Wednesday 9 October 2013

49: September Sun: Pizza in Pisa

Welcome to another edition of the Railwaymedia blog. As I had expected it has been about a month since the last blog was published due to having a week away in Italy and, consequently, needing to process all the pictures from there before I could get round to writing this.
It was my first visit to the country; there's a diminishing number of (Western) Eurpoean countries I still need to visit, for railway photography at least. Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal are probably the main three. I might give Lichtenstein a miss as it only has 4 stations on a 10 mile line connecting Austria and Switzerland! Further east is probably going to have to be the aim for future trips: Latvia or Lithuania maybe; I would like to do Romania but I'm not keen on going there on my own.
Anyway, moving on to the here and now, or rather the last few weeks, and this blog will mainly describe where we went and what we saw in Italy. The principle aim was to see the FS (Ferrovie dello Stato) class D445 diesels, pictured above, as rumour has it they are being phased out over the next year or so. One of the principle lines they are used on is that from Firenze (Florence) to Siena. They haul a more or less hourly service, supplemented on the branch by additional DMU operated stopping services. They work in push-pull mode with the engine on the Siena end.
With this line being our target we flew to Pisa with Easyjet. There are flights from the North-West but I chose Luton as the flight times suited me better. Pisa has an excellent small airport with two trains an hour connecting it to the main Pisa station, though it is possible to walk to Pisa Centrale in about 20 minutes anyway if you have just missed one. We stayed in the Hotel La Pace which for Italy was fairly reasonably priced. It also does a good buffet breakfast and being virtually right ouside Centrale station is handy if you want to take night shots of the sleeper trains.
Before we needed to check in the hotel though, we had a few hours available to try to get a handful of pictures somewhere. Being September we had to find somewhere open in order to maximise the length of the evening light and to avoid the consequent long shadows. Many of the locations we used throughout the week were as a result of taking tips and looking at pictures from a website of a friend who makes many trips to Italy.Vada was one that looked reasonable for our requiremnts, although we discovered by ourselves this particular field 15 minutes walk north of the station.
The two hours we spent here started our hatred (or perhaps that's too harsh: let us say annoyance) of FS's ubiquitous class E464 electric locos that are used on virtually all regional services. Now naturally loco hauled trains are preferable to units but as, unlike the Siena line trains where the loco is always at the same end, on the electric network there is no telling which end the loco will be. More often than not it is never on the end that you want it to be for the photograph.
Our first full day was, with excellent sunny weather forecast, aimed at getting shots of the Siena line D445's. The main locations we used were centered on the stations of Poggibonsi, Castelfiorentino and Certaldo. The latter one, pictured above, is by far the nicest station on the line. There is a road bridge to the north of Poggibonsi (about a 20 minute walk) which gives good morning views: we took a picture of the 0910 from Firenze here, though the light would be better an hour earlier.
At Certaldo I ended up going for a much longer stroll, bit by bit heading south trying to find a decent location. I ended up near the village of Basseto about 3 miles away. To say I was sweating in the heat was an understatement, but at least I got my best shot of the day from the bridge there.
Meeting back up with Richard later we headed to one of the locations on our list, that being the river bank at Castelfiorentino. This is a good afternoon shot for Siena bound trains, and we could even nip to a local bar between photographs for a very welcome beer. With the shadows starting to lengthen we chanced our luck walking up to a bridge we could see to the north of the town. With the sun moving round and all the locos being at the south end of the trains there was only one more good photograph we could get of a D445, but with lovely evening light and an intersting backdrop it was worth hanging round for an hour to photograph a few of the intersting elderly units.
The next day we decided to hit the 'mainline' to get some Electric loco pictures. We went south from Pisa, past Vada, to San Vincenzo where there is a decent morning location north of the town. Unfortunately Italian railways seem to go very quiet on all lines between about 1000 and 1200 so we didn't get too many pictures, and needless to say any regional trains that did run tended to have the loco on the wrong end. We did though see a couple of freight trains, one of those being a frequent trip working of limestone from San Vincenzo to Rosignano hauled by an articulated Class E655 loco dating from the 1970/80's which in total we saw 6 times during the day.
This train was a bit of a life-saver for us as we saw little else all day apart from passenger workings. The line north of Pisa towards La Spezia appears to be much busier for freight, but there aren't as many good scenic locations for photography. During the afternoon we moved north from San Vincenzo to La California which is probably the best photographic location in the area though it is a long 40 minute walk from Cecina. We had maybe 5 hours in total there: fortunately there is a supermarket just before you leave the built up area of the town in which to stock up with provisions! There is a road bridge spanning the tracks and also a quiet lane running alongside the line, so from early afternoon through to late evening shots are possible one way or the other. 
