Sweat is running down my back and I’m trying to cool down by fanning myself with the only thing which could vaguely be used to create some kind of breeze – my train ticket.
It’s not even a big piece of paper; the ticket is roughly the size of an airline boarding pass. My effort to cool down is in vain. There’s no reprieve from this.
The carriage is overcrowded, there’s no air-conditioning the windows open just a fraction. I’ve drunk all my water and honestly don’t remember what it feels like not to be thirsty and on the brink of heat exhaustion. A one hour journey is quickly turning into two as the train makes regular, extended stops on account of the tracks expanding in the almost 50 degree celsius heat.
I’m on my way to Sorrento, the gateway to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, during a heatwave so hot it’s called “Lucifer.”
The Amalfi Coast is just like a postcard.
Picturesque beaches, crystal clear water, sheer cliffs and pastel-painted villages line the stretch of Italian coastline. Beaches, sharp rocks and resorts overlook the Bay of Naples. On a clear day you can see Mount Vesuvius towering in the distance above the shoreline.
It’s an oasis just a few hours south from the hustle and bustle of Italy’s big cities.
Getting there and back isn’t so relaxing. Especially in summer.
A private driver is the most convenient way to travel from Naples to Sorrento and beyond but it’s also the most expensive. With prices ranging from 250 euro ($385 AUD) and up I decided to brave the train. How bad could it be?
If you’re coming from Rome take a train to Naples, then transfer to the Circumvesuviana line to Sorrento. It costs about four euro and is timetabled to take just under an hour.
But today we’re on Italian time. It’s as relaxed as Italians themselves.
Without rhyme nor reason the train makes its third unscheduled stop between stations. Only the tourists seem fazed by this. There’s a lot of foot stomping, pained facial expressions and shaking heads. The heat is searing but what can you expect for the price?
Boisterous Italians on their way to the beach, families on holiday, and tourists and backpackers struggling with oversized luggage pack the carriages. With so many people squeezed in you’ll be far-fetched to find a seat and those that do often have to compete with suitcases and wriggling children. I find myself a corner and sit on my backpack.
I strike up a conversation with a British woman on holiday with her girlfriends. She tells me they try to escape to a different part of Italy or Spain each year. No husbands, no children. They’ve been doing it since finishing university – she’s a similar age to my mother.
She asks me who I’m meeting up with.
“I’m backpacking by myself,” I say.
Am I already oversharing?
My parents cautioned me to be wary of strangers.
Before I left Australia I googled ‘solo travel’, more out of curiosity than genuine concern. An article on News.com.au suggested I tell people I’m travelling with my boyfriend or on my way to meet friends. Another article advised I give a friend or family member a copy of my full itinerary and advise them of any changes to it.
Too late for that.
My friend on the train looks surprised.
“You’re not meeting up with your boyfriend? None of your friends are travelling with you?”
I shake my head. “It’s just me.”
“Wow, that’s great. How old are you?”
“That’s just great. I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do something like that at your age. I’ve always travelled with my husband or girlfriends. Haven’t you been lonely? What do you do by yourself?”
Between staying in hostels and meeting people on walking tours and pub crawls loneliness is the least of my worries.
If anything I’m desperate for some time to myself.
That’s the reason i’m so excited for this Sorrento soiree. I’m an extroverted introvert. I love talking to people and busying myself but there always comes a time when I have to step back into myself and recharge.
Now’s that time. I can read by the pool, jump into the Gulf of Naples and eat all the pasta and gelato. Bliss.
We continue to chat as the train rattles on. She’s asking me what I studied at university, I ask her if she has any children. She comments Australians are big travellers, I say I’m jealous of how close she lives to mainland Europe. But it’s cold in England she says. That’s a small tradeoff to be able to take weekend trips to Switzerland, or Germany or Ireland I reply.
Our conversation fizzles out and I think back to her questions.
I researched, planned and budgeted for this solo endeavour but never saw anything particularly remarkable in it. I was in an existential rut so I did what any millennial university-graduate who is staring down the barrel of responsibility would do. I quit my job, broke up with my boyfriend and left the country.
I’ve never done anything by halves.
I wanted to regain my spark and this brief bout of freedom seemed like the way to go. I’m two months in and the logistics and lack of companionship are the least of my worries.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in what i’m doing but with each day I’m slowly starting to realise how special this experience really is. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone every day.
A few months ago I couldn’t have a conversation with a stranger without my heart racing and self-doubt flooding my vision. Now, I’m chatting freely and actually enjoying it. So much so i’ve set myself the goal of learning something from every person I meet, whether it be big or small, trivial or serious.
Today’s lesson is that time passes a hell of a lot quicker and the heat more bearable on Amalfi’s trains when you have someone to share the journey with. Hacking it solo isn’t always the way to go.
My thoughts wandered back to the land of blue seas, sunburn and Aperol spritz as the train jolts to a stop. Everyone loses balance and lunges forward a few steps.
We have arrived.