Okay - the train story.
It all started when Shannon and I missed the 9:17 train from Como to Milan - that should have been a warning as to our transportation Karma for the day but oh well...
Needless to say we made the next train, arriving at Milan Cadorna at about 10:30. From there it was an easy change to the Green line into Milano Centrale, where we emerged in the "basement." Let's all just agree that basement is a subjective term here.
At the "basement" bar of Centrale is where we were supposed to meet Jen and Chris. They were landing at Malpensa about 9:20am, and taking the Malpensa shuttle into Centrale - in my mind, I figured they'd arrive between 11 and 11:30.
So we left the metro, walked through the "basement" until we came upon a cafe. I said to Shannon, is that where we're supposed to meet? And she replied, "No at the bar." Hmmm....
With no "sign" of a bar, we went upstairs, honestly, I don't remember why - oh, I remember, we went upstairs to purchase my train ticket for my return trip from Venice to Milan on October 15th.
Now, once we arrived upstairs via the slanted escalators, it seemed to me that we hadn't so much been so much in the "basement" of Centrale, as we had been in the Metro, which alights sort of next to Centrale, though under a roof that extends from Centrale, but kind of over an open corridor, hard to describe. Once in Centrale though and seeing the trains on levels above us, and after buying tickets, getting into an elevator and trying to go down, realizing the elevator didn't go lower (to said "basement") than the level we were on, I said to Shannon, "Do you think they'll think that this level is the basement?" To which she replied, "It's not the basement, it's obviously street level (which it was)," but to my squirrelly look she continued, "They'll figure it out."
So Shannon and I returned to the basement, past the "cafe" and into the Market (yes, there's a full market in the "basement" of Centrale) where there were signs for the elusive bar. We wound our way to the back of the store where we found said bar, and as Shannon ordered a cappuccino, I walked through the market purchasing some prosciutto, mortadello, rolls and chips for a little picnic we envisioned having on our two hour train ride from Milan to Sondrio. Then while I enjoyed a cappuccino (by the way this "basement" bar makes a good cappuccino), Shannon strolled through the market buying some wine and water for us also to enjoy on our picnic.
At about 11:30, we decided that perhaps our little "basement" bar was a little tucked away for them to find us in what we assumed would be their jet-lagged state, so we moved out to the aforementioned cafe. Then from there, I preceded to leave Shannon behind with our bags, as I made a circuit through the station, ending at the street where the Malpensa shuttles drop their passengers. By now it was almost noon, and not only was I a bit concerned about our missing travelers, I was beginning to realize we would not make the 12:20 train to Sondrio and would have to kill two hours in Milan waiting for the next train.
Shannon went to to check the tickets to see if they had to be bought for a specific train and time or if we could purchase them ahead of Chris and Jen's arrival, and just stamp them for whichever train we caught. When she returned at 12:10 we'd pretty much given up hope of catching that 12:20 train then just a couple of minutes later we spied Chris in the distance getting off the slanted escalator. We yelled to him, hugs all around and then Shannon said, "We have 7 minutes to catch the train, let's go!"
Have you all seen the Amazing Race? Yeah, this was a lot like that.
Shannon had her bags and made a dash for the ticket counter/machines. I had my bags and tried desperately to catch up to Chris who darted ahead in order to find Jen and grab their bags. Luckily as the three of us split up, Shannon yelled, "Bin 4, meet at bin 4!"
I'm running up the stairs with my bags, Chris is out of site, I have no idea where Shannon is ... ah Italy.
Within a moment, I see Chris and Jen ahead of me dashing for Binario 4. I catch up to them just past the stamping machine - more hugs and we wait, eying the crowd for Shannon as the PA makes the final boarding call for our train.
People dash past us - jumping on.
Jen says, "What is she wearing?" And I reply, "I don't remember!"
Then we see her and run towards her, urging her to run towards us.
She does, stopping at the conductor to get a squiggly put on our ticket (I guess the equivalent of a stamp, since she blew past the machine).
We run along side the train as the Conductor told us to go forward for seats. Eventually though, about half way up the train we decide not to risk the doors closing on us, and hop on, dripping sweat.
