I could feel him behind me. He and I obviously didn’t have the same idea of ‘personal space.’ As he got even closer, I wondered if this short, tanned, elderly Italian man was trying to cut in front of me? I stood my ground in line for the automatic ticket machine. He shifted behind me, looking over my shoulder to the woman in front of me, watching as she typed her selections into the machine. He looked to the left at the man making his choices on the next machine. He looked around the station, nervously shifting his weight, still too close.
The woman in front of me finished her transaction, gathered her ticket, and walked off. I approached the machine and was thrilled to see the British flag indicating the machine spoke my language. The man shifted behind me. Was he actually looking over my shoulder? I typed in Florence as my destination.
“Firenze? (Florence?)” he asked. This was followed by a fluster of Italian while the man pointed from the paper in his hand to my screen to the trains. All I understood was that there was a train in three minutes and he wanted me to be on it. I looked at his ticket. The destination? Padova. I had no idea where that was.
“Non capisco italiano (I don’t understand Italian),” I told him. He continued on anyway. “Parla inglese? (Do you speak English?)” I asked. Obviously not. He finally pointed to a ticket agent and waved his hand for me to follow him.
In rapid-fire Italian he explained his dilemma to the bi-lingual woman. She then explained it to me: His ticket was for a train leaving in a few minutes. He bought it discounted on-line but needs to take a later train. He can’t get a refund so he’s trying to sell it to me. Florence -my destination- is on the way to Padova. She told me the ticket to Florence is normally 45 Euros and I could work out with him whatever I wanted.
I handed over 40 Euros and the man escorted me to my train saying over and over again, “Grazie, grazie.” (Thank you.)
With that, I was on my way to Florence. Or so I thought.
I stowed my backpack and secured my seat. I had no reservation for a place to stay in Florence. I had followed my intuition and not booked anything for my first night in Italy. This alarmed me only the day before I left. But the feeling passed. Now I knew why. I was due to meet my sister in Venice the next day. My rough plan had been to stop in Florence, spend the night, and hop a train the next day to Venice. In my hands was a ticket all the way to Padova – a mere half-hour from Venice. My five Euro savings increased to 18. I took the train all the way to Padova, found myself a place to stay, and the next day continued on.