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Emilia-Romagna Ravenna, Rimini, and San Marino, Italy 2012

Georgia & Zig

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Saturday April 21st - train to Ravenna

I was worried about oversleeping and missing our train. It was a crazy itinerary. From Nice in France, we were to travel through Monaco, the tiny little country ruled by Prince Rainier, to Ventimiglia, a little town over the French border in Italy, where we would catch an Italian train (“They are slower” one Frenchman confided to us) to take us down the coast to Genoa where we would change trains again and head south for Rome(!). Then from Rome we would catch another train north(!) to Ravenna. The connections were crucial because, as the screen in the station had informed us, there was going to be a railroad strike from 21:00 hours on Saturday to 21:00 hours on Sunday. The Italians seem to have as many 24 hour strikes as the French. I’m not sure what they accomplish other than convincing ordinary Italians that their country is ungovernable; but there you have it. You don’t want to be stranded in Genoa or Rome when you have a non-refundable prepaid room in Ravenna!

Such thoughts meant I went to sleep quickly but then awoke each of the three times Georgia wanted to share her worry about what we could possible do if we got stranded – if everything went well we were only going to arrive in Ravenna 25 minutes before the strike began. Georgia is one of those people with really long legs who find it easy to cross bridges before she gets to them. I’ve never been able to do that.

But then I first woke up at 3:30 A.M. and every 30 minutes thereafter. I finally turned on my light at 6:00 and read morning prayers. Sure enough, the recorded wake-up call came at 6:30. But we were already up and packed and getting dressed. We left the hotel at 7:00 and had time to stop for a coffee at the station café that was just opening as well. Hmmm, getting addicted to that jolt of espresso with steamed milk!

There were lots of people on the platform but not many pulling suitcases. “Commuters,” I said. “On Saturday?” Georgia asked. Good question, and theses didn’t really look like young professionals. Most seemed African – black Africans from the sub Sahara and North Africans from Tunisia, Morocco and Libya.

The train was packed! Luckily we found two seats but many were standing and many of the two-seats were holding 3 people squeezed in. I only saw one two-seat section with one person in it and that was a young European woman with i-pad earphones insulating her from the world all around. She didn’t offer to let someone sit beside her. She used it for her coat. I don’t think it was schadenfreud, but I wouldn’t have thought the physical gulf, at least, between her and the rest of the people in the car was impassible.

(Thoughts about the Arab Spring: The poor will only wait so long for the rich to cross that social barrier first, then if they won’t, the poor will do the crossing – and it is generally a much more violent move.) I’m sure there was some of that in the sacking of the Palace of the Avignon Popes.

And then we arrived in Monaco – at least we arrived in the subterranean train station which is all you can see of Monaco from the train. Our commuter compatriots all flooded off the train. Like the maids and gardeners in Birmingham, Alabama, so long ago, they were just taking the bus to work in the rich neighborhoods.

We got just a glimpse through the glass front of the station at the palm trees and blue sea, then the heaven was gone and we sped on our way to Ventimiglia where we changed trains and took off for Genoa. So far, so good.

Genoa to Rome started off fine. Georgia sat next to a beautiful raven-haired young woman with Sophia Loren lips and eyebrows. I sat opposite. She spoke a sort of high school English, lives in Genoa and is studying civil engineering in Rome. With our Italian we communicated well enough. We gave her one of the Lexington, Kentucky, horse-farm post cards. She wondered if the house in the background was for people. I laughed and told her that it was for the horses. Those exquisite eyebrows went up. And so we rolled along passing down the west coast through the Cinque Terre, that glorious section of Italy where the Baja Alps come to drop their toes into the Mediterranean. We spent a wonderful week there in 2006 walking the trails between perfect little fishing villages stapled to the sides of the mountains.

From time to time there would be incomprehensible announcements over the crackling loud speaker. Our new friend groaned after one and translated for us. “Our train will arrive 35 minutes late in Roma Termini.” Looking at our tickets we could see that that would be O.K. We were scheduled to arrive at 4:30 and our last leg from Rome to Ravenna would leave at 5:25. We knew from experience that Rome Termini is a huge station with more than 22 tracks coming in, but figured that if we hurried we could make it O.K. in 30 minutes from any track to any track. Periodically the train completely stopped to let another train whiz by.

