In my last post, I described some of our experiences with airline travel (it had its ups and downs, as they say). Yet flying the often not-so-friendly skies is not the only mode of conveyance that we have experienced with European transportation. We were introduced to the speed train while travelling from Madrid to Córdoba.
Having never travelled by train, I was delighted to see we were in relative luxury. The seats were soft leather that our tired bones could sink into. Our legs could stretch out comfortably. It was clean; bathrooms were fresh. We soaked in the beautiful countryside from our berths. I could travel like this all the time! Who needs those cramped old planes? Well, except to get home again. That was in 2013.
Time travel with me back one year…to Italy…2014…aaah…
Getting to Rome late, we felt a bit like Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswald staring down the Grand Canyon, nodding his head and saying “OK, let’s go!”
We did the speed tour, taking in the art, the history, the relics, the ruins, the food, the vino…all in a short 2 days. We were soon off to explore all that is Italy…this time by train! What could go wrong?
Well for starters, we required two taxis for our merry group of six. “Take us to Roma Terminal” and “Follow that cab!” messages were lost in translation as the two cabbies dropped their respective trios at different entrances…without our knowledge!
Simultaneously, yet at different locations within the train station, each triad was approached by a very nice and friendly person. Our very nice and friendly person saw my look of concern and confusion and offered assistance. He pointed me to the ticket counter and then waited to see if I required more assistance. The clerk at the ticket office gave me my tickets then leaned in, shook his head gravely, pointed to that very nice and friendly person, and said… “GYPSY”. And what became of that other very nice and friendly person? Well, it appears that at the same time my gypsy boy was approaching me, my husband was being approached by a young woman with a kind smile. Just then, a short burst of a siren rang out and the station security agent shooed her off. GYPSY!
Having been safely alerted to the gypsy and pickpocket threat, each party of three valiantly tried to find the other…for 38 minutes! Through a series of mishaps involving a packed cell phone (“Well, I didn’t think I would need it!“), my husband limping due to a knee in need of surgery, large suitcases lugged up and down stairways, long (I mean seriously long) train platforms, my brother-in-law located the wayward travellers and our party reunited! We found our assigned car (#1) by the big number painted on the outside. We pulled our luggage into the train car and plopped down in our assigned seats with seconds to spare.
All Aboard for Venice
To ensure that our next rail travel from Florence to Venice was uneventful, we insisted that the taxi drivers take the same route and drop us off at the same entry to the terminal. This time we made sure to stay together! We asked the uniformed
officials for directions. All went smoothly. We found our assigned car (#4) by the big number painted on the outside. We waited patiently and happily on our platform, expecting nothing less than stress-free travel.
Right as the train arrived, we grabbed the handles of our roller bags and gleefully headed to our assigned car. In the blink of an eye, chaos ensued! Out of nowhere, men surrounded us. Our luggage was grabbed from our hands and brought into the car. I saw my husband handing one of them a tip. This supposed baggage handler explained angrily that he had not been given enough. Soon uniformed officials were shooing this intimidating mob off of us. GYPSIES! We learned first-hand the perils of European rail travel.
Escape to Lake Como
WE GOT THIS! Having left Venice, we arrived together by water taxi. We stayed close.
We stood in a group, encircling the luggage like wagons on a wagon trail during an Indian attack. We avoided asking questions all together. We found our assigned car (#2) by the big number painted on the outside. We boarded early, found our reserved seats, relaxed…until a surly passenger approached my sister and informed her that she was in the wrong seat. “How rude”, we thought. We had fought too hard to be denied what was rightfully ours! My brother approached with indignation and quickly corrected this squatter saying that these were our reserved seats (appropriately drawing out the “reeeserrrvved” adjective). The interloper spat out her derisive words informing us that we were in the wrong car. The big number on the side was NOT the car number as had been car #2, the case in our previous train experiences. Instead, a little electronic box scrolled the car number in pixels. We were on car #9!
Again with the running! Again with the lugging our large rolling bags! Again with my poor husband limping due to a knee now REALLY in need of surgery! However, we did have reserved and comfortable seats, and no gypsies with which to contend.
Whistle Stop in Milan
Where was that wonderful speed train experience we had in Spain? Enough already! We give up! What else did the train gods have in store for us? We had one more train escapade before we were allowed to retreat to the calm of Lake Como. In Milan, we had to transfer trains. With only minutes to locate the platform, my sister, being the first one off, raced to the sign noting the platform. Again, we were on the hunt and on the run to make the train. WE DID IT!
What else did the train gods have in store? Well, how about a commuter train? We enter a jammed packed train of people returning from a long day of work, and here we were…dragging our rolling bags (were they growing larger?) looking for whatever seats were available. We spent the rest of the trip planning our fast, commuter-train-style exit at the Como station. Safely off in Como, we waved our Italy rail experiences a not-so-fond farewell.
So, what have we learned here?
Enjoy the experience!
Live in the moment!
Think about the stories you will tell!
AND WATCH OUT FOR GYPSIES!
Oh and by-the-way… my husband had knee surgery within the month!
What train stories are you itching to tell?
Originally published here