Castellamare di Stabia, Italy
Apr 25, 2018
|We had planned one long, tricky stretch of train travel in Italy from Genova to Castellamare. Fortunately, buying intercity tickets online was easy. The trip from Genova to Naples, even with a change of trains in Rome, was straightforward. However, when we got to Naples, the challenge began. We left the simplicity and timeliness of the intercity system and enlisted the help of the wonderful English-speaking woman in the tourist office. She told us that our local train to Castellamare was downstairs, track 2. Armed with this info, we tried to follow the signs in the station to "Garibaldi," the local line. The confusion is that the Piazza Garibaldi is a square outside of the station, as well as the name of the local station. Arguing over which direction to go, we chose to follow the tourist info woman's advice and head downstairs, staying inside the building. Right!
We found the local line. However, we were still quite confused over which direction to go to find track two. Eventually, we dumped our stuff off at one track and I watched it while Fran scouted around to make sure it was the correct track. Luckily it was. Then we argued some more about whether to sit in a cafe so Fran could have a coffee or whether I should just stay amongst all the reported pick-pocketers with all our stuff while Fran went off to get one. The station has a terrible reputation for crime, although it really didn't seem all that bad, honestly.
We ended up at the cafe and got a message from Kim, saying she had gotten on the wrong train for a second time and might miss the local train to Castellamare. We were so worried about her! Kim is a dear friend we met through yoga at our apartment in Indy.
She had never been out of the country but had always had a dream of going to Italy. As we planned this trip and realized that we would be in Italy, we urged her to join us. "As soon as I get my insurance settlement," she replied. "How long will that be?" "Well, I've been waiting two years..." We figured it was pretty unlikely and planned the trip without her. Oh ye of little faith! Would you believe that she ended up getting her insurance settlement within a month and worked with a travel agent to join us on her Italian "trip-of-a-lifetime." We were so excited to be part of her amazing adventure.
So Kim made a very ballsy move to travel all over Italy alone. We couldn't figure out how she managed to get on, not one, but two wrong trains. We heeded the warning and every time we got into a train station we made a special point of reading all about the train schedules, which ones were due at the same track as the one we were planning to take, trying to figure out and avoid any potential mix-ups. Throughout Italy we didn't have any problems. Except in Naples. With Kim.
I sent all kinds of info to her from the Naples coffee cafe about where we were, how to get the right train, etc. Unfortunately I knew that she did not have cell service, just internet, no SIM card, so it was very unlikely that she would get any of the information. I then left Fran with his coffee and our stuff and set out on a reconnaisance mission looking for her, trying to guess which train she might come in on, and staring down anyone with blond hair. Unable to see one woman's face, I shouted "Kim" several times behind her until I was sure it wasn't her. I then raced over to another woman sitting down until I realized she was pan-handling. I figured Kim hadn't stooped to that, yet... Out of time, I finally returned to the track with Fran, discouraged, as the train pulled in and we both got on it.
We sat near the window as the train moved a bit. Damn, she's missed it, now what? I thought as I saw someone racing down the stairs. Could it be? I started shrieking and pounding on the window, as Fran stepped into the doorway of the train, preventing it from closing. Hooray! Poor Kim leaped onto the train, bright red and totally out of breath, as the conductor came over to make sure she wasn't going to pass out on the spot. Whew! The doors closed and off we went.
Kim breathlessly told us that she had followed those crazy signs to "Garibaldi" in and out of the train station, pulling her bag up and down over gravel, train tracks, stairs, and various other obstacles, and asking everyone where to go, until somehow she finally managed to find us. We must have just missed each other as I wandered around the large station and she wandered out of it. Delighted to be together, we eagerly told each other about our adventures until we got to Castellamare. End of the line. Then the fun continued.
When I originally looked on line for directions from the train station to our airbnb from the comfort of my bed in Indy, I thought I was seeing that there were two train stations. When Fran got into the game a few days before our trip, he assured me that there was only one local station. We all arrived in Castellamare and it was up to me to use Google maps to find our airbnb. I was also getting messages from our hostess asking about arrival time as she had another commitment. Trying to read the maps, respond to our host, navigate the cobblestones, and not get run over was trying, especially with worn-out Kim pulling her huge wheely bag and Fran lugging our big backpacks in tow. We made a few stops for Kim, who was determined to pull her own stuff, and Fran couldn't understand why it was taking so long. Thanks to the power of Google maps and cell phones, we arrived at our beautiful apartment, to the delight of our hosts. The stunning view more than made up for any struggles we had had (at least in my mind!).
The next day I advocated for some time to figure out next steps; how to get to Capri, how to see the Amalfi coast, and especially, how to get to our next destination (Salerno) via the train. Originally I had wanted to take a bus along the Amalfi coast to Salerno, but Fran wanted to do it unfettered so we could actually explore and enjoy the area. Fair enough. So we headed to the nearest train station for some intelligence. AHA! The nearest (local) train station was NOT where we had arrived. Somehow the local train had actually arrived at the intercity train station, which was another mile or so away. So I had been right in noting that there were two train stations, but Fran had seen that the local one only uses the nearby station. Typically this is the case. I'm not sure why we ended up with a local train that went to the other station. These are the mysteries that guide the Italian trains. I also think it must be Kim's crazy train juju.
The plot thickened. Kim also told us that there was a train strike scheduled for Sunday, the day we were supposed to head to Salerno. This was bad, as we needed to catch our ferry to Tunisia on Monday at noon. She had actually bought some random bus ticket, anticipating this problem. Ugh. The delightfully patient man at the local train station assured us that we could take the local train on Sunday, change in Pompeii, and head over to Salerno on the intercity line. We trusted him. After going back and forth between the two stations a couple of times, we bought the tickets. And I'm pleased to report (spoiler alert) that we did arrive in Salerno, despite about a mile walk between the local and the intercity train stations in Pompeii, on time. It was only about three weeks later that the Italian zest for striking caught up with us. You'll have to read about that on the ferry back to Italy from Tunisia.
We finished our business dealing with transport, and after lunch, we headed up the hill in the funicular (again from the local train station...by that point the nice man was proposing to Kim), to a viewpoint overlooking the city. Photos speak for themselves. If you ever find yourself in Castellamare di Stabia on a clear day, take the funicular! Otherwise, it is a bit of a grungy, workingman's Italian port town. We had one alleyway we finally decided to stop using because of the dog poo that accumulated over time with noone to clean it up. It is a great, inexpensive base to work out of to see all the regional sights (Pompeii, Amalfi) without the expense of Sorrento. But be prepared for the messiness of Italian life. But then again, perhaps that's what you came to Italy to see.