We had a choice of rushing back to Cecina station before the sun went down or staying for the last of the light and having two hours to wait for the last train to Pisa. In the end we chose the latter and had tea at the small bar outside the station, which was basic but cheap. Birra Moretti is probably the most widely available beer and is pretty good; pizza is unsuprisingly available everywhere. Even eating in a fairly posh restaurant in Pisa one night it was only about 7 Euro's for a pizza, beer was between 3 and 5 in general. I was warned Italy was expensive but didn't find that to be the case.
Day 3, and after a hour or two east of Pisa at Pontedera where we saw no freight trains, we decided to go north towards La Spezia. Richard carried on to the Cinque Terre tourist area whilst I had two hours at the small station of Camaiore. There are few trackside locations on this section of the line, Camaiore is probably the quietest and most picturesque station, but I was rewarded with a couple of freight trains and even the E464's were mostly on the right end of the trains for once.
I then headed up north to meet Richard. The Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages clustured along the rocky coastline west of La Spezia and is extremely popular with foreign tourists. The railway engineering here is outstanding. There is no easy road access to any of the villages but the railway is hardly any better. From La Spezia the railway is almost continually in tunnel, indeed in the 44km between there and Sestri Levante 28km of it is underground, generally only popping out into daylight to squeeze in a station (some platforms are even in the tunnels themselves).
I alighted the train at the second of the five, Corniglia, just as I saw Richard getting on, so he spent the remaining hour or so of daylight at the next station along. There is a good location in the village of Corniglia overlooking the station and the bay, though it took a lot of climbing of steps. I also got bitten by loads of Mosquitos. Evening is perhaps not the best time to hang about there.
We were going to have our tea in one of the villages as they go noticeably quiter after dusk as all the tourists head back to wherever they are staying, but we were a bit anxious about the connection into the last train back from La Spezia to Pisa. In the end we went back early and finished the night in what had been a lucky find on our first night, namely the brewpub Brasserie La Loggia just outside Pisa Centrale station. It claims to be a brewpub, though apart from the standard lager the interesting beers were served only in bottles, but there were four on the menu to choose from; not particularly cheap but it was nethertheless an unexpected find. And they do pizza of course.
With the flight back to Luton not until 4pm that gave a full morning to go out photographing. Getting some more D445 shots I felt was probably the sensible thing, though with a heavy bag to carry about and as the weather had changed and only started to brighten up at dinner time, I restricted myself to principally doing station shots. One thing I will say is that neither of us got any hassle from any railway staff during the visit, something I believe can occasionally happen in Italy.
I camped out at Poggibonsi for a couple of hours, enforced mainly due to the strange mid-morning service gap I mentioned earlier. Ten minutes of amusement did occur though watching an English woman trying to use the station's self-cleaning toilet. I almost got to spend even longer there as the light engine pictured above broke down at the next station causing 30 minute or so delays, though the man here on the platform as it went through didn't appear to be too peturbed about it.
All in all a good trip to cover a new country, if you are interested in the full selection of pictures I took they can be found HERE. I'm not sure if I would make a specific effort to visit again as, certainly with regard to passenger trains, with most regional trains having the same motive power and with rumours that the E464s might even replace the older E444s on the Inter-City trains, there is little new to see. Maybe a family holiday will be in order though, with the odd photographic excursion thrown in if I can escape for a few hours, to get some more scenic coastal shots.
With having to fit in processing all the Italian pictures in between work commitments I have not otherwise got out with my camera this month, with the exception of two shots last weekend at the annual Ribble Steam Railway's Diesel Gala.This always seems to coincide with the weekend I have a kind of beer festival at my house which usually prevents me visiting on the Saturday at least. This year there were no visiting locos anyway as such so there was little need to nip down, though with Sunday afternoon turning out quite nice I did nip down the docks for some dinner and a shot of their immaculate class 14 diesel. It just needs some blinds in the headcode boxes!
I have, though this hasn't proved popular at home, booked yet another holiday for next week. This one is to Austria to try and get some pictures of the 100 year old locos on the Mariazellbahn. With new units having been delivered this year it seems that 27th October is the final date, barring summer specials, that the class 1099 electrics dating from 1911 will be in daily service.
Of course there will be more about the Austrian trip in the next blog, in the meantime thanks for reading this one. I shall leave you with the obligatory picture to take in Pisa. We went to see the Campanile at midnight, which was far better as it was much quieter; during the day it must be as bad as the Cinque Terres are for the numbers of tourists flocking about. Bye for now!

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