A town in Tuscanny photographed from the train window

I decided to take the train from San Donna to Florence. I haven't found anybody to advise me on this part of my route, except for folks who had taken the train <grin>. Besides, I knew it would be flat and fairly boring riding until I got to the mountains just before Florence. Taking the train on tour is a new adventure for me. I did take the train into Venice yesterday, which let me get a feel for the bike car setup. It also helped me screw things up today.

This morning, after some delay checking out of the Hotel because they didn't like my Visa card - it has been accepted everywhere else, including other places in Italy - I rode to the train station. The clerk said I needed to take local trains to Mestre, Bologna, Faenza, and then Florence. I said I had seen train from Venice to Livorno that had a bike car and left at abut 1 PM. She couldn't find that one, but sold me a ticket for a 1:39 PM train that went from Venice to Florence and a ticket from San Donna to Venice, and a supplement for my bike. Total cost 25 Euro.

When the train to Venice arrived, I hustled down to the end with the bike car, took off my front panniers and, with the help of the conductor who saw me coming, handed my bike up to him with the rear panniers still attached. Then I scrambled onto the train and took the rear panniers off as we pulled away. The bike hangs from its front wheel with its rear wheel in a slot similar to a bike rack. The train stops for 3 to 4 minutes, max, so you have to move fast to get a loaded bike on it!

When we got Venice, the conductor unloaded my bike - he was very helpful - and I headed into the terminal area. I looked up the train I had a ticket for and it didn't have a bike symbol! Then I stood in line for almost an hour to get into the information office. It was good people watching and I had a nice visit with two US women in front of me. They are both starting graduate school next year - one at Princeton in Literature and the other in Chemistry at Arizona. When I finally got to the information office I was told - NO bikes on that train. You have to take the local trains. The train for Bologna leaves at 12:07 on track 10. It was 12:05, and I made it on that train. I'm riding it as I type this, somewhere near Bologna. We stop a lot, but do well between stops, so I think we'll be in Bologna before 3 PM. I'm not sure how long I'll be there or, almost more important, how many flights of stairs I'll have to maneuver my bike up and down to get on the next train.

Bolonga turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. When I arrived about 2:20, I asked railroad employee which line to take, with my bicycle, to Florence. He said three. I'd come in on ten, so that meant a trip down to the tunnel under the tracks, and then, the hard part, a trip back up. When I got three I asked a passenger if it was the right track, and he said to go back to the tunnel and look at the yellow board. I did, but I could find no train leaving on three that took bicycles. I had left my bike on three, and I went looking for Information. I found it and, after a 15 minute wait was told that the right train was leaving on three at 3:05. I went back to three. My bike was still there . Thr train came. It didn't have a bike car. Another train came, it didn't have a bike car. At 3:30 I took my bike back down, and UP to Information. I got a different person. Hmm, it was hard to find a train leaving Bologna that took bikes. Ahh, I could take the train to Prato, and then take a train from there to Florence.

It was an inter-city train leaving at 3:58 on special track a way off, but at least I didn't have to go down and UP again. Ths train - I'm on it now, doesn't have a bike car either, but I asked the engineer and it was OK to put my bike at the back of the last car. I don't know how they would handle multiple bikes.

Prato is over the mountains, just north of Florence, so it should be a pretty ride. It is supposed to take just over an hour. Then there is a half an hour wait and a half hour ride to Florence. Since Prato is only ten miles from Florence, I may just look for place to stay in Prato. We just went through the second tunnel and seem to be climbing. The scenery is OK, but not up to Slovenia. Most of the trip was spent in tunnels, with brief periods for villages, and stops. The terrain is somewhat like Colorado.

When we got to Prado, it was three flights down to the tunnel. That decided it for me: I wasn't carrying my bike back up those stairs. The tunnel opened out directly onto the street and I rode out into Prato. Riding in an Italian city at rush hour is something akin to driving in Hungary. Everybody just sort of flows all over the place and, if you you get into the flow, it isn't bad. Unfortunately, the town also just sort flows all over the place with lots of one-way streets and non rectangular intersections. I quickly got lost.

It was obvious when I rode out of the train station that Prato was not going to be an inexpensive place to stay. After wandering around for half an hour or more, I picked a hotel that looked reasonable. It isn't, at 115 Euro a night including breakfast - which better be good! - but the room is by far the nicest I've had in Europe. I'd rather not be staying here, but it was in the right place at the right time. Tomorrow I'm going to ride into and around Florence for a few hours- traffic willing - and then head for Volterra tomorrow afternoon. I know Florence deserves much more than half a day, but I'm not in the mood for putting up with too many tourists - non bicycle type - right now.

The view from my hotel window - I wish I was back in Slovenia <grin>!

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