I’m in an underground section of the Naples train station, on one of two narrow platforms squished in a mob of sketchy young twenty-somethings- All men. The crowd is dotted with a few worried-looking tourist couples speaking in hushed tones and hovering protectively over their matching luggage.
This place is not for the faint of heart. Waiting for the Circumvesuviana train, the only one that will take me to the Amalfi coast, is where my first impression of Italy becomes seared into my brain… and It’s not pretty.
Not only am I sure I’m going to get mugged… or worse, No one will listen to me, because NO ONE, not even the employees, speaks a word of English.
Every 15-minutes or so, a graffiti-covered subway heap pulls in for two or three minutes at most, while the masses shove their way onto the already overcrowded train. When the doors slide together, I hold my breath, certain someone will fall or be pushed out onto the tracks below. Each time a train pulls away, there’s silence as shifty eyes gaze from suitcase to suitcase and then at me. I turn and make my way through the crowd to stand near a California couple I met on the train from Rome.
“We’re really worried about you being alone,” Deborah says. “Why don’t we stick together, at least til we get on?” No arguments here.
With no clue which train we need, we decide to take our chances on the next one. The sun is starting to set and I can’t imagine anyplace being any scarier than this. As the train pulls in, we push and fight our way through the crowd to get on, but it’s already so packed, people’s hind parts are hanging outside of the door. The doors come together and manage to squeeze the sardined people in further. I stand in disbelief as it rolls away- without us.
With the California couple watching my suitcase, I head for the ticket counter once again to try to get some answers. I want to be sure we’re even in the right place.
Language cheat-books sometimes suck.
When studying them, you’ll find yourself all proud and full of (false) confidence after mastering the phrases… and believe me they work great when conversing with- Yourself, but when you use them in real life situations, when your new foreign friends respond to you- a hundred miles an hour, and actually expect you to know what they’re saying, you’ll end up standing there with a dropped jaw, looking like an idiot.
“Quale piattaforma per il treno per Sorrento? ” (Which platform for the train to Sorrento), I ask.
Ticketman smiles and responds in Italian, of course, what else would I expect. I have absolutely no clue what he’s saying. I stand there like a clueless tourist a quick game of charades and pointing leads me to the right track.
After 30 minutes, a slightly less crowded, equally graffiti-covered train rolls in and we push our way on and grab something to hold on to. Of course, it’s standing-room only, which is not the most fun for someone who’s vertically challenged. I’m smashed into a big man with obvious hygiene issues, my face a mere inches from his armpit. I wedge my suitcase between my knees, try my best to only take necessary gulps of air for the next 45 minutes to Sorrento. Hoping I’m heading in the right direction, I decide this is just another adventure to add to my collection.
I make a mental note to find a different way back.
HOW TO GET TO SORRENTO (Amalfi coast) FROM NAPLES