la joie de vivre

From California to Lyon, France: living & studying abroad…and coming back!

Vacation adventure: Getting stuck in & getting out of Italy

I had a great time in Florence with Jazmine!

But my trip back was certainly an adventure: I got stuck in Italy.

I left Florence a little bit before 9:00 AM, and my first train into Milan and then into Torino went without a hitch.

Milan, Italy: a huge train station!

But my Torino train pulled into the station at 12:44 PM, and my next bus heading to Lyon Part Dieu was scheduled to leave at 12:50 PM. So I line up at the exit of the train, and quickly step off the train to find my connection.

Bleh. I don’t like you.

But the only train leaving at 12:50 PM is one going to another Italian city. That can’t be right – I’m trying to go back to France!

By the time I make my way to the train station ticket office, it’s exactly 12:50 PM. If it was there I missed it, but I’ve had a lot of practice by now with using the train system — and that train was clearly not there.

Too bad no one at the ticket window spoke English…or French.

Pas moi. Français? English?

That wouldn’t have bothered me so much if they weren’t so rude. Understandably, I am a tourist in their country, but they are in the service industry for tourists. And from my experience, there’s a great deal you can communicate with pointing, gestures, single words, and a lot of patience. But I didn’t get that. I got “No inglese” and hurried, rushed movements – one guy closed his window and cursed me out in Italian (because with that intonation, eye roll, and turn towards his colleague, I don’t know what else it could have been), another one shooed me away to the customer service office (which was empty and locked), and another worker told me I was in the wrong place.

On the bottom of my ticket was listed “service autocar”, which I assumed meant that they serve refreshments and food on the train. But she yelled at me and pointed outside of the train station, saying it was an “autocar”, not “train”. But that couldn’t have been right – the ticket clearly listed “train” and a number for the connection, and there are no buses around the station – especially not a giant one that will take people to France.

I was soooo stressed out by this point, but I wasn’t about to be stuck in this crappy station forever. After I calmed down and stopped freaking out (which was probably for a good ten minutes), I tried my best asking the locals. I finally found one sympathetic woman who barely spoke enough English to help me out – but her kindness and help were really instrumental. She told me that I had to validate my ticket (to which she communicated to me by taking over to the machine and inserting my ticket), go downstairs to the train platforms, and just wait.

So I had hope: the lady knew there was a train from this station heading to France.

I went back over to the trains and looked at the printed timetable. There was a train that headed to Lyon (but to the airport, not to Part Dieu) that left 10 minutes before my train arrived, but the number still didn’t match up with my ticket. And the next train that was scheduled to go to France arrived at the station at 17h35 (5:35 PM).

I made a plan. I would wait in the station for the train and get on, take a random seat, and explain my situation if they had a problem with my ticket.

But it was only 14h (and yes, that’s because that whole debacle with the staff took an hour), so I had to wait 3 1/2 hours. The only other option was going back to Milan and then finding a train out, but I didn’t have their timetables so it would’ve been a shot in the dark.

Waiting and watching the trains go by….for 3 1/2 hours!

Too bad I had to use the bathroom from the moment I stepped off the train! Their bathroom was free…but when I peeked in the stalls, the floor was all wet and there was no toilet bowl, just a hole. And no toilet paper. Sooo I decided to pass.

Around 5:00 PM, people started to collect on my platform. They were all speaking French! I was soooooo unbelievably happy to be able to understand and communicate with the people around me.

I stepped on the train with them, just happy to be going back to France, no matter what was going to happen next.

France, here I come!!

I picked a random seat and plopped myself down. I knew that the train was scheduled to arrive in Lyon at about 21h30 (9:30 PM), so I had another 4 hours to pass.

Once we crossed the Italy-France border, the border patrol for France came on board and checked our passports. Hurdle 1 cleared – I had almost traveled to Italy forgetting my passport behind, but I remembered to return home to get it.

I was lucky and didn’t have someone move me until about 8:30 PM when new passengers came on board; the French lady who moved me was very nice apologetic, but it was true that I was in her seat when she came on the train.

And then a ticket checker finally came around at 9:00 PM. Keep in mind that I’ve been worried the whole time whether or not I’m going to get kicked of the train.

Don’t be nervous, don’t be nervous…

He comes around with a nice “Mademoiselle, bonsoir” and I hand him my ticket. He puffs out his cheeks and widens his eyes, then takes the tickets of the people around me and puts them through that electronic scanner thingy.

He sits down next to me, and I explain: I was in the station, the Italians at the window didn’t speak French or Italian, and I was told that the ticket would be OK for this train (which is essentially what that nice local Italian woman motioned and told me). And he was supportive along the whole story, and laughed knowingly when I told him about the ticket office.

And then he told me exactly the answer I was looking for: the train I was given the ticket for doesn’t exist. The number doesn’t exist; the route doesn’t exist. And I’m not the only one who has had this problem – they’ve had the same problem over the past couple of years.

I felt so relieved and happy – I was finally being understood!! This was probably one of the most rewarding French conversations I had, considering all the stress and anxiety of the day. He asked me about other circumstances of the ticket and asked if he could collect it to tell the company about it.

The train pulled into the Lyon train station at the airport, and I felt the rush of familiarity.

I went straight to the machine to buy a ticket for the Rhône Express and took the escalator down to the platform. I had to wait a half an hour for the next one, but I didn’t mind. I was so relieved to be back in Lyon. Then I hopped on the familiar metro and finally arrived in my apartment a little bit before 11 PM.



Picture credits:

Torino train station sign ( , “I speak Italian, and you?” button (, ticket validation machine (, Torino station (, SNCF train (, passport (, SNCF ticket inspection (, Lyon train station sign (, confetti (


2 comments on “Vacation adventure: Getting stuck in & getting out of Italy

  1. jumpingpolarbear
    April 13, 2012

    Remember asking what platform my train would come on in Italy. They just ignored me :). Guess it’s people like that everywhere though.

  2. alannapeebles
    April 13, 2012

    Yep, it was pretty crazy! But I’m glad there are some helpful people – and not just the rude ones – everywhere, too! Hope you had a good trip in Italy despite that, and thanks for reading my post :]

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This entry was posted on April 13, 2012 by in Travel and tagged , .
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