The South of Italy is Another Country

On a recent trip to the “Heel” to see in particular the baroque city of Lecce, we decided not to hire a car, but to use the local trains. It was time travelling. Lecce station is much like any other, but what they don’t tell you is that it acts for two railway companies. We couldn’t find a timetable for trains to Galatina yet we knew they left from Lecce. I joined the usual disorderly queue only to be told I couldn’t buy a ticket there. Instead I was directed to another ticket office, an inconspicuous hut at the end of platform one. I asked if the train was direct and was assured that it was. It was not.

Platform 7 was at the far side beyond the underpass. We emerged at platform 5 and had to walk across the tracks despite signs warning you not to do so. When the train, a small metal box on wheels built in about 1935, rattled into the station, we showed our tickets and the inspector said to change at Zollino. I protested, but he was very firm about it, and he was right. We got off in the middle of nowhere, all scrubland and prickly pears, not believing a train would arrive, but another rattletrap came along, even more ancient than the first.

At the next station a young woman emerged and began turning a large crank handle to change the points.

The whole journey took only 40 minutes, but it was worth it. The stunning frescoes of St Catherine’s Church are the most complete I’ve ever seen apart from the Giottos in Padua, and our quirky rail journey in reverse was relatively easy, this time confusingly not involving a change.

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