I’ve taken many, many trains since I’ve arrived in Italy. I’ve taken enough trains that I can honestly say I feel pretty confident at navigating the stations, despite the difficulties that can arise dealing with different languages, platform changes and crowds of equally confused people.
Despite this, last weekend I missed my train.
I spent the weekend exploring Verona and Lake Garda with Umberto and Marco. Sunday afternoon when we went to the train station to buy my ticket back to Florence I discovered that there were no more seats left on the 8:30 train. Instead, I bought a ticket on the 6:45 train, fifteen minutes from then, with a stopover in Bologna.
As we ran to the track to catch my train, Marco turned to me and said “Gina, if you miss your connecting train–” “Marco, I won’t miss it,” I interrupted. “Ok, va bene, but it happens.”
After explaining that I can handle it, that I know how to read signs and assuring him it won’t happen to me Marco dropped the subject and after many baci (kisses) and Ciao‘s good bye I boarded the train. I arrived in Bologna about an hour later and quickly found the track for the next train, which was scheduled to leave only 20 minutes later. That’s when the announcement that the train was in ritardo (late.) I just wanted to get home after a long weekend and have time to relax before classes on Monday, but no such luck.
It wasn’t until about a half hour later that I started to realize something was wrong. There weren’t enough people at the track and the train was supposed to arrive any minute. I nervously eyed the departure board again and again to ensure that I was at track 3, that all was ok. After 5 minutes of fidgeting I finally summoned the courage to ask a worker. His response? “That train left 5 minutes ago.”
Turns out that at Bologna central station there are central tracks and there are west tracks. I was at 3 ovest, when I should have been at 3 centrale.
There was one more train that went to Florence that night and it left in under a half hour. Running to the line to buy a new ticket I realized that with only two workers (one more than the usual in Italy) I would never get through the line fast enough.
Not to fear, I turned to the fast issue machine and quickly stumbled through the instructions, paying more than I should have, before running through the station with all my luggage to the right track. I made it home an hour and a half later than planned a little worse for the wear, but still alive.
Travel puts us in a constant state of insecurity. We’re navigating the unknown, and mistakes are bound to be made. In London I booked a room in a “party” hostel because “how bad could it be?” (Answer: bad.) Germany I descended in the wrong city, not even realizing it until a taxi driver politely explained that he doesn’t do out-of-city trips. In Rome I took my mother and grandmother in exhausting loops trying to find the Spanish Steps, only to realize that the steps we were on were, in fact, the ones we were searching for.
Missing a train is stressful. I was exhausted after a travel-packed weekend and had no back-up plan for being stranded, but as our travel plans break down, it only gives us a chance to show our strength. I had learned a thing or two about Italian train stations and my broken Italian language skills helped me to solve the “mystery” of the different stations and solve the problem.
Safely aboard a train headed for “home”, my heart rate returned to normal. Nobody can deny the meditative power (read: napping) of a rocking train.