It was obvious from my brother’s face that he didn’t have a pleasant night. His cold has gotten worst overnight and he seemed quite tired. I am sure he could have used some rest, but there was no time as we were both set on crossing the Alps into Italy on that day. After a quick wash, we checked out of the hotel and headed back to the train station.
While at the station, I managed to crack up the very serious looking young lady behind the ticket counter with my pronunciation of Udine (/jʊdi:n/ instead of /’udine/). After a short phonology class, I was able to get the tickets from her and headed over to my brother who was wondering why I was taking so long.
Albeit its small size, the Udine station had several stores, but most of them were closed. However, we were lucky enough to find a small cafe that was open where the air was filled with smell of freshly baked pastries fused with that of strong coffee. We bagged a few of their pastries along with some coffee and headed over to the platform where the train was already boarding.
In contrast to the ICE trains we have taken on the previous day, the train to Udine was a small and modest one. From the looks of it, we weren’t about to break speed records of any sort. We were charged a small fee for the bikes (2 euros I think) and had to checked them into the luggage car. When we got to the luggage car, a cranky train conductor showed us where we could put our bikes. He was a short stocky man with a mustache that made him look even more unfriendly. It was obvious that he got great satisfaction from ordering his passengers around. We placed the bikes against the wall and used our bungee cords to secure them. Just as we were about to finish, several other cyclist showed up. Our “friendly” conductor proceed to order the rest of the cyclist to stack their bikes against ours. We weren’t too happy with the arrangement, but we didn’t feel like arguing with him as it was apparent by then that it was his way or highway. One positive thing about the arrangement was that if somebody wanted our bikes they would have to go through all the other ones first.
The train was unsurprisingly slow and we couldn’t see much out of the windows as the route cut through deep valleys with high mountains on both sides. It was quite boring until we got to the Italian border where both the Austrian crew and the engine were replaced by Italian counterparts.
Along with the crew a couple of Italian cops in civilian clothes came on board as well. One of the officers in particular was quite the character. He looked like he escaped from an old black and white mafioso movie. He was around 6 feet with a balding head that was supported by broad shoulders. He wore a black leather jacket, and from his demeanor it was quite obvious that you didn’t want to get on his wrong side. I am not sure whether this was a routine check or they were looking for someone, but they questioned several passengers. They didn’t bother with us and the train took off several minutes after they got off.
We arrived into Udine train station right around noon. The Italian train crew was much friendlier and helped us get our bikes off the train. Once off the train we headed towards the main entrance of the terminal. As we walked out of the building, there was no mistaken that we were in Italy.
It was warmer, noisier and not as clean as Germany or Austria. You can feel the energy emanating from the crowded streets. Italy, without a doubt was much livelier.
First course of action was to find a place to stay. We managed to get on an open WIFI network and got a number for a nearby hotel. A teenager was nice enough to let my brother use his cell phone to call the hotel. But, the hotel said that they could not accommodate our bikes. The WIFI reception was choppy and sporadic. We decided to ride around a few blocks to find a cafe with better reception.
It felt really good to be finally riding on the streets of Italy. The weather was a bit humid but pleasant especially compared to what we have been through in Germany. The tree lined streets were surrounded with buildings from different periods, some going all the way back to Romans.
After a few blocks of riding, we spotted a cafe and seated ourselves to enjoy some cappuccino. I got on to WIFI right away to resume the search for a hotel. We eventually located a hotel north of town. It was a bit out of way, on the opposite direction of where we were eventually heading, but it looked modern, clean and best of all we could take our bikes right up to our rooms.
We rode north for about 15 minutes through a labyrinth of streets before finally arriving at the hotel. The hotel was just as we expected, a clean multi-story modern building with friendly staff. After check in, the excitement of arriving in Italy must have worn off that my brother started complaining about his cold once again. As he threw himself into the bed, I knew that he would be spending the rest of the afternoon and the night laying there.
Right around dinner time, I brought up the idea of going out to eat at a nearby restaurant. He initially agreed, but changed his mind as soon as he stood up, complaining about his cold again. He was feeling too weak. The hotel didn’t have a restaurant, so I offered to pick up pizza from a local pizzeria; we were in Italy after all. I managed to find one on Google maps that was pretty close to the hotel.
I jumped on my bike and found the place in no time. It was a small hole-in-the wall with few stools lined against the front window and one of the walls. Based on the available seats, it was obvious that take out patrons accounted for most of their business. A lone middle aged lady stood behind the counter. It was a one-(wo)man show ! She took the orders, made the pizza, answer the phone, collected payments and unfortunately for me she did not speak a word of English, absolutely nil!
As I walked in she acknowledged my presence, said something in Italian, turned around and proceed to place a pizza in the oven. All of the sudden, she raised her voice and started yelling about something. Just as I was starting to question her sanity, she received a response from a male from the back of the shop. As she kept talking, her tone alternated from low to high. I couldn’t figure out whether she was talking to me or the person in the back. So, I kept my silence as I wasn’t sure how to respond. She finally turned around, looking a bit annoyed, asked me something in Italian. Although I don’t really know what she said, but I could have sworn at the time that she was asking me whether I was deaf, stupid (or both). That is when I realized that at some point she stopped addressing the gentleman in the back and was talking to me. I said “sorry, I don’t understand” to which she replied with an “ooh” followed by few more words in Italian. It was her turn to feel a bit silly. After a short pause, she smiled and handed me a menu.
Although the menu was completely in Italian, I found it to be fairly clear and straight forward for the most part and managed to order a fungo and a plain pizza. After paying for my items, I sat down on one of the stools along side the front window, observing the foot traffic in and out of the beauty saloon next door. I had already preplanned how I was gonna transport the pizzas back to hotel. I had emptied and brought one of my rear panniers for that purpose. My only concern was that the pizza boxes wouldn’t fit into it. To my relief the boxes fit in my rear pannier just fine. I laid the pannier flat on my rear rack securing it using bungee cords. The make shift pizza carrier worked well and everything was intact until I got to the room. As I was removing the remaining pizza box from my pannier, the other box slid off the bed, the fungo pie inside buckled and wrinkled like a bulldog’s face. Albeit its appearance, it was one of the best pizzas I ever tasted.