Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Take the Wrong Train in Italy (and How to Prevent It)

In Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart says one of his most notable lines, “We’ll always have Paris.”  Now, Frank and I like to say “We’ll always have Grosetto” after we got on the wrong train and ended up two hours away in a town we’d never heard of in our lives.

It started with our journey to Pisa, which, as you already know, annoyed me.  We were back at the train station, on our way to Castiglioncello, which some fellow Americans told us about while we were swimming in the beautiful waters of Vernazza .  Here’s where we were expecting to go:

Courtesy of Silbertanne 3, courtesy of Wikipedia
Here’s where we ended up:

The train station folks, just the train station.

So how did it happen?  First of all, I’m no public transportation expert.  But I felt like I had gotten the railways of Italy down.  We were waiting on the track for the 15 minute train ride to Castiglioncello, when the train pulled up.  First indication something was awry – it was clear this was a high-speed train with assigned seating.  That’s not what we expected.  We boarded anyway.  About a half an hour later, the conductor came by, looked at our tickets, and yelled at us in Italian.  Not only we were on the wrong train, we were in first-class seating.  We did the only thing we could think of.

When in doubt...

We went to the drink cart.  That's where we figured out that while we were standing and waiting for our train, another, very late, train came through on the same track.  We didn’t exactly know what time it was, so we boarded.

The train at 14.56 (2:56pm) was the one we thought we were boarding. We
were traveling from Pisa Centrale, leaving at 13:52 to Livorno Centrale,
arriving at 14:06. We were traveling on track one, indicated by the little
blue circle.
Once in the drink cart, we weren’t sure what to do.  We did not know the next stop.  We did not know if we were headed north, south, east, or west.  We did know the next stop would be awhile, as high-speed trains don’t stop often.  Would it be in Rome?  Genoa?  Florence?

We didn’t bother asking, and just kept drinking until the train finally stopped about an hour later.  We got off in beautiful… Grosseto?

Not actually beautiful, and not in a single guide book
We grabbed some food and partied on the platform, waiting for a train back to where we were staying in Cinque Terre, now about TWO hours away.

What started as a €10 train ticket to a beautiful beach town, turned into a €42 train ticket right back to where we started.  But we did learn a very valuable lesson - always check the time before you board a train.

Total Cost: €10 to Castiglioncello + €42 back to Cinque Terre = €52, about $65

Best Deal: On the bright side, we only spent €10 and ended up taking a trip worth €42

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