Exhausted from a day of travel on numerous trains from Barcelona to the south of France, I slept on the platform in Narbonne, cushioned by backpacks, waiting for the night train that would take me and James into Italy. When the train pulled into the station, I awoke long enough to stow my backpack, find a seat, and show my ticket and passport to the conductor. Wrapped in my sarong from Hondarribia, I fell back into sleep. It was the best rest I ever got on a train.
When I awoke in the morning, I peeked under the curtain covering the train window and was greeted with the deepest blue skies, the stateliest palms and the whitest and grandest buildings I’d seen on our trip. My only views of the French Riviera and Monaco were from a moving train, stolen from under a heavy curtain. Markedly different from the grey salt marshes of yesterday, the scenery boosted my spirits. I was almost in Italy!
"Nude (Study), Sad Young Man on a Train", oil on cardboard by Marcel Duchamp
From the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
We arrived in Ventimiglia early and were ushered through another passport check. (Again, James and I were waved through without ever opening our passports.) We caught a train to Genova, then another train to Genova Sampierdarena, then another train to Genova Brignole. From there, we boarded a train for Pisa, where we met another young couple who were on vacation from America. As they struggled aboard with their giant suitcases, James and I helped them to stow their luggage. The four of us stood together and chatted as we made our way through Italy. They were on vacation for two weeks, and had brought double the amount of baggage that James and I had. They were surprised that we were traveling for a month and had only one backpack apiece. Looking at her well-groomed hair and fresh, put-together appearance, I couldn’t help but mentally compare it with my unwashed hair, day-old clothing and all-around “train face.”
As we pulled into Pisa, we glimpsed the Leaning Tower from the window. The other tourists on board emitted shouts of excitement and flung their forefingers in the direction of the Tower. I thought it was small. A part of me even thought “That’s it?” I was glad we were just passing through Pisa. (Several years later, after I moved back to California, I flew to London to meet James, and then we flew on to Pisa for a week long vacation. Our hotel was right around the corner from the station, and I couldn’t help but remember my initial reaction to seeing the Tower. Turns out, the view from the top is pretty spectacular.)
From Pisa, James and I changed trains to one heading to Florence. The American couple were headed the same direction, so we again helped them with their masses of luggage. By this time, I was able to put on my giant backpack without a struggle and without tipping over, and taking an extra suitcase was no sweat. The four of us exchanged email addresses and parted ways once we got to Florence. They were off to find their hotel, we were off to find a campsite.
We chose Campeggio Michelangelo since it’s the closest campsite to town. My trusty Lonely Planet book was kind enough to include directions and bus instructions. After a short ride through the city, the bus began to climb the bowl-shaped hills that surround Florence. It wound through leafy lanes, and every once in awhile we’d catch a glimpse of the Duomo nestled in the center of town.
The Well-Worn Map - Barcelona to Florance