Monday, January 30, 2012

The Train to Brussels

When Eric and I were traveling together for the first time in July and August 2010, we planned to take a train from Marseille to Nice to catch a flight to Rome.  We got to the train station in Marseille early, grabbed some sandwiches for lunch, and sat near the right berth to catch our train.  When the time came, Eric asked a conductor - in French! - which train we should get on to get to Nice.  We boarded, settled into some comfy seats, and pulled out our books for the trip.

The train station in Nice.
As we pulled away from the station, the conductor began announcing the stops.  At first, the geography seemed okay.  The cities were in the right region, I thought.  Then I realized the cities were going the wrong direction.  Then he announced that the final destination was Brussels.

I put down my book.  Brussels?  That wasn't in France at all!  We weren't just going to the wrong city, we were going to the wrong country!  What were we going to do?

Eric noticed my immediate panic and had me take a couple deep breaths.  "It'll be fine," he said.  "Let me go check on it."  While I tried to calm down, he asked in the snack car if the train was going to stop in Nice.  It wasn't.  As my mind rapidly listed all the consequences - now we wouldn't make our flight, we'd lose our deposit on the hostel in Rome, we'd be stranded in Belgium, our train tickets would get "controlled" and we'd get charged for being on the wrong train - Eric was unworried.  "We can get off at the next stop and get a ticket to Nice.  It will work out."  He rubbed my arm and went back to reading.  I pretended to read, but mostly thought about missing our flight.

The Avignon train station
We got off in Avignon and bought tickets on the next train to Nice.  It was already delayed, and we wouldn't get into the city until after our flight had taken off.  "It will be fine," Eric assured me.  We sat in the station and waited.

Eric in the Avignon train station.  It was a long wait.
By the time we got to Nice and caught a bus to the airport, our flight was long since in the air.  At least, it was supposed to be.  Thanks to a French airline strike, the flight to Rome had been cancelled.  We waited in line at customer service and were issued refunds, though the attendant grumbled that we were still late.  Rather than wait for the airline strike to end two days later, we decided to take a train to Italy the next day.  We spent the rest of the night exploring Nice, partly out of curiosity and partly because nearly every hostel and hotel was booked.  (I suppose strikes sometimes do boost other areas of the economy?)

Navigating the city
The walk along the coast was lined with palm trees.
After a night in a tiny room at the Best Western Nice, we found our way back to the train station.  We took trains from Nice to Monaco, Monaco to Ventimiglia, Ventimiglia to Pisa, Pisa to Florence.  It was a long day, and we managed to annoy an Italian family when we booked window seats in a shared compartment, but we got where we wanted to be eventually and saw an extra (small) country along the way.  We still had a great couple of days, which in the end is the point of traveling.  I was so focused on the plan - train to Nice, flight to Rome, see Italy from there - that I didn't appreciate that I was in Europe, on vacation.  Aside from catching flights back to the US in August, we didn't have anywhere we needed to be.  Eric already knew that mistakes are part of the trip and just lead to something new.  It took a miniature crisis on a train to Brussels for me to learn. 

Have you had any travel mishaps?
Do you prefer to plan your trip out or figure it out as you go?

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