Europe Trip 2013 – Interlude by train

The next stop on our European adventure is Cannes, in the south of France. But the tale of how we made it from Italy to Cannes deserves its own post (in my mind) since it took an entire (not that fun) day to accomplish.

So here you go.

The tale of our time in Cannes begins with our attempt to leave Italy. When we were still in Venice, we had booked our train tickets to take us from Vernazza, Italy to Cannes, France. It was an open-ended ticket – meaning we could use it at any time within a three month window. An agent had printed out a schedule for us of train times so that we could make our connecting trains.

We packed up early in Vernazza and turned in our key. We double-checked the posted station in the Vernazza train station and found that there was a train leaving at 8:34am. We had breakfast pastries from The Pirate and then waited at the station for our train to come. No train came. The train the agent had originally noted on our schedule was to arrive at 8:52am. Still, no train came. It should be pointed out that their are two platforms at the Vernazza train station, one in each direction. The entire time we waited there no trains went by. There were many trains listed on the posted schedule but none appeared. At 9:15, Peter went up to the office to ask.

“You missed your train,” said the agent.

Peter showed her the schedule we’d been given. Rather than explain how we could miss a train that had never come, she walked away. While poor Pete stood at the window, bewildered, another agent appeared, picked up our schedule and rewrote it for us. We never really learned why they had a posted schedule that was, apparently, only for show, or how you were supposed to figure out the real schedule.

The next train was not until 10:20. This was to be the first of four trains we took that day and the shorted. It was going to Monterosso and actual time on that train was estimated at maybe ten minutes. At that point, it probably would have been faster to hike but I wasn’t eager to repeat that hike with my full backpack.

Instead, we walked down to the harbour and watched the fishermen, who used stale bread from the nearby restaurants as bait.

After a two hour wait and a seven minute train trip we arrived in Monterosso. After a twenty minute wait we caught our next train, this time to Genoa. This was a nice train, with small air-conditioned cabins. Unfortunately, it was busy and we didn’t have reserved seats (cheaper not to pay for the reservation) so at frequent stops we had to give up our seats to those who’d reserved. An hour trip in which at every stop you had to be prepared to move again.

Our next train took us to Ventimiglia, a town on the border of France. This was a long and unhappy ride. The train was hot, the seats were uncomfortable, and the lights flickered on an off throughout. The toilet was a hole through which we could see the tracks – something that I’ve experienced in China but was surprised to see in Europe.

When we arrived in Ventimiglia we quickly discovered that there was a train leaving almost immediately for Cannes. We raced to the track only to realise we hadn’t validated our tickets. Having open-ended tickets means you have to validate them at your departing station, to prove where and when you started. We couldn’t find a single machine to validate them in.

Frantically, we caught the attention of a station worker. “Validation?” we cried, alternating between what we hoped were Italian and French accents. He looked at our tickets.

“Cannes, yes,” he pointed to the train, demonstrating that it was about to leave.

“Validation!” we cried again. Now he understood. Not seeing a machine, he glanced at his watch and validated our tickets by hand and we hopped on board the train not a moment too soon.

Stay tuned for the next post in our European adventures: Cannes, France

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