I was on the move again today and would be travelling all day.
On arrival at Ravenna’s railway station, I checked the departures board. One thing that keeps catching me out with railway stations here is that reading left to right, the arrivals information is presented first and on the same scale as departures.
I’m so used to seeing departures as the most important presentation that I keep having double-takes as I wonder what has happened to my train. Meeting people from their journeys is an equal function for railway stations as leaping on a train to leave here… whereas in the UK, the fact that you might be meeting someone off a train is such an afterthought that the arrivals boards are usually small and often not presented next to the main display.
The impression I take from this is that in Italy, railway stations are for returning and reunions whereas in the UK, they are for leaving.
Having checked the board, I headed for platform 2, passing a woman relaying her two huge suitcases up the steps to platform 1. After a few minutes in the sunshine as I waited, the display information changed, and the train to Bologna Centrale was now departing from platform 1. As I followed the direction I passed the woman, now lugging her belongings up the steps to platform 2.
I hoped she wasn’t going for the same train as me.
The train arrived into Bologna Centrale and I was all psyched up for a trek across the platforms. (Remember: three levels, many many platforms and not very long to do the dash in. Only pack what you can run with).
Today, even with a late arrival, I still had thirty minutes to do this in. And my platform? Next one over.
The train pulled out of Bologna and the first stop, along a route of historic towns was Modena, known for its balsamic vinegar, Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars. (No pictures – the windows were filthy and stations are never in the nice end of town).
This whole region, (including Ravenna and Ferrara) Emilia-Romagna, is one of the wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe. After the Roman era, the region came under the Holy Roman Empire (ironically, and probably annoyingly for the various popes at least… nothing to do with Rome… the seat of power being Germany). In the 12th Century, the papacy started flexing its muscle and the Northern Italian city states with Rome’s encouragement began to push back against the Holy Roman Emperors. For the next few centuries, the papacy ruled most of the area though… inevitably… the family-ruled city states began jostling for power: Modena, Reggio, Rimini, Ferrera, Parma, Piacenza – all of them manouvred.
The region fell under Napoleonic control but would later become part of the Kingdom of Italy as the country unified.
After the First world war, Emilia-Romagna was at the centre of the Biennio Rosso. It was a two year period of intense social conflict. The Biennio Rosso took place in a context of economic crisis at the end of the war, with high unemployment and political instability. It was characterized by mass strikes, worker manifestations as well as self-management experiments through land and factories occupations.
The unrest paved the way for Benito Mussolini’s coup d’état in 1922 and the birth of the Fascist regime in Italy. And in true “jobs for the boys” style Mussolini, who was from Emilia-Romagna, sponsored the rise of many associates from the area
Towards the end of the Second World War, Emilia-Romagna was occupied by Germany and experienced multiple war crimes.
Between the towns of Reggio-Emilia, Parma, Fidenza and Piacenza, the field use alternated between vineyards already harvested bales of straw. Poppies lined the rails. There were a few small villages and the occasional farm but this line was dominated by stops at large towns and cities..
I saw the occasional deer running through the fields but you’ll just have to take my word for that.
At Piacenza, I had a luxurious hour between trains – time for a coffee. The station cafe here is run by Mokà. While the residents of Bolzano hate (with a passion you can only begin to imagine) their station cafe… the good people of Piacenza love theirs, and the food, and the coffee and especially the staff. I headed in. The staff are indeed lovely and the coffee, served in a real cup rather than a carton, was delicious.
Panella (Bolzano) and Mokà are both franchises and I’ve seen a few Italian chains on my travels around Italy. That’s hardly surprising. What is remarkable is the lack of foothold that US/UK chains have failed to make.
In the places I have visited so far (and even thinking back to previous trips) I’ve seen only McDonalds (usually only looked for if I need the loo and they’ve clocked that in Milan – prove you’ve ordered food first). None of the other cheap food brands are here. Why would they be necessary? Italy invented cheap, fast food (from a European perspective). Independent takeaways are everywhere.
And I don’t think it needs to be said that Italy does not need the coffee chains (though apparently this does need to be pointed out to the occasional mournful tourist wondering why they can’t find a certain Seattle based establishment).
I’m not sure if the internationally recogniseable chains have tried or are even bothering to attempt to open up the Italian market. Their absence, when everywhere else I have ever been they are ubiquitious, actually makes me feel like I have travelled somewhere actually different.
The windows were no cleaner, than the last, on the train I rode out of Piacenza.
I also realised, with a fair bit of muttering under my mask that, once again, the really irritating bloke on the train from Bologna was sitting across the aisle from me. Why was he irritating?
He never bloody shut up for the one and half hour ride from Bologna and it looked like he wasn’t going to shut up now. Another train another phone call and he wasn’t pausing for breath, nevermind listening to the person at the other end of the call. I didn’t understand what he was saying and usually I am oblivious to conversations if I don’t know the language. It was the volume that was the issue.
I went to find another seat.
The windows were still filthy.
Around thirty minutes later, the countryside changed from endless flat fields to rolling hills, the fields interrupted by small wooded areas. There was the occasional church or castle clear against the skyline. Vineyarda continued but there was more variety in the colours of the fields – different shades of green, yellows qnd browns. Poppies were fewer.
The other big difference was the grey sky. I’d been spoiled with blue skies for the last two weeks. I was heading for a far cooler Western coast than I had had been used to on the Eastern side of Italy. (Still warmer than the UK though).
I was supposed to arrive in Genoa at 16:12, having left Ravenna at 09:44. Italy isn’t that big – it’s just all three trains were plodders, more formally described as stopping services. It’s a leisurely way to drink in the scenery… which is a charitable way of saying the train was now running thirty minutes late as we moved into forested hillsides.
The train was now following the curve of narrow valleys, passing through tunnels from one to the next and calling at villages filled with yellow and red painted buildings and had apparently sped up to regain some time. I can’t say that I wholeheartedly believed that annoucement.
The cloud was low over the mountaintops as we passed through valley towns bridges and viaducts over and along the river. The train was now covering the last few miles to the outskirts of Genoa, coming to a brief halt in a long tunnel before pressing on as a more important and faster train passed by.
Once through the tunnel we were in the main station in Genoa, a seemingly narrow stripe of a city caught on the land between the sea and the mountains.