Typical: Vidya Freaks Out Around Trains, Part 2

Here’s a good example of why I don’t post frequently:

I had written this post two months ago, on board my train ride from Paris to Milan. I wrapped everything up neatly, and was waiting to charge my laptop so I could edit the photos that would accompany the article. Frustratingly, Lightroom takes up a lot of my very feeble computer’s energy, so I generally try to edit at a time when I don’t need to use any other applications. Of course by the time I arrived in Italy, finicky as it is, my computer refused to render or load anything faster than I could do it by hand. So instead, I explored Milan and waited for a good time to tackle the photos again. Then, on Thanksgiving, I was struck by a moment of inspiration, and I powered through my frustration with Lightroom to produce this post on giving thanks. It seemed to be well-received, and though I wrote draft after draft, I couldn’t quite finish a perfect follow-up. A month passed, and my drafts folder overflowed. Luckily, I’ve sort of upgraded to a less-old laptop (my dad’s three year old 15″ MacBook Pro with 4 GB of RAM) so hopefully I can edit photos quicker. So to force myself to get all my memories of Europe out before I begin the Asian journey in less than a week, here’s a bunch of old posts. Enjoy!

Paris, France

Paris, France

November 21, 2012

Three months in, and I’m starting to lose my mind.

I arrived at Gare de Lyon a good forty minutes prior to my departure to Milano, and I patted myself on the back for not pushing it to twenty. However, the victory was a bit pre-emptive; the machine refused to recognize my name, despite gladly accepting the validity of my confirmation number, so I turned to the ticket counter to resolve the problem. After panicking that I was in a line of twenty people and was possibly not going to be able to make it through in the next twenty minutes, I finally made it to the counter. They quickly checked my information, issued me a ticket, and sent me on my way.

Whew! That wasn’t bad, was it? And I still had eight minutes. I stopped by at a boulangerie on my way to the platforms, since I could see my train not too far away and figured one last croissant wouldn’t hurt. Plus, I hadn’t eaten lunch, despite leaving a Pyrex tin full of couscous (and a tub of ice cream) in Papy’s refrigerator. Because I had calculated exact pocket change – quite literally in my jean pockets, because my jacket was cinched by my backpack straps and I didn’t even want to spare the seconds it would take to unclick it – I was a bit frustrated that the croissants were a rip at a 50% mark-up. But hey, it was my last French croissant; I didn’t even have a single macaroon or crepe (this is where Michal complains that I’m the worst at traveling).

I had my hands full, so I threw my croissant into my bag and head over to the train. My cabin was about 500 meters from the main axis, and I started to worry that my comprehension of time was completely off and that the train would take off any second. Luckily, I found my cabin and stepped inside, eager to put my things down and settle into the seven-hour journey.

It was then that I realized I didn’t have my ticket.

As in: in the three minutes since I got it from the ticket counter, I lost it. Amidst paying and muttering the proper pronunciation of “croissant” a million times in my head, I must have put my ticket down and switched the Item in My Free Hand with my overpriced snack, which became evermore expensive once I realized that I might have to buy a new ticket. Once the reality of that possibility settled into my brain, I tried in vain to get a train conductor’s attention. I estimated I had five minutes before the train would leave, maybe less; I could have sprinted back to the boulangerie and returned in time (doing things last-minute is my specialty). The only caveat was that I had all my things on me, and their weight would double, maybe even triple, the time it would take to make this emergency run.

Berlin - Miendorffplatz

So I had four options:

  1. Run back with all of my things and hope to make it back in time;
  2. Leave my things on the train and hope it didn’t take off before I returned;
  3. Leave all my things on the platform and hope someone didn’t steal it; or
  4. Stay on the train anyway and hope for the best.

Since no one seems particularly fussed to talk to me, despite my frantic gesturing and repeated overly polite “excusez-moi?!” I decided to go with option #4. At least I showed that I tried, and at worst they could issue me a new ticket, which all things considered would suck (the money out of my wallet) but wouldn’t be the end of the world. The train took off, and I stood there in the hallway, slightly perspirating (as usual, considering my experience with trains), and waiting for the French conductor to take his sweet time to address my apparent anxiety attack.

I explained the situation, to which he responded with very little sympathy. If I didn’t have a ticket, I would need to buy a new one – there was no machine on board that could read my confirmation number, and despite the fact that the nearly full train had a free seat – my seat, scribbled on a metro ticket along with my e-ticket number – he seemed unlikely to budge. I even offered to pull my reservation up on a smart-phone, but shorty wasn’t playing that.

