My log for Sunday 7 October to Monday 8 October 2007.
I left Singapore on Sunday night, feeling slightly anxious. As blogged previously, my initial plan was to travel with a group of girlfriends from Singapore to Rome and then take a train to Siena. I thought I had booked the same KLM flight as my friends, only to realise on Saturday evening that while my flight from Singapore to Amsterdam was the same as theirs, my flight from Amsterdam to Rome was two hours later. That meant I had to take the train with my bags all by myself! I am sure Rinaz knows how travelling alone to Italy feels like, though she had greater incentive! ;-)
Right after landing in Amsterdam, my friends dashed off to catch their connecting flight to Rome. I was on my own now. I explored the airport, then queued up for another security check. I am not sure if the black passengers in front of me were subject to longer questioning but it did appear that way.
I took an Alitalia flight from Amsterdam to Rome. From the airport, I managed to get directions to the train station that took me to Roma Termini. The Italian man at the information counter was so rude, even when I stood in front of him, he kept talking to his female colleague. I had to call him a few times before he stopped ignoring me. Fortunately he gave the right advice for me to purchase a ticket for a shuttle train ride from the airport to Roma Termini. From there, I already had a confirmed ticket that would take me all the way to the train station in Siena.
As I had a bit of time to spare, I explored the Roma Termini station which had some shops. It was very crowded, with locals and travellers pulling their suitcases along.
And then the gypsies came. As I stood outside a cafe, drinking something I bought just minutes ago, a woman came up to me, with hand outstretched. I shook my head. She smiled and walked away. The gypsies today, I was told in my earlier visit to Rome last month, no longer look like gypsies. She certainly looked like any other local on the street.
I walked to the edge of the station, facing another cluster of buildings. As I did so, a man who did look like a gypsy, motioned to a woman carrying a baby. Responding to his gesture, she headed very purposefully towards me. Knowing that she was probably going to throw the baby at me, causing me to drop my bags to catch it, I walked just as purposefully away from her.
Sensing that I was on to her, she decided not to pursue me, and walked off in another direction. I took a shot of the street scene outside the station right after that, with my little Ixus (May it Rest In Peace).
I had a first-class train ticket from Roma Termini to Chiusi station. Ironically, the first-class carriages were at the far end of the station! I kept on walking, pulling my suitcase along while the train station employees motioned for me to go further on. You would think they'd make people who paid more for their tickets walk the least!
Having said that, it was pleasant sitting in a private compartment. There were six seats in each compartment and it was generally cleaner. There were already three Italians when I entered my compartment. A young man was sitting in my seat, which was beside the window. After showing him my ticket, he agreed to give up his seat. He was actually the most friendly passenger and after a while we started chatting. He managed to speak some English. He was quite cute too! Every now and then he would hum a charming tune that made him seem a little eccentric, but he seemed pretty fun. I think he was younger than me by a few years.
My main bag was too large for me to carry up to the overhead storage compartment. Ironically (again) in the first-class carriages there was no generic storage area to place your luggage. So initially the senior gentleman sitting opposite me had to cramp his legs with my suitcase. Then the young man moved my luggage to an empty seat beside him and we thought the problem was solved. All was well until the train halted suddenly, and the bag fell forward onto the legs of the young Italian lady on the other side! I felt bad. The young man offered to put my bag outside our compartment. But every time the train stopped to pick up or drop off more people, I felt obliged to pull my bag back in so that the corridor would not get blocked.
At this point the white-haired gentleman, who was more heavily built than the handsome young man I was making conversation with, became more friendly as well. He asked in Italian whether the bag was really that heavy (at least, it sounded like he was asking that). I looked sheepish and gestured that it was probably not possible. Even though my luggage was 17+ kg and not a back-breaking 30kg, I did not want to make anyone lift it over their heads. But the senior man gave it a try anyway, and decided it was light enough for him. He hauled it up and the problem was solved!
We passed by a number of towns and because it was late afternoon and the sun was out, the sky was a lovely blue. I shot a photo using my Ixus and the handsome young man exclaimed that it was a great shot. (Bless its circuits)
So I let him play with my camera and he was bold enough to click through my other photos! Fortunately I had nothing incriminating in there. He laughed at a self-portrait I shot at the Roma Termini station.
A few stops later, the eccentric young man announced something in Italian which made the lady and older man look slightly surprised. Then he suddenly got up, left the carriage and didn't come back. I was a little sad not to have said goodbye.
Soon it was my turn to exit the train. The senior man had fallen asleep so I tiptoed to reach my bag on my own. As I tugged it down, another pair of hands came to help me lift it gently to the ground. It was the Italian girl! She smiled at me and I smiled back, thanking her. Every Italian in the carriage was pretty nice to me. I was glad.
I changed trains at Chiusi-Chiasciano Terme and waited a while for the next train to arrive. From here to Siena, my ticket was second-class. The seats there were of course smaller and less clean. One area smelt like piss. Another guy walked by reeking of alcohol. But it was fine. I spotted this very amusing set of 'love seats' which really gives a whole new meaning to the word. You can imagine the arrow pointing to someone's head, leaning against the train wall!
Soon after arriving at the Siena station, my friend Sharon and the father of the bride came to fetch me. It was great seeing them. I settled into my shared room in the Villa, and had dinner with the other guests who had arrived.
The peace of a quaint little Tuscan restuarant was suddenly disrupted as our troop of Singaporeans and guests of other nationalities descended upon it. I had a plate of of pici, which is a thick kind of home-made spaghetti. I had it in Rome last month as well. While I still prefer the normal spaghetti, the pici was unusual and, like one of my friend's mums pointed out, it was like udon.
We chatted to an old Norwegian professor sitting at the table beside us. He seemed quite decent but looked frequently at my table. When we got up to leave, he followed us. He announced that of all the ladies at my table, he liked me the best. I have no idea what I did. Being self-conscious of how noisy we Singaporeans were inside the restaurant, I was more reserved than my normal self, which could have unwittingly given a false impression of being demure and submissive. By that time, the old man had obviously drunk too much wine. His face was red.
He followed me and caught my elbow, squeezing it like some sexual massage. He asked what was my name. Knowing I would probably never see him again, I told him it was Vanessa. He said "No, that's a Christian name. What is your Chinese name?"
I told him my Chinese name but added that I would never answer to it, because nobody called me that. Nevertheless, he tried to pronounce it. By that time, the others realised he was hitting on me, and watched on with mirth. After a bit more conversation, I politely pried myself away from his squeezy hand and walked out of the restaurant.
I've heard of this type of white men before. They think Asian girls should be meek and answer only to oriental-sounding names. Theirs is an unrealistic fantasy. It makes me realise that they're friendly towards us due to a mistaken impression of what we're like.
For days after that, I was teased as being an 'uncle killer'. Sigh... Give me that Italian lad anytime!
To be continued...