Monday, September 14, 2009

Train Story

Uffizi Gallery, 2001

My friend Suzanne is headed to Italy soon for a romantic holiday with her husband. Her mention of this trip brought back memories of our own Italian rail adventure.

Before we went to Italy the first time, friends were full advice about trains. Palmer advised me that many Italian cities have multiple train stations. Don't assume, when telling a taxi driver to "get me to the station," that you'll go to the right one. My sister added that were we to arrive at the track a few minutes early and find a train there, we should not get on it. Italian trains don’t always pull into the station until boarding is announced. That train on the track could be going somewhere else.

On our second trip to Italy, we booked passage on a train from Florence to Venice. I bought the tickets before we left home, understanding that they had to be validated in Florence before we could use them. Our hotel concierge offered to handle this administrative detail for us, and returned with an envelope containing our validated train papers.

A week later, my wife and daughter and I dutifully waited at the appointed track at Florence’s train station until our train was officially announced. We boarded, found our compartment and relaxed for the scenic ride to Venice.

An hour or so into the trip, a stop was announced for Bologna, a city famous for its university and covered walkways. I hoped we’d be able to see some of either from the train. Just before arriving in Bologna, the conductor stopped in for our tickets. I fished the documents validated in Florence out of a backpack and handed them over, confident that we were showing ourselves to be competent, sophisticated travelers.

Only the paperwork in the envelope contained documentation for one ticket, not three, and even that consisted of nothing more than a receipt. No tickets.

I tried to convince the conductor that I had purchased the tickets, three of them. But he made it clear that my paperwork was inadequate. His stern countenance made me consider that he might even throw us off the train. Our carefully inflated air of competence and sophistication was revealing itself to be just so much hot air.

We eventually figured out that the conductor had a machine hanging from his belt that would allow me to use a credit card to purchase three new tickets, which I did. The trip resumed. We saw little of Bologna from the station. But we arrived in Venice on time. You can see some video from our arrival here.

Months later, back at home, I happened to be cleaning out the recesses of my wallet. Yes, you guessed it. Stashed safely in the deepest pocket, up against an aging traveler’s check (for “emergencies), were the three original tickets for our passage from Florence to Rome. I used to have them framed and hanging in my office. But they got too embarrassing to look at and I finally threw them away.


  1. Great story--I guess we've all had travel tales to tell. Those videos you took are the best. I should remember to head back to them more often.

  2. I loved reading this post. My great aunt - who never married so was like another grandmother in the family - passed away at 99 a few years ago. She was treasured by so many folks and still such a joy to be around. Also, my husband's grandfather is now 96. He still works out twice a week on the treadmill and rowing machine and is coming to see his great grandsons play sports this weekend. Our elders are such a treasured part of the fabric of our lives and have so much wisdom to pass along to us. Thanks for sharing about Eloise!