Life in transit #2.5


Before moving on to my next destination, Parma, and my first ever city in Italy, I had to go through purgatory. Getting from Interlaken station down to Parma is not the most straightforward path to take. You would imagine it would be easy to get from the south of Switzerland to northern Italy. However, that was far from what played out. The adventure took several trains, a bit of an understandable mishap and finally the arrival. By the end of this you’d be baffled as to why in hell's name I ended up taking such an unreasonably long trip. Short answer, it was the only way to get to Parma using my Interrail pass.

The trip started late in the morning. I had packed up my stuff from my lodge close to Lake Brienz and headed off to the closest Interlaken train station. I had to time this perfectly. If I miss this train I would miss two subsequent trains  and would have to wait half the day and possibly lose my train from Milan to Parma.

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(Source: https://www.beatenbergbilder.ch/home/thunersee_sommerzeit_e_.htm)

Thun

I boarded into the empty train carriage and started the first leg of my journey, Interlaken to Thun. The train took a route around the southern area of Lake Thun. The views were absolutely spectacular. You could see the high forested mountains protruding on the sides of the turquoise waters. It was like something out of a fairyland. The small clumps of wooden and stone houses here and there added to the serenity of the area. It was an absolutely enjoyable experience.

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(Source: https://www.myswitzerland.com/en/thun.html)

The ticket stamper came in, speaking cheerfully in Swiss to some passengers on the almost empty carriage. When he reached my seat I greeted him with my most German sounding ‘Halo’. I wasn’t convincing anyone, he immediately responded with a barely contained smile in english and greeted me back.

I whipped out my Interrail pass and had it punched. This form of travelling is very useful and budget friendly. It allows you to purchase a certain amount of days that would allow you free and unlimited train trips on the picked days by most train carriers.  I had picked 7 days over the course of the month for around 255 euros. It was a worthwhile investment. I had picked the global pass rather tha nthe region pass so I would be able to use it from Rom to Malmo.

The interrail is cheaper than its Eurorail counterpart. The former is granted to EU citizens and a few other special cases, while the latter is for most foreign tourists. However, in some cases you are forced to buy seat reservations. They aren’t always mandatory, but at times they are non-negotiable. Some of the reservations had cost me upwards of sixteen euros. That price matched how much I would have paid for some of the short train trips I took.

Returning to the train, Thun is a city located at the very edge of the Bernese Oberland. I read that it is supposed to act like a gate to enter that area. It's a historically old town which has a twelfth century castle perched somewhere in the area. However, I didn’t really have the time to check it out. We said our farewells and I continued enjoying the rest of my scenic trip.

As this was the very beginning of the trip and I had barely gotten my mind on how special conductor signatures, reservations and which train lines I was allowed to take, Once I got off the train, I rushed to the information desk where I was greeted by a very inexperienced but friendly intern who helped me figure  out my interrail pass in more detail. I slowly realised how polite the Swiss people were as a whole. Perhaps it was etiquette, perhaps it was the personality of the nation. I hoped for the latter.

So, I had thirty minutes to burn till my next train. So I decided to explore the area. Its difficult not to find a non-scenic area in this part of the country. The Thun train station is located right on a mountain slope. This became very apparent when I walked up to a nearby viewing platform.  The scene was breathtaking. In front of my stood a town almost predominantly composed of beautiful wooden Swiss style houses. Most of them were  two floor houses. The houses surrounded the edge of Lake Thun which glistened beautifully in the midday sun. It was a pretty quiet day, so I enjoyed the tranquility and the view before making my way to my next train.

Brig

The Thun to Brig required a reservation to travel in. My seat was located in a six person cabin. I was able to meet three German tourists who were enjoying a post-bachelor's degree celebration. They were a friendly bunch who spoke almost fluent english. I took the opportunity to ask about the German influence in Switzerland. I learned quite a bit from them and how easier it is to travel to Switzerland as a German. We had about an hour and a half of travelling to do to get to our destination.

The conversation eventually died down and I took this opportunity to walk around the train. I didn’t have much experience taking regional trains and found a pleasant cafeteria which served all types of pastries and sausages. I spent a decent amount of time outside the claustrophobic cabin and admired the scenic landscape rushing by.

After some more time wasting and a a bit of Swedish chocolate, I finally made it to the next stop. Brig wasn’t very eventful. I buzzed around in circles figuring out which train I had to take. Grabbed an early lunch from one of the take-out shops within the station and spent the next forty minutes sitting about and trying to waste time.  I was pretty excited. The next train was taking me to Domodossola, my first taste of Italy.  