And then with each announcement she just rolled her eyes. My anxiety level was such that I didn’t even appreciate the glorious mountain villages in the distance and the spring fields dotted with blood-red poppies flashing by. It sucks the joy out of the present trying to soothe an imaginary future. “Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Though I couldn’t see how.

Finally we arrived at the outskirts of Termini but we were going so S-L-O-W. Why? We excused ourselves, jumped up while the train was still crawling, took our bags down from the overhead compartment and went to stand at the exit door between train cars. Others came to join us – all of them quasi-panicking for one reason or another.

“What will you tell your friends back home about Italian trains?” I said “We love Italian trains.” This was the first time they were so late. And we were late! It was now 5:15. We had only 10 minutes to get to the center of the station to find the train to Ravenna – then sprint to whatever track it was on – then try to find our car and our assigned seat. This was going to be tough. And then we stopped. And not at the platform! “Why are they stopping?” Georgia asked me. She asks me lots of questions like that. “I think they’re waiting until the train to Ravenna pulls out” I replied.

And we waited, and we waited. 5:19. That left only 6 minutes. But maybe the Ravenna train was delayed as well? That had happened to us before where we arrived at a stations a few minutes late but caught our connection anyway because it was late too. But still we waited 5:22, 5:23, 5:25. Time crawled. And then, thank goodness, so did the train. It crawled the last 200 yards to the platform.

We jumped down, suitcases and all and I sprinted ahead to the center to find the binaro for the Ravenna train. We came in on track 22 and Ravenna departed from track 5. It was doable. The board showed an asterisk by our train. Maybe that meant it was late too! Georgia had caught up by now and we jogged together toward track 5. There it was! But it was empty. Maybe it hadn’t arrived yet? “No,” said a conductor standing there. “Partenza.” It has left. How come they can so easily arrive late but then leave on time?

We’d missed the train. Oh the pathos I could now feel in the phrase “You missed the boat.” Our reserved seats were now hurrying away from us at 140 kph toward our reserved room in Ravenna while we had nowhere to lay our weary heads. And all the while the partisans of anarchy plotted a train strike. Sigh. How was this soap opera going to come out?

Deus ex machina. God from a machine. In Greek plays when the hero and heroine were trapped in absolutely impossible situations an actor wearing a mask of one of the gods would be lowered onto the stage from the wings by a crane-like affair and he (or she) would save the day and right the wrong. Our Deus took the form of a beautiful young blond-haired goddess in the machine of a small blue kiosk on track 5 labeled “last minute tickets.” She asked how she could help us and I showed her our (they arrived 55 minutes late) tickets from Genoa and the (they left right on time) tickets for Ravenna. She tisk-tisked sympathetically, checked her little hand-held computer and started writing in the space on the bottom of our Ravenna tickets.

“Here, you take this and get on train _____ for Venezia. After Bologna, get off in Ferrara and get on train ____ for Ravenna. You will arrive only 5 minutes later than your original schedule; it is a very fast train.” Because we still hadn’t heard whether they were really holding our room, Georgia asked where we could find an internet café in the station. The goddess wagged her finger at us. “You have no time.” “When does it leave? On which track?” It leaves in 15 minutes, track 6. Right next to us. We thanked our goddess. “That is O.K. ? No other problems?” I assured her she had done all that was needful. Her attention immediately swung to the needs of someone else.

I forgot to ask about assigned seats and foolishly tried to get her attention again. Not happening. There was concentration.

Because we had no assigned seat I told Georgia to take the first seat she came to. That just happened to be in the first class coach. And the hostesses just happened to be coming along asking what people wanted to drink. We tried to explain our situation but they were remarkably uninterested. They only wanted to know whether we wanted a salty or a sweet snack and what sort of beverage we wanted. So we wanted salty snacks and champagne. And we got it!

