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|
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...)