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Travel Cultures Language

Travel Stories: Good Thing We Took the Wrong Train

by Joyce McGreevy on April 26, 2016

A view from a flight departing Boston might feature in travel stories about travel mishaps that turn out just fine. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Travel isn’t all plain sailing, but a little luck can help you wing it.
© Joyce McGreevy

Travel Mishaps, Mosaics, and Memories

If two trains travel toward the same station at different times . . . Remember those math questions from school? Call them my least favorite travel stories.

I recall Mrs. Newton asking our fourth grade class to brainstorm solutions. As the collective desperation mounted, I burst out with “Agh! Stop the trains!”

Okay, so not a mathematician.

Yet those equations proved instructive. As emblems of bewilderment in motion, they offered a preview of real-life travel problems.

Making Tracks, Italian Style

Like the time my son and I transferred to the wrong train. We were traveling “home” to Florence from Ravenna, once capital of the Western Roman Empire. The glittering tesserae of Byzantine mosaics had seemed illumined from within. My perusal of Italian rail maps proved far less enlightening.

Mosaics in Ravenna, Italy, like this one of Empress Theodora, are a highlight of many travel stories.

In Ravenna, Italy, Empress Theodora is immortalized
in mosaic. Travel memories are mosaics, too.
Photo by Meister von San Vitale in Ravenna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Oh, I understood when the conductor told us to transfer at the next station. Trouble is, we had different ideas of what constituted “next.”

This I discovered as, breathless from managing the tight connection, we noticed one tiny glitch: We were moving in the wrong direction.

A train passenger catching the wrong train is a subject of many travel stories.

Ah, that splendid travel moment, right before you realize you took the wrong train.
Train Passenger photo by Unsplash is licensed under CC0 1.0.

No problem. We’d get off at the next stop, sort things out at the ticket booth, and catch the next train to Florence. Meanwhile, we’d explore what was sure to be a charming little town.

Two hours and no discernible charm or ticket booth later, we boarded another train. But when I told our predicament to the conductor, he practically congratulated us on our mistake.

Home By Another Way

The ruins of the Roman forum feature in many travel stories, from travel mishaps to magic. Image @ Ceren Abi

Just because a Roman holiday goes wrong, does that mean it’s in ruins?
© Ceren Abi

Turns out the train we should have caught had just been sidelined by a strike. Factor in that, ye mighty writers of the “two trains” pop quiz.

Had we done everything correctly, the conductor explained—his tone conveying the folly of such behavior—it would have been midnight before we reached our destination.

He seated us beside a personable woman who turned out to be an expert on Italian art history, including Ravenna’s mosaics. It was a delightful journey.

“Good thing we took the wrong train!” my son said, a line that has entered family lore. It’s an expression we use when things that go wrong somehow lead to a positive outcome.

Which in travel, they do with surprising regularity. Oh, I see: Sometimes travel mishaps lead to great travel memories.

Confusing road signs, like this one in Italy, feature in many travel stories of travel mishaps.

“Excuse me, could you give us directions to the road less traveled?”
Road sign in Ischia Porto by Zoagli is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Mysteries, Great and Small

Like that time in Brittany . . . We’d been pondering the megalithic mysteries of Carnac, France, site of 3,000 standing stones. Then we encountered another mystery. Someone had broken into our rental car and stolen a backpack.

The standing stones of Carnac, France feature in many travel stories, from travel mishaps to magic. Image © Arie Mastenbroek/Thinkstock

The menhir, or ancient standing stones of Carnac, France were erected by pre-Celtic peoples.
© Arie Mastenbroek/Thinkstock

Nothing elevates the sentimental value of objects like their loss. We headed to a police station. For a ten-year-old boy who read The Adventures of Tintin, this was welcome diversion.

Hearing our American accents, the gendarme playfully asked if we knew Clint Eastwood.

Did I mention that we’d lived in Carmel when Eastwood was mayor?

Surely the gendarme would still have offered us refreshments, courtesy, and a tour of the station had we lived in Duluth.

In any event, a travel mishap became a congenial field trip. The day’s experiences–the sublime, the snafu, and the serendipitous–combined like a mosaic to create a positive travel memory.


A sign for a found parakeet in Evanston, IL might feature in travel stories of travel mishaps. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Even frequent flyers can be unclear on the best mode of transportation.
© Joyce McGreevy

On April Fools’ Day, we returned to the town.

The backpack and its contents, having failed to meet our thief’s aesthetic standards, had been dumped in a phone booth.

We were directed to the town hall basement, where a lone employee seemed glad of company.

After signing for the backpack, we chatted about Poisson d’Avril, as April 1 is called in France. We’d known that pranksters celebrated the day by sticking paper fish on the backs of the unsuspecting.

But the part about enjoying fish-shaped pastries and candies was new information. Monsieur Le Sous-Sol sent us home with a veritable school of foil-wrapped chocolate sardines.

Traveling at a Snail’s Pace

A view of Liscannor, Ireland shows why getting lost can lead to great travel stories. Image © Joyce McGreevy

If you plan to get lost, the West of Ireland is the ideal setting.
© Joyce McGreevy

My friend Jules once got lost while driving in Ireland. That’s easily done, as Ireland is somehow bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.

As the road got narrower, its surface thinner, she ended up at a lakeshore. Light played on the ripples of the water.

Then she heard rustling in the foliage.

What had broken the silence? Nothing more than a snail moving along lush, green leaves. If that isn’t the measure of a peaceful setting, what is?

Hello, said Jules, admiring the spirals on the snail’s shell. I’ve come a long, long way to meet you. Some travelers, even when lost, are always where they need to be. For them, “wrong” turns, discovery, and appreciation form one rich mosaic. Now how about you? When have travel mishaps led to your favorite travel stories?

Something as small as a snail can feature in travel stories of getting lost and finding beauty.

Memorable travel sights aren’t always
the most monumental.
Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Listen to hilarious tweets about travel mishaps from comedian Jimmy Fallon here.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


One thought on “Travel Stories: Good Thing We Took the Wrong Train

  1. Another excellent contribution.

    The only practical use I have everything made of ‘The Two Trains’ was travelling down the Danube from Vienna to Budapest in May, 2004 by hydrofoil. I was able to calculate the times that the hydrofoils coming upstream would be meeting the one I was on. That way I was able to step into a small well at the side of the vessel to take some photos long before other passengers rushed to get theirs when they spotted the craft speeding towards us.

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