During the trip I started writing a story called “The Vacation Trip From Hell,” but it was getting overly long, so I parked the story until after the trip. I have now resurrected the concept, because continuing developments wove themselves into a fairly lengthy and coherent narrative. The narrative has turned out to be overly long, so I broke it into multiple parts, this part being the second.
The first part of this saga covered only the first day and may have given people the idea this was going to be the vacation from Hell. Fortunately that was not the case, but there is still drama remaining. Even so, we had many notable experiences that made traveling in Italy a worthwhile part of the vacation. To give readers a feel for the experience I’m going provide coverage that may be of interest.
Cortona was our first stop, but we also wanted to take a tour through Assisi. Since Assisi is a short trip from Cortona, we had in our plans a day trip to Assisi out of Cortona. Here’s where the easy part comes in.
Once we got our Eurail pass validated in Rome we had ten free travel days available in Italy. It works like this.
When you get the pass it has a number of blank dates, totaling the number you purchased. If you’re going to travel a certain day, then before you get on the train you fill in one of the blank dates. Then you just get on the train, and the pass is your ticket for all trains for that day. We purchased a family plan, meaning in our case the pass was good for two people traveling together. It’s cheaper that way.
You fill in the date before you get on the train, because sometime during the trip a train official is likely to pass through the car requesting to see your ticket. You show him your pass. He verifies you have filled in today’s date and may even put a punch mark by the day’s date. They do this so you can’t use more travel days than you purchased by leaving a travel day blank in case nobody comes by to check. If the ticket inspector finds you have not filled in the date before boarding the train, you’re going to owe the railroad a hefty fine.
All of this is a painless way to travel, not just in Italy, but throughout most of Western Europe. Used wisely (purchase only to cover the long and expensive trips) it can save you a lot of money. Additionally it’s a convenience. You can rush right down to the platform and get on your train without going through the hassle of purchasing tickets for your trip.
We were advised it’s worth the extra cost to purchase first class passage, and we did. On most trains there are special cars marked for first class and definitely a cut above the second class cars. First class has more room, and usually there is a small fold out table for each passenger. In particular I noticed, even in some second class cars, there is a power outlet next to each seat where you can plug in your computer. On the premier trains first class also includes a complimentary beverage and a small snack (cookie or such) and a newspaper. I still have mine.
So we took or day trip to Assisi as planned, but first it was necessary to get from our hotel to the train station. Cortona is on top of a sizable hill. The train station is in Camuccia, down on the flat lands. Fortunately there is a bus. But you need a ticket.
Back in the previous century when Greg Aicklen and I first went to Italy on business we noted that the Italians like to sell train and bus tickets at tobacco shops. News stands, also, but you can usually count on being able to purchase tickets at tobacco shops.
In Cortona we noticed a tobacco shop in the main town square, just a block or so from our hotel. We purchased four tickets. It’s not a bad bargain at 1.20 Euros (about $1.60) each. You get on the bus, and you can ride all day or 90 minutes, whichever comes first. Getting on the bus involves also poking your ticket into the validating machine, which time stamps the ticket and gets the clock running.
Not too bad came the day of our trip. We noticed a bus station about 1/4 mile from the hotel and about 200 feet closer to sea level, and it was a pleasant stroll. I carried my Samsung tablet along, and the handy Eurail trip planner app coughed up the train schedule for us.
For example, looking at a typical weekday schedule, train number 2305 leaves the Camuccia station at 8:03 in the morning. You get off at Terontola-Cortona station and catch train number 22807 for Assisi, getting there at 9:36. That gives for a lot of time to scope out the town made famous by Saint Francis before heading back.
Assisi is also a hilltop town, so you need bus tickets into town and back, but that’s not a big deal.
After some strolling, seeing the sights and a nice lunch we headed back on an afternoon train. This was a direct train. On way to Assisi we were not so concerned about which car we got on, but we realized we needed to be taking advantage of our first class pass, since we paid extra for it. The trip back to Camuccia-Cortona was first class. In most respects.
The first thing we noticed upon boarding was the air conditioned car was not cool. Neither were any of the other air conditioned cars. Neither would the windows open, although many tried. Neither was it a cool day in Tuscany. Fortunately the ride was only about an hour. Fortunately about ten minutes before the Camuccia station a conductor came around with a special tool and opened some windows. Such are the adventures of train travel in Italy.
Following the good practice of breaking a long narrative into digestible chunks, I’m going to continue the tale of planes and trains and crawly things in another installment. Keep reading.