Our costliest (and most embarassing) European travel mishaps

If you followed our blog in 2013, you know we did quite a bit of travelling around Europe.  You can perhaps imagine that, with that much travel, there were at least a few missteps.

Whilst some of those misadventures were due to factors beyond our control, we brought at least a few upon ourselves.

Here, then, are our most embarrassing and costliest European travel mishaps:

To the airport!

This travel mishap occurred before the trip in question really began. We were flying to Geneva for the weekend to go skiing with a friend, and had booked an EasyJet flight from Southend Airport. Faith and I met at Liverpool Street station to catch the train to the airport, with time to spare, but got rushed when we heard an announcement over the intercom, and so, hurriedly bought our tickets for the Stansted Express and rushed to the train.

Catching a flight to Switzerland

Catching a flight to Switzerland

As it was an express train, it didn’t make many stops, which would normally be good. But as we stopped at Harlow Town (look on a map to see how far we’d gotten), I suddenly realised that we were on the STANSTED Express, and thus were headed to the wrong airport.

We jumped off the train (nearly leaving our bag behind!) asked anyone we could find on the platform where we were and if we could get to Southend, and slowly realised we were not going to make our flight. Three calls to EasyJet later, we were able to book a new flight from Luton airport later that night.

Cost factor: Moderate.  About £100 to change our flights, which was probably more than the original ticket, but still cheaper than a flight in the US

Embarassment factor: Moderate. In our defence, there are a lot of airports around London. Still…

Moral of the story: Always take your time when buying train tickets. And call EasyJet thrice if you miss your flight.

Is MegaBus actually a bus?

Our first trip out of London after arriving in 2012 was a lovely home-stay with a retired couple in the Cotswolds. The nearest major town to where they lived was Swindon, on the way there we took a National Express coach, and had booked MegaBus tickets for the trip back to London. I’d informed our hosts that we were taking two different bus lines, and had been told that there is only one bus station in Swindon.

So, after our lovely weekend, our host dropped us at the Swindon bus station with time to spare. We waited for a while, somewhat curious as to why no one else was arriving to queue up for the MegaBus. As the time for the bus to arrive approached,we pulled up the MegaBus confirmation email on our iPad and noticed that the pick-up address seemed to be not-the-bus-station. We called our host (who had by now left) who promptly turned around, picked us up, and drove in a futile effort to find the MegaBus pick-up address. In the end, he had to take us to the train station where we bought a ticket for the next train to London.

Cost factor: Low. At the time it seemed like a pricey mistake, but in retrospect, that’s only because we were still thinking in dollars instead of pounds.

Embarassment factor: Low. This isn’t like the story above. We didn’t go to the wrong bus station; we went to the only bus station. It’s just that MegaBus doesn’t go there.

Moral of the story: Always check the MegaBus pick up address; it most likely is not a bus station.

You pay, no problemo

As we’ve noted before (and which I cannot stress enough) trains in Italy are terrible. They are slow, tardy, and screech as they approach the platform. During our avventura last spring, we made the obligatory stop in Pisa on our way between the Cinque Terre and Florence.

Fulfilling our tourist obligations

Fulfilling our tourist obligations

After we’d taken the necessary photos and had our fun, we needed to take a train from the San Rossore station back to the Pisa Centrale station from whence we could get a train to Florence. We saw a train approaching and, knowing that there was no guarantee another one would be coming anytime soon, we rushed aboard. It took us only a few minutes to realise that this train was not headed back to Pisa Centrale, and we got off at the first stop we could: the sleepy town of San Giuliano Terme.

I can report that we spent about one hour’s time in San Giuliano Terme — all of it on the platform at the train station, waiting for another train to take us back to Pisa Centrale. When a train did finally arrive, we hopped aboard without a ticket for this one-stop journey. There are plenty of reasons why: we were only going the short distance back to Pisa; we had not yet, in our time in Italy seen a single ticket inspector; and our displeasure with Trenitalia had reached a level where I felt it appropriate to exact this small revenge.

This whole episode was already something of a travel debacle, but it would get worse. Lo and behold, our first (and only) sighting of an Italian ticket inspector! The mustachioed man asked for our tickets and we could produce nothing relevant to this unplanned journey. He struggled to explain in English (sensing already that we would struggle to understand in Italian) that we must pay a fine.

We literally did not have enough euros on us to pay the full fine, and this created a bit of confusion. Trenitalia clearly did not have the technological capacity to process credit-card transactions aboard the train, but it was so rare for a ticket inspector to be on duty that he clearly could not allow a fine to go uncollected. Our interlocutor struggled either to explain or perhaps to formulate a solution. “You pay now, no problem,” he said with a gesture and then a furrow of his moustache. But as we could only pay part of the fine now, we wondered what the alternative was. Finally, he seem to have struck upon an option: we would pay the fine at the station once we finally got back.

Cost factor: Moderate.

Embarassment factor: High.The whole situation was a debacle. We ended up having to pay a fine for taking a train that we didn’t even want to, but had to because of our own mistake.

Moral of the story: Just walk back to Pisa Centrale station from the tower. In general, limit the time you spend on inter-city trains in Italy.


One response to “Our costliest (and most embarassing) European travel mishaps

  1. This blog was a timely read for me this morning, as I recently misplaced my wallet and in a seperate incident, had my car towed. All this week. Travelers-they’re just like me!

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