Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Texan in Italy - 17 Curious Days

Over the next several days I will be telling you about my recent challenging, weird and wonderful 17 days in Italy. However, in the peculiar world of blogging that means the first story is on the bottom! So, if you want to begin at the first, go to the bottom. This is Day 2 - Part 4.

Day 2 - September 4, 2007; Part 4

I remembered my handheld compass was stowed in my backpack. It’s a small orienteering style compass that I take on trips to cities I’ve never been in before. I dug it out of the backpack and held it in my left hand, the darkness causing me to strain to see its indicator. The red north needle pointed to my right. I was riding reverse in the train car facing the rear of the train which meant the train was traveling due east. That was a good thing since Riccione lies east of Bologna. I felt comforted, but continued to watch the signs at the stations. One after another the station names whizzed by in the night, the train giving no indication it intended to stop at any of them. The names of the towns went by quicker than I could make them out in the dark.

It began to rain. The rain pelted the outside of the car in a steady rhythm. The floor of the car was growing damp. The wind had picked up appreciably and was rocking the sides of the train car as it rattled down the tracks at 60 miles per hour. The wind had grown even colder, cold enough to force BEG and I into a differnt car where the window was just as broken, but broken in the closed position at least, little more than a ½ inch crack showing at the top. An English speaking train ticket attendant came down the corridor peering into the individual cars. When he discovered us he entered and took a look at our ticket. He told us the train would not be stopping in Riccione this late at night. He told us to get off in Rimini, approximately 7 miles away and take a city bus the rest of the way. With a matter of fact manner he informed us Rimini would be the next stop.

I was grateful to know that we were at least going in the correct direction. I smiled at BEG knowing we were moving ever closer to being able to sleep and rest with a roof over our heads. The train rolled to a stop at the brightly lit Rimini train station. There was little activity, but the area was bright and a cluster of heavily rain coated Italian police officers stood at the main entrance to the building. I noticed as soon as I left the train that the temperature had dropped considerably, the rain was heavier, and the wind was on the edge of scary for an area that neighbored the ocean. I hustled through the rain, BEG’S hand in mine and asked one of the Italian officers if he spoke English. He affirmed that he did. I asked where to catch the bus to Riccione. He pointed through the building to a bus idling at the front curb. He said “This is the last bus to Riccione tonight. The storm is here. Hurry, go pronto, don’t miss it!” He followed the two of us through the station waving his arms at the bus driver to wait. We boarded the bus, wiping the rain water from our head and clothes in the process. We were both freezing. The bus seats were empty. The bus driver spoke no English. It was obvious he had been waiting for the train from Bologna in order to take the last passengers to Riccione. I asked about bus tickets. He waved me into the bus amid a swarm of Italian words that meant nothing to me. I stuck out a wad of Euros toward his hand thinking he would take the bus fare and return change. He looked at me with exasperation and laid his head down onto the oversized bus steering wheel in a demonstrable display of frustration with an American that had no Italian skills. He pointed again to the bus seats and refused the money. We obeyed this time, moving to the mid portion of the bus, sitting down in bright yellow plastic seats. Rain streaked the windows in a way that made looking outside difficult, the train station lights merged with the water droplets into a Jackson Pollock style rendering, though I don’t think Pollock ever actually painted an Italian ocean front resort.

The bus driver started the bus forward as soon as we were seated. It was a large city bus with two patrons and a clearly agitated driver, headed for Riccione. I smiled. A bed was waiting. My watch read 2:17 am.

My smile underwent a reversal as the bus rolled along Rimini’s main beachfront avenue. I noticed there was absolutely nothing open on this cold rainy night, save an occasional small bar or two. Large trees swayed in the stiff wind. It was later that BEG and I learned we were traveling in a storm that disturbed the locals and made regional news throughout Italy. We were traveling in conditions this coast had not seen in a long time, explaining the bus driver’s exasperation with loons like the two of us. The storm had not caught those wiser than we by surprise. The hotels had warned the guests and each hotel had closed it doors and set the window storm shutters in place. The power of the storm had shut down every business along a normally thriving corridor of beach front. A lone holdout of a bar here and there had lights burning. Presenting evidence that alcohol knows no inhibition, the bus came to a halt where seven youth in their early twenties stood below a bus stop sign. They spoke French rather than Italian and were filled with the bravado of drink. Our somber bus, even in the middle of a cold rain storm grew loud with their swagger and youth. Two girls accompanied five boys. One couple held hands, the others arranged themselves in separate seats apparently being only friends. Time would show us they were leaving one bar in search of another along the length of the bus route. The five friends talked and laughed excitedly though I understood none of it. The couple nestled in a seat together. The young girl was making the cliché ‘get a room’ come to life. She aggressively made out with her boyfriend, tongues in mouths, under the bright fluorescent glare of the bus interior. Her hand casually slid from his chest down to his fly where it massaged as he squirmed. She began unzipping his fly causing the other five to roar in approval. She had the fly half way down before the boy shot a glance down the length of the bus at us and shooed her hand away, all seven tipsy kids dissolving in giggles. A few seconds later the group had spotted another open bar and were furiously pulling on the bus stop chord. They clambered off and into the selected bar.

The somberness and quietness of the bus returned. I spotted a small poorly lit sign out the window. It read ‘Riccione’. I smiled. We had made it. Finally. It was a testament to resolve, persistence and a degree of stubbornness. We were in Riccione. It was now 38.5 hours and counting since I had slept, but I smiled any damn way. We would get to the Riccione bus station, go inside to its warmth, and call a cab.

The bus pulled alongside and stopped at a dark building. We sat patiently. The bus driver turned and stared. He opened the doors. He stared us again. Finally he tried his Italian on us and I made out the phrase ‘Riccione bus station’. He was telling us we were as far as he was going. He waved his arms aggressively. We stepped off the bus into the rain and wind. The bus station was dark. It was closed. There were no overhangs to stand underneath. Before I could turn back to the bus and re-board hoping to make a different arrangement he had quickly shut the doors. I looked inside the bus door at a man that clearly was headed home and felt no remorse about our predicament. He studiously avoided eye contact. He drove away. We were in Riccione, but as I looked up and down the streets there were no signs of life. No humans. No open businesses. The hotel signs were lighted, but the interiors were dark. I looked for a phone in order to call a cab. I would learn later that public ‘street side’ phones in Riccione are a rarity. There were none in sight, not even at the closed bus station. BEG remembered there had been an open bar back down the road toward Rimini. She suggested we walk that direction. If we found an open hotel or phone along the way, she said, then all the better. We turned into a stiff wind. As if on cue to our needs the rain stopped, a small prize in this odd roulette wheel of travel chance we were spinning around. We trudged down the dark streets of Riccione, backpacks secured, eyes attentive for any sign of life. I had the apartment address in my pocket, but no clue which way it lay. My compass, were it human, would have laughed at me. It was 2:47 am.


Lynilu said...

Well, nights have turned cool here, and reading this, I swear I'm feeling a chill. And I'm SO tired! Going to bed, but I promise to sleep fitfully in memory of your travails!

kathi said...

I love your wife. So far we've not heard about her whining or complaining that first time. Only that she smiles and holds your hand in the midst of all this craziness. Love her.

Seven said...

Silver Lovely,
Glad to see you are paying attention. It does get better by the way; but it takes some time.

She has 35 years experience of 'on job training' hanging out with me. I guess she knows at this point its rarely are so right, I'm blessed. I give myself credit for knowing it. You haven't yet heard how she wore my 3x too big running shoes all day in Venice, with a huge smile on her face!