We’re on the train now. Traveling at high speeds – 300kph or 186mph – we’re flying down the country. If we drove, the trip would take four to six hours without traffic. To fly it’s a little over three hours in the air – and that’s without boarding and deboarding. On the train, it’s just under three hours. For the past few years, there’s been a working internet signal and now the trains are beautiful, fast, and easy – much better than any I’ve ever been on in the US. If we were doing the same distance in the US, it’s a little less than driving from Boston to Philly.
I love the trains in Italy for the views out the window. We’re flying through the countryside and there are flashes of life that flicker by in between dark stretches of tunnels. If you go from Florence to Venice, most of the trip is tunnels as the trains burrow under the Apennines. We’re already in Rome, sitting on the tracks between the two stations – Tiburtina and Termini. The train car is echoing with at least three or four different languages, and somewhere near me a little boy is watching some cartoon with a horse in it – I can hear it neigh every so often.
Outside the window, we’re passing yellow apartment buildings, graffiti and old bricks. An old wooden boxcar sits on the tracks far from the station. It once was painted a rusted red and makes me remember The Boxcar Children books. The little boy has moved on from the horse and now I hear frogs ribbiting from the seats in front of me.
We’re almost to Termini now. A woman on her break from working in the station sits on track 11, legs up on the bench, her phone in one hand, a chocolate croissant in the other. As we went to find or train I couldn’t remember the name for “track” in English. Binario is a word I’ve used here much more, and so it comes first in my head. Plus, I think it sounds better. My view of the woman on break is blocked by the white and red inter-city train that slides in on the rails next to us and more English-speaking tourists join our car. “Say excuse me!” They tell their children, and I like them already.
Now we’re back on track and I can see Tivoli on the hill in the distance. The last time I was there I was single-handedly leading a group of Californians around. The person in charge of booking our appointments dropped the ball, and we were dropped off by the bus only for me to realize the famous Tivoli gardens were closed on Mondays. I told my group to grab a snack, walked up a road toward a little church, found it empty, and charged my phone on the same power cord that was illuminating the electric prayer candles, just enough to call the man in charge and ask him how he could possibly mess up this terribly.
Now south of Rome, the landscape is less familiar. The farmlands stretch out from under the tracks and race towards the hills in the distance, covered in little stone villages and towns. Cornfields make me miss home. Sunflower fields make me never want to leave Italy – though the ones further north were glowing brilliant yellow in the sun – the ones I see now are hurting in the heat – the flower heads all bent toward the ground, the yellow wilted.
We pass a quarry and a factory. One lone yellow house plopped on the outskirts. Hay bales sit randomly in the green fields and abandoned villas are turned into part of sheep pastures – at least one black one in every herd I’ve seen. The little boy isn’t watching the frogs anymore. He’s gone to get snacks from the vending machine with his father. We pass through more tunnels and my ears pop.
We’re heading for the mountains, heading for the volcano, and Rami can’t focus on anything except pizza. I want fried calamari. And pizza. And maybe a gelato.
“I want to gain four kilos,” he says as he scrolls through more restaurant recommendations. We get in at 1:30 – perfect timing for a primo for lunch. Before then, as the train rocks back and forth and carries us south, I’m going to try and take a nap.