This was the day of trains — the only day in which we hadn’t been able to reserve all our train tickets online in advance.
So it was a day filled with a little uncertainty, given that each of the three legs of this day’s journey needed to match up in order to get us to Chur where we would meet Gabrielle and Jerry later in the day. They were planning to mean us in the station, there. So obviously… we needed to make it to the station.
There were three legs to the journey.
1. To Milan
We already had reservations for the first leg: a high-speed Frecciarossa train from Florence to Milan.
We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare. The sun was just coming up, turning the sky an iridescent indigo just as we sat down to eat our breakfast in the station while we waited for the big board to show us which platform our train would be leaving from.
We sat. We ate. We waited. And then the board updated: platform 10. We, along with many others, walked thru the turnstiles and onto the platform. We walked down 9 cars and waited, along with everyone else, for the doors to open.
We waited. They waited. We looked around. They looked around. Time passed. Departure time approached. And still no one was able to board the train — the doors on all the cars remained closed.
Five minutes before departure. A guy comes driving down the platform on a baggage truck telling everyone that indeed this was not the Milan train (big board and platform signage aside). He waved us all over to platform 9.
This was with five minutes to departure. But it’s not like there was anything we had done wrong, so we weren’t particularly alarmed until it became clear that everyone on platform 10 going to Milan was now running (running!) back down the platform and around the end to board the other (correct) train before it left.
What!? I’m thinking. We wait patiently, and then they switch platforms at the last minute, and they’re going to leave us?
But when in Italy, do as the Italians. So Trudy and I began hustling down platform 10, past car 9, car 8, car 7… all the way to be beginning of the platform and around the end to the next one over, past car 1, car 2, car 3 … until we got to car 9, where the door was open and waiting for us to board.
We got on and found some seats. Behind us people streamed down the platform, running to catch the train which clearly was going to leave on time with or without them. More and more people. They kept coming. (Were all these folks over on platform 10? I didn’t remember them.)
And then our car filled up. There were no more seats and there was no standing room. And still people were running up to the car, looking in the windows to see if there was room, which there was not.
We were glad we had seats as the train began to pull out of the station.
The second leg of our trip that day was the dicey one.
There was no way to get online reservations for it. We knew were were just going to have to get tickets the old-fashioned way once we arrived in Milan — Tickets to Tarrano (as Trudy pronounced it).
Just to be sure that we had things covered in case something went wrong, the fair and industrious Trudy had arranged our travel times so that if we missed the first train to Tarrano, we could catch the next one and still make our connection for the third leg on time. (This is why we had left Florence before dawn.)
When we got into Milan station, we went to a kiosk to buy our tickets. Trudy punched the buttons on the machine, but the results didn’t seem right. The only options involved transferring a couple times on the way, and we knew that wasn’t what we were supposed to be doing. So we asked for help from an agent at a podium nearby. She told us that there was a train leaving at 9:20, and that we should see it on the kiosk and just buy that one. That was the train we wanted, she said.
Hm. Not quite sure why we hadn’t seen it before, we returned to another kiosk and sure enough there was a 9:18 train to Torino (not as Trudy pronounced it). She punched the buttons and swiped our card, and for a moment we were uncertain if the kiosk was going to accept our chip-less credit card. To our (great) relief, it did, and there we were holding two tickets to Torino.
We walked over to the big board to see what platform we needed to go to. And there above us, is showed us where to go to catch the train to Torino. And, we happened to notice, there also, two rows below that, it told folks where to go to catch a different train to Tirano.
Torino. Tirano. We had bought the wrong tickets. We returned to the agent at the podium.
I showed her our tickets and told her, “We want to go to Tirano.”
At first she nodded, but then she did a double-take. “These are to Torino,” she said.
“I know,” I said.
“Different cities,” she said.
With a sheepish look on my face, I said, “I know.”
She nodded. “Change tickets. Two floors down.”
Changing tickets was procedurally straightforward. The system was much like the post office where you pick a number and wait for it to be called. Except that it took a very long time. We waited and waited along with many others who were waiting and waiting for help with various kinds of travel questions and woes. But eventually they called our number, and the woman happily refunded the money for our Torino tickets and also booked us ticket to Tirano, where we wanted to go in the first place.
Let’s just say that if it weren’t for the contingency put into our day by Trudy, we would have missed our train.
But worse could have happened, of course. If it weren’t for the fact that the Torino and Tirano trains were listed above and below each other on the big board, we might not have even noticed our error. We would have boarded the first (incorrect) train and sat happily as it ran westward toward the Mediterranean, whereas we needed to be going north and east toward the Alps and Switzerland.
As it happened, we caught the correct train to the correct city which took us precisely in the correct direction.
3. Arriving in Tirano
With great happiness, we eventually arrived in Tirano, no the border of Italy and Switzerland.
Our train pulled to a stop, and we followed the crowd out to a cobblestone plaza and looked around for some sign of the Bernina Express, which was to be the third leg of our journey.
Sure enough. There it was, across the plaza: the Swiss Rhätishebahnhof where clean, neat, shiny red trains were waiting to take us into the mountains.
Let’s talk about that trip next time. In the meantime, let’s just conclude this story with an observation that the drizzle that was coming down didn’t faze us at all.
Given how wrong the day could have gone, how it almost did, but how it didn’t, we were thrilled to be where we were. And even happier when we found a place where we could have lunch, which is exactly what we proceeded to do.