In 2010 I spent nearly 3 months traveling around Europe, which provided plenty of opportunity for dumb tourist moments to occur. But when I think about that summer, the one that really stands out is the time we were in Cinque Terre, a chain of five small villages perched on the cliffside of the Italian Riviera.
On this particular day, four of us decided that we would head to Monterosso for a beach day. We were staying in Riomaggiore, the furthest south of the five villages, and thought taking the train was the best bet as it can take three hours or more to walk the trail to the far north end.
Never a rule-breaker, I cringed when the others suggested we skip out on purchasing a ticket and just jump on the next train. I reluctantly agreed, not wanting to be the one to ruin all the fun.
As we boarded the train, I was nervous and I’m sure it showed. I wondered how people kept their cool while smuggling drugs, because this was enough to make me sweat. I sat in the seat with clammy hands, eyes shifting from face to face of the other passengers, wondering if they knew what we had done.
It was the longest 15 minutes of my life.
We pulled into Monterosso and I couldn’t get off that train fast enough. I felt a strange mix of guilt and triumph as I stepped onto the platform, only to come face to face with a large red sign reminding passengers of the massive fine you could face for riding without a valid ticket. The guilt welled up and overtook any sense of accomplishment I felt at having successfully broken the rules.
But what was done, was done and I decided to carry on and enjoy the day.
We spent the afternoon laying on the beach, swimming in the sea, and eating gelato like it was a competition. It was a wonderful day and I had all but forgotten our indiscretion of that morning.
That was until we headed back to the train station for the trip home. Not wanting the others to know how much of a chicken I was, I nonchalantly suggested we buy tickets for the way back, gesturing to that big, red sign that spelled out all the horrible things that would happen to rule breakers. But everyone else, confident that our success that morning meant we were surely fine to do it again, stepped onto the train empty-handed. I sighed, and followed.
Once again, I was nervous. I sat in the seat, willing the moments to pass quickly and that’s when I saw him. The ticket checker was slowly making his way through the next car, heading in our direction. My overactive imagination kicked into overdrive.
“This is it,” I thought to myself. “I’m going to get fined. All the money I had left for this trip is gone. Are they going to arrest me if I can’t pay?!”
The others had seen him too and were casually making their way toward the back of the car. I, however, was not so casual. I couldn’t move fast enough to put more distance between us and him. To buy myself a few more minutes before I was caught red-handed.
He was moving closer and closer and my panic level began to rise. Just then, the train pulled into Vernazza, the village closest to Monterosso and nowhere near our destination of Riomaggiore. I couldn’t take it anymore and jumped off the train like an animal out running a hunter.
My friends looked at me like I was crazy. But, not wanting to leave me at the station alone, they stepped off the train and joined me on the platform. They were obviously not nearly as worried about getting caught as I was. They figured they could play dumb and talk their way out of it. Apparently their thought process didn’t take them to a place where their mothers were bailing them out of an Italian jail.
I felt silly for overreacting and reassured them all that the next train would be along shortly. They usually ran about every 15 minutes. Except, of course, for whatever reason the next train to leave Vernazza wasn’t for nearly an hour. They were not impressed. We were all hot, tired, hungry, and sweaty and wanted nothing more than to get back to the apartment to change and shower. Now, because of me, what should have been a 20-minute trip was going to be much, much longer.
We eventually did make it back. As I stepped off the train in Riomaggiore, ticket in hand, instead of guilt and triumph, I felt a mix of embarrassment and amusement at my lack of nerve.
I guess I’m just not, and never will be, cut out for a life of crime. That day I learned to accept this fact and ever since then, I just buy the damn ticket.