…Or so I thought, until he said the magic words: “Without a receipt and an ID, there’s nothing I can do.” A receipt! OK, that’s in my email. My neighbor, sensing my panic (and possibly the ever-so-slight waft of sweat and fear), offered me his smart-phone to look it up, and actually even went and talked to the conductor in French. I calmed down a bit – what else was I supposed to do at this point? When it came time to check the tickets, I pulled up my details on the Salvation Phone, but the internet was running too slowly in the French Alps to load quickly enough. The conductor told me he’d come back later. I was able to pull the document up a few minutes afterwards. My neighbor had to make a work call, but he told me he’d wait until my ticket was checked – but I know not to stress the kindness of strangers too much, so I advised he go.

Of course, the conductor returned during the time my neighbor was on the phone, so in the interim, I gave him three forms of ID – my license, my Cal ID, and my international youth discount card – as well as the debit card I booked my ticket with. He seemed to soften a bit, witnessing my absolute desperation, and he told me he’d write down my name and my final destination and check later. After my neighbor returned, I found the conductor in his office. I enthusiastically invited him to come check my receipt on the phone, but he stopped me mid-sentence with the news that he had called his company instead and would be able to verify my ticket with just my name. “Don’t worry,” he said – magic words to my neurotic brain. Half an hour later, he came by and told me the good news; my ticket was in the registry, I obviously hadn’t given my ticket to anyone else, and everything checked out. He even smiled – possibly the greatest victory of the story!

Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, Italy

And the Moral of This Story Is…

While this isn’t typical – come on, I’ve been traveling for three months and I’ve had two transportation-related panic attacks? I do deserve a pat on the back – it does go to show that there is always a way, as long as you show respect and sincerity to the person responsible of fixing the problem. It also proves that not everyone is out to screw you – if you ask for help, you will likely find it.

And it finally speaks to the importance of being friendly – had I not made a good impression on my neighbor, I may not have been able to use his phone, and he might not have petitioned on my behalf. I ended up having a nice conversation with him, during which he learned I went to Berkeley and possibly as a result, I learned that he is the CEO of a French R&D company. He gave me his card and invited me to drop him a line if I’m ever in the French Alps again; and on the flip side, he said he would keep me in mind if he vacationed in California with his wife and three daughters. (So this is what being an adult feels like – networking on my own merit with random important people!)

This is actually a really pleasant train ride – it’s seven hours, but it feels like fewer, particularly since they have comfortable reclining chairs, foot rests, and an outlet – the last one making all the difference, since I literally spent the last four hours writing and organizing my music library. I wish I had copied Papy’s collection of Suits onto my computer, but it’s all good – I have more to look forward to later.

Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, Italy

Getting “Gyped”

The only real downsides of this train ride, aside from the initial panic, were the overpriced pizza I got for dinner (which was actually good, but too small for 6.60 euros) and the old gypsy women who stared at me for two hours of the trip. …OK, I don’t know that they were gypsies, but they were suspicious (and I know that’s not culturally sensitive, but I’m now in the land of the Romas – forgive me for being historically relevant). One woman walked up and down the nearly empty hall for twenty minutes, then moved all of her things from one seat a few rows ahead of me to another oddly close to me and another elderly woman. Then she and her friend would take turns unflinchingly stare at me, followed by speaking to each other in a language that I couldn’t determine, periodically laughing and periodically creepily staring at me together. Just before they left, the woman leaned in the seat in front of mine and started rummaging through it – I moved my bag, which was at my feet, closer to me, then checked that my passport and credit cards were still in place after they left.


Of course, that was all undermined by the existence of the cutest – and softest! – puppy. The aforementioned neighborly elderly woman was traveling with her canine companion, and I had a chance to play with him and ask her some questions. She said that he’s a papillon and Shetland mix. I mentioned that he looked like a corgi, and she mused that might be what the dog breed papillon translates to in English. I guess corgis have some butterfly-like tendencies… It reminded me of how much I want a dog, which reminded me of how much I miss having a home base. But I’ll be home in a few weeks, so I can soak up the family spirit and the quiet nature of Campbell before heading out to Asia! Thankfully, the life of rapid fire travel is coming to an end. From here on out, it’ll be a lot slower, which is just what I need. 🙂