Planes, Trains and Automobiles

By Cassi Greenlee

I’m coming up on the end of my stay  in France and thought I’d share with you, the reader, my stories and advice about transportation in Europe.

There were many moments while abroad that I thanked my lucky stars I speak French. On several occasions while traveling, I would have been completely lost if it weren’t for all the effort I put into my French studies.

My first story is actually the most recent. I was on my way back from Florence, which is about an eight hour trip with a stop in Milan. There is a stop right at the border between Italy and Nice in a little town called Ventimiglia. Here’s the thing about trains in Southern Europe, they have a reputation for 1) being late and 2) having strikes. Not exactly the best track record (get it?). The hour of arrival drew closer and closer, more and more people getting off the train. Then people started to worry. Almost everyone left on the train was trying to go to France and the time of the next departure, one of the last of the night, was only minutes away. We were down to one minute when the doors slammed open and everyone flew off the train and starting sprinting towards the next train. Everyone made it. Relief spread through the car. Then we noticed something funny; the train wasn’t moving. Discussion began in French as to what the problem could be, and there seemed to be no workers around to ask. Fifteen minutes went by and we realized that the only train leaving that night would leave in 2 hours, around midnight. I was a seasoned traveler by then and had a bad feeling about a train leaving that late when the others had been stopped. There had been a strike a few days earlier in Italy. I ended up talking to a few French people and splitting a cab all the way from Italy to Nice. It cost me about 20 euros but I can honestly say that the peace of mind was worth it. I had a test the next morning! If I hadn’t been able to speak French, I would have probably ended up sleeping in a less than ideal hostel in Italy instead of my own bed.

As I learned in Paris, you can’t even count on the metro. I was on my way home from my week-long fall break adventures on an early Sunday morning. It was about 6:30 a.m. and very dark, none of the businesses were open and the only people on the road were the sidewalk cleaners. I arrived at the metro station my friend directed me to, which had a direct line to Gare de Lyon. I walked down the steps and found, to my horror, that some of the lines had been closed and the station was shut down until later that morning. I didn’t have time to wander around the streets of Paris until I found another station. Feeling defeated, I walked back up the steps and started making my way back towards my friend’s apartment when I saw a passing taxi. I have never hailed a cab before and doing so made me feel like I was in a movie. I raised up my arm and made direct eye contact with the driver. He immediately stopped and helped me with my luggage. I told him “GARE DE LYON” and we were on our way (listening to Abba, which felt a bit out of place at the time). Breathless I ran into the train station, punched my ticket and…missed the train by two minutes. Lucky for me, there was another train leaving a half hour later and, for a reasonable price, I made it home to Nice on time.

To be quite honest, Paris got the best of me when I went through Paris to Germany. It was a hard lesson to learn that there were two main train stations…

I had much better luck with a rental car. When I went to Rome, my friend Stephanie did all of the driving because she had an international driver’s license. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.

I actually didn’t do any plane travel within Europe, but I will say, there are some very good prices on tickets if you know where to look. I had a eurail pass for my travels and it was great. I saved so much money using it compared to buying the tickets alone.

Moral of the story is: nothing has taught me to think on my feet better than traveling. You’d be surprised at how you fast you can react.

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