Where can you find gypsy children busking, a Chaplain to His Holiness, and beautiful couples draped over one and other breathing deeply, asleep? On Italian public transport of course.
This weekend I took a trip from Rome, down the coast to Naples and Sorrento. A trip that was expected to take two – three hours. It took 6. Myself and Laura were already aware that Italians have no love for timetables, the bus that runs from outside our campsite to the station’s timetable reads ‘operating between 0500 – 2300’. There is not even any indication of how many times within that bracket it will pass by. So what I’m saying is that when our train from Rome to Naples did not depart on time, we shouldn’t have been surprised. However I was surprised when for half of this 3 hour train ride (the website said it would be 2 hours) we were standing with about half the other passengers of the train. I’ve never done the trip but I don’t think that Sydney rail oversells its tickets from Sydney to Canberra, which I think would be equivalent.
We did have some enlightenment on our trip as to why Italy has no timetables. Why put them in place when your transport is never going to run to them? We caught a hop-on hop-off bus between Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi on our free day. It’s timetable was very comprehensive and we even ran to catch the first bus, thinking that we might miss it. No worries there it seems, it was half an hour late in leaving. The drive itself was stunning enough to make you not worry about the standstill traffic all around the coast and we arrived at Amalfi only an hour after the brochure said we would. From there we worried less, just turning up at the bus stop when we were ready rather than reading the timetable.
Despite all this we were somehow still surprised by our last bus of the day. The lady at the stop had said it should be there in an hour and so we went off into Positano for a look around. When we came back she apologized profusely and said that due to the traffic the bus hadn’t actually left Amalfi yet and would be another 45 minutes or so, then another hour from there to Sorrento. We had booked dinner and couldn’t really be that late so we hopped on the next public bus/ cattle car that came through to get home. Again a crazy squash of people, I sat on a step underneath someone’s chair for the whole journey.
It is lucky that the public transport attracts the sorts of characters that I mentioned at the start. Priests and Nuns, tourists, businessmen, students, families, buskers, lovers and drunks all use the buses and trains and lead to some wonderful people watching. I really wanted to be an Italian fly on the wall of the conversation that happened when a young priest in plain cassock went up and introduced himself to the priest wearing a cassock with fuchsia trimmings and hat whilst on the bus ride to our campsite.
I cannot recommend Italian public transport at all, I haven’t even mentioned how dirty it is, but there really isn’t any other option. I certainly wouldn’t want to be driving myself in their crazy traffic! It needs to be approached with a positive attitude, the realization that possibly nothing will go right, and I would not recommend making your travel plans on a tight time schedule. Get on Italian time. I hesitate to say ‘bring back Mussolini!’ but it seems he did have some positives….