Old Mar 25, 12, 12:51 pm
Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: BRS
Posts: 406
Part II: Bristol to Assisi

The very first phase of Sunday went according to plan, but on arrival at Temple Meads I found the 08:45 was already listing a 19 minute delay. Worse was to come when I made it to platform 15 (why is the most popular service placed as far as possible from the entrance?), where I discovered that the heating for my carriage was broken. That said, it wasn't too cold, and with the occupant of the seat next to mine deciding to seek out a warmer environment, I was happy enough to stick with a double to myself. Assuming, of course, we'd ever get going...

Eventually the missing staff member required makes it to the train, and we set off with a promise that we can regain 12 minutes that would otherwise have been spent idling at Swindon anyway (today we're taking some strange routing through Parkway instead of Bath). That happens, but it's no help - we
were subsequently doubly afflicted with slow downs for engineering works, and a stopping train that we'd managed to get stuck behind. There are few things that I find more frustrating than being parked within visual range of a station, counting off the minutes until your connection will be gone; with half a dozen follow-on trains and flights (not to mention accomodation and conference booking) at risk, it's particularly excruciating today. I step out on to the platform at 10:24:34 - and discover that whilst most of the Reading departure board is a pick-and-mix assortment of delays and cancellations, my 10:24 was one of the few to get out exactly when it should.

The next fastest option would be to stick to my original routing via Clapham Junction, but that train was cancelled, so I would now be wating for the 11:03 to Redhill, where, I was told, I could connect to Gatwick. On that I find a poster warning that engineering works would be affecting weekend services around Reading until 2015 - as in, three years from now, not quarter past 8 - and so a new rule was solemnly jotted down in my travel notepad- no attempting multi-train services in the area on a Sunday again!

The train to Redhill trundles at an uninspiring pace, and is a lot less comfortable than the Bristol-Paddington service I'd started on - although to be fair the Clapham Junction service may have been no more impressive. When I arrive, I'm greeted by dire warnings that almost all FGW services to Gatwick from Redhill are cancelled, but there may be services from another company. This is indeed the case, but can only be found by examining departure boards on the appropriate platform, which is on a different island to the arrival one. Having spent a few days in a country where I don't speak the language, I'm perhaps more attuned to this than usual, but I really wonder how a non-English speaker would have found their way to the right platform: would it hurt to put a logo of an airplane on it?

Leg room on the Bristol-Reading and Reading-Redhill services- good, and not so good!

At said platform I'm yet again facing a delayed train, but the pressure is taken off somewhat as the BA app is informing me that my flight will also be late off the ground. Once at Gatwick I head straight for security, as I'm checked in and hand-luggage only. There I think uncharitable thoughts about my fellow travellers: from the mob of people loitering outside - but apparently not yet wanting to enter - security; via the family who seemed to think that the new style body scanners (which weren't even present) would be able to detect that the colour of their underwear didn't match; to the half dozen people in front who apparently couldn't grasp the cause-and-effect of "if you take metal through the metal detector, you will have to checked".

One possible upside was that the staff (perhaps having long since given up on getting someone through without a beep) let me attempt it with both my shoes and (ceramic) watch on: neither feature enough metal to trigger, but I invariably find myself being asked to remove them as they look like they might.

Finally airside, the delay is still in effect and thus I have time to grab something to eat from the suitably named "EAT" (will they branch out into bars called "DRINK"? or perhaps an all-encompassing "CONSUME"?) before finding the relevant gate. By 14:20, our original departure time, I - and everyone else- is still sitting there, but we get the call to board not long after.

I forget exactly when we got airborne, as I was too busy feeling smug that my seat selection had worked out as hoped. BA's flights to Europe can be configured for varying size club cabins, so the first 10 (I think?) rows all offer the enhanced leg room. For additional space in club, they only use 2 of the 3 seats, omitting the middle one: but for operational reasons, if there are n rows of CE, then seat B of row n+1 is also excluded from use in this way. This means that if you can snag A or C on the first EuroTraveller row, you get both the legroom and extra space of CE for ET prices! Of course, there can only be two lucky winners- and if you try to grab it too early, you may fall victim to the 'moving curtain' if CE resizes, which will reassign you to somewhere almost certainly worse. Since I don't have status, I couldn't even try to book any sooner than when check-in opened 24 hours out- but I was there a minute after it did, and thus able to shift from an assigned 6A to 4A. With the Eurotraveller cabin at capacity, this was quite a result!

Of course, it doesn't do anything about the food - an entirely forgettable tomato and egg sandwich - but I had high hopes for decent dining in Italy, and maintain that it's entirely possible to travel on jelly babies alone (curse their 5% of recommended daily sugar per baby!). We touched down 25 minutes late (18:05), and it's a few minutes drive on the ground to the gate. But being seated near the front, with no baggage to collect, and an EU passport reducing border control to a matter of seconds (a very welcome change from all my recent flights, which have been across the pond), I was through to the train station by 18:20. That got me on the 18:38 Leonardo Express to Rome proper, which was a definite improvement on my trains from earlier in the day (and at 14 one way, rather cheaper than Paddington's Heathrow Express):

The Leonardo Express

This gave me plenty of time to find food at Roma Termini, but rather than trusting my own eyes I followed some half-remembered advice from the internet and managed to trek /away/ from the main station concourse for quite some time, under the delusion that the Leonardo arrives in a separate area to the regular trains and having spotted a sign to 'all trains' on the way in. Thus I traced out three sides of a large rectangle in getting from platform 24 to 1, when one would have both sufficed and led me past all the catering options. Still, I topped up my dwindling snack supply with some chocolate and water, and was pleased to find my final train almost exactly where I expected it to be, it having somehow hopped to platform 2.

Deserted tunnel under the platforms at Roma Termini- clearly I have gone wrong by this point.

First class was clean and spacious, especially as I'd been seated in one of the individual seats at the centre of the carriage (thus benefiting from a table) and the service was mostly empty. I did have to travel backwards, though, and rather than staring straight at the attractive young woman opposite me for two hours it seemed best to satisfy myself with the dregs of my newspaper I'd obtained seemingly so long ago in Bristol (as a mathematician, a fashion supplement is not desperately useful to me).

First class on Train Italia Domestic service.

The journey passed without incident or excitement - it was too dark to enjoy the tour through 120 miles of Italian scenery - or, for that matter, food: I was surprised to find that there wasn't even a trolley service on board. Still, I arrived in Assisi at the promised time, and had one last part of my schedule to tick off- the hike up to the town itself.

I have a notoriously poor sense of direction, even when armed with a map (see earlier scenic tour of Roma Termini), but with the twin beacons of the Basilica of San Francesco and Rocca Maggiore prominently placed on the largest hill for miles, even I could probably have muddled through to the town gates. Google's walking directions had me following an unlit country lane at first, but having scouted it out via streetview first I was reassured even though it didn't look like it could the main route to anywhere. 30 minutes of walking (and, despite the late hour, sweating) got me to the conference venue where, through a mixture of pointing, mime and the odd word in Italian that sounds like an English equivalent, was able to check-in with the night porter, and obtain a key for a room in exchange for my passport. I had no idea when or where breakfast might be, but if all else failed there would always be more jelly babies, so, 14 hours after I'd set out, I was happy to just succumb to sleep.
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