A lightning storm of epic proportions envelops Venezia Mestre, the mainland rail terminal of Venice, as I await the 10.19 regional service to Verona Porta Nuova. Flashes of lightning crease the sky every minute, and as the pounding rain increases in intensity I can only wonder of the chaos it must be inflicting upon the crowded tourist alleys of Venice itself and the slickened, pigeon-pecked paving of St Mark's Square. On time, the single-deck train arrives from the island to whisk a dozen or two Mestre passengers and me inland. Well, whisk might not be a strictly accurate description, because the regional service may reach a fair clip on the open rail, it is also designed to service the dense network of rural stations serving small towns along the route, every five minutes or so: Ponte di Brenta, Mestrin, Grisignano di Zocco. Italian train boarding is not a hurried operation, so it pauses for a leisurely few minutes at each stop, and as I'm in the front carriage I can observe the conductor leaning out the foremost door, checking that any passengers have alighted and new ones boarded safely.
For the first half an hour I have the front 2nd-class carriage to myself as the train emerges from the scraggy light industry of Mestre into satellite suburbs intermixed with wealthy farming country. An unexplained halt to allow a faster train to pass gives a moment to appraise the carriage. It's a tidy affair, with 34 seats decked out in suitably regal Italian blue vinyl, plus room for a wheelchair or prams. Each set of three or four seats has a small litter bin with a pair of built-in power sockets for passengers to charge their phones or laptops. It's all very tidy and civilised. All it needs is a gelateria and it'd be perfect.
At Padova (Padua) several more dozen passengers join the train, including three in my front carriage, two of whom are chatting on their mobiles. We are soon cruising through the lush flat fields of the Veneto farmlands, with square pale yellow-washed farm houses floating amidst a lapping sea of wheat and corn. There are no bends in the track: it is as if the Roman army built this ferrovia, the iron road.
At Vicenza all my carriage-mates alight, including the mobile-talking woman who has nattered in Italian for her entire journey. Their only replacement is a thin, quiet, elderly gent grasping a well-furled black umbrella and an art case. He departs a few stops down the line at the grape-growing town of San Bonifacio, where a man props his young cycle helmet-wearing son upon his shoulders to admire the arriving train. Tree-clad hills emerge alongside the valley route, peppered with steep crop-fields and the odd monastery. We pass a pallet factory (closed for the weekend), a tumbled-down farmhouse, and a fancy vineyard with a carpark dotted with bright white vehicles.
Soon the train nears Verona itself, stopping at Verona Porto Vescovo on the outskirts before entering the heart of the city to the terminus at Verona Porta Nuova. The journey has taken two hours - twice the time of the fast train but costing a mere €8.60 (NZ$13.50). Now it's time to explore another new city.