Tickets Please

It was December 1997 and I really needed to go to the bank. The problem was that I had latterly moved back to the UK and the bank was in Italy, where I had been working and living for the previous two years. Some weeks after departing, my former employers had made a final payment into that Italian account, which I had no ready way to access. I had funds coming from my new job, but not soon enough. All that remained was a diminishing sliver of available credit.

These adverse circumstances were exacerbated by procrastination, and by an anxious aversion to just making some phone-calls to to try to seek alternative arrangements. I decided on a Saturday morning I’d go to Heathrow airport and get myself a standby ticket to Rome, failing to realise (as I learned when I got there), that all flights were full and in any case fares were right up at a seasonal peak I could in no way afford. After some blank panic, my wishful thinking returned: I’d take the train to Rome - that would be cheaper.

A 1997 train ticket from London to Paris

From Heathrow I took the tube into central London, making my way to Waterloo Station, in those days the terminus for the Eurostar service to Paris. A one-way ticket cost me £90. The train departed mid-afternoon, and deposited me at Paris Gare du Nord at half past eight in the evening. I learned somehow that there were trains to Milan from Gare de Lyon, so crossed the city via Metro or RER, half-resigned to spending the night at some station or other. Luck was on my side: there was an overnight service leaving at 22:09. The fare was a mere 404F.

A 1997 train ticket from Paris to Milan

It was a slow and uncomfortable trip, but I did manage to sleep sitting up for a couple of hours before dawn. At a quarter to nine on Sunday morning I was in Milan, with time for a brioche and a cappuccino before catching the ten o’clock train to Rome. That cost me a very reasonable 79,500 Lire for the four-hour trip. Once at my destination I booked into a hotel near Stazione Termini despite having insufficient leeway left on my credit card to pay for it.

A 1997 train ticket from  Milan to Rome

Monday morning I set out to exurban Settecamini where my branch was located, and succeeded in closing my account and withdrawing the ten million or so remaining lire without incident. With a pocketful of cash I took a taxi to the airport and boarded the next flight back to Heathrow, making fulsome apologies for my unplanned absence while on my way back to the office, where I arrived early that afternoon. My cashflow troubles dragged on fitfully for a few months thereafter, but at least no more impromptu international travel was needed.

I held on to the train tickets as a keepsake of an adventure than could very easily have become a misadventure.