The other day Larry and I decide to get out of town and take the train to the beach community on the Adriatic directly east, San Benedetto. Now when someone says “go to the beach” to me, I’m in my swimsuit sunscreen in hand ready to enjoy the sun and sand. When I asked Larry whether he wanted to wear his swimsuit or carry it, I was informed this was just a scouting trip. Somewhat deflated I had him promise we could at least have a long relaxed seafood lunch by the ocean.
We get an early start, grab our cappuccino and cornetto at our now favorite cafe, and walk to the bus stop to look for a bus to the train station. It is not obvious which bus goes to the train station, so Larry (in his improving daily Italian) asks a sweet old lady if the #1 bus goes to the station. She said yes, but in a round-about way. We figured great, a free tour – and it was. However, we never saw the train station and got a sinking feeling when we realized we were the only passengers left on the bus and the driver just go off and disappeared. Clearly we were at the end of the line and in a town somewhere in the outskirts of Ascoli that we never heard of. So we wait for the driver to return from his shopping and do what we should have done in the beginning, ask the driver which is the bus to the train station. He tells us that bus will be along in 40 minutes, so we sit on the wall and wait. Also remembering that if you are in doubt and ask the driver, he’ll also let you know when to get off. (No, they do not have signs or recorded announcements on the buses to let you know upcoming stops.) Lesson learned, but we now walk to the train station because it’s faster.
Mind you the bus only gets as close as two blocks from the station, which is why we missed it before. We were expecting the bus to pull up to or at least within sight of the station. I am reminded of something I read in another expat’s book, “the more of America you try to bring with you, the harder it will be to adjust.” So we need to stop applying our American assumptions to our current location.
Now we had missed the train we thought we were taking and the next train to San Benedetto didn’t leave for 30 minutes. The train arrives on time and we excitedly jump on and our journey has now begun, albeit later than planned. It was really warm inside so I looked to open a window for some air. However, our luck continues as we were on the this-car-is-air-conditioned-so-the-windows-are-blocked-from-opening-however-the-AC-doesn’t-work-car of our regional train line. Thankfully I keep a little fan in my purse at all times, a’la coy Spanish maidens, and for the next 45 minutes it is our salvation.
We arrive in the very large and bustling seaside city of San Benedetto shortly after 1:00 PM., it is hot and we are famished. After the bus incident, I take charge and insist the shortest route is to head straight for the ocean, which takes us to the commercial port. Continuing along the water’s edge we then transverse the recreational boat harbor area but now can see the beaches dotted with umbrellas and restaurants in the distance. I hear Larry mumbling something that I can’t completely understand about women and their sense of direction. After a brisk 30 minute plus walk along the coast in the sweltering sun at midday, dodging commercial trucks and traffic, we finally come to a bridge that leads across an inlet ending at “the strip” where civilization and chilled wine awaits us. As we start to cross the bridge we look behind us and there is a pleasant, tree-lined pedestrian walk with shops and benches that obviously cuts diagonally from the city center (i.e., train station) directly to the bridge. I am not even trying to listen now to what Larry is mumbling. It seems being a know-it-all in your home country rarely equates in a foreign one. Yet another lesson learned.
Too tired, dehydrated and hungry to be selective, we only pass up the first restaurant after the bridge because the eating area is on the street side of the restaurant and not on the beach. At restaurant number two we enjoy a mediocre meal of fried and grilled seafood and some tepid white wine. “The Strip” at the beach in San Benedetto (all flat) consists of miles of street-side restaurant/beach operations with a restaurant building, cabanas (in this case small rooms around the perimeter of the restaurant building), outdoor eating area, then umbrellas with lounge chairs and tables from the restaurant to the water’s edge. I asked our waiter to explain how that all worked and he said you can rent an umbrella lounge set-up by the day, week, or summer. For example, though empty today, all the set-ups closest to the water are rented for the season. The renters come back and forth on weekends and sometimes for a week or two during the summer months. August, being the hottest month of the year, is when most Europeans go on vacation. Those that do not head for the beach, head for the mountains. You can tell when one restaurant/beach operation ends and another begins by the color of the umbrellas/chairs.
Disappointed, but blaming ourselves, we decide we’ve seen as much of San Benedetto on foot today as we can handle and head back to the train station, via the much shorter, shaded, lovely route that takes less than 20 minutes. Larry promises we will return soon, by a more direct route, and actually enjoy a day at the beach. This would be a lovely place to end this post but, unfortunately, our wrong-way-day is not quite over.
We return to the train station and see that our train leaves in about 25 minutes. A train pulls into the station and calls all aboard, so Larry jumps on and I follow. I bet you’re filling in the blanks now like a predicable soap opera. Yes, after a couple stops Larry announces that he does not recognize either stop and he’s pretty sure we’re on the wrong train. So we get off at the third stop and find that the train to take us back to San Benedetto isn’t for 40 minutes. We finally get back to San Benedetto and the next train to Ascoli is not for an hour. Isn’t this fun? Well at least we’re waiting not walking and a glass of wine at the station helps pass the time nicely. We finally get home at almost 7 PM after a ten-hour day where we accomplished nothing but lunch, and not a very good one! These are the mistakes one must make in order to learn the lessons we must learn, but all in one day – really? All of today’s calamities can be distilled pretty much in to one lesson – when in doubt, if you just ask, let people know what you are trying to do, things usually work out just great. Relying on others is just not something we are used to doing, but we’re learning. I shall end this post by saying we have not taken a wrong bus or train since that day.