After dinner, just before 7pm, I checked I had everything, said my goodbyes, and escaped. I mean left. It was a pleasant sprint to the station. I met a few Italians there who wanted to practice their English on me, that was the most exciting part of an otherwise incredibly boring journey.
At Milan I was being messed around by the trains to Rome and was on my way to see if there were any trains heading north when I noticed two guys sprinting into the station with tennis rackets protruding like aerials from their rucksacks. Ah, English I thought. They were. Lee, small, scruffy and blond and Richard, tall, neat and dark, both from Dartford and at that moment, heading to Bari, southern Italy.
They launched into an interesting story about how they had just got comfortable in what they thought was a local park, and then discovered to their horror, that it was the grounds of Milan’s sanatorium. They had then spent the next hour explaining (or trying to) to the Gatekeeper that they were Interailers and not patients. I imagine the guard may have been confused by the talking of gibberish while armed with tennis rackets. Finally they got him to believe them and ran for their lives to the station.
They seemed like cool guys, so I decided to skip Rome and head far south where the ferry goes to Greece. After all, with no map and no plan, one place is as good as any other.
The train arrived with strangers and left with us. A cosy six seated cabin for three. I had heard bad things about Italian night trains so as a precaution I tied a recently found bicycle inner tube round the door handles and locked the door. I think for a moment the lads got worried. I told them of my aversion to being robbed and murdered during the night and after suffering a little mocking, all was cool. We reclined our six facing chairs to make three comfy beds and let the gentle rocking motion send us to sleep.
After a black deep sleep I woke up with what felt like a mild hangover. Not with a painful head, just a cloudy one. Someone was banging on our door. I woke the lads and they both looked stoned. Untying the rubber tube I slid the door back to see the ticket inspector and a small crowd. The inspector was talking at me rather urgently but I could make neither head nor tail of it. Then an American girl traveller pushed her way through saying the whole train had been drugged and robbed. I smiled at her but only very briefly before realising she was telling the truth. Me and the lads checked our bumbags and money pouches. Everything was intact.
The gang of robbers had apparently travelled the length of the train spraying some kind of knockout gas under the doors and unlocking the cabins with a conductor’s square key. They then stole all cash cheques and valuables before casually getting off at the next stop. Ours was the only cabin they couldn’t get into. The crowd of victims left to give statements and report their loss and we, although still a little shocked, celebrated with a game of cards and a bottle of warm beer. I gave the guys the look of a seasoned traveller, wise to the ways of the train thief when in reality it was my paranoia that had saved us.
Soon we will be arriving, fully intact, a little more educated and not forgetting lucky, at Bari.
7:35pm on board a ship for Greece.
What a waste of time Bari was. We bimbled around a smelly fish market for three hours, only to find out we needed to carry on to Brindisi to catch a ferry. All this valuable information was acquired from a very nice old guy at the station.
We have now been joined by a new travelling companion, Andrew, a medical student from Wales. A tall, well-spoken, blond guy with glasses. He’s just qualified, (hopefully) as a doctor. We’ve changed our money into Drakmar and expect to leave at 8:30pm.
The ferry looks a little like a European leftover. I’m sure I saw a few patches on the hull. The ship is a tasteful green and beige with two funnels: one port one starboard. If it weren’t for the on deck swimming pool, it would pretty much resemble a cargo ship. Still shouldn’t really complain, as because we have Interail tickets we only have to pay the six pounds booking fee. The only catch is, come rain or shine, we’re only allowed on deck. I suppose that gives us a fighting chance if we should happen to hit an iceberg. We’ve had a few scraps to eat as we wanted to pool together and purchase a bottle of Grants whisky from the tiny overpriced duty-free shop that looked incredibly like the captains private store.
Now we have the sun and Italy on our backs and the open sea before us. I can see the next few hours will be spent huddled on deck discussing medicine, the condition of our health and who’s drinking too much of the whisky. As I scribble this, sheltering from the wind with my back against a warm vibrating funnel, the subject of life (the meaning of) is being discussed. I’d better leave this and continue writing tomorrow as the numbing affect of the whisky is creeping up on me. No more writing, no more talk. Just sleep.