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Luck Be A Driver Tonight

The following is a guest post by Sara Loca. If you’d like to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read our submission guidelines.

Soaked and clueless. Waiting for the train in Genova.

Soaked and clueless. Waiting for the train in Genova.

Wine, beautiful clothes, good food, these are all of things you are told to expect in Italy.

But, woah, hold on now “Letters to Juliet” intellectuals, let’s also talk about how my package arrived a month late or how I passed last Saturday night. When out and about around the world it’s important to take the good with the bad, the wine with the late/never delivered mail.

Oh Saturday. “Italy is wonderful if you come to see the Uffizi.” I have heard this sentiment millions of times from my parents. However, now it was my fellow train passenger repeating it, at 12:30 a.m., on Saturday night, whilst stranded in Alessandria.

My friends and I had gone from Torino to Genova for the day to see the aquarium, we had no clue we would also be seeing Trenitalia at its finest.

9:50 p.m. – Soaked from walking in sleet, we arrive at Genova Principe Station.

9:55 p.m. –  Our train is missing from the main board.

10:00 p.m. – *#@#%. Swear words in South African, English and U.S. English.

10:07 p.m. – Find our train on TV screens. Leap for joy.

10:32 p.m. – Train arrives. Happy “Cupid Shuffle” on-board.

11:00 p.m. – 20 minute delay due to snow. Pretty snow, took pictures.

11:50 p.m. – Stopped in Alessandria. Our train is out of service due to a strike.

12:00 a.m. – Myself and other passengers huddle around the train conductor who used the word maybe, or as I called it, The-Word-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, in every piece of news he communicated. A bus MAY come at 1 a.m. to take us to Torino.

12:15 a.m. – The strike will last until 9 p.m. Sunday night. None of us have much cash. More swearing.

12: 30 a.m. – Ask policeman about places to stay overnight in the city. He seems pretty clueless. He points out a hotel that someone then mentioned is out of business. Then shows us another hotel by pointing into the fog and sleet, we decide to risk it and wait for the bus.

1:00 a.m. – No bus.

1:05 a.m. – They The-Word-That-Must-Not-Be-Named found another driver.

1: 10 a.m. – A bottle of rum could turn this situation into a party.

1:15 a.m. – Shivering. No seriously, a bottle of rum.

2:30 a.m. – Driver arrives without rum. Train finally leaves the station. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

TV Screen, there's our train!

TV Screen, there's our train!

I later discovered that two tiny train driver unions went on strike at 9 p.m. Saturday night and didn’t tell anyone. Our driver just happened to be a member and didn’t know he was supposed to be on strike. When he found out, he decided he couldn’t drive the train to Torino and jumped ship in Alessandria. Unenthusiastic yay…

Tips to avoid shivering in an Italian train station, without rum.

Take a gander online. Here is a site that lists all scheduled strikes. It’s in Italian but easy for English speakers to understand. It’s also important to note that even though a union may have scheduled a strike, it may not actually strike. Yay…

Check BOTH boards. Check both the main boards and the TV screens. Why they don’t always match, I don’t know, but you just don’t ask questions like that here. The main board should also display a notice (in Italian) when there are strikes.

Use your mouth. No, no, for all of you with dirty minds, that’s not what I mean. If you are catching your train when the clerks are working, ask about strikes that day. Usually strikes are regional, so they may only be aware of strikes in their region, but try.

Dorothy you aren’t in the U.S. anymore. Tips for once you realize you can’t avoid it or as the train conductor put it, “That’s just part of Italy’s charm, the chaos.”

“Guaranteed” Trains. Here is a list of trains that SHOULD still run even if there is a strike. In Italian, but easy to understand. Just click on desired region.

B.S. Learn to mentally repeat B.S.; don’t put complete trust in what the “authorities” say. When stuck, keep your options open; make friends, find hotels, calculate taxi costs, ask about a replacement buses, and see if they are finding another driver/worker.

Don’t F*** the Police. Call 112 and speak to a police officer. Again, don’t automatically hop to whatever they suggest, be proactive, ask questions and trust your instincts.

Main board, no train for Torino.

Main board, no train for Torino.

Paroline. Handy vocab.

Forse: Maybe

Sciopero: Strike

Fermato: Stopped

In Ritardo: Delay in

Autobus/Pullman: Bus

Autista: Driver

Fino Domani: Until Tomorrow

Snicker. It’s funny and quite an adventure. Yes, if you are reading this while stranded you hate me, but it’s true. You will just have to wait, might as well giggle!

A man helping us that night said, “You are really lucky they found another driver.” I didn’t believe in luck until I came to Italy. I may just pick up a rabbit’s foot while I’m here to get to where I need to go and get my mail somewhat on time. I have been on Italian trains plenty of times and this was the first time I had a problem, however from what the Italians tell me, I’ve just been lucky.


About the Author: Sara Emily Loca was born in Milan and lived most of her life Minnesota. She has returned to Italy to travel, understand Italian culture, reconnect with her family and eat. Connect with her on Twitter@SaraELoca or LinkedIn.

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Thursday 10th of February 2011

You did great. I'm glad I'm in a warmer climate. Italy is Italy. Great in many way with a few set backs


Thursday 10th of February 2011

I have had the a similar experience in Italy as well. But it wasn't in winter, so I feel for you.

Sara Loca

Tuesday 22nd of February 2011

I'm starting to find it's more common to have these experiences than not! This weekend on the train home from Bergamo the train was 10 minutes late pulling into Turin. When announced, there were Italian head nods and eye rolls from several passengers as if to say, "Of course it's late, but 10 minutes, not bad." :)

Irina Sazonova

Thursday 10th of February 2011

Gotta love winter travel in Italy :D


Thursday 10th of February 2011

Great advice for those who want to wander outside the Uffizi (Florence) circuit! The links are fascinating - who knew??!

Sara Loca

Tuesday 22nd of February 2011

I know, Italy finally got online... at least somewhat!


Thursday 10th of February 2011

Yeah for making it! Hope you are enjoying some amazing food amidst the craziness of the travel! Pace!

Sara Loca

Tuesday 22nd of February 2011

Thanks Kerri! I will say that now when I pass the Alessandria station I shake my fist at it. :)

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