Last week was my first foray across the border – without any form of valid identification – into Austria. My concern at the time was the temporary border checks being put in place by some EU countries, and less so about my mode of transport.
Alarm bells should have gone off in Florence, where a signalling malfunction resulted in my having to spend the night in the city. Luckily, this delay led me to discover a book by Tim Parks: Italian Ways: On and off the rails from Milano to Palermo. The ideal travel companion on this adventure; it has since given me the sense that if I can understand the intricacies of Trenitalia, I should be able to come to grips with the intricacies of Italy itself.
Mounting the stairs into my carriage, a wave of heat engulfed me. Why the hell wasn't the air conditioning running?
Before I had the chance to ask, a conductor grabbed my ticket and directed me to my compartment. Where, I found a modern day Viking occupying one of the lower bunks; wild, dyed ginger hair; a beard parted in the middle, forming two V's; wielding a beer in one hand and an iPad in the other.
The conductor was tapping the compartment wall, he needed my attention to familiarize me with the compartment: "You will be in the lower bunk (adjacent the Viking), make sure you lock the door when you sleep ... WTF, there's a Viking sleeping next to me in this sauna, I'm not sure if I want to be locked in here ..., adjust the lighting using this dial, the temperature using this dial, which won't be necessary because the air conditioning isn't working. And don't pull this red button, unless it's an emergency."
"Did you say the air conditioning isn't working?"
"Si signore, have a good trip." he said as he walked away.
Sitting on my bunk, sweating like a pig, I wondered how the hell I would freshen up before work the next morning. My Viking companion, on the other hand, appeared to be quit comfortable, fully clothed, sipping his beer, playing games on his iPad.
I opened my book at the part where Tim describes how the lamps above the seats on certain trains don't work and are more ornamental than functional. I flick the switch on my reading lamp ... nothing .... even on a sleeper train.
The train finally pulls out of the station, the corridors lined with people, standing by windows wedged open with plastic bottles, gasping like fish for fresh air.
Any idea I had of sleeping soon evaporated, along with all the perspiration in our hot box. I spent the next few hours tossing and turning, even the Viking had pulled off most of his clothes, but his snoring signalled he had at least found sleep.
Eventually, the snoring and ammonia soaked air got the better of me, I had to escape the cabin. Fumbling in the dark, I nearly pulled the bloody emergency break. Who puts an emergency break handle right by the button that unlocks the compartment door? Yes, that big red handle. I suppose any idiot should know not to pull it.
Somewhere along the way I managed to get some sleep. In the morning, we were woken by the conductor, bearing coffee, bread, and, a cool breeze. Hang on, the windows are closed, that can only mean the air conditioning is running. Apparently, we switched locomotives when we crossed into Austria, and with the new locomotive came air conditioning.
The station in Vienna looks more like an airport terminal than a train station. Having located the washrooms and paid 50 cents to use the facilities, I did my best to freshen-up for the day ahead. I've discovered that intimate wipes are a useful alternative, when showering isn't an option.
After a good week in Vienna, I boarded the train home to Italy; a fully air conditioned cabin, with all the reading lights working (yes, I tested them all). Having settled in on the top bunk, I pulled out Tim's book, looking forward to final chapter, the young girl next to me, a vast improvement on the Viking, pulled out Fifty Shades of Grey. As the train rolled from the station we each entered our separate worlds.
I must of drifted off to sleep, because the next thing I knew, she's waking me up, "Quick we have to change trains in 2 minutes!"
"But this train goes directly to Venezia Santa Lucia."
Turns out, as we crossed into Italy, the locomotives were switched. A few miles from the border our Trenitalia locomotive broke down.
Welcome back to the Italy!