My flight from Bournemouth to Pisa was delayed by an hour. ‘No problem’, I told to myself. I nestled further into a rather uncomfortable chair by the boarding gate reading an e-book on my newly purchased Kindle. What I failed to consider was the effect this one hour delay would have on my travel plans later that day.
When I arrived in Pisa, I boarded the Autostradale bus to Florence, which I had pre-booked via Ryanair for the bargain price of 5 Euros. Because of the flight delay and the hour difference in Italy, it was rush hour. This added an extra 30 mins to an already delayed journey for me. Once at the Santa Maria Novella train station, I joined the long line of people queuing for tickets. When it was my turn, I asked for a ticket to Magione. He ticket vendor replied, ‘There are no more trains to Magione today’. That is not what I wanted to hear and my heart began to race. ‘What about Torricella?’, I asked. ‘No trains’ was the reply. I could have kicked myself for booking accommodation in a place that wasn’t easy to get to. In a last-ditch attempt, I asked where I could get to that was near Torricella and Magione. I was told I could go to Terontola and might be able to get a bus from there. With an ever-increasing queue of people behind me, I had to make a quick decision. Do I go for it and hope I can get a bus from Terontola to Torricella or Magione or do I just abandon the idea and find a place to stay in Florence? The latter was very appealing because it was almost 7pm CET, I hadn’t eaten since about 11am CET, and wasn’t sure I would reach my destination. As I really wanted to get to the hostel in Torricella, I decided to risk it and bought a ticket to Terontola. That gave me about 20 minutes to grab some food and get on the train.
‘Where can I get some food?’, was my next thought. I ran outside the train station first but a quick scan of the area suggested there wasn’t anywhere close enough to get some decent veggie food in the time I had. I returned to the train station and found a food hall. There was a small pizza stall near the end where I was able to buy a take-away Margherita Normale pizza. When I looked on the board for train departures, the train to Rome had 5′ beside it so I went to platform 5. It didn’t seem right when I got there and eventually found someone to ask. It was the wrong platform. I found out later that 5′ meant the train was delayed by 5 minutes. I needed platform 16 and the train was due to leave in 2 minutes (I wasn’t aware of the delay at that point). So, with my backpack and pizza, I had to sprint down the stairs, along the corridor to the end and up the other side. This is not how my first day in Italy was supposed to be and I was cursing myself for being so stupid trying to get to Lake Trasimeno that day when I could have relaxed in Florence. I wanted to check that I was getting on the correct train but there was no member of staff to ask. I tried asking a few passengers but not being able to speak Italian posed a problem. Eventually, one lovely gentleman who couldn’t speak English was able to confirm in sign language that I was on the correct train. What a relief!
I had to stand up for the first 45 minutes of the journey because the train was full of commuters but that didn’t bother me. I was just happy to be on the correct train and to finally have some food. The pizza was cold at that point but it was the best pizza I had ever tasted. Was that because I was so hungry or because it was my first pizza in Italy for a year and a half? Who knows but it was just what I needed. I savoured every mouthful. I sensed that eating pizza on a train isn’t a common occurrence in Italy because a few people were staring at me while I was tucking in and a couple of people walking by said, ‘Buon Appetito’.
Eventually, the train arrived at Terontola. I exited the station and walked across the road to check the bus times and, yes you’ve guessed it, there were no more buses that evening. My worst fear. Thankfully, I had an international SIM so I rang the hostel to explain the situation. They asked if I could get a taxi but there were no taxis in sight. The voice at the other end asked me to ring back in 5 minutes. That seemed like the longest 5 minutes of my life as I walked around looking for a taxi. I rang the hostel back and spoke to the same person who said he would collect me. I could feel my anxiety drain away. An American lady was sitting outside the station waiting for a train back to Florence. We chatted for what seemed like a few minutes when a car drove up and stopped in front of us. It was my knight in shining armour, Giangiacomo from Ostello La Casa Sul Lago. I was so relieved to see him.
I do seem to like a bit of drama when I travel! Delays and non-existent buses are all part of the experience when you travel independently. I had my fair share when I travelled around the world. To be honest, it wasn’t a dire situation because I could have booked myself into accommodation for the night in Florence or Terontola. I was just on a mission to get to the hostel I had booked because I wanted to spend some time by Lake Trasimeno before going to Assisi. It was definitely worth the effort. It isn’t possible to prepare for every scenario but, next time, I might consider a ‘what if’ scenario.