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The Worse Train Ride I Ever Took
Guido likes riding on trains. Still, this trip took the cake.
Guido Veloce Explains Europe to You - Issue #11


Train Travel - It started out nice

It was the 70s and we were on Europe's latest show trains, the TEE, or Trans European Express, gliding through the south of France in air conditioned comfort.

But as the day dwindled away, the train seemed to glide more slowly. Soon Riviera towns reflecting in the sparkling double-paned windows passed slowly enough to allow the maleducati among our little group to leer at the passing beach babes.

It was as if the rubber bands on the engine were winding down.

We were heading, we thought, into Florence. Yeah, it was a long ride. We were young then.

Some Customs are Better than Others

The sun had slithered behind the horizon by the time we passed the border into Italy. We were the last people on the train, which screeched to a halt in the middle of nowhere. We stayed on, befuddled, until a passing conductor told us the train wasn't going anywhere else tonight and showed us the door. He was kind enough to point us toward a little wooden shed standing in the middle of the field we seemed to be stuck in.

We gathered our bags and went in. The room was one long corridor, as it turned out. At the end of it was a little table with an enormous woman in uniform hunched over it, resting on her prodigious knuckles. Light was provided by a bare bulb hanging from the rafters by a frayed cord. Think "Seven Beauties" here.

There was no small amount of trepidation swirling among us as we approached. The woman, noting our presence wearily, leaned back and folded her flabby arms across her ample chest. A nod of her head meant we were supposed to put our bags on the table.

She snorted before rummaging through them. It was purely for show (the rummaging, if not the snort), as I'd noticed that she wasn't actually looking at the crap in our bags, which by now was mostly moldy vestiges of actual clothing worn way too long. It was a good thing she didn't wear nail polish because there was enough acidic sweat in mine to peel the best and leave the shreds hanging.

Eventually, with documentation, freshly aired out bags, and a sigh of relief, we were shown to our Italian train.

Train? What's that, you say? Huh! Victorians looking for the way to the poorhouses might have ridden on one of these contraptions. Mostly, there was a big place for animals and some wooden planks which, we determined, were actually supposed to function as seats. You didn't need a reservation, but we had several.

We're Off! I mean really off.

The train chugged asthmatically into Genoa where it stopped because the station was closed. It was 2 am. There isn't a train out until a decent time in the morning.

We tried sleeping on wooden benches, but this guy John demanded fresh air. Ok, so John figures the door is locked on the outside but he can escape and we'll let him in when he figures it's time to join us for even more fun.

So he leaves. And never comes back. I mean, here we are, they've opened the station and you can smell the coffee and John is nowhere to be seen. There is a train to Florence at 8 or so, and if he doesn't arrive soon...

Well, dang if John doesn't show his skinny self at just the moment when we've decided to board the train to Firenze! Turns out he had dipped his weary toes into some fountain outside and was promptly rounded up by the local constabulary for disturbing the peace or some such.

So, together again we board the train to Florence. It pulls out proudly, right on time. Soon the Mediterranean is glowing out the right-side window and all is well in the world--except that we look more than a little bedraggled compared to all the sharply attired Italian commuters on the train of course. Still, we see the sea for hours when it dawns on us that at some point the train really must go inland for a bit if we are to be left off in Florence.

"Does this train stop in Florence?" we ask in unison, three stooges in chorus.

"Si, certo!" they say.

Now, let's for the sake of shortening this story up say that we asked this question about a zillion times. We always get the same positive answer.

Then, on the zillionth-and-oneth time we get an interesting appendix to the answer: "Si, the train stops in Firenze, but you were supposed to change in Pisa!"

And that, my dear friends, is about the end of the story of my worse train trip in Europe. (Oh, and we arrived in Florence a couple hours later...)

The Guido Archives
Eating Europe I - Salad Dressing; why you won't get meat on your pepperoni pizza; why you may not even get coffee in your morning "latte."

Eating Europe II - Entrées to Smörgåsbord - Ruminations on the structure of an Italian Meal.

Eating Europe III - Pork Butts and Clams - Odd European food combinations with an excursion into the Italian sport of butt-pinching.

Secrets Behind Cheap and Charming European Hotels - from floors to bathrooms, from electricity to how Europeans write numbers, Guido answers all your questions about Hotels in Europe.

European Place Names - Is Wales England? Guido digs into the meanings behind European place names after a reader asks him to educate travelers on the differences between the United Kingdom and England. Not content just to admonish his readers, Guido goes on to explain the problems with having the word "United" in your nationality.

Safety and Debate in Times of War - Guido takes on the issue of whether or not Europe is safe for tourism as America Girds for war in the Middle East. Europe is not Texas, Guido Argues, and Europeans are likely to think differently than Americans when it comes to such things as war. Talk to them--they'll wanna talk to you.

Shopping in Europe: Buying Cheap Wine - Guido, warned by the editor not to tick people off by debating political issues, discusses how you can get decent wine in Europe without forking over lots of cash.

Shopping in Europe II: Covered and Open Air Food Markets - Get a really fresh meal in Europe cheap by hanging out in the market square on market days. Guido will clue you in on language, market etiquette, and what you can sink your plastic fork into even if you don't have cooking facilities at your hotel or inn.

Bar and Cafe Life in Europe - How are bars different in Europe than in the US? It's not all about getting drunk, or even pleasantly buzzed. Guido gives you the skiny on what you'll find (including ice cream) in a European bar, plus he adds a couple of hints for further enjoyment of the European institution.

Airline Security - How Much Can You Take? - Guido editorializes on the odd state of airline security in light of recent results of the Stupid Security Competition.

Ode to Peasant Food - Haggis and a wee Dram? - Guido likes peasant food for its spiritual properties and the life that's reflected in these loving preparations.

About Guido Veloce - Guido Veloce recently became a full fledged American when he gave up his Alfa Romeo for a Hummer. Concerned that he still couldn't fit in due to a rather sleek and zippy driving style that didn't seem to fit the Hummer or America, he bought a second cell phone to toy around with while he snakes his way blindly through the clogged freeways of our great land, looking for the essence of Americans in their canned and bottled foodstuffs and comparing them to the food of his homeland.

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