A little knowledge can be dangerous, and when it comes to travel, I’m downright lethal. So I guess the opposite argument can also be made: ignorance is bliss. Why my travel companions don’t take away my navigation tasks is beyond me. Perhaps they don’t realize that I’m also blundering along looking for some recognizable landmark. I think they’re content that I lead.
I didn’t mind running with the locals when trains suddenly changed tracks. But there was one incident that I wasn’t prepared for.
A recent post I read here about how the low points of your travels are where your best stories come from reminded me of a summer I spent in Europe. I wasn’t new to travel, and didn’t mind staring at posted train times or running with the locals when trains suddenly changed tracks. I could figure out which trains would stop at which cities, and which were direct. But there was one incident that I wasn’t prepared for.
I had jumped off the train in Lucca, Italy to walk the medieval city walls.
I had jumped off the train in Lucca, Italy to walk the medieval city walls. Before I left the station, I checked the times for the next few trains heading back to Florence. Then I went for my jaunt around town.
Before I left the station, I checked the times for the next few trains heading back to Florence.
When I returned, I rechecked the times and walked to the designated track. I was early and had the platform to myself, so I plopped down to read my guidebook.
When the train came, I rushed on at one end, determined to get a window seat with a large view facing north. I was pleased to see the train emptying of passengers. I didn’t question why no one joined me onboard.
I continued reading. I’ll admit to slightly losing track of the time, but after some indeterminable amount of time, I wondered what the delay was. I flipped through more pages and idly wondered why the train engine suddenly cut off. It was August, so it became a touch stifling in the train compartment. I opened my window to enjoy the breeze.
Then that sixth sense that wouldn’t have kept me alive in any other time-period but this one finally started nagging me. Where were the passengers or the train conductor? Why hadn’t we left? I peered down the corridor. Nothing. No feet stretched in the aisles, no loud talkers on cell phones, no luggage gracing the overhead racks. OK, things might be getting serious.
I hefted my pack and walked through the train. Not a soul. Another, more astute part of my brain took over, determining that this train wasn’t going anywhere. It might look a little embarrassing getting off an out-of-service train, but I could pretend I had fallen asleep, stretch, yawn, and wander away.
I hustled down the steps and ran smack into the door. Usually these things opened when people wanted to get off and I should be no exception. I pushed, then pushed harder, as if another portion of my brain had really fallen asleep. Why would they lock a train? To keep me out of Italy? That wasn’t very responsible on anyone’s part!
Now it had become serious. I was on the farthest track from the station and no one was around. What was I supposed to do, sit there until someone came to either clean the train or return it to service?!? I tried all the doors and both sides of the train and could not find an escape. Wait. Was there at least a bathroom on board and was it one of those open holes to the track? Could I — No! Definitely not.
I looked out the window again. There had to be a way out. I had to think. I sat in my seat, leaning my head against the window. A breeze flowed through the compartment again and I raised my head, eye level with the picture-window I had opened earlier. I could fit through there!
The only question was how far of a drop to the ground? Did it really matter? It was my only option. I stepped onto the table, kicking one leg over the window and promptly snagging my backpack on the upper edge of the window. Right. I can’t go through with a backpack on. I hesitated dropping it, remembering all the stories of pickpockets in train stations, but there wasn’t a person in sight (which benefitted me enormously, as I had no suitable explanation).
I dropped my pack the eight feet to the ground, then squeezed through the narrow opening, careful not to pinch anything delicate while attempting my egress. With my lower body through the window, I let go and pushed off, dropping safely to the platform. My luck held, as no one was around to question my actions. I casually strolled back to the platform to read the train departure times again, feeling as if everyone in the station must be wondering just where the hell I came from.
Do you have a train-travel horror story? Please share it with us in your comments.
Jay Barry’s travels have taken him to more than 22 countries – four of which he has lived in – and all 50 states. Regarding Murphy’s International Law of Travel, he has had mishaps like the one above in pretty much each place. He’s the author of Throttling the Bard, a humorous novel about a motorcycle road trip across Nevada taken by an English Professor and his graduate student. Check out Jay’s novel and travel videos at www.jay-barry.com.