After getting a bit lost in the countryside between Assisi and Spello (and getting help on 3 separate occasions from three very different Italian gentlemen), I made it to Spello and enjoyed a cappuccino in the back garden of the cafe with the too-perfect view, Bar Giardino Bionci. I popped into Chiesa San Andrea and then, being fairly tired from the early morning hike, decided to find the Spello train station and head back to Assisi.
I made my way to the front square and looked around for signs to the train station, but was at a bit of a loss. I readied my stellar Italian skills (not) from the podcast lesson I had reviewed before leaving for Italy and looked around for someone to ask, “Scusi, dov’é la stazione ferroviaria?”
Unfortunately what came out was more like “Scusi, uhhh… statzion… ferro…uhhh… train-oh…dove?”
Everyone within hearing distance stopped walking and looked at each other, totally confused. So I kept going. ”Uhh… dove… traino… stationa…?”
Finally a mother who had her five-year-old son in hand laughed and said, “Ohhh! Voui la stazione?!” and everyone else broke into a smile and started walking away, crisis of the silly American solved. One old man was shaking his head and chuckling to himself.
The mother took up the directions, using more gestures than words (for obvious reasons). The station follows the main road out of the city walls for a few “blocks”. She told me to go first through an alley directly across from Via Santa Ana (which is the road I had just come down through town), then motioned that the road would split and I should look for the sign and go left. Then walk, walk, walk and I’d find the station.
Side note: this is why I now have “Google Street View” in the “Resources” section of my website. This walk is very easily done using Google Street View, and then I would’ve known where the heck I was going. Oh well; hindsight.
After walking what I was scared was too far, the road dead ended at an unmarked, rose-colored building with cracking plaster around the windows in that way that only Italy can make romantic rather than dreary. There was no one in sight, but there were a few cars parked outside. Hmmm, ok… Shouldn’t a train station have a big sign, “Hi! I’m the Train Station”? This was very obviously the back of the building; if I walked around to the front would I find an angry housewife wondering why I was snooping around her house?
Wary of a wooden spoon being wielded out a window, I carefully walked around the side – onto train tracks. OK, so this was the train station. Still no one in sight. I walked inside an open door looking for the ticket window where I could buy a ticket from a helpful-and-understanding Italian.
Instead, I found this:
Shit. This wasn’t even one of the newer touch screen ones like the one I had used at FCO where you can pick your language from pictures of flags. This was all in Italian. I checked the schedule to the right and saw that a train went toward Assisi every hour, at five after the hour. It was 2:45, so after successfully figuring out how to buy the ticket (yay me!) I sat down on a nearby bench to read my book for twenty minutes until the train came.
3:03pm. I stash my book and make sure I’m not forgetting anything.
3:05pm. No train.
3:10pm. No train. OK, so its late. I’ve heard country trains can be late.
3:15pm. No train. Maybe I’m starting to get a little worried, but what’s the worst that can happen, right?
3:30pm. No train. I settle back in with my book, not wanting to trek back to Spello to see if there are taxis anywhere near this little town and definitely not wanting to make the decision to walk the 12 kilometers back to Assisi. Worse comes to worse I can do either of those things a bit later. Not now. My feet hurt.
3:45pm. A woman in black, probably about 45-50 years old, comes in and sits down on the bench across from me.
3:55pm. A young guy, thin, (cute), about six ft tall with a blonde fauxhawk walks in and looks up at an old-style box tv mounted to the wall that shows the train schedule. He turns around, sees me and walks over. He says something – I have no idea what and say so (“non capisco italiano” – which I now know should be “non capisco l’italiano”). He keeps talking, friendly and with a smile on his face. I look over at the woman, confused, but she’s not paying attention.
It sounds like he’s asking me a question. I stand up, head cocked a bit to the side, wondering why he’s still talking to me.
“Sei inglese?”, he then says. Ahh that sounded a bit like “English”.
“Si,” I say. ”American” (which is not the right answer to what he asked).
“Oh, sei americana!”. He looks down, obviously thinking very hard, then looks back up at me and says “Your age, 24, 25?”, his flat, spread hand tipping one way then the other, because Italians have to use gestures.
I nod my head eagerly and smile, “Si”. I was 28, but hey, if this cute Italian boy wanted to think I was younger, who was I to stop him?
“Me too!” he said, with an ecstatic smile on his face, probably more at his English prowess than that we were (he thought) the same age. He happily crossed his arms and rocked back and forth on his heels, smiling at me.
I smiled back. He looked so happy.
Then suddenly, apparently out of English phrases, he reached out his arm, pinched my cheek, and shook it back and forth.
He was still smiling and hadn’t made any other move toward me so I calmed my American instinct to freak out that a stranger was invading my personal space and took a deep breath. I managed to keep a smile plastered on my face but I’m sure my eyes were wide with shock and horror.
Maybe I should’ve been shocked. I had heard about Italian men being “touchy”, but no one had mentioned cheek-pinching (well, not FACE-cheek pinching) and I don’t know that I really believed the stereotype. My next stop was Rome, and at this point in Spello I would’ve been shocked at what I was to experience there. So maybe a cheek-pinching by a cute stranger in a country train station was a good warm up.
He certainly didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. He resumed rocking back and forth on his heels, arms folded and smiling. Then, figuring not much else could be said with our language barrier, he looked back up at the train schedule, smiled and waved goodbye, and walked out.
4:02pm. I sat down, still a bit stunned, and the woman smirked at me.
4:05pm. Still no train. There was supposed to be one every hour at five minutes past. Hmm.
4:09pm. “No traino,” the woman on the bench opposite me suddenly says, pointing up to the screen.
I looked up. It didn’t look very different to me, but I admit I wasn’t really sure what all the symbols and columns meant.
“No traino?”, I repeated. She shook her head. ”Traino…” I made the universal gesture for “next”, index finger pointed to the side and hand arcing forward, then held up five fingers, “…cinque?”
“Forse,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders. “vediamo”. Maybe, we’ll see.
4:20pm. The woman takes another look at the screen and leaves. Oh, boy. Does she see something that tells her the next train won’t come?! She’d already tried to speak to me once. I hoped if that were the case she’d try again…
4:30pm. I decide to wait for the 5:05pm train, and if it doesn’t come then I’d head back to Spello to see if taxis exist in a tiny medieval village. If not, I could still manage to walk back to Assisi in a few hours. If I stuck to the main roads instead of hiking through the mountains like I did on the way here, I wouldn’t get lost. I keep reading my book.
5:01pm. I contemplate praying.
5:04pm. Oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please.
5:05pm. Train! It’s here! Grazie a Dio!
A few short minutes and only one stop later I’m getting off at the station in Santa Maria degli Angeli, buying a bus ticket at the café counter and catching the 15 minute bus ride up the hill to Assisi.
I found out from my waiter at dinner that night that there was a train strike going on, which is probably why some of the trains were cancelled.
Awesome. I decided I needed to learn how to read those train monitors. Asap.
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