Managing the trains in Europe is not so easy as one might expect. Nice to Venice through Milan was $120C, changing trains three times with only 10-12 minutes each time to change trains.
Now when you have to find a new train, on a new platform, usually requiring you to drag all your suitcases up and down steep flights of stairs, look at the boards to find the number and platform of your new train (sometimes only posted minutes before departure), then walk half a kilometer or so to the new platform, confirm the new train number, and find the right car, in less than 12 minutes, it requires some huffing and puffing, and does creates a little anxiety.
We had purchased e-tickets online because they are about half the price of tickets at the train station, but an online tip advised that it is easiest when crossing borders (France-Italy in this case) to just buy a ticket to the nearest town over the border at the ticket office, otherwise connections don’t show up online.
We bought a ticket from Nice (France) to Ventimiglia (Italy) at the Nice Train Station ticket office. Then I showed the ticket agent our e-ticket onward, and she printed out a ticket for our trains to Milan, then Venice.
After validating our ticket in the little yellow machine (see post What You Need To Know About Europe’s Trains) so we wouldn’t get fined on the train, we got on the train from Nice to Ventimiglia.
The train follows the coastline along the Italian Riviera all around so the views from the train were awesome.
It was dawn as we left the train station so the light was lovely, though the reflections and dusty windows on trains don’t allow for the best photos……
Once we were well on our way, the Conductor came round, and checked our tickets. Our first train ticket to Ventimiglia was correct, but when he saw the ticket onward to Venice, he looked shocked, and said,
“This is not a ticket.”
Of course we argued, saying that this is what the ticket agent gave us. He shook his head, repeating in half English-half Italian,
“This is not a ticket!”
All the passengers around us looked alarmed. We repeated that this is what we were given at the ticket office. He repeated indignantly that it was NOT a TICKET! We thought we were going to get thrown off the train. After much discussion, the exasperated conductor finally walked away. We had a ticket for his part of the train trip to Ventimiglia, just not a correct ticket for the remainder of the train trip to Milan and Venice.
With a sigh of relief, we continued our journey to Ventimiglia. At the station, we had time to stop and have a cappuccino…
From Ventimiglia to Milan, all the seats seemed taken, and we had no designated seats on this train. We saw a private cabin with only one woman in it. I stepped in and asked if we might join her. She nodded, and went back to her studies. We hauled in our luggage, and sat down, trying not to disturb her. Eventually we got chatting, and she said she was studying for her Masters as a music therapist.
An hour or two later, the Conductor came in to check our tickets. I had assured T that it would be fine because the other conductor let us stay on the train with no valid ticket. Besides, we were quite certain that, if we went to the ticket office, they would make us buy new tickets when we had already paid for these tickets.
The female conductor, looking official in her smart uniform, only spoke Italian. When she looked at our “ticket”, she got wide-eyed, and started speaking rapidly in Italian. We looked confused and tried to look as innocent as possible. T was giving me the “I told you so!” looks. The conductor pointed at the ticket and shouted,
“Questo non è un biglietto!”
We raised our eyebrows in confusion. The woman in our cabin looked up, concerned. The conductor said,
“Lei non può continuare su questo treno!” and “Non si può continuare!”
The woman translated,
“The conductor said that your ticket is NOT A VALID TICKET… and that you CANNOT CONTINUE ON THIS TRAIN!
YOU CANNOT STAY ON THE TRAIN!”
Our eyes must have shown our shock. Wide-eyed and disbelieving we thought, oh no, that’s it! We are about to be thrown off the train!
We had already seen someone thrown off the train! Earlier we had watched the conductor interrogate this young man who did not speak English or Italian, and then watched the conductor direct him right off the train in a small Italian town.
We urgently explained to the Conductor that this was the ticket we were given by the ticket agent in Ventimiglia! Over and over we tried to point out the problem.
Our new friend explained this to the Conductor, and what followed astounded us. The woman and the conductor began arguing. Our friend got quite angry, shouting dramatically at the conductor! Back and forth they argued, our advocate not backing down an inch.
I fumbled in my papers to find the summary email of all our train tickets through Italy, showing that they had been bought and paid for! I showed the conductor. More lively discussion followed between the woman and the evil Conductor.
Finally, she smiled, nodded and left. Whew!
We sincerely thanked our spokesperson, still shocked that she defended us so vehemently. She said that she convinced the conductor that it was the ticket agent’s fault, not ours, and that it was obvious we had paid for the tickets. Still indignant, she said, “Stupid Italian train system!” Apparently there was a problem with the private cabin too. We found out that we would have also had to pay extra for a private cabin, which we certainly did not have on our invalid ticket, which looked to us like a valid ticket…
The whole experience made one pause and think: occasionally, you can get away with pure innocence as an excuse, but it reminded us that when we feel treated unfairly, we should try to remember times like this where we were given the benefit of the doubt, and given help by a total stranger.
We continued our journey, contemplating this experience, and enjoying the views of the Italian Riviera as the train headed towards Venice…
The Italian Riviera…