It all began with a hashtag on Instagram. I searched it, in order to find some photos of my favorite train route – the Trans-Siberian one. Only this time, I stumbled upon another Trans-Siberian hashtag which was called #LaTransiberianaitaliana!
Why the “Trans-Siberian” of Italy?
That is a great question. After I spent some time online, looking for an answer, I addressed my question to the volunteers of the Association of Friends of Trains “Le Rotaie”, asking them for more information. Why is a train thousands of kilometers away from Siberia called the “Trans-Siberian?” I wondered. “You should come and see why” their reply was.
And like the crazy train lover I am, I packed my backpack. Destination? Rome! After a flight to Vienna, a trip to enjoy a few days in Venice during the Carnival , I finally took the train to Rome after a week travelling around Europe. (Stay tuned for a separate blog post about my pre-Rome adventures!)
Accessing the Train
After I’ve reached the Central Train Station at Termini Roma, I headed to platform 20bis to take the train to Isernia. Isernia is a city located in Molise region – a less touristic region in central Italy. Its evergreen landscapes, mountaintops, plethora of natural parks and picturesque villages make Molise unique, alongside with the historical railway line la Ferrovia Sulmonia – Isernia. A line that before falling active, joined three major Italian regions: Molise, Campania and Abruzzo. The railway line re-opened in 2014 with the joined efforts of both the locals and non-profit organizations to be used for touristic purposes.
Arriving at Isernia, I met Nadia, my social media connection with the members of the “La Rotaie” team organising the daily trips aboard the historical train. Nadia would guide me around the next couple of days but now, it was time to leave for Sulmona, the train’s point of departure . Sergio -a member of “Le Rotaie” would drive me there from Isernia.
En route to Sulmona, I admired the mesmerizing landscape while snow made its appearance as we climbed higher towards the mountaintop, answering my question why the train was named after the Trans-Siberian. The magical pink hues of the sunrise offered the perfect canvas for photos and as you can imagine, we made several stops on our way to catch the perfect shot!
On platform 1, the volunteers of “Le Rotaie” were waiting to meet the Greek girl who decided to travel with their very own Transiberiana Italiana – a train little known abroad. I introduced myself to the volnteers and the 399 passengers of the train and I stood by the platform with my camera on hand to watch the train’s arrival at the station.
And there it was! At 8 am sharp, the distinctive and so familiar melody sounded: the sweet melody of a train arriving at the station! I was excited more than words can explain, as I was once again standing in front of my most favorite means of transport. A train with a historical significance of ages.
The stationmaster’s whistle brought me back to reality and I ran to my seat inside the wagon or “carriage” number 3 as its name was in Italian. The interior was as impressive was the exterior: wooden seats, black & white portraits, drapes. Everything was refined and clean, travelling the passenger back in time, somewhere around World War II when railways were the main means of transport for passengers, cargo and the injured.
A volunteer in each of the train’s wagons would explain a few things about the train, the route and the programmed stops. I was lucky to have Sergio in mine, the man who drove me to Sulmona from Isernia!
It’s Geography time
Sergio began by answering my big question: why was the train named Transiberiana d’Italia? It was due to the fact that the train crosses the Apennines, the mountain range that extends along the length of Italy, while in one of its stops it reaches an altitude of 1268,82 meters with the snowy and icy cold landscape reminding that of Siberia. Sergio pointed out that Transiberiana Italiana is the second highest railway line in Italy in altitude after Brennero in North Italy.
By that time, the crisp white snow and the green of the trees outside my window caught my eye and occupied my mind – the amazing scenery of this unknown part of Italy seemed so different than that of northern Italy where I spent three years of my life in the past.
First Stop: Palena
After two hours, we finally reached our first stop: the small village of Palena. Outside the station, local delicacies and a a cup of hot, sweet wine were awaiting to comfort us from the sudden cold.
Lupi della Majella, a local folk music group from Abruzzo, was there too, to “heat” things up with its music.
Before heading to the food stalls, I took a walk around the station, to explore the village, talk with the kids who were horseriding around and chat with the volunteers from Le Rotaie.
