Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Love and food in the Apennines 5

Trains, sheep and other diversions
The station halt at Fosciandora
En route to see the structural wonders of Pisa (see Towering Genius), we find the level crossing closed at the foot of the mountain and the red light flashing.  We are about to witness another pride of Italian engineering, the railway system. The station at Fosciandora is on the Pisa to Aulla line, one of the early beneficiaries of Benito Mussolini's programme of efficient rail networks throughout Italy in the 1930s.  (Although it is said that the widely trumpeted reputation of Italian railways for punctuality reflected more the fear of admitting failure to Il Duce than the reality.)  
Aulla is a town in the mountains not far from Carrarra, at the strategic junction of two rivers, and was virtually destroyed during the Second World War, as this part of Italy was a stronghold of resistance by partisans against the Nazis and the Fascist Government. Today the station at  Fosciandora does look rather like an abandoned set from a film featuring resistance fighters, purloined artworks and a guest performance by Donald Sutherland, but despite appearances, it is fully operational.
Passing through
In fact it is possible to travel by train from the mountain halt of Fosciandora to a station in the UK within the day, or on a smaller scale, make a trip to the centre of Pisa without worrying about where to park. Admittedly you have to read the timetable with care to ensure that you are on one of the trains that stops, rather than hurtles straight through, rattling the glasses and crockery in  Claudio’s bar and restaurant,  but still a useful alternative mode of travel. Next year, perhaps...
The splendour of  the Duomo in Pisa
Back to Saturday morning. The train passes through, the barrier rises and we continue on our way to Pisa, taking the scenic route through the mountains. After enjoying the sights of this wonderful city, we decide to visit the coast for some respite from the unusually hot September sun.  The lovely Alina,  girlfriend of the son of the gardener who looks after the house where we are staying (and who is giving me Italian lessons) suggests that we avoid the designer-heavy resorts of Forte di Marmi and head to the sand dunes and birdsong of the nature reserve to the southwest.
This proves to be easier said than done. After driving several miles through the nature reserve, part of which appears to be occupied by a military camp, we pull over in the shade of a line of trees to take a birthday greetings telephone call from son in Pakistan. After exchanging just a few words, the conversation is interrupted a loud blast on a horn.  The driver of a very large garbage trucks gesticulates for us to move out of the way. We realise that in all the vast acreage of the reserve we have chosen to pull over in front of a collection of large waste bins,  hidden in the shade of the trees.
We finish the transcontinental conversation and decide to find our way out of the reserve and head back to Fosciandora for dinner.  As we drive through increasingly smart clusters of stylish houses towards a road that should take us to the motorway, there suddenly appears a cluster of dark, rippling shapes, filling the carriageway. A man in a grey shirt materialises, wielding a stick and with a black dog weaving around and in front of him. It is a shepherd, in the middle of a smart Pisan suburb, moving his flock to a new pasture.
The dust settles, we find the motorway and drive back in time for a shower and change before dinner at Claudio's place. No fresh wild mushrooms yet, he says,  because of the hot, dry weather, but there is lamb is on the menu this evening.

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