In the morning, we headed out to the train station where we would catch the train that would take us to Varenna and the start of our tour. On the way, we stopped for breakfast and each had a croissant filled with nutella and some Italian espresso. The espresso was strong and smooth, but Devin felt that the Italian croissant + nutella combination was no substitution for eggs and bacon.
We arrived at the train station bright and early, prepared to catch the first train out, only to find that there was a strike going on and no trains would be running. The official told us not to worry, however, because the strike would end promptly at 5. We asked a local if strikes were frequent, they assured us they weren't, only once or twice a month by their estimates. We laughed, perhaps this was Italian humor or maybe it was just different expectations. We were told that these strikes only occur between the hours of 9am and 5pm, so that people can still get to and from work, this is one of the few good holdovers from the days of the megalomaniacal Benito Mussolini. So we would be late for our tour and we would have to wait 7 hours in the train station, but we would get to Varenna that day. Here is a lesson learned, be prepared for delay's in Italy, arrive a day or two early if possible, and learn to make the most of your time. We sat around in the train station, but now armed with the knowledge of how Italian strike work we would have certainly taken the time to visit other Milanese sites, such as the Sforza Castle. Nonetheless we enjoyed getting to chat with the locals in the train station, after all it is about experiencing the culture, and how better to do that then to practice some Italian and ask the locals questions about life in Italy.
It was a long day in the train station and a test of Devin’s rudimentary Italian skills. A local woman explained the train schedule to us, and complemented Devin on his Italian accent. We ate Italian fast food of bread, pasta, and carbonated water and then waited on a bench for the 5 o’clock train. The 5 o’clock train was more of a 6:30pm train and what looked like hundreds of people were waiting for that one train. We thought to ourselves, surely some of these people must be waiting on other trains as well, but alas they were not. We squeezed in like cattle into our tiny train car, with only standing room, no air conditioning (95+ degrees fahrenheit and humid), and what felt like an eternity before the train started up. We were sweaty and dirty but there was some fresh air blowing in through the windows and the Italian countryside was a panorama of green hills and quaint houses. We met a gregarious Italian man who told when to expect our train stop. We told him we were on our honeymoon and when we all parted ways, he yelled to us in a very Italian accent “If you make a baby, name him after me! Andrea- girl or boy, it works.”
Hailstorm in Varenna
When it came to navigating through the winding cobblestone paths and stairways of Varenna, we were glad we had brought our backpacks. We met up with a few other members of our tour who had also been delayed by the train strike and were walking toward the hotel where our tour group was meeting up, when it started to rain. After feeling so sweaty and dirty from our day in the train station and our cramped train ride, the rain was a relief. But then it started hail. We sought shelter waiting for the crazy hailstorm in June to cease. When we started back on our journey to the hotel, there was a beautiful double rainbow arching over a quaint lake town of rain-soaked gardens and multicolored houses. It was at this moment that I think we truly fell in love with Italy. It was so clear and beautiful and perfect. The exhausting first two days culminated in our own double rainbow, a hot shower, and a glass of Italian Prosecco,