At this point, I'll tell you, that while Shannon and I have smaller pieces (like 21 inch bags) plus carry-on sizes and our purses, Jen and Chris are trailing some seriously large suitcases (red, hard to miss), plus an assortment of other baggage. I should also remind you that poor Jen and Chris, have been awake for close to 24 hours at this point, traveling for probably 21 hours of that time.
So there we were, standing in a crowded vestibule, between cars, looking ahead, and not seeing any seats, let alone four seats together or near each other.
Unencumbered Chris decides to go through the cars, looking for seats and I trail behind him with my bags, unfortunately wacking people as I go. Chris is moving though and doors are closing in front of me, the train is jerking, and I'm panting to keep up.
The Italians are gracious though, holding the door for me so I can get my luggage through, clearing their feet out of the aisle as I pass and helping me lift my carry-on over arm rests so it doesn't get snagged.
Eventually, we get to a car and I see four seats across, from window to window, facing the wrong way. Enough, I call to Chris to stop. I plop down in one of the seats spreading my stuff out on the other three. In front of one of them though is a piece of luggage, presumably belonging to the young girl sitting catty-corner to me. I figure when the time comes, and my friends return, we can ask her to put it in the overhead section then.
Chris returns through the crowded cars (we must have gone through four or five), to find Shannon and Jen and return with them and all the luggage. I sit, and wait, mopping sweat from my head, and as the train slows down (but luckily does not stop), I wonder, how will I keep someone from sitting in these seats we've snagged? I hate saving seats.
Hmm... "Per mia amiche" or "Mia Amiche e li; sediamo qui"
As I said though, the train only slows, it doesn't stop, so no worries for the moment.
Eventually though we do pull into a station. And I think, I wonder if they'll know to jump off the train and run alongside it to move forward rather than make their way up in the car? about a second before I see Chris and then Shannon sprinting down the station platform. I wave to them and start out of my seat to help as Chris jumps back on the train, the people around me chuckle, and the door shuts, leaving Shannon still standing on the station platform. I have no idea where Jen is at this point.
In the moment it seemed to last forever but it couldn't have been but a few seconds before Chris, with the help of an Italian teen standing in the vestibule literally pried open the doors to get Shannon on the train before it pulled out of the station. I didn't see this but they told me as they came into the car panting.
We loaded my stuff (that had been holding the seats) and Chris's stuff (those big red bags) that they dragged down the platform with them and threw back onto the train, into the overhead bins and Chris collapsed into the seat across the aisle from me as Shannon weaved her way back through the train cars, and to Jen who had waited there with the rest of the stuff.
Chris and I didn't know what they were doing. We waited and waited, looking down through the car doors for a glimpse of them making their way forward to us but no sign. Eventually my phone rang. It was Shannon, they were staying put, not risking another jump off the train unless we were going to pull into a station for like five minutes. She said they may try at Lecco (I think that was the stop) because it looked like a major transfer point. Oh and by the way, they conductor came by and checked our tickets I told him I had two for you near the front of the train and he seemed okay with that. I hung up, told Chris and he said, "They're probably into the wine now."
Yes, all the food, wine and water was with them - five cars away.
And the tickets. I started to practice, "Mi amica ha sui biglietti" I hoped.
At Lecco (about 40 minutes into our ride), Chris went to the train door and literally hung out the train, keeping the doors from closing with his body, to see if he could see them on the platform. He returned just before the doors closed and said, "They must have decided not to risk it. They're probably half-way through the wine now."
A few moments later, he commented, "and I'm getting hungry." That's when I remembered I still had a wedge of Parmegiano Reggiano in my bag that I had bought in Como. We broke that out, ripping off huge chunks just as we saw Shannon and Jen wending there way through the car behind us. They made it!
So for the second hour of the ride, we were finally all together, drinking some fizzy warm wine that tasted like carbonated Manishevitz Grape Concord (Shannon and I hadn't had much luck with wine so far), eating some cheese. We didn't bother breaking into the sandwich stuff we'd procured.
At about 2:15, we woke Chris, who had dozed a bit, started to get all our bags down, and were good to go when we pulled into Sondrio at 2:20 - except for the last second, Jen realizing her brown bag was still on the train. One last dash back on and Chris snagged it and got off before it pulled away.
Chris, Jen and Shannon with our wine at the Sondrio train station