After three days visiting my family in Innsbruck, Austria last week, the time came for me to continue on to one of my ‘new places’. Although I have visited Italy before, my journeys there have mainly been to make use of the ski slopes in the Alps or for a change of scenery on a day trip when I lived in Austria. This would be the first time that I was visiting Italy as a proper tourist, with the purpose of sightseeing and taking in the culture.
Before I could enjoy Pisa, my final destination, I had a day of train travel ahead of me. My sister-in-law and two nieces waved me off at the train station in Kematen-in-Tirol, from where I would travel into the main train station at Innsbruck. Then came the longest part of my journey, over the border via Brenner into Italy. At Bologna I had to change trains to Florence, and then finally a regional service would take me the last leg of my journey to Pisa.
When I left Innsbruck, the weather was very similar to that of the UK the previous few weeks, Austria being the victim of a bad weather front that had attacked from the south. The sky was heavy with rain clouds that slowly soaked our clothes through, and the mountains that give Innsbruck its famous beautiful scenery were hidden behind thick clouds. I boarded the train damp, sniffling and concerned that my four days in Italy would be a washout.
As I always instruct my godson to do on our summer camping trips in Wales, I began to make ‘sunshine wishes’. Fortunately, my magic did not fail me on this occasion. Although I couldn’t shake the cold that I had caught in Austria, as we crossed the border into Italy the sun was shining.
As the train stopped briefly in each town we passed through, there were more and more mopeds parked alongside each train station, a sure sign we were heading in the right direction. Further on, vineyards lined the railway track on either side. Oh yes, we were definitely in the right place. Every available space in this region of Italy is covered in vines, and steppes are cut in to mountainsides to create even more room. The mountains are only left natural where they are simply too steep to do anything else with.
Spending a day on a train is an odd experience. Essentially, you are trapped in a metal box with a bunch of complete strangers, forming your own temporary community where you must learn to adapt and co-exist for the sake of everyone’s comfort. I’d managed to reserve a seat for my first two trains to Florence, so I had the luxury of sitting back and enjoying the landscape as we whizzed by. The only less than comfortable part of the journey was the leg from Florence to Pisa. As it was a regional train, I was unable to reserve a seat. On top of that, I’d hit Florence at rush hour and there were hundreds of commuters trying to board the same train as me. Only they weren’t carrying a 40 litre backpack and a daypack. After an hour spent holding the door open for other passengers (the only place to stand was at the end of a carriage, next to the door, and it was either hold it open or get whacked in the face every time someone walked through it) I finally arrived in Pisa. And it was soooo warm! If that is the temperature at 7pm on an October evening, the place must be an oven in the middle of summer. A short, and sweaty, walk later I arrived at my hostel, excited about the next morning and my first full day in Pisa.