Sunday morning we headed to Termini station to catch our train to Spoleto. We had a complicated itinerary with a mix of regional and high speed cross country trains and wanted to collect our tickets we had purchased online. But the self service machines wouldn’t work for us.
A woman approach us an asked if she could help. She seemed very helpeful and told us that our regional train and high speed train would require us to see customer serivce and retrieve a combined itinerary. Just as she told us this another woman (an official from Trenitalia) came over, scolderd, and shooed her away. Then she scolded us. “You should avoid these people, they are dangerous.” Then she proceeded to give us the same informationn the dangerous woman had; collect a number at this machin, then stand in line waiting for our number to be called and go to that counter to collect your ticket.
Thirtyfive minutes later A296 was called, and immediatly after A297 and A298. I bolted into the booth, raised my number, insisting A296 never had a chance to report when our number was called (I literally had 2 seconds or less). He allowed me to push the other family aside and proceeded to “help” me. But he couldn’t figure out how to manage the error on his computer and was flustered because his printer had run out of paper. He called in another employee to help him. Then printed our tickets. But the tickets didn’t show a train from Rome to Spoletto, only the tickets from Spoleto to Rome for the following day along with the tickets from Rome to Venezia on the high speed train. I insisted that my tickets were wrong and I needed today’s ticket to Spoleto. In broken English he insisted “Roma-Spoleto, Spoleto-Roma, come/go, today/tomorrow, its okay.”. I took him at his word and we headed to the regional platforms clear on the far side and outskirts of the station. It was a 20 minute walk with our bags to get there and when we arrived we asked a conductor if this was the right train. It was the right train, but the wrong ticket. He took us to another conductor that spoke better English. He was very nice and kind. We explained that we thought it was the wrong ticket but he had told us “Roma-Spoleto, Spoleto-Roma, come/go, today/tomorrow, its okay.” We showed our online receipt and he understood that it was customer service that had made the mistake and there was no way I could physically get back to the main terminal and get the right ticket. He said,”I’ll be on the train and I’ll let check your ticket, go validate it over there” pointing to a machine across the way. I stuck the ticket in and got a time stamp on it. Later, on the train, the punched the ticket even though the ticket wasn’t from Rome to Spoleto, but only a ticket for the next day from Spoleto to Rome.
Ninety minutes later were were in the classically quaint Italian walled hill town of Spoleto. Tom (whom we had sailed with in Greece) was there to meet us at the station where he had a car waiting for us. We drove to their appartment high in the hillside town while Tom rode his bike up. The apartment is being sublet to them by the parents of a middle school friend of mine who’s parents are exploring other places in the world to live but didn’t want to loose this apartment (and its furnishings) until they determined where they wanted to live so Tom and Heather carpe diemed and took over their place.
During lunch we relayed our train travails to Tom and Heather. Tom recounted his own experience in dealing with Italian bureaucracy as he tried to set up rent payment, utilities, and deal with other adjustments to Italian life. But that through it all he had learned an Italian concept told to him by no particular bureaucrat, “Calmé”. That if you keep calm it will all work out.
After lunch we headed into the upper town for a walk and look around. We started our walk with our first gelato (locally made) which was absolutely sumptuous.
Spoleto is an ancient hillside city in Perugia that dates back to the Roman Empire (around 240 BCE) but has at its convenience defended itself from Hannibal as well as the influence of the Pope. It consists of narrow winding streets punctuated by piazzas, churches (such as the Chisea S Ansano which contains the crypt of Saint Isacco), or the Duomo (Cathedral) of S. Maria Assunta which acts as the center piece to the old town. Its capped with a palace and connected to nearby hills with an ancient aquaduct. In many ways its the quintessential hillside Italian dutchy.
We continued our walk around the top of the town with exceptional views of the Italian countryside (olive groves and vineyards in the distance) and stopped for a short cup of coffee before heading around the backside of the hill to explore views of the palace and the dramatic aqueduct.
As we rounded the scenic trail the town below came into view. We enjoyed vistas as we descended to explore Duomo of S. Maria Assunta.
Then we descended under the hilltop town where a series of tunnels, moving sidewalks, and elevators are being built in a vision to make the town car free at some point in the future. Residents would have to park in lots (and pay for the privledge) and then take these underground pathways to walk, escalate, and elevate to their homes. It was surreal to see this modern underground system under such an ancient city.
We ascended back to the top of the town and took the analog paths of winding city streets down to the rest of the town below. The town was coming alive with twenty-somethings drinking in the street and courting each-other in the central piazza. We headed to a local bar ourselves (Sophia’s) where we were treated with many complimentary appetizers that could have been a meal in itself.
We then headed to a favorite restaurant of Heather and Tom for another amazing Italian meal of buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, wild boar cooked in wine, a rosemary steak, and a fruit ice cream served in the fruit from which it was made.
After dinner we headed back up the hill to their apartment where we drank wine into the night. Tom showed us bottle after bottle of his wine conquests. “I only pad 1.50 Euros for this bottle, and only 2 Euros for this one. Taste them. They don’t taste like 2 Euro bottles of wine do they? Maybe if your lucky I’ll open a 5 or 6 Euro bottle.” And he was right. The wine was good. No, not good, great and cheap and flowed into the wee small hours of the night as we introduced them to Heads Up.
As it approached 2am we lamented our itinerary in only including 1 full day in Spoleto with them. I worried about our train tickets being accepted tomorrow since they were already punched and stamped. I worried about making our connection in Rome to the train to Venice. I worried that we had already overstayed our welcome in that Heather and Tom had let us wash our skivvies, eat their food, drink their Euro wine, and steal their electrons to charge our varied devices. But as I laid my head down to sleep I heard Tom’s voice telling me, “Calmé, calmé…”. And he was right. I was in Italy with a belly full of fantastic food and wine and surrounded by friends perched into the side of an ancient hilltop town. It would all work out. “Calmé” I said to myself as I drifted into an Italian slumber for the night.