I woke up in Santhià, Italy, thanks to the wake up call from Elipsos Trenhotel's staff. Awesome service, made me feel like I was in a real hotel! A lot of snow outside. We went to the dining car and had our 5 star breakfasts (that was how they branded it). The menu was similar to the one we had on the way from Paris to Madrid. The only difference was today we ate much later (after sunrise) hence we could really enjoy the breathtaking view of miles and miles of snow-covered Italy while eating.
We made ourselves right at home in the cabin, which means Hz throwing stuff everywhere and me trying to get them organized. The cabin layout is similar to the one we rode from Paris to Madrid, you can see the pics here.
Ain’t that a lovely view!
We arrived in Milan at about 10:00am just now. So many people in Milano Centrale station! Well, it’s 2 days to Christmas. I read the electronic schedule board, and then only I realize the local trains are currently facing lots of delays. Some as long as 240 minutes, that’s 4 hours! Some even got cancelled. Alhamdulillah our train to Rome will be the Alta Velocità (speed train), not the normal train. Even though we had to pay EUR 20 extra for it (local train would be free for us coz we are Eurail pass holders), it sure feels like it’s worth a lot more now.
Milan greeted my arrival with announcements of train delays.
So here I am, in Milan, for the next 2 hours or so. Fortunately, even though there's a lot of snow outside, it's really warm and comfortable inside Milan Centrale station. Very unlike other stations that I've been to like Gare d'Austerlitz (Paris) and Estació de França (Barcelona) where most people have to wait for their trains in freezing cold coz there ain't enough heated areas in the stations.
The columns say Train - Destination - Time - Delay - Platform. The first train has been delayed for 270 minutes. That’s 4.5 hours!
Fast forward, it's now 1:03pm, our train just left Milan a few minutes ago. Alhamdulillah the delay wasn't that long for us. We did ran a bit to the track coz I was nervous to see the train with the same number that we were supposed to board displayed its destination as "Napoli" not "Roma Termini". So I ran to the conductor who was standing a few coaches away (which was far, by the way) and asked "Roma Termini?", she replied "Sì, sì, Roma Termini". We quickly boarded the train.
Once on board, I was surprised to see our seats were taken. Before I get to that, let me talk about the layout of 1st class coaches in Italian trains. On one side of the coach 4 people face each other with a table in between. On the other side 2 people face each other, also with a table in between. It's can be quite uncomfortable for strangers sitting together as you will have to stare at the other person's face for the next how many hours (in our case it's 3.5 hours from Milan to Rome).
Ok now about our seats. I’ve read in many websites how Italians are famous for not sitting on their assigned seats and taking other people's seats. That’s exactly the reason why I’ve requested for our seats to be assigned and printed on our tickets. Still, it didn't stop an Italian family of 4 to take over our seats. When I showed them our tickets with the seat numbers, the father showed me theirs which didn't have any number. It struck me there and then that they didn't have assigned seats, hence they just took over ours so they could sit together.
The father told me I could call the conductor if I wanted to. I walked up and down the coach, no conductor in sight. So I decided to just stand beside our rightful seats and wait. I guessed it made the mother a bit uncomfortable as people were obviously staring at us, so she told me "Just sit anywhere, when the conductor comes we'll talk". I looked around and saw a lady sitting alone in a section with 4 seats, so I asked her if we could take up 2 of them, she nodded.
Then came the luggage handling. There wasn't much space at the end of the coach to put our big and heavy luggage, unless we were to occupy the space for handicapped people which I thought was so wrong for about a million reasons (even though there wasn't any handicapped people on board). There were overhead compartments but it was difficult for us to lift our suitcases up (big and heavy, remember?). We tried to put them under the table but ended up knocking the feet of the lady who sat opposite us which was an awkward moment since we had to sit with her for the next few hours. We wanted to leave them on the aisle but a guy sitting at the other side said "Not possible, people cannot walk", which was a valid observation. There was a small space between seats, just enough for one suitcase, so I put mine there. One done, another (Hz's suitcase) to take care of.
Fortunately an Italian gentleman saw what an ordeal we were in. He asked Hz "Roma?", to which Hz replied yes. He then helped Hz to boost his suitcase up onto the overhead compartment. Hey, there were nice Italians after all! By the way the train will stop at 2 stations before reaching Rome (which is the second last station before the line ends in Naples @ Napoli), so I guess he was making sure that Hz's journey was long enough for it to be worthwhile to put the suitcase up there.
I guess the entire coach must have noticed how surprised we are about the way Italians behave on trains. Need I remind you that we are on 1st class coach, yet I've encountered people taking other people's seats (and refusing to budge!) and inadequate space for big and heavy suitcases. I can only imagine the kind of chaos in 2nd and 3rd classes.
Fast forward, we just reached Bologna. One more station (Florence @ Firenze) before Rome. Quite a lot of people unboarding here. Several just boarded too. I hope they can get themselves settled quickly so we can move on. Suddenly really miss the systematic 1st class trains in Spain *sigh*
Omigod, guess what, there's no way the these people can get settled coz the train is already moving and all seats have been taken up! The aisle is full with people standing, some are sitting on their suitcases. Such a sad view in a 1st class coach. I've tried to ask the lady sitting in front of us if the train has been overbooked, but she just smiled and shook her head. Perhaps she doesn't understand English. I have 2 theories: Firstly the train may be overbooked considering it's so close to Christmas. Secondly the train operators are catching up with transporting people who are supposed to board earlier delayed/cancelled trains, hence they allow these people to board anyway as long as they are willing to occupy whatever available space on board, even when it means that they have to stand for the next 3 hours!
Fast forward, we are now in Florence @ Firenze. More people unboard here than those boarding, which means a lot more space and less stuffy. I hear a kid crying, perhaps the heat is a bit too much to take. No snow here, which means there's a good chance there won't be any snow in Rome later. I can't wait to end this uncomfortable ride!
Alhamdulillah, we've reached Rome, yay! Our hotel is close to Termini station, but the roads here are quite dark at night, they look pretty scary from our hotel window. I told Hz we must make sure we always return to our hotel before the sun goes down. Though that will mean only about 8 hours of sightseeing each day (daylight is really short in Rome during winter unlike other cities we've been to), I don't mind at all as long as I feel safe.
So all plans of discovering the city at night have been striked off. We'll start our exploration tomorrow. Nighty night!