Unfortunately the conductor was close on their heels and he was interested in our situation. I stuffed the snacks in my pocket and gulped champagne, then showed him the note the goddess had written for us. “You should be in 2nd Class or I need to charge you the difference.” “But we have no assigned seats.” His eyebrows went up. “I will assign you seats.” He checked his hand held computer and found us two seats, but not together. And so we made the walk of shame. I was positioned across from a beautiful woman napping. I couldn’t waste the opportunity so I sketched her. The goddess was right. This train was a Eurostar with the little TV screens (like those in the airplanes) that show your progress, the weather where you are going and your speed. We were clocking it at 248 kph!

I had another anxiety attack approaching. Ferrara, where we were to change trains again. The screen showed our arrival time as 19:29 which was the time I thought we were supposed the next train to Ravenna. What if we had to run down the steps to the subterranean passage between tracks? We’d never make it – and so on…. Georgia looked at the goddesses’ note. “No, we arrive at 19:29. We leave again at 19:59.” Thirty minutes to sit there ashamed at not trusting our “Deus ex machina.”

Our last leg was on a regional train – much older and louder but still clocking more than 100 kph. We arrived in Ravenna exhausted from our day on the trains a few minutes late, at 21:03. There were a handful of people waiting on the platform to catch this train. The engineer and conductor told them this train wasn’t moving a foot for 24 hours. Somehow they must have missed the memo about the strike. Not happy campers.

Our Hotel d’Italie was 3 blocks down a wide boulevard and the slim hostess with dark hair assured us that she spoke English and most certainly they had our reservation. (as if we thought they wouldn’t!) She gave us our key and recommended two different restaurants – one next door but a better one a few blocks away. We went the few blocks and the waiter who greeted us treated us like regulars – showing us to a table and handing over menus with a flourish. Georgia ordered linguini with tuna and I got the lasagna bolognaise. I had a Rosso Brabant beer. Yum! We had a bottle of aqua frizzante and basket of pizza pieces like pie-crust cookies and also ¼” bread sticks. For dessert we had the strawberry pie. It was a thin yellow cake, covered with a flavored mascarpone then strawberries on top.

Then we waddled off to bed.

Sunday, April 22nd

Museum day in Ravenna: church mosaics, city museums and Museo d’Arte to see the Caravaggio. It was the one that I think of as the “Bacchus” series – he’s used himself as model and he’s looking right at the viewer as if to say “What do you think of this?” It shows him with a look of surprise with a lizard biting his finger. I think it’s allegorical for our first interaction with vice. There are teeth there.

We had Mass at the confirmation service with the Archbishop at the Basilica of Mary Major, the one with glorious mosaics in the Venetian style showing Jesus without a beard.

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Wonderful acoustics for organ and choir and the congregation was large and proud of their children. Lots and lots of photo ops afterward.

The hotel had a free internet computer and I was able to check my e-mail frequently. Strange to see events in Lexington, KY, from thousands of miles away.

Monday, April 23rd

We were up very early to use the neighborhood laundromat. It cost 10.50 euros for a 13 kilo load of darks and a dryer. Not terribly easy to navigate the instructions on the wall in Italian but it worked. I had coffee in a working class bar with the locals on their way to work at 7:30 AM, then back to the hotel for breakfast with Georgia.

We caught the train from Ravenna to Rimini on the coast.

Monday, April 23rd, Rimini and San Marino

Caught the train from Ravenna to Rimini on the coast. Ravenna is on the ocean in the same way that Savannah is – actually on a river/canal connecting it.

Coming into Rimini on the train we saw the steeple of a modern church near the port. We got info at the tourist office and set off walking. It’s located in a residential part of Rimini. “San Giuseppe al porto” was locked but we could see from outside that they had glass.

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We walked to the water on the way seeing a gigantic shrine being built in a postage-stamp sized back yard. Reminded me of the Watts towers in Los Angeles.

We also stopped at a neighborhood market for an apple. Delicious red apple form France that looked like a winesap with the dull red peel and tiny spots. It was crisp and sweet – perfectly ripe and bursting with juice – and not refrigerated. Room temperature like a fine red wine.

The beach was empty but with piles and piles of sand trucked in to try to refurbish the beach. You can tell that summer is coming and they are trying to get ready. We picked up a few sea shells – Georgia has to do that, you know, so now she has a few from the Adriatic. We decided we could be happy living in this little neighborhood – at least in the off-season.

