High Speed Trains and Slow Food – Italy and France by Train Part 6: Lightning Always Strikes Twice

We were up early that morning as we had an afternoon flight from Pisa. I grabbed some pastries from the foccaceria whilst Anne-So waited at the station with the luggage.

Train: Trenitalia Regionale 21178
Depart: Vernazza 08:43
Arrive: Monterosso 08:46
Seats: Unreserved (Standard Class)
Locomotive: Unknown

We took the regional train from Vernazza to Monterosso where we changed onto the Intercity to Milan which we’d take as far as Pisa.

Train: Trenitalia Intercity 651
Depart: Monterosso 09:03
Arrive: Pisa Centrale 10:17
Seats: Carriage 2, Seats 51 and 52 (First Class)
Locomotive: Unknown

Unlike in France where every platform has a composition de trains or even here in the UK where you typically have an idea if coach one is at the front or rear of the train, in Italy it seems that outside of the beautiful high speed trains you just have to know. Unfortunately with a platform of tourists nobody did until it was far too late. This would be chaotic at the best of times but when half the station is situated in a tunnel it’s so much worse. Cue much scurrying on the train’s arrival as everybody realised they’d been waiting in the wrong place. We had quite the dash to coach number two.

The Intercity trains on this route seem to be from another era of train travel and quite frankly that’s one of the reasons I made sure we had booked on to one!

Anne-So and I settled into our seats where we were soon joined by another couple as we set off in the direction of Pisa.

I spent some time writing notes for this trip report and before we knew it we had pulled into Pisa.

Unfortunately at the time of our trip the airport train was being upgraded and was instead replaced by a tiny little airport bus for the short hop to the airport.

The driver motioned us off the bus and at first we thought they’d been a mistake and we’d just been dropped off at an out of town shopping centre rather than an international airport.

Flight: BA 605 Pisa to London
Depart: PSA 13:05
Arrive: LHR TBC
Seats: 17E and 17F Euro Traveller (Economy Class)
Aircraft: Airbus A321-200 (G-EUXD – delivered 28/10/2004)

We ambled off in the direction of the terminal building and luckily found that the BA desks were right by the entrance.

We were soon checked in and Anne-So received a huge shock when her giant backpack came in significantly underweight after she had spent the last two weeks complaining that it would never be under the 23KG limit. Security was reasonably straightforward though I’m sure I had a problem with something electronic in my bag, either my iPad or camera.

The departures area was crowded with almost no seating other than at the gates. Feeling tired we picked up an over-priced coffee each to boost our energy. All was looking good so we headed upstairs to then Non-Schengen gates for a passport check and somewhere to sit. It was around this time we noticed a delay had been posted due to a late departure from LHR but nothing major, in fact it was advantageous as we didn’t want to arrive too early into London anyway.

We waited some more and thankfully the BA App kept us updated on the delay as the airport staff were clearly not too interested in doing so.
About 40 minutes after the scheduled departure time we begin to board the aircraft.

With no status and no Club ticket on this trip we joined the main boarding queue with everybody else.

We were sat in 17E and F and for some reason known only to himself the man in 17C across the aisle was rather memorable, he was certainly not familiar with what lightning can do at an airport.

We’d made ourselves comfortable and had started reading through Highlife to pass the time.

At this point the rain came down and the thunder rumbled, we’d not be taking off in that!

To say it was raining buckets would have been an understatement, barrelling down was more accurate. Our captain announced that the Italian ground staff had been called inside until the storm had passed and we would then be on our way. Time passed, the thunder rumbled, the lightning flashed and the man in 17C grumbled on about how in a developed country it was ridiculous that they didn’t think it was a good idea to start flying a plane in to a lightning storm. Interestingly he seemed to forget he was travelling to a country that can’t run trains due to leaves on the line, the wrong kind of wind, rain, snow, or fog. You name it and it will stop something from running. The hour long wait and monologue was punctuated only by a brief drinks run from the cabin crew to keep us entertained.

The monologue continued as a few flights came in to land, including one from an airline clearly trying to wind us up.

Thankfully it was soon time for take-off and we had a lovely view over Pisa including a quick glimpse of the leaning tower. The remainder of the flight was uneventful.

We had a snack box each with a tiny roll and a mouthful of cake.

At the time of writing I hoped BA wouldn’t get rid of the free food and drink on short haul. Whilst we now know they did (though it seems to be making a comeback in 2021) I still feel it really breaks up the flight and helps it pass much more quickly. Mr 17C was still trundling along by the time I had finished Highlife, though luckily there was still time to write him up before the call for landing.

It was a relatively short walk from our gate to border control. Unfortunately I got stuck behind someone who was struggling with the E-Gates. I had that feeling that if I was called to use that particular gate something was going to go awfully wrong. As I placed my passport down on the reader a large siren went off as if I had just committed treason or worse. Shame faced I walked over to the border control agent who had a bit of a chuckle, checked my documents and waved me through.

Surprisingly and in a way rather sadly we had the restaurant to ourselves for the whole night. Thankfully we enjoyed our food immensely as always.

Dinner was over and it was time to head back to crash at my Grandma’s for the night. The trip was finally done barring the train ride home to Canterbury. It had been one epic adventure and an amazing anniversary for us. Somehow or other we knew we’d be heading back to Italy soon.

Final Thoughts

After much deliberation over our itinerary this ended up being one of my favourite trips. Our budget was quite tight so a lot of effort went in to planning where to get the most bang for our buck and I think by and large we got plenty of bang. I have so many lasting memories from this trip, the emotions of the birthday meal right at the start and magic of Venice are perhaps the strongest. Though from a more practical view the exquisite Italian food is the one thing that is forever engraved in my mind. Somehow (at least in the places of a similar budget to this trip) the Italian food in the UK is just not the same. The simple, high quality ingredients just so often seem to be lacking freshness and vitality. It’s like the difference between being sat in the stadium and watching from the sofa at home. I loved the slow food of Turin, particularly the charcuterie and that cheese filled onion. In Milan I had one of the best pieces of chicken ever and the delicious simplicity continued in the city with some pasta served from a flaming wheel of parmesan cheese. In Venice the exquisite food from Anice Stellato warmed our hearts after we were almost drowned by the rain to get there. Florence had its bold plates of meat and we finished off with sun, sea and freshly made pesto pasta as the sun set on the Cinque Terre.

For sights there was everything we’d hoped for in Venice which was beyond our wildest dreams. Whether in a spectacular old museum or wandering the back streets it was all superb. That’s not to say there weren’t other highlights. The Egyptian Museum in Turin was an unexpected gem, as was almost getting struck by lightning on top of the Duomo in Milan. Despite the crowds the climb to the top of the Duomo in Florence was just as exhilarating and we regretted not having more time in the Uffizi. With an unrelenting schedule finishing the trip going from village to village in the Cinque Terre with those beautiful views and slower pace of life was just what we needed to unwind before heading home.

We do plan to return to Italy. We’d love to see Milan in the sunshine, do another foodie weekend in Turin, see the modern art in Venice and head further south to Naples for some classic pizzas and street food. Hopefully we won’t have long to wait!


High Speed Trains and Slow Food – Italy and France by Train

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