We used the yellow automated ticket machines at the train stations to check itineraries and purchase tickets. Not fool-proof, but most of the time handier than waiting in lines. We were understandably nervous the first time, but our fears were quelled by the appearance of a youthful, cheery, yellow-vested Customer Care woman at the Milan train station.
She helped us bumble from one screen to the next. When we finally found the screen with the trains to Venice, there were several listed, most of them leaving at a quarter past the hour. The first one left at 14:55 however, and the 24-hour clock was still messing me up. Even though I had set my Timex to show “normal” time on setting #1 and I could push a single button to see 24-hour time on setting #2, time in the future was still confusing. Adding “one” to each hour after Noon is definitely math, and I have to rely on my fingers for that. I was holding a pen and a guidebook at the time… Did I mention that I was probably still jet-lagged?
Our yellow-vested helper was explaining our options to me in Italian, a language I’ve been told I spoke before I learned English. Sadly, you lose what you don’t use, and now all that remains is an intuitive sense for the gender of nouns, respectable pronunciation when I’m not nervous, and excellent comprehension of Italian menus. Some Italian returns to me whenever I return to Italy, usually in fits and starts. Words will work their way into my consciousness for no apparent reason and I will announce, for example, that the Italian word for toothpick is stuzzicadenti
. Nobody cares.
I was listening intently (in case she said “toothpick”) and apparently was not getting as much as I thought I was, relating to the times the trains left. She kept asking us which train we wanted and I kept asking her which one she thought we could make. (She was probably far more familiar with the train station than we were, I reasoned.)
I heard her say, repeatedly, that the EuroStar (the fast train) left at quarter past three and that we should decide if we wanted that one or a slower one that left about the same time. Or she may actually have SAID “toothpick.” Hard to tell.
Jen kept saying the EuroStar was leaving too soon, but I guess I kept hearing “quarter past” and thought I knew what time it was. I also don’t do well following two conversations, each in a different language. Can I use THAT as an excuse? I’m going to anyway, because there isn’t much else I can blame for the fact that, over the protestations of my own offspring, I made the nice lady book us on the 2:55pm train to Venice. The only problem with that was that it was, at that very moment, 2:53pm. I have highlighted the appropriate portions of the ticket below so you can see I’m not making this up!
I was so excited. We had purchased our first train ticket in a yellow machine! I thanked our helper profusely. She said “TRACK FIVE” a little more sternly than I thought necessary, but I was still thrilled that, together, the three of us had formed a bond of sorts and conquered Italian train ticket technology. Soon we’d be on our way, on the fast train, the famous EuroStar, zooming along the countryside, to one of my favorite cities. In fact, I took our helper’s picture. What a sweet young woman.
I calmly asked where to go next and she urgently pointed up a flight of stairs, as if she wanted to get rid of us. Well, I thought, that was a little rude, seeing as she was so helpful before. Maybe she was anxious to go on break or something.
Jennie, having fully realized what I had just done, and being keenly aware of current local time, was again speaking rather loudly to her mother as we climbed the stairs. (What IS her PROBLEM?!) Just then, amidst the din of the station, my ears focused on the loudspeaker: “Blah, blah EUROSTAR
blah blah blah VENEZIA
blah blah BINARIO CINQUE
blah blah blah blah IN PARTENZE
!” And then it came to me. All the snippets of conversation bombarding my brain during the ticket transaction finally registered. OHMYGOSH! The Eurostar was LEAVING. TRACK FIVE. NOW
For the first time, I actually looked at the ticket in my hand, noticed (and understood) the time, and nearly wet my pants. We booked it up the rest of the stairs and ran full speed to track five which, thankfully, wasn’t all that far away. The train hadn’t moved yet. Our reserved seats were in car #4. I think the first car we came to was car #10.
Instead of just getting on the train through the first door that presented itself and walking INSIDE the train to our car and our cushy armchairs, in case it left without us, we kept running. Apparently my brain can only have one epiphany per day. So, like little hyperactive hamsters (with roller bags) we scurried to each coach, checked the sign on the door, moved toward the door, decided against it, backed away, bumped into each other, turned, and raced to the next coach! Think Lucy and Ethel. We made it to car #4, sat down in our seats, and the train pulled out of the station. On time. Mother doesn’t always know best.