Wednesday, 2 November 2011 – Part II of IV
Geesh! After being yelled at yesterday by the Swiss ticket man for not showing my Eurail Pass and not writing the date as two digits (01/11 versus 1/11), I really thought I was all set for today. I guess I should have double-checked everything at the hotel before I headed to the station …These ticket guys are VICIOUS!!!
So I’ve handed my ticket to the ticket taker, realizing I forgot to fill in the day’s date. He carefully scours the Eurail Pass and points out that the date is not filled in. With pen already in hand, I reach out to take the pass and enter it. He will not hand me the pass and very sternly announces, rather loudly and in no uncertain terms, that I owe him an additional 50 Euro for not having entered the date before boarding the train (pointing very pointedly at the instructions on the pass). “EET EEZ VERY CLEAR in Step FOUR. You MUST complete journey details BEFORE BOARDING.” I try to explain that I thought it meant the details (destination, etc.) on the folder from what I had received and read, meanwhile starting to quiver and surely turning beet red.
(Keep in mind, 50 Euro is roughly $70-75 and not something I included in my tight budget. Not to mention, I am thinking that 50 Euro would provide a nice little outing for he and his buddies, if he had any – no chance the train authority would see it.)
He refuses to budge and just keeps demanding, “NO, eet eez very clear, very eemportant!” with his voice booming through the train, and curious passengers craning their necks to see what all the fuss is about. “50 Euro you owe me eef eet eez not filled in. You could fill in any date.” I try to explain to him that, given all the dates that are filled in and the fact that I just traveled yesterday (which was filled in), it would be impossible for me to be traveling more dates than authorized. He won’t budge and says that I could just leave the 11 there for the month and use it every day. (Apparently, he believes he is the only ticket taker dedicated enough to check so closely, and it seems he actually is trying to fine me for future travel.)
I try to explain why this cannot be the case – the two previous days are filled in (as are the ones from my Paris trip), and this is only the second day of November with the first already entered on the pass, so I have not been using extra. I simply forgot to write it in. He again demands the 50 Euro. By this point, I am really flustered – my heart is pounding, I am shaking like a leaf, I can’t find words (or even thoughts) as to how I can explain any differently and get this matter cleared up. At this point, I am really convinced he is just bullying me so he can have some fun later at my expense, at the same time afraid I will be hauled off the train and further harassed, perhaps in a foreign language. What a quandary! What is the next move in a stalemate???
Fortunately, English Businessman #1 suddenly transforms into a knight in shining armor (okay, not armor, but a suit all the same). It may well be that he has just had enough of all the racket and wants to be able to resume his business conversation in peace, but it matters not to me his rationale. First, Mr. Brit, as I will call him, explains to me what the ticket taker was saying (again…yes, I quite got that already) and then calmly explains to Angry Ticket Guy that I know now how it needs to be done, that I didn’t before, that it is only a 45-minute difference between writing it in before or doing it now, and that I clearly had to intent to defraud. Angry Ticket Guy finally agrees (obviously more impressed with a man in a suit with an English accent than with a bohemian woman with an American accent) and re-emphasizes that “eet eez VERY important” and next time I will have to pay 50 Euro. Finally, resolution…after 15 minutes or so of hell that seemed like a lifetime!
