Vulnerability of the road

In my second post, I wrote, “Like Adam and Eve, Abraham, and the Hebrews in Egypt and Babylon who pilgrimed on dusty roads through the precarious landscape of the ancient near east, we do not know what we will encounter. Certainly, we will experience fatigue, discomfort, and tedium. We will wish for familiar food. We will want to be there already. Will there also be logistical nightmares caused by Covid testing? Closed borders because of a new variant? Ukrainian refugees? Russian troops? Always, as they say, there is the vulnerability of the road.”

For us, it was Eurail pass activation and a train that left five full minutes earlier than it was supposed to. I won’t give you all the gory details, but at one point our group of eight was separated into three groups: my parents on a train headed toward Switzerland, me in Milan, and Lisa and all the kids in Rome–with eight people’s suitcases and backpacks, no cell phone service, and no Eurail passes. About fifteen things in a row had gone wrong involving cell phones, passes, passports, spotty wifi, miscommunication, and a split-second decision by me and my parents to dart on the train as the doors were closing on us.

Preparing to leave Rome for Milan

The last time we saw each other in person, Lisa and I simultaneously (and very pointedly) told each other opposite things. Lisa: “I will not get on this train if I don’t see you!” Me: “Get on that train no matter what!” We both stuck to our guns—and paid for it!

Our only form of communication was intermittent email (Lisa found one spot in the train station with free wifi—a very posh perfume store). Here’s a very small taste of our exchanges as we tried to sort things out over the next twelve hours.

Laura: David, Lisa and the kids didn’t get on the train. They didn’t see you and didn’t want to get on without you. They are stuck at Termini. Lisa said they will try to stay put. I don’t think they have wifi at the station. Hopefully if she finds wifi she will see your email.

Lisa: We’re stuck. Limited WiFi. Should I try to get another train to Milan? Should they really cost ***?

David: As quickly as possible. To Milano Centrale

Lisa: Did you get the message? We have 11:20 tickets Should arrive at 14:40. Please tell me the tickets look ok

David: Good job. Tickets look good. Unfortunately We’re going to miss the next route to St. Moritz by 20 minutes. I’m working on some solutions. At least we’ll be reunited. I’m so, so sorry.

Lisa: Are you in milan? I’m afraid some of my emails got stuck and confused you. I had so much trouble with gmail at the station that I switched to Asbury email but now on the train only gmai! Is working well. I got your message about meet at the main train ticket station when we get to milan .

Lisa: Bad news. I think we have a 50 minute delay. Am I reading this right?

Lisa: On a train. Pretty sure it’s the right one. Barely made it on with all our bags but I think we’re ok.

Lisa: We’re stuck. Limited WiFi. Should I try to get another train to Milan? 

David: I’m confused. Are you stuck or on the train?

Lisa: Yes, we’re on. Someone just checked our tickets so I think that means we’re in the right place. Screen says we’re running 1 hour + 10 minutes behind schedule but seems like we’re going fast now

David: Yes, we’re in Milan. My parents are leaving in 50 minutes. Unbelievably I think if we can catch the 4:20 train, we might make it to Moritz. So don’t leave the platform area. I’ll find you. Then we’ll go to the correct platform. Do you have a projected arrival time?

Lisa: You should make backup plans for missing the 4:20 train. It looks like we stop in Bologna at 14:35, but I haven’t seen an ETA for Milan yet. I do know that we’re currently1 hour and 15 minutes behind schedule, which means that we’re slowly losing time. The train is going really slow right now, for some reason. But yes i will plan now to stay on the platform (we’ll probably walk to the end of our track and look for you there) unless I hear otherwise before we arrive. 

Lisa: It does seem like we may be doing better now. It says 1 hr, 8 minutes late now and we are just pulling into bologna. We’re in coach 7

David: I think you’ll get here in time. It’s not far from Bologna. What car number are you on?

Lisa: It says next stop is Milano Rogoredo. Is that right or are. There more than one Milano stops?

Lisa: Stopped at rogoredo. Should be about 20 minutes from here, I think.

David: I’ll meet you on the platform.

Lisa: We’re on track 13. 

Lisa: Arrived. Where are you? [I was on the wrong track, but we managed to find each other in the crowded terminal with twenty-four tracks to make our next connection anyway—barely]

Transferring from one of our five train trips to a bus, trying to catch up with my parents

Phyllis: Lisa!!!!!!!!! Tell her she is absolutely amazing!!!!!!!!!! She has been so generous about welcoming us on this trip! Tell her we are so sorry about this!

Realizing that we were going to make it!

The experience was far more harrowing than this shows. It was a costly experience that almost turned catastrophically expensive and nearly caused us to miss a long-anticipated train ride through glaciers in the Alps. But we somehow—just barely—figured it out. About six things in a row went right. I reunited with Lisa and the kids in Milan, and then we made four train segments and the last bus ride of the night. My parents met us at the train station at 10:30 p.m.. We walked two kilometers around a beautiful lake shivering (Rome had been 93 degrees when we left, and the temperature in the Swiss mountains was in the 40s), and then fell into bed soon after midnight, very grateful for safety and shelter.

One Reply to “Vulnerability of the road”

  1. Anyone who has ever traveled and encountered a snafu or two (or 15!) will identify with this post. Brought memories back of me meeting my parents in Rome all by myself the year I live in Barcelona as a college student. I took a train from Austria where I had spent Christmas with friends, and they were flying in to Rome from the U.S. We were never so glad to finally catch sight of each other at the airport. There were other adventures on that trip but I can hardly imagine the stress you all were in. Just stay safe! Money comes and goes but our lives our precious, right?Thanks for sharing.

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