Finally, time to ride!

It is finally time for me to start riding the actual course, and not a minute too soon. After months of preparation, much of which fell through at the last minute, all that stood between me and the Giro on Thursday was one of the longest and most difficult train trips I have ever taken.

If you just want to see the ride, click here now. Otherwise, read on!

It is possible to get from Frankfurt to Naples by train in about 9 hours, but not when you are taking your bike. With my bike, the trip took me about 30 hours, and involved ten different trains, plus the 10km walk for which they allowed 50 minutes. I thought it was all going to be easy when I got to Livorno, but there were a few more points.

In Frankfurt, when I booked my ticket, the woman in the ticket office had told me that she couldn’t book the last two trains, Rome to Naples via Caserta. She said she didn’t know why, but that since they were both regional trains it would be fine to book once I was in Rome. Being the cautios type, I went to do it in Livorno instead. That was when I found out that one of them wasn’t running. I have no idea why, as the explanation I got was in Italian. But it meant that I couldn’t take that train. It was ok though, because there was a direct connection, Rome to Naples, that I could buy a ticket on instead. So I did. All good.

On the train to Rome, I saw something I wasn’t really ready for. The conductor, who had seemed perfectly friendly, suddenly came rushing up the corridor, pushing a woman about half his size. He pushed her into the entry corridor, and proceeded to shout at her and push her some more. I don’t think he actually hit her, but he certainly hit the wall next to her pretty hard. I have no idea why. He kicked her off at the next station, but whatever she had done can’t have been that bad, or he would have handed her to the police. I didn’t like it, but without having understood a word I had no idea what was happening, so didn’t feel I could interfere. I do hope it was justified though.

The new ticket I had bought didn’t have a time on it, so on arriving in Rome I looked at the departures list to find out. That was when I noticed that this was the only regional train on which you were not able to take a bike. Seriously. The list showed every train that left the station in whole week, and this train, which ran twice a week, was the only regional train that didn’t allow bikes. Five days a week a different train ran one minute earlier on the same route, and allowed bikes. This was the last regional train to Naples for the day though, so the first one I could take was to be Saturday morning. I wanted to ride the course tonight. There was only one thing to do.

Ten minutes before the train was due to depart I pushed all thought of the brutality that may the fate of people who ride without a ticket from my mind, put on my most winning smile, tidied my hair, and walked boldly towards the train, wheeling my bike. The conductor was a bloke. Disappointing. Unless maybe he was gay? He wasn’t. That or I just wasn’t his type, I don’t know. But whatever, he told me that I was not allowed on the train with my bike. Foiled. I pushed it a bit, and asked why not. He gestured for me to follow, and walked up to that departures list. My heart sank. He ran his finger down the list and it stopped… at the other train. The other train that followed the exact same route. The other train that left on minute earlier. The other train that ran on five of the six other days of the week, but not today. The other train that, most importantly for me, allowed bicycles.

His finger slide across the entry, this time stopping at the little picture of a bike. He grunted audibly in surprise. I spoke quickly, to stop him looking any further.

“Bueno?” I asked. I’m not really sure if that is a question in Italian. Or even a word. It did the trick though.

“OK, then put it at the front” he said. Nice. I hurried to the very front door, and saw all of the people and suitcases filling the corridor. I put my bike in there anyway, and then followed it myself. Another conductor arrived.

“You can’t put that bike in here!” he pretty clearly said, even though he said it in Italian. I replied (in English) that this was where the other conductor had told me to go.

“Bueno,” he said. Or maybe I just imagined that that was what he had said, to make myself feel better. But he definitely then did say (in English) “then put it in here”. He then proceeded to order and/or shove people and/or suitcases out of the way as he forced his way through the carriage. I followed, until we got to the luggage car. I am happy to say that although you could not move for luggage in the rest of the train, the luggage car was empty. Perfect for my bike. Unfortunately I clearly wasn’t allowed to stay with it, so I grabbed my panniers and headed back out into the crowd. Eventually I found enough space to put them down, so then I sat on them.

I still hadn’t got my ticket validated, but there was no way I was leaving the train at that point, and I just stayed sitting on my panniers for the next hour and a half. Finally the train started to empty out, so I found a third conductor, got him to validate the ticket, and spent the rest to the trip in the comfort of a seat. Awesome.

Now I’m in Naples. I spent last night in a hotel (nowhere to camp in a city like this) and am now ready to ride the course. Today’s course is 12 loops. I’m not going to ride all of them, because that would get boring with no-one to race against and anyway, I don’t have time. I will do at least one though. You can see how I go, by clicking here!

A few points about the live-tracking:
- you can view the ride while I am riding, and for 24 hours after I stop.
- you will be taken to the garmin website to view it.
- yesterday, it didn’t seem to work if you were using a mobile phone. Today it seems a bit like it does. Sorry about that, but it is all done by Garmin and is out of my control.
- I’m still using a German SIM card today, not sure how well it will work. I will get an Italian one soon though.
- if you are thinking how slow I am, remember the luggage I have and how far I have to go!

Cheers,
Rowan

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