Domodossola

The train carriage had been packed tightly. I barely managed to grab a seat before the whole carriage was full with many forced to stand around. From the aisle seat I was still able to get a good view of the winter. We spent quite a bit of the train ride descending through mountain tunnels as Switzerland was much more elevated, Once we crossed the border and neared the town, a spectacular view greeted us.

A town surrounded by large sloped mountains flanking it on all sides, it looked like something out of a 'Must see before you die' blog. The grey clouds littered the sky as the late afternoon quickly approached. After waiting for twenty minutes as some temporary technical difficulties halted our train, we made it to Domodossola.

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(Source:https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g681250-d247191-i91161191-Domodossola-Domodossola_Province_of_Verbano_Cusio_Ossola_Piedmont.html)

Even being way far up north, you noticed the weather difference. The area was scorching hot. I had to remove any extra layer and stick to my shirt. Personally, it was a great feeling. I grew up in hot mediterranean countries and Australia. So my mood was monumentally boosted.

However, this was where embarrassing disaster struck. Since I didn’t really travel often by train, I sometimes confuse which side of the platform I have to be. I simply jumped on the first train on the platform that arrived at the time my train was due.It didn’t occur to me that trains are sometimes prone to being late with sometimes only last minute warning.

Brigs, again

Sitting down and excited to make my way to Milan from Domodossola, I eagerly awaited the departure. A few minutes later and one last boarding call and I was off. I quickly realised the mistake as the train seemed to be heading the wrong way. I quickly stood up, grabbed my backpack from the ceiling locker and rushed to the door. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue if the train simply stopped in the next station. I had my interrail pass so this was only costing time. Unfortunately, we hadn’t stopped a single time between Brig and Domodossola.

The train trip lasted thirty minutes. My heart felt like it was beating outside my chest for the majority of it. It was the longest thirty minutes of the Eurotrip. I was worried that I’d miss the last Milan to Parma trip and will have to book a hostel in Milan. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but I planned to meet a mate who was on exchange in Australia in Parma. He offered to pick me up and invited me to his family’s house. I was much obliged.

Stress and sweat pouring from every pore of my body, the train stopped and I rushed outside. The next train was about forty minutes till it got to my station. I quickly found out that’s the same train I was supposed to take, but the much later on. My heart decided it was too tired to go 150 beats a minute and I composed myself. In these types of situations you have to analyse your options and move on from there. I quickly decided that if I missed the Milan to Parma train, I'll just spend a fun night out in Milan.

Domodossola and Milan

Feeling better while listening to some Imagine Dragons, I made my way to the correct train, double checking this time, and took a seat. Luckily I don't need to change trains till Milan. So I made myself comfortable for the next two hours. I continued reading my book, It's a piece written by Niki Savva. It talks about the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s administration in Australia, betrayals, cutthroat politics and power-puppets. It's an interesting read. The last several years Australia has gone through Prime ministers faster than tic tacs.

One thing I missed was 4g internet. Entering Italy has restored my free of charge internet roaming. So I was able to coordinate with my mate and look up train times.

After what seemed like a lifetime, I finally arrived to Milan. At this point the sun had set and the nightlife starting to spring to life. The second I stepped outside, the heat hit me like a slap across the face. It was humid in the station with many backpackers and locals alike running to and from trains.

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(Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rmartins_ssz/6765402307/)

As I had missed my previous train, I was very tight on time. Hauling my trusty backpack, I ran over to the train timetable and quickly scanned it till I found the train to Parma. It was leaving in a minute, so I immediately bolted to where the train was awaiting for stragglers. If I missed this one I would have to spend the night in Milan. I spotted the train and quickly jumped inside. A couple were closely running behind me. We made it with less than thirty seconds to spare.

I sat down on the relatively full bus, panting from the exertion. I just sat there for about five minutes. Surprised that I had gone through the troubles of today and still made it with barely any time to spare. I messaged my mate and told him that I was on my way.

The train was mostly filled with foreigners and backpackers alike. Many of them jumped off at different stations along the way. It makes sense as the trip is about an hour and forty minutes with the regular regional trains. There was quite a few towns and cities on the way. I decided to spend this time napping. The whole day had been exhausting and I was still suffering from sleep debt from my thirteen hour bus ride from Paris to Bern.

The trip was uneventful, besides placing several alarms to make sure I don’t miss my stop. By the end of the trip the carriage was almost completely empty, and I was one out of three people left. I stepped off the train, found the designated exit my mate and I planned to meet and stepped out of the train station gates. We exploded into chatter as my mate drove us to his family house.First day in Italy, looking forward to the next several days in this touristic paradise.





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