As I was wandering around, I had the chance to have a chat with the stationmaster – he was peacefully having a cup of hot wine – and that was when I realised we were no longer in Molise region; we had reached Abruzzo! What I’ve heard was true: the railway line connected these two regions of Italy, I thought to myself and slowly made my way towards the food stalls.
Around 11 we gathered at the station to continue our trip. Only this time, a surprise was awaiting me. Marco, the train driver, calls me to join him! Yoohoo!
I couldn’t be more happy as it was only the second time experiencing a trip next to the train driver and this time, the snowy scenery made it incredibly special!
Next Stop: Pescocostanzo
Pescocostanzo is the highest altitude stop and one of the most cold and snowy villages along the route. I had two options: either to stop here or continue up to the final destination of the day, the village of Roccaraso.
Nadia and Sergio had earlier suggested that I should stop at Pescocostanzo and so I did. I would explore the village until the return of the train and our next stop for lunch.
I put my hood on and covered up in my scarf as it was extremely cold (-7 degrees), ready to explore the snowy, empty alleys that reminded me more of an abandonded village in Siberia rather than central Italy.
The freezing cold could wear out even the most determined traveller and tired as I was, I decided to take a coffee break at cafe Central at the heart of the village under the sounds of traditional music accompanied with sweets made for the Carnival. As always, I started a conversation and learned about the owner’s distant cousin who’s married to a Greek girl and after I waved goodbye to everybody, I left for the train station.
Next Stop: Campo di Giove
After 40 minutes, we reached our final destination for the day before returning to Sulmona: Campo di Giove. For some reason, Campo di Giove won my heart over all the villages I visited on that day.
We had two whole hours to explore Campo di Giove, so once again, I wrapped up in my scarf and began wandering around the little village of Abruzzo.
Amphitheatrically built with white, snowy roofs, the scenery was more than the perfect scenery for photos. After doing some online research, I learned that the village was one of the favorite spots for ski fans. The old center was, in my opinion, by far the most beautiful spot.
A while later, I was at a tiny shop / bar where a sweet old man was making panini with prosciuto crudo. Of course I had to have some! And of course, I had to talk to him! That was how I learned that I had to head to the village’s square to have a taste of Carnival and get in the festive mood.
The festivities transferred at the train station where a group of parents along with their children, dressed like Indians, decided to take over Transiberiana Italiana! I was taking pictures like crazy, not to miss a moment of this sweet event. The mini Indians travelled us back in time, somewhere deep in the Far West!
Back to Sulmona
Our return back to Sulmona, found me next to the train driver, sitting excited, enjoying our return. Snowy mountains, tunells, bridges and picturesque villages made an incredible trip – I couldn’t ask for more!
I felt like a small child: I was enjoying the view – what an incredible scenery – asking one question after another to the – regretful for inviting me to join him, I guess – train driver.
Just before we arrived at platfrom number 1 once again, I managed to take a rejuvenating breath outside the window, capturing the moment to eternity. It was the same feeling I felt while on board the Trans-Siberian, minutes before I arrived in Beijing: it was freedom. Freedom and pure happiness. Another trip I dreamed of and planned, had come to an end.
The group “Luppi della Majella” sweetened up the melancholic atmosphere, playing a few traditional songs as we got off the train. I said goodbye to the team of the volunteers and thanked them for having me aboard Italy’s Trans-Siberian. Time to head back to Athens? Of course not! My next destination was Carovilli, just outside Isernia, where Nadia and I would explore the villages of Molise region!
How – What – Where
Should you need more information concerning the Transiberiana Italiana schedule, you can check out their Italian site or head over to their Facebook Page where they will offer you all the info you need in English. Alternatively, you can contact me to help you with the details!
The ticket for a daily trip costs 30 euro and, depending on the time of the year, it includes a lunch stop, guides around villages and parks and local festivals.
It will be the perfect addition to a trip to Rome!
*I would like to thank the volunteers of “Associazione Culturale Amici della Ferrovia Le Rotaie” for their hospitality and the tour on this wonderful train and I like I told them, they will see me soon. And of course, a big thank you to Nadia Falasca because, if it wasn’t for her I would have never managed to take this trip. Grazie infinite…ed in carrozzaaaaa!