By: Susan Gerle

When I went to Europe recently, my friends and I decided not to purchase Eurorail tickets before we left Canada. The first train trip we took in Europe was from Rome to Florence. We chose to take a second class coach, which cost us 16 euro each for the 2 ½ hour journey. The high-speed train would have got us there much faster but we would have only seen the blur of the countryside. The Tuscany Valley was something we didn’t want to miss.


We already realized we were traveling with far too much luggage, especially for train travel! The train track is often posted at the last minute and you find yourself running for the track. Tip 1 – travel light. It took precious minutes to load the bags only to find out we were in the wrong car. Tip 2– check your car number before you get on.

After determining we didn’t have too far to go, we made our way through a couple more cars and settled into a little glass cubicle, which sat six people. No one else joined us so we stretched out and relaxed to enjoy the scenery.

Unfortunately it began to rain but we still saw many beautiful villas and castles dotting the countryside. Halfway through the trip nature called, and I made my way down to the WC (water closet). I quickly found out what designated second class. I lifted the toilet seat and was immediately hit by cold water, flying up from the wet track. Of course the cold only made the reason I was there more imperative. I sighed and continued with my plan. I must say it took awhile to dry off enough to return to the cubicle. I decided not to share my experience and was chastised later for not passing on information that maybe a towel was in order for the next person? “Wasn’t this trip about experiences,” I mentioned? Tip 3 – carry a small hand towel to the washroom.

We finally made it to Florence and after a quick taxi ride, checked into a brand new backpackers hostel called the Academy Hostel located right downtown in an old gothic building at atVia Ricasoli, 9 in Florence, Italy. It was even equipped with a lift to take all our luggage up. We had free internet and a breakfast room with real food and reading lights and a fantastic owner/ manager running everything.

Florence ItalyWe were only in Florence for two days but had the opportunity to shop in the local street market and also enjoy much of the architecture, which was totally different from Rome. There was also the statue of David to view as well as enjoying some of the finest pasta we had ever tasted. I talked to a couple of young guys from the states wo had taken the fast train in from Rome that afternoon. As I expected, they hadn’t seen any of the Tuscany Valley and the trip cost them 80 euros each! Tip 4 – compare prices.

The next morning we caught another train, heading for Switzerland this time. We took a first class train in order to make the connection we wanted in Milan, Italy. Tip 5 – Check connections. There are a variety of first class trains throughout Europe. High speed wasn’t available on the line we were taking so we still had the opportunity to enjoy the view, and sunshine too this time.

It was a quick change at Milan and since we were unable to locate a luggage cart anywhere, we had our hands full getting to and then onto the next train. Tip 6 – Think about taking a light-weight, collapsible luggage dolly on your trip. Luckily a young man offered his help. He turned out to be our cubicle mate. When he found out we were Canadian he shared his story with us. He was nineteen years old (and looked about 30) and had escaped from Syria with a number of other refugees. He and his travelmates had finally made it to Italy after losing their sense of direction for a few days at sea. Shortly after making his way to Rome, he was arrested and held in jail for five days before being released and given a letter by the Italian government explaining why he was traveling without a visa. He showed us the letter. His name was Adam and he was on his way to Switzerland to seek refuge because it is a neutral country.

A little while later, two soldiers came to our cubicle and asked all of us to show our tickets and passports, which we did. They asked Adam to go with them and he did so quietly. He left his small bag behind. Adam returned, a big smile on his face. He explained that they had just asked him a few questions and let him go. Six kilometers from the Swiss border, two Italian policemen boarded the train. They asked the young man to leave with them. Adam picked up his bag, and with fear and tears in his eyes, followed them off the train.

We crossed the swiss border and arrived at Geneva, Switzerland, without incident. We sometimes don’t realize how lucky we are to live in Canada!

About the Author:

Susan Gerle works to travel and looks forward to returning to Europe soon.