Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Night Train


I needed to get to Naples.  Not only was my smartphone there, but so was my brand new passport waiting to be picked up.  If it waited too long, just a few more days, it would stop waiting and I’d be out 100 Euro.

After spending all of Thursday morning on boat repairs, it was time to go catch a bus.  Apparently, that’s not so easy.  There are many bus companies, and any one of them might or might not be able to get me part or all of the way there.

A dock hand gave me a lift to the station at 14:00 when the port closed.  Following the dockhand’s advice,I left my sleeping bag and mattress in the restroom which remained open in case I was unable to find a bus and needed to stay in Policoro for the night.  My sleeping bag was locked away.  The dockhand assured me that he would return the bag to my kayak first thing in the morning if I was not there to do so myself.

At the bus station I found some kids smoking cigarettes, hooligans, and creeps.  I suspect I stood out.  There was one round fellow in what was either a uniform or a goofy suit who might have been working there.

I asked him if there was a bus to Naples.

“Yes, tomorrow morning.  Try the train station.”

The train station, near the sea, is about an hour walk from the bus station in the center of town.  The closest thing to an office or ticket booth was a small cafe that may or may not been able to provide train services.

“Ciao, tu parli Inglese?”

“A little, how can I help you?”  She asked.

Her phone rang.  “One moment.”  She answered.  She was happy to speak to whomever was calling.  She laughed and chatted about all sorts of things in Italian for at least twenty minutes while I waited on the other side of the counter.  

A train came.  The woman who I had hoped could sell me a ticket or give me instructions continued to chat on the phone.  

I went outside.  The train, like many I’d seen in the south, had one car.  The engineer sat in the front, and I called up to him through his window “Napocouli?”

“Ci, change at Ao{gh-orh.”

I boarded.  The name at the next stop sounded close to whatever the engineer said.  So I got off and got his attention through the window.  He confirmed that I was in the right place, wherever that was.

I found a machine that agreed to sell me a ticket.  The next train would depart at 6:00 and arrive at 11:30.  A little late, but better late than never.  The consulate is closed on Sundays, so if I wanted to get my passport I needed to arrive today or hang around until Monday next week.

I chilled for an hour.  It was 16:30.  My train would leave at six ... six?  I went back to the machine.  My train was scheduled to depart at 6:00 am the next morning.  Argggg!  The machine duped me.  Getting to Naples today, it now explained, was impossible.

I found a train office that was not a cafe of cigarette shop.  I wanted a refund so I could go back to Policoro and catch the Friday morning bus.

They would not give me a refund, but no problem, I could catch a bus at 18:00 with my train ticket.  I could change at the last stop and take the train to Salerno.

“What do I do in Salerno?”

“You might be able to get to Naples from there.”  The blue uniformed man said assuringly.

My first bus arrived late.  I boarded the train moments before it left.  I arrived in Salerno.   It was 10:30 at night.  The departure board said a train would depart for Milano at 23:30.  I wondered if it would go through Naples.

I asked around.  Some of the people in the station assured me it would, others assured me it wouldn’t.  

Bums slept uncomfortably on blankets in the station.

I’ve been to Salerno before, so I knew where a couple of the central bus departure areas were.  I wandered over and found that all the busses were gone for the night.

One of the stations was just over the port.  My sleeping bag was with my kayak, but if I had to stay the night I might be able to manage.  I’ve had some experience with spending nights in ports.  Before I checked the sailboats for a shelter opportunity I walked over to the Lega Navale building.  Door one was locked.  Door two was locked.  Door three was not.  I opened it slowly in case someone else was already inside.

I was in a restaurant.  The tables were set.  The lights were off.  I found some folded tablecloths in a corner.  I left.

Back at the station the 23:30 train to Milano would not stop in Naples.  I told a ticket machine I want to buy a ticket to Naples to find the time for the next train - 3:30.

I wandered and found myself in front of a hotel.  I could break down and get a room.  Hotels this time of year in southern Italy are usually cheap and empty. The clerk claimed this one was full, but gave me directions to another.  The second hotel was also full.

At 1:00 am I slept on the floor of the Lega Navale wrapped in a tablecloth.  At 3:00 my alarm beeped.  I did my very best to leave everything as I found it.

Back at the station the train arrived.  People around me boarded, but the conductor stopped me.  “Ticket.”

I showed him my ticket.

“This is for tomorrow,” he told me.

“Today is tomorrow.”  I tried.

Another conductor had walked up next to him.  

The first said “No, today is today.”  

But the second conductor agreed with me that it was tomorrow.  I boarded.

On the train I realized that this was one of the trains that had assigned seats.  Small enclosed booths were separated from the aisle by closed doors.  Each booth had six seats.  While none of the booths was full, every seat was taken by someone stretched out to sleep.  If I wanted a seat I would have to prove that it was mine.

My seat was on the 9:30 train.  I sat in the aisle and worked on teaching my computer to play chess.  Hopefully, I’ll keep my mind sharp despite all the hours I’m spending under the sun far away from math school.

At 5:00 we arrived in Naples.  5:00 is the hour I try to wake up every day, and like clockwork, at 5:30, while walking through the streets still half an hour away from my hostel, I needed to go to the bathroom.

The first two cafes didn’t have bathrooms.  But the third did. After I accommodated my needs, in an overflow of gratitude, I bought a chocolate croissant.

The hot chocolate goo leaked out all over my hands, mustache and beard.  They let me use their bathroom a second time to clean up.  And for the weekend, I was home.


  1. sounds like a Benigni or Fellini film you are trapped in.... more fun than not ????

  2. Err, that particular train ride was not so much fun, but overall I'm thrilled to be out here.