Mr. Brit and I both readily thank Angry Ticket Guy, and I then express my sincere (if a bit exasperated) gratitude to Mr. Brit. He tells me he understands because he has been through something similar – he didn’t get his Metro ticket punched once and was fined 25 Euro; it is a 50 Euro fine if you don’t have a ticket at all. (Given that I had a seat reservation for this date, which I had also had to pay an additional $14 for, and purchased well in advance, I still felt Angry Ticket Guy was out of line.) I then tell Mr. Brit how I had never even had to show my Eurail Pass in France, much less have it studied, so I was totally unprepared for this. Mr. Brit chalked it up to the need to learn ‘cultural differences’. What?!? You mean France, Switzerland and Italy have different cultures?!? I had no idea! (OK, there’s going to be a little sarcasm, as long as it’s me telling the story – it’s not like I would say it out loud at the time…)
Anyway, the experience was horrifying – nothing like being part of a scene in First Class on a train in a foreign country! I was certain I was going to end up carted off to an Italian jail and thrown in the same cell Amanda Knox had occupied up until only a few weeks before. (This case had been of particular interest to me since the story began, and I actually paid attention to avoid Perugia on my routes. In the middle of writing this installment, Amanda Knox’ book was released and her first interview — with Diane Sawyer — about the ordeal aired. It made me glad, in ways, that I was an ‘old broad’ before I ventured overseas, to countries where my language skills were sub-par. I certainly can’t find too much fault with Amanda Knox’ tale of how the Italian police extracted a supposed confession from her – Older and wiser, I was still quite intimidated by a mere ticket taker, for goodness’ sake! And he at least spoke English well – imagine having to have that conversation in Italian… It also makes me wonder, though, in retrospect, if perhaps my American accent were partly to blame for the ticket taker’s extended harassment in this instance – especially after seeing video of the Italian mob scene upset when Ms. Knox was freed.) Were it not for my hero, Mr. Brit, coming to my rescue, who knows what would have happened?
The upside to the whole incident is that I now am at least engaged in conversation with Mr. Brit, and I always enjoy meeting new people (just not this way). I give a quick summary of my travels, and he tells me he’s only been in Milan for three weeks. He also assures me the weather will not be like it is here when I get back to Northampton, even if it has been so far since I’ve been over. He comments that all of Europe has had unseasonably warm weather, and they usually don’t have all the colors in the trees like this year, they’d usually just be bare. (It’s ALL for ME, right Spirit/Angels?)
OK, nice little chat complete, now back to my reverie. Fingers crossed there are no more incidents today. My face is still burning from my run-in with Angry Ticket Guy. Two more hours till I am off this train and in Rome! I am, though, now a little worried about using the public transportation in Rome. I don’t need any more yelling or any fines if I can’t find a place to validate. (I cringed when Mr. Brit told me his story, because I have missed validation before on this trip and in San Francisco and, while it freaked me out, I could find no way to resolve it and no one to ask, no matter where I looked. Instead, I rode in fear… good thing I didn’t know how severe the ramifications at the time!)
At least I did get my ticket validated in Milan. I have this vision of Angry Ticket Guy and one of his partners in crime, each taking me by one arm and one leg and swinging me back and forth before letting go, giving me a big heave-ho off the train while it’s heading down the tracks. When I mention to Mr. Brit that at least they didn’t throw me off the train while it was moving, his reply was…wait for it… “or move you to SECOND CLASS!” It would have been lost on me, had it not been for yesterday’s trip to Milan from Brig. At this point, I have to agree that would be the worse fate…
The rest of the trip is relatively uneventful – other than my hard crash after the adrenaline rush of the whole Eurail Pass incident. I put on my iPod and try to just chill, but the effects are still raging. As the shakes and burning face fade, the uncontrollable tears charge in to fill the void. They just won’t stop running down my face as my body works to normalize after the emotional turmoil. Now I really wish I weren’t seated facing anyone… I am almost as horrified at the water-works in their presence as I was by the episode which disrupted the whole car, yet I am completely unable to stop them. I put my sunglasses on, in an effort to hide them, yet I feel utterly ridiculous, as I continue to sniffle, wiping my cheeks, my eyes, my nose. Every time I think I am finally over it and okay, I suddenly relive the incident in my mind, and the emotion overtakes me again.
After about an hour of this nonsense, I finally doze off briefly – a welcome respite from the workings of my mind. When I awake, I am feeling much better and ready to enjoy the ride through the Tuscan countryside, which is every bit as lovely as it always is portrayed. Rolling green hills, vineyards, villas every now and then, and more lovely autumn colors.
(Sorry no pictures in this segment – I was a little distracted…)