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We walked back to the station and bought round trip bus tickets from a lady sitting at a card table on the sidewalk by the bus stop. Under one of the lovely ever-present Sycamores. There must have been some heck of an arbor day across southern Europe 60 years ago, or some terrific Sycamore-tree salesman! And they’ve all been topped off at about 20-30 feet and then allowed to send out 3 to 5 “trunks” from that point. I know that’s where Gaudi got his idea for the roof support at Sagrada Familia. The “knot” or scar that forms where the “trunks” come out is very distinctive. The trees give lots of shade but don’t scrape against the buildings and they are more compact. And the “trunks” can be pruned back as well.

The bus seats were too close together – bad on the knees and the trip was longer than I expected. It took about an hour but there were lots of stops in Rimini where school children were picked up and lots of traffic, then lots of stops in lower San Marino where children were dropped off. It was like “visit San Marino on a school bus.” But I genuinely love seeing how the local people actually live. I’ve never liked the “postcard” view of exotic places.

The bus dropped us off in a parking lot where there was a long flight of stairs winding back and forth and an elevator! We went for the elevator and with the delay arriving we only had about an hour to see the whole country (!) if we were going to make it back to Rimini in time for Mass at the San Giuseppe al porto to see the glass. The bus would leave at 3 PM, 15:00. We brought the little travel clock because we knew we were on a tight schedule Even with the elevator there was still a lot of climbing to do in this single-mountain democratic republic. We didn’t climb the guard towers or visit the cross bow museum but otherwise it looked like the time was going to work out fine. We even split a little plate of cream-sauce covered ravioli and a mushroom pizza on the scenic overlook restaurant.

Sometimes “scenic” places really are scenic. We were surrounded by mountain valleys with the sea on the horizon. It was cold and threatening rain. There is no way the weather could ever sneak up on you in San Marino. You could see it coming from 360 degrees.

Time to leave. We started back for the parking lot and got there with 15 min to spare. Georgia was feeling a little peeked – the antibiotic prescribed in France was really working so she needed to make a quick trip to the bathroom. Didn’t see one close by but she was sure she remembered one just “up there.” Back on the elevator and up and through the walls. No bathroom. She went off to look and I hurried into a beautiful little chapel to photograph a Marian grotto and a lovely window. Then back outside to wait. And wait and wait. And now there was a cold drizzle. Then she arrived having had to use a kind restaurateur’s facilities. It was 1500 on our travel clock. Maybe it was fast. We hurried back toward the elevator but took the stairs instead. No bus in the parking lot. Maybe it hasn’t arrived? No. It had arrived and then left. “It’s 15:05,” the man in the kiosk says. Darn those efficient bus-services!

Oh well, missing the bus in San Marino still means you are in San Marino. We sat close together on the bench to keep warm and watched the sunlight play hide and seek behind gigantic lumbering clouds. The wrinkled green valley was crossed and re-crossed with huge patches of sunlight then chased away by drifting rain. Back and forth we watched this titanic drama unfold in valleys filled with dollhouse villages.

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And for making us miss the bus I made Georgia buy me a gelato. Pistachio. It was yummy.
If you have to miss a bus, and I think every life is bound to have a few missed busses, this was the place to make some very pleasant memories. And there is always another bus on the way, you know.

Back in Rimini we got off at the old town. It was too late to try to go to Mass, so we joined the passeggiata. We joined the parade of people walking back and forth “seeing” and “being seen.” And there were a lot of “lookers” in these tiny, little winding streets. No cars, I’m glad to say, but a few bicyclists motored through as if they were in a cycle-drome. A very interesting form of “reality” TV I guess, and this being the off-season I have to think that most of the people are locals. Lots of people stopped to talk with people they saw. Lots of gelato was bought – that’s one thing it’s OK to eat while walking.

Then back to the train station and off to Ravenna. We ate a 5 euro Greek lamb gyro from a Pakistani run Pizza and Kabob stand next to the Hotel L’Italia. He wanted us to get French fries and a coke too. It’s quickly becoming one world, isn’t it?

And so off to bed with dreams of Rome dancing in our heads.

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To be Continued - Rome, Orvieto - 2012
 

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