Italy-Train to Bergamo


Milan Train Station

God. Trying to find cheap flights to Europe these days is not easy. Not even in the off-season. But, with a little perseverance I was lucky enough to have found a decent rate flying into Milan. After flying for 16 hours with layovers and taking a bus from the airport, I arrived at the Milan train station, looking the way one would when traveling for that amount of time. Whatever, that’s travel. Milan has a lot to offer, and the Milan train station itself is worth checking out but my only purpose there was to catch a local train to a town about an hour east called, Bergamo. I absolutely love taking train rides in Europe. Any train ride. Local, fast trains, slow trains, even the hot, overcrowded trains in the summer because they are the most interesting places to people watch,meet other travelers and sometimes get really great ideas. So, I went on my way to Bergamo found the train pretty packed for a mid-week departure and sat next to a very nice, friendly looking man who didn’t speak English but was kind enough to speak slowly for me. He looked like many Northern Italians, maybe a combination of Swiss or Austrian and Italian. Beautiful people. Unfortunately for him my Italian language skills have always been limited at best but I understand plenty and I know how to order my food. Molto Importante! We had short conversations but he smiled a lot and I was able to understand almost everything he said. The ride itself was going o.k. but the only thing that wasn’t working for me on this particular ride was that it wasn’t very scenic and every so often I would get uneasy about some of the areas of the stops on the way and prayed that there wouldn’t be a reason to get off. I know train stops anywhere aren’t the most picturesque but a couple of times I held my breath and thought, holy crap. Please let this little town be worth this extra stretch I’m having to go through. I planned this because it looked like an economical advantage in doing so but was I really saving that much money flying out of Bergamo instead of Milan to get to my next destination? It was one of those dialogues you have with yourself when traveling cheap and alone. In any case, the nerves were kicking in, tired from flying, not impressed with the scenery, feeling upset that I wasn’t in awe of my surroundings yet, thinking that I’ve become jaded, and then finally. A tension breaker.             

 A group of adolescent boys, probably around thirteen or fourteen years old, got on the train and proceeded to entertain the hell out of me. They were like something from a movie. They reminded me of movies like, “Stand By Me”, or “The Outsiders”, or a scene from “Jersey Boys”. You know…..just something about kids hanging out with their friends and trying to see what they can get away with. At home, I usually can’t tolerate teenagers for more than 10 seconds. I hate how loud they are and I especially can’t stand being around them on BART or any of the buses or underground trains in SF. These boys were just as obnoxious as any American teen but add the Italian language being spoken at a rapid speed, the dramatic hand gestures, and you’ve got a recipe for total entertainment. I’m sure the other passengers didn’t share my amusement and thought they were punks but nonetheless, they were cracking themselves up over something only they knew about and looked more like seven-year old little boys instead of young men. I just thought they were the cutest things in the world. There they were, laughing and enjoying themselves when the train had to come to a stop. All of a sudden they ran down one end of the hall which startled everyone and then they came running back screaming and laughing at the same time. When the door opened, they jumped out, backpacks flying while they were screaming, followed by a lathered up ticket agent who was chasing them right out the door, screaming about their biglietti. Apparently they hadn’t paid their fare. They basically just laughed hysterically at the agent and kept on running, knowing that he was stuck on the train and couldn’t do a damn thing about it. He was also pretty pissed that the rest of us were laughing at him as well. All my buddy next to me could say was, “banditi” (bandits) while laughing and shaking his head. It was just the distraction I needed to squelch my anxieties about traveling to God knows where with bad jet lag and my horribly spoken Italian. Upon my arrival, my buddy helped me get my bag down and wished me buona fortuna, (good luck) on my trip. I was pretty happy that the language issue hadn’t stumped me yet but true to form, the second I congratulated myself another test came swaggering up my path.             





Bergamo, Italy

There he was. That well dressed Frenchman I’ve  always fantasized about meeting on a train, approached my smelly, jet-lagged, scrappy self asking, “Parlez-vous francais”? In how many different ways could this have sucked more? French. Dammit. I took a couple of French classes eight years ago. With jet lag, that’s like never having learned it at all. All I could muster was, “non-desole” (No, sorry). I asked him, looking like a panting poodle waiting for a snausage treat, “Parlez-vous Anglais”? Nope. I had always been lucky in the past meeting French people who spoke English. Leave it to me to find the one French businessman who didn’t. What can I say… my luck is merd. Cest La Vie.  One of the funniest things that seems to happen in these situations is that people will still always try to communicate somehow. I THINK he asked me how to get to the main street from where the train let us off. Like I knew. I clearly looked so touristy it wasn’t even funny. At any rate somehow I managed to show him where the street was and realized that I probably looked even worse in broad daylight than I did with whatever mood lighting you can get from a train. At that point I was so tired and kind of over it all and just wanted to find the 4×4 dorm room I had reserved for the night. All I could do was bid my adieu, and off I went to enjoy the beautiful town of Bergamo. Besides, forget the Frenchman, I happened to roll into that town on the day they were having the European Food Festival. Viva Italia!             

True travel is launching oneself into the unknown. There is no excuse for it except that one offers oneself in a spirit of experiment.
-Paul Theroux, Travel Writer