Eurail, Derailed: The Peril of Not Reading Carefully

Maksim Kholodnitskiy

Happy Thursday everyone! It’s nearly the weekend, and I’m sure that we’re all starting the countdown.

For this week’s travel story, I’ll be taking you back to another mishap that occurred during my trip that I planned with Christine. Christine is an old friend of mine who was studying abroad in London at the same time that I was, and we planned a 2-week trip together that went from Italy to France to Spain, all via train. I highly recommend this method of transportation, by the way. I find that it’s a wonderful way to see parts of a country that you wouldn’t think to stop in otherwise.

So, this all started when we were first reserving train rides and seats for our trip. We got a Eurail pass and booked our entire trip’s transportation through the site to try and be “responsible”, by ensuring that we’d have tickets every step of the way. Looking back, I would argue that in some places, it would have been more cost-effective to just wait until we arrived in certain cities and buy a ticket for our next destination there. Of course, hindsight is 20-20, so we’ll never know for sure. Another caveat to booking it through Eurail was that, although we could put each other down as travel companions, we were never notified that only one of us would need to do a seat reservation for each leg of the trip. So, instead of Christine and I each purchasing a seat for every train ride, a purchase from just one of us would yield seat reservations for both of us. Long story short, we ended up over-reserving on our trip and definitely spent unnecessary money on the extra reservations…sorry, Mom & Dad!

As we were planning our trip, one stop during the journey in particular caught our eye, because it showed that our train would arrive at the station around 11pm in a small Italian town (I believe it was on our way to Venice, but I can’t be certain), and that the next train wouldn’t depart to our final destination until 5am the next morning. Not ideal, but since it was the only way to make our trip work – through Eurail, at least – we figured that we’d just go with the flow and chalk it up to being “part of the adventure”. Ha, not exactly. 

When our train arrived right around 11pm, we noticed that the station itself was not very…well-kept. Or populated. Or inviting. Again, we tried to just go with it and take it in stride with the whole experience. The original plan was to take turns sleeping in the train station overnight (you’d think that I would’ve learned my lesson about taking turns for sleeping) and then board our train in that same station the next morning. Well, even the best-laid plans…

As we surveyed our surroundings to try and figure out where would be the best (read: most bearable) place to sleep, two officers came up to us and began speaking authoritatively in Italian. Now, neither of us had a strong grasp on Italian, but considering everyone else in the station was clearing out, we got the gist: the station was closing for the night! Keep in mind, we had no familiarity with the city that our train had dropped us in. So, this was definitely a growth opportunity for both of us, because we had to figure out a solve – and fast. We had all of our bags with us, which made us look like complete tourists, so there was no way that we could (safely) idle outside the station without a plan. Before leaving the station, I did my best to mix what little Italian I had picked up along the trip with my existing knowledge of Spanish, and managed to ask the officers something to the effect of “hoteles cerca qui?” – or, “are there hotels near here”? Not my best work, but it was close enough to proper Italian that it got the message across. They nodded, led us to the exit, and pointed us in the direction of two options that were nearby. We ended up walking to the nearest hotel, which was small, quaint, and had a nice old man working the front counter despite it being nearly midnight at this point. 

Our trial was almost over, but Fate wasn’t done with us yet! Turns out, our potential host did not speak any English. And we did not speak enough Italian to communicate exactly what we needed. But, luckily, guess what he did speak? Ah yes, Spanish! Upon discovering this, I proceeded to make the arrangements with our host in Spanish, then we checked into our room and got a few blissful hours of sleep until it was time to go catch our 5am train. What an ordeal. But, it was all worth it when we arrived to our final destination safe and sound. We definitely learned our lesson though, and hopefully you’ll take this advice whenever you plan a similar trip: don’t take a pre-planned itinerary as gospel. Research the environments that you’ll be put into along your journey; have a back-up in case things don’t go according to plan; and absolutely double-check the open/close times of Point A and Point B – just in case a station is closed when you’re arriving!

After all of this, I do want to mention that I definitely wasn’t the only translator during our journey. Christine is highly proficient in French, which was very useful later on in our trip when we visited the French Riviera and Monaco!

Have you ever had a similar mishap in your travels? How did you solve it? Let me know!

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