Cara: I don’t want to speak for Allie, but for me, trains are one of the best things about Italy. Yes, they’re a convenient way to get from point A to point B, but it’s more than that. Trains are themselves a destination of sorts. What I mean is, during our six weeks in Italy, trains have served as the backdrop from some of our greatest adventures. I think trains are a reminder that even though life often feels like a series of destinations, of high points, we do some of our best living in the journeying between said points. As many amazing sights and experiences as we’ve had in Italy, some of my fondest memories were from our train rides. I feel like it was on the train that we really began to realize how amazing this group of people was. Don’t you think?
Allie: I totally agree. I’ll admit I’ve never given much thought to trains on the grand scheme of things. They’re often times cramped, perpetually smelly, and covered with a thin layer of grime– though inexplicably I’ve acquired an odd affectionate for them. They’ve become inclusive spaces separate from the hussle and bussle of field trips, and surprisingly I’ve come to look forward to hours spent clustered in groups and laughing over whatever ridiculous conversation. They have a certain mysterious Train Magic (which I’ve decided to capitalize), that seems to coax out some of the best stories, the hardest laughs, and the most memorable moments in Learning Tuscany.
Cara: One of my favorite memories was the first ride back from Florence. It was within the first five days of the trip, and we were just getting to know each other. Allie and I sat with Lauren J and Anjali, and without iPhones and Internet to entertain us, we had to simply entertain each other. We were perhaps tentative at first, each person holding back as they tried to gauge the others. That was the joy of the train, though; we had nowhere else to be in that moment, and that leant itself to the building of a quick but strong intimacy between us. I’m maybe a little embarrassed to admit it, but we laughed so hard and so loudly that before we knew it, we’d cleared our car. That ride was also the first time that we played the exquisite corpse game, in which each person draws part of the body without being able to see what everyone else has drawn, and it quickly became a huge part of our collective friendship. It seems silly, but that was ride was as significant an event to me as the preceding visit to Florence had been. That trip was definitely the first reminder that trains rides are more than just down time between adventures. They are adventures in and of themselves, and because they are largely unplanned, they often because some of the most hilarious and grand adventures we have.
Allie: It’s hard to transcribe deeply personal moments, especially when they happen so organically and on such an unexpected mode of transportation. A missed train, aggressive encounters with jaded ticketmasters, and general shenanigans found our group browbeaten and tired, trundling closer and closer to our first truly independent excursion in Cinque Terre. We gathered round in a mostly empty car, the sun setting on the water flashing briefly between subterranean tunnels– it provided a fittingly dramatic backdrop for a sudden roundtable discussion of our personal lives and family history. We listened as each person described themselves, at first in embarrassment and finally with earnest intensity, until we were all thoroughly invested. We shared stories for hours, and all at once we had arrived at our destination (maybe even a little too soon).
At the risk of being needlessly dramatic, I’d say that we arrived on that train differently than when we got off. The train, despite its griminess, had subtly changed the way we interacted– and if that isn’t a prime example of Train Magic, I don’t know what is. Not all train rides were immediately beautiful, transformative moments of friendship; in fact, more often than not they were smelly, and gross, and squished. Many times they just seemed an outlet for our silliness. Sometimes, though, train rides provided a space for impulsive and wonderful moments.
Cara: One of the only salves on the festering wound that was my and Allie’s trip to Rome was our train ride home. Having swallowed the bitter realization that we’d botched our trip and the only solution was the head home, Allie and I hung our heads and bought our tickets for Castiglion. The funny thing was, the ride home was one of the best memories of the whole trip. I think that the whole experience with Ricardo (see Allie’s previous post) had really stripped us of our romantic delusions about the trip, and in the end we were only really left with each other. On the one hand, that could have turned out badly, and all the stress of our multitudinous failures could have pushed us apart and made us fight. Miraculously, it didn’t. Instead we recognized and respected (probably because of our previous train experiences) that train rides can be adventures, too. We ended up watching Grand Budapest Hotel, wearing whitestrips, and essentially wiping away all the disappointment of the trip. Train rides are like all good adventures, mostly because you don’t really see them coming.
Allie: I think life is really most lived in the moments when you less aware of yourself; when you’re too tired to posture or you feel like no one is watching. That’s exactly how train rides are, and frankly, that’s what makes them so great to me. They are real slices of life, and they foster bonding in a way few other experiences do. I have to admit, of all the many things I’m going to miss about Italy, train rides are somewhere near the top of my list.