Thursday, March 31, 2022 | Written by Claire
The day began with cancelled trains and booked out trains across the board as we approached the Metz Ville station. The original journey took us from Metz Ville to Chiasso where we would catch the last bus across the Swiss Italian border at 11:30 PM to our hotel. Strangely, all the TGVs heading to Nice and Marseille were completely booked for the weekend and right before we had to leave for our train to Italy, a truck driver got stuck on the rails on the Strasbourg line and shut down the entire area for several days. It was a mess!
However, thanks to the help of the SNCF app, we were able to find another route out of South France that routed through Nancy and some smaller stations such as St. Die and ended in St. Louis. There, we booked it to a train headed to Basel only for it to stop halfway at a random station called Mulhouse, making us miss our next 3 connecting trains, but after hopping onto the next train, we finally made it to Basel for a quick 20-minute connection, an expensive bite of food from the local Migros. Our next stop: Zurich. Not more than 5 minutes after slumping down into the cushioned seat of the nice Swiss Train, I got a text notification that I had a 50 euro surcharge from my Free Mobile phone plan. Turns out, Free charges you one euro per one MB (emphasis on Megabyte) of data you use abroad, which was JUST what I needed. A quick pro tip, Switzerland isn’t in the EU, so make sure you turn off your data before passing through the country. It was a hefty charge for a careless mistake. The train ride from Zurich was more of a miracle; it made up a decent amount of time for being late, and thankfully we were able to get into Chiasso with 20 minutes to spare. A bit past 11, we walked, and cartwheeled, across the border and into Italy.
Over the next few days, we were hoping to ferry hop the water-front cities across Lake Como, but of course-there was a strike. Ferries were operating at unreliable hours, so we decided to just suck it up and take the hour-long train journey to Bergamo.
As the sun rose high in the sky, I was delighted to feel the warm rays bathed across my face and the fresh breeze. It was a definite change up from the weather in Metz, where it was perpetually grey and gloomy seven days a week. The city itself was beautiful. The town was lined with colorful houses of pastel orange, yellow, and red. The small little alleyways of the quaint Italian town seemed to emerge from stone, stacked upon each other creating small winding trails on the cliffs above the water, which shimmered a beautiful crystal-turquoise color as small private boats settled on the surface, rocking peacefully back and forth. Although the trees were still on their early spring phase, the leaf-less branches created intricate shapes and patterns that weaved higher in the sky, a natural masterpiece.
Other than Bergamo, Bellagio and Varenna are the other two must-sees in the area. We happened to stumble upon a giant garden in Varenna that stretched for miles along the waterfront. It had an array of flowers, trees, and small bushes, creating a myriad of purple, red, and orange that contrasted the bright green forestry. The white columns and marble coated buildings gave the entire garden a Venetian look, comparable to the marble statues in Rome and Florence. Other than the scenery itself, luxury cars decked out in silver lined the streets, perfectly blending into color scheme.
Finally, in Bellagio, we hopped off the ferry right on time to catch the glorious sunset, a ball of bright red that dipped below the horizon. As the sun disappeared, the cold started to set in, coupled with the strong winds that ripped our hair back and forth. As we took a look at the time, we would be right on time to catch the last bus back to the train station in Varenna, which would bring us back to the hotel. We stood in the dark corner of the bus station, waiting as the time ticked past its scheduled arrival. As the moon continued to rise higher into the sky, the bus finally showed up, only to be packed to the BRIM with passengers huddled like sardines on board. There was no room to spare. The driver, however, didn’t even stop; instead, we took one look at our shivering selves at the bus station, shrugged, and sped away. Our hearts sank. There was no way back. We stood there in silence for a minute pondering on what to do, but not too far from the dock, we saw a ferry pulling up to the station. It seemed to be running on schedule despite the strike. At once, we bolted on board only to find twenty other people trying to get to the same train station to catch the next train that would supposedly leave 5 minutes after the ferry arrives.
As the boat sped across the water, the workers seemed to be in no rush docking the boat. The exit ramp was not even close to the dock, but all of us were on our feet, ready to sprint. The next few moments seemed to be a movie. It was as if the ferry became a starting line, and as soon as the ramp touched the ground, everyone ran. Flying out of the boat, over bike racks, and across the town, everyone ran to the train station together, wheezing and laughing with those who once strangers were now bonded over our mutual rush to the train station.