Okay, so where were we. I’m in Rome. I slept well in the hostel even though one of my roommates came in around 3am and scared the crap out of me. Saturday morning I got up and while I ate the free breakfast (mostly cornflakes and coffee, hey beggars can’t be choosers!) I researched lodging options in Ortona. I had already searched and confirmed that there weren’t any hostels so my options were hotel or B&B. There are only about five B&B’s in town and when I searched the name of one I came up with a blog post written in 2008 by someone who was doing a trip remarkably similar to mine; venturing to Ortona to trace the steps of an uncle who was killed during the war. The prices seemed okay so I booked it for two nights. Next step, figure out how to get TO Ortona. Thankfully the front desk clerk in the hostel was super helpful and showed me what train to take online and then gave me instructions on how to get to the train station. I stripped my bed and packed only enough clothes for the two nights I’d be in Ortona and left the rest of my luggage with the desk.
Even though the train wasn’t scheduled to leave until later that afternoon I made a point of going to the station first to secure my ticket and so I knew what it was like. After purchasing the ticket, which incidentally cost the same amount as the train ride from the airport the night before, except it was taking me five times as far.
I had about four hours to kill before the train left so I took the metro down to the Coliseum. I figured it was a good tourist spot to walk around and I could use the time to get my bearings. I’d come back and actually explore it. Tourist spot is right though. There were illegal vendors everywhere selling everything from hats, umbrellas and sun glasses to scarves that say “ROMA” on them and frozen bottles of water. I think the water guys were brilliant. The other ones just annoyed me. “Hello! I’m WEARING sunglasses.” It was also stinking hot out. So I walked around the Coliseum and took some pictures, watched three different couples taking wedding photos and then went in search of something to eat for lunch. This was my first time eating in Italy so I wanted something memorable. I kind of had pizza in mind because it seemed portable but either it was me or the heat but I couldn’t find pizza anywhere. It was very frustrating. I wasn’t in the mood to sit alone in a restaurant so I finally caved to my hunger and just purchased one of the Panini style sandwiches from the stands that are everywhere. I had them heat it up because it’s a Panini but that made it super soft and the minute I peeled back the wrapping to take a bite, half of it fell on the ground. Again, tears are threatening. Horrible. I managed to eat most of what was left even though it was only kind of warm, really soggy and slightly sour tasting from being in a case in the sun. So not my best experience with food.
After that I gave up and headed back to the train station. There were just too many people around, too many vendors and it was SO stinking hot. I arrived at the station super early but it was quiet and there was a nice breeze so I just relaxed. The train left around 2:30 just as scheduled. It was super empty. I think there was one other person in my car and the seats were incredibly comfortable. The ride took forever. I don’t know if there was a high speed option (I doubt it) but we stopped at every tiny town between Rome and Pescara. As we travelled along I was looking out the window and thinking “yeah, it’s pretty but all of Europe has been pretty. I don’t get what the fuss is about.” As we got into the mountains though? Wow. Gorgeous. Amazing peaks and valleys and random castles surrounded by little villages. So cool. I understand why people like Italy now, and I wasn’t even in Tuscany! LOL
I had to switch trains in Pescara (which is the closest big city to Ortona). Of course I wasn’t paying a lot of attention and got off at the “Pescara Nord” station instead of “Pescara Centrale”. It was a stupid mistake but it wasn’t a big deal because I had 1.5 hours before the train left for Ortona. Still it meant 45 minutes of standing on an abandoned train platform on a Sunday evening with a full bladder and an empty stomach berating myself for being stupid. Of course another train did come along (one of the skills I acquired in Germany was reading train schedules, even if I don’t understand the language. Thank God times are just numbers) and I took it to Pescara Centrale. There I managed to use the “necessary”, find some freaking AMAZING pizza and catch the train to Ortona. I also tried Schweppes Lemon drink. I had seen someone else order one and it sounded refreshing. Um no. It was like drinking Pledge :P
Anyway, so the train arrives in Ortona and the sun is mostly set. It was a beautiful ride along the coast but mostly through tunnels that protect from falling rocks so I couldn’t take pictures. Really this whole adventure sounds like a movie. So picture the scene now. It’s mostly dark out (this is where I fail, again, on V’s advice in her comment about not arriving in a strange city after dark :P) The train station is largely abandoned. The ticket counter is closed and the only people around are some old guys in the “tabacerie” at the end of the platform. I go in and ask about a taxi. The guy behind the bar is the only one in there that speaks English and he hands me a business card for “Mauro’s Taxi” and directs me to a pay phone. Apparently there’s only one taxi in town? Ooookay. So I after about 20 minutes of Incredibly Frustrated Heidi trying to figure out the stupid pay phone, I finally confirm that Mauro can come and get me…in an HOUR. Apparently he serves two towns and he’s currently stuck in traffic in another town. Cue the “you can’t make this sh*t up” line. Knowing I really don’t have any other option, I wait. First in the tabacerie while the guy closes up shop, and then outside where he kindly sits about 20 feet away smoking and talking with a friend until the taxi arrives. He didn’t try and make conversation but he also let me know he was there. I appreciated it even if I was questioning my sanity. I mean here I am, in a strange country that speaks a strange language relying on the kindness of strangers. My poor guardian angel was obviously working overtime.
So the taxi comes and delivers me to the B&B where the owner is waiting even though it’s after 10pm. My first order of business it to get online and confirm with my parents that I’m still alive…because honestly, I was kind of surprised myself that I made it.
If visiting Ortona wasn’t something I’ve wanted to do for years, I would have scrapped it entirely. Luckily, it gets better from here. No more creepy late night taxi rides ;) Stay tuned for the next installment.