The other day I wrote about my favorite mass transit system city- Berlin. Now it’s time to discuss my least favorite.
As I explained in my previous post, I spent some time living in Italy two years ago. I was there teaching ESL in a city just outside of Venice and lived about an hour out of that city. And as great as the Berlin system is, the Italian system (if you could call it that) was a nightmare.
I think I need to explain my location first, I didn’t live in a really big city. I actually lived on a mountain that had a decent sized town at the bottom of it. This town was located an hour out of the closest city, Vicenza, which was about another 45-60 minutes from Venice. This mountain was a pain-in-the-ass (I lived there with an aunt), if snow fell you weren’t leaving the house. Buses ran up it twice a day, once at 7am and once at 6pm, it would go halfway at 12pm and 3pm as well. Taking the bus obviously wasn’t an option for this late riser and late worker.
I eventually had to learn to drive so I could get to the train station so that I could get to work. By “learn to drive” I mean I had to learn to drive like an Italian. This means learning stick shift and how to navigate a roundabout. I already knew how to swear at other drivers and force myself into traffic after years of driving with my father. Enter driving lessons from an Italian guy who spoke no English and me who really hadn’t gotten much of a grasp on the language aside from that which I learned in a couple university classes (so none). Fun!
After some time, I finally got the hang of the stick shift and stalling became an infrequent occurrence (mainly because I preyed I never had to stop… thank god for roundabouts!) and I’d drive myself to the train station.
Let me just say, the trains in Italy are somewhat awesome. You can get anywhere in the country on the system, but it’s not an everyday transit system. The trains take you between cities, but if you wanted to stop in one place for some shopping, get on and be dropped off a few minutes later, you’re screwed. It got me from my town to the city for work, but for everyday errands, this is not the system for you.
And did I mention the strikes? Just like every other business in Italy, the train system will randomly strike. They probably strike more than any other Italian business. Sometimes they’ll warn you on the news the night before, other times you’re not told until you get to the station. Many phone calls were made to work to tell them I couldn’t come in because of this.
Once in Vicenza they did have a reasonable bus system. They took you all over the city and would let you off on the side of the freeways (no really, they did let me off here once) but you’d be damned if you knew where you were going. Not one bus driver could tell you where his bus goes or if it’s heading in the general direction of where I wanted to go, I know this because not only did I ask in my shitty (but understandable) Italian, but I had native speakers ask and not get a clear answer. 90% of the time you have no idea if you’re on the right bus or if you’re even headed in the right direction, but it’s a thrill to find out where you’ll end up (just as long as you don’t have to be at someplace on time).
No, Vancouver doesn’t have the most horrific bus system, far from it. And I’m sure Italy isn’t the worst either (although maybe in Europe… the strikes win that for them alone).
It’s memories of my time trying to figure out the Italian system that keep me warm while I wait in the cold for the buses to come. It may only come once every half hour, but at least it’s not only twice a day.
Where have you seen the worst transit systems? Want to try to tell me random strikes aren’t the worst affliction in European transit? Comment away.