FlashBack Friday – Sottopassaggio
I love to travel. Sadly, I rarely have enough money to go where I’d like. This has never stopped me. Ah, the joys of academia. As long as you have a study plan, a topic to research or a paper to give, you can usually get the opportunity to travel abroad for very little money.
That was how I ended up in Italy.
It was 1995 (I think, maybe ’94) and I got accepted to study Dante at the University of Padova (or Padua in English). I could not have been more excited. Ok, scared shitless but incredibly excited. I had never traveled out of the country before and I’d certainly never picked up to move to a foreign place to live with people I had never met and with whom I foresaw many communication difficulties. I may be able to speak Italian (like a 5th grader at best) but at that time I was far less confident about my abilities. Although having said this I did spend many a night playing Risk (or Risiko as it’s called over there) after hours in the bar with the owner and his buddies.
There are MANY many stories I could tell about my time in Italy, and I’m sure I’ll get around to some of them, but today I want to focus on the time I went traveling with a friend from one of my classes.
His name was Talli and I’ll never forget him. He had this really wild hair that probably should have been an afro, but it was so long and he wore a rubber band around it so that it actually stood straight up off the top of his head. Wherever we went people stared and pointed at Talli and mumbled, “ananas” under their breath . They were calling him Pineapple Head. Fitting really. That’s exactly what he looked like and I loved him for it. I absolutely ate this up since most of the time people pointed at me instead.
This story takes place in August of 1995 (I think) when Talli and I had finished our summer courses and handed in our final papers. We decided to pack some rucksacks and get open train tickets. We’d been hopping trains both legally and secretively (getting home from Venice late at night with no money is NOT easy to do) for months, but we thought that an open rail pass (not a EuroRail pass, this one was exclusively for Italian trains) would make things much easier.
We left Padova with stuffed backpacks and plans to stay nowhere but hostels. I’ll be honest I don’t remember exactly where we went first. It was over 10 years ago and the plan for the whole trip was to not plan a thing. The big “plan” was to get to the train station, pick a cardinal direction and look at the schedule to see which train was heading in the right direction at the right time. We chose to head south.
One night we when we were having dinner in a small mom and pop restaurant (ristorante di mamma e babo? I’m totally making that up.) we decided to jump a train and head to Sicily. The only train we could take would get us most of the way there but we would have to switch trains in the middle of the night. No problem.
Or so we thought, but that was before much indulgence of the house wine.
By the time Talli and I boarded the train heading south we were both soused. Needless to say we kept drinking.
I have to admit the trip was a blast. We were laughing the whole way down, that is until we passed out.
We were jolted back to consciousness somewhere around 5 am by the entrance of the conductor. His sole purpose was to kick us off the train since it was turning east toward Puglia. Talli and I hastily gathered our belongings (sadly, I left something very important and personal behind, but that’s a story for another time) and jumped from the train groggily looking around us for some indication of where we were. I looked up and saw a sign:
I turned to Talli and said, “Sottopassaggio. Where is Sottopassaggio?” Talli turned and scanned the rail schedule on the wall behind us while I searched the station for a sign of the possibility of espresso. We needed a train that would cross to Messina but Talli couldn’t find Sottopassaggio anywhere on the schedule.
“It’s not here. I can’t find it anywhere? How the hell are we going to find out which train to get on if I can’t find where we even are.” We stood staring at each other in silence for a moment…
and then started laughing. See, for any of you who don’t already know, a sottopassaggio is an underpass. The sign we had spotted on our way out of the train was just pointing us to the other side of the track and out the door.
But hey, we weren’t exactly in top form that morning.
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** The photo above is not my own. I found it while Google searching for an image. It belongs to someone called emayoh and this link is to her flickr site.