Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Why I Could Never Be a Secret Agent



Google Maps has never failed me until now.

I am in Rimini, Italy, a resort town on the Adriatic Sea and part of the Emilia-Romagna region. After a day of sunshine and hill-climbing in San Marino and Emilia-Romagna, I’m exhausted and decide to grab a train back to Bologna.

Google Maps predicts that it will be a 15-minute walk from my spot on the beach to the station.  I give myself a bit of a cushion, leaving 25 minutes before.  Not that it’s necessary — I always walk faster than Google Maps’s calculations.

15 minutes into my walk, however, not only am I not there, but I have a ways to go.  I pick up the pace.  Surely the station is around the corner, isn’t it?

It’s not.  Google Maps leads me into a brick wall.

Crap.  I need to find the station, and fast.


There aren’t a lot of trains back — there’s one in an hour, but it’s an express train (60 minutes instead of 90) and will cost a €10 surcharge  on top of the €10 journey.  I didn’t think ( would need to use my Eurail passes today, instead saving them for more expensive journeys — but oh yes, I totally should have.

I start running and asking, and it turns out I was actually directed to the back of the station.  My train is at 5:47.  I run into the station, breathless, hoping I can actually catch it.

The train pulls up.

I run to the machine.  Now, here’s the kicker: it won’t let me buy a ticket because the time is exactly 17:47 and the train is scheduled to depart at 17:47.

The train is right there, but it won’t be for long.  I decide to get on it.

I run down the stairs, sprint through the station, and jump up the stairs to the platform two at a time.  I leap onto the train just as the doors are closing.

Safely on the train, I jump on Facebook and post the following to my page:

I might be in trouble. Google Maps sent me to a brick wall instead of the train station in Rimini, so  I ran for it, made it, and hopped on the train just as it was pulling out. No time to buy tickets. Let’s hope they don’t check or let me buy a ticket on board…what will happen?! Stay tuned!

And then the responses poured in:

From Camilla:

Hide in the bathroom 😉

From Sher:

Sounds like a James Bond film 🙂 Been there and have never been caught yet. Good luck!

From Brooke:

I read this as if you ran at the wall in an attempt to get to Platform 9 3/4. Fiction on the brain.

But then the most ominous response pops up from Jen of Jdomb’s Travels, who has spent the past few years living in Italy:

Find the conductor ASAP, otherwise you will get fined and be tossed off the train. I’ve literally been on the train when it has stopped in the middle of no where and people were tossed off.



I sit quietly and wait, the countryside passing by as my stomach twists in knots.  Even though it’s technically rush hour, no conductor appears during that time.

More than an hour passes without incident.  I am going to make it.  I am going to make it back without any trouble.

And then the door opens and a conductor appears.

My neck hairs stand on end.  He turns to me.  I give him an expressive Italian pout and summon the few remaining shreds of the Italian language that I possess in my brain.

“Mi dispiace, ma la macchina non fonctionna…” I begin, hand gesturing like an Italian.  I’m sorry, but the machine doesn’t work…

“A Forlimpopoli?” he asks.

Oh my God.  I know Forlimpopoli.  I’ve been to Forlimpopoli.  I know for a fact that Forlimpopoli is closer to Bologna than Rimini, so if we say so, we can get off scot-free and pay for a cheaper ticket–


“A Rimini?” he asks, puzzled.

“A Rimini!”

“Ma ci sono molte macchine…” He explains that with so many machines in Rimini, as well as a ticket counter, why would there have been a problem?

I switch to English.  “The train is there, and it says you cannot buy a ticket because the train is there.”


My heart is beating rapidly in my throat.

“Five euro.”

That’s it?  That’s it.  He charges me a five-euro supplement and I’m free to stay on board — not dropped in the middle of the Italian wilderness, left to hitchike my way back, where I’ll be kidnapped and forced to stuff butchered pigs with fennel for the rest of my days.

I like to think that I can smoothly slink through any unexpected situation.  Well, that was proven false on the train from Rimini.  When the pressure is on, I can’t do anything but sputter.  Either that or the Italians have the power of handsomeness on their side, and I can’t resist a deep “Ciao Bella…”

At any rate, if there are any openings for secret agents, I’d suggest passing over my application and going with someone who can lie convincingly on command.

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35 Responses to “Why I Could Never Be a Secret Agent”
  1. Naomi says:

    I really wish I could lie to get myself out of sticky situations but I have the worst guilt complex and I just can’t do it! But hey, maybe honesty was the best policy in this case?!

  2. Oh I would suck at that as well. I’d be too nervous and I think I’m a terrible liar.
    Even just the description of you running to catch the train made me anxious. haha

  3. Amy says:

    When that happened to me, I just feigned a lack of Italian knowledge and made myself look really upset. The conductor and some bloke he was with had a quick chat in Italian, thinking I couldn’t understand them. The upshot? She’s young, she’s cute and she’s blonde, we’ll let her off! And he only charged me the fare from where I was caught to my destination!

    Sometimes you have to know when to play the foreigner card to your advantage! Especially in Italy, you’ll spend so much time being perved on by strange men (especially as a blonde), you might as well make it work for you.

    • OH YES, definitely work it to your advantage in Italy! I remember the guy who didn’t even look at my stamps and he just stamped me through and gave me a sexy wink. COME ON!

  4. Melvin says:

    We also had to walk all around it the other day… I can’t believe how you can built a train station and don’t built an extra exit to the city side with the beach!

  5. Maybe, but telling the truth paid off! It was probably refreshing for him to see someone just be honest instead of trying to cheat the system. *End after school special.*

  6. Amanda says:

    Haha, what a story. Can’t wait to read about all the other shenanigans you and Mario will get into!

  7. Alan says:

    I am guessing you have some sort of limited or finite number of trip EURO-RAIL pass.

    1977 open 90 day Euro-Rail Pass
    1978 open 60 day Brit-Rail pass

    2001 two week open Euro-Rail pass and two week Brit-Rail pass

    Have never purchased a finite trip ticket. Didn’t know they existed.

    In 1977 I ran into a problem traveling from Helskink around the pennisula to Oslo.

    Finland was not part of the Euro-Rail system then. I went into the train ticket office with very few Finnish or Swedish words and bought a ticket to the northern border with Norway where my Euro-Rail 90 Day Pass would be valid plus a sleeper car reservation and a seat reservation because I understood the train might be full.

    I thought I had.

    It turns out I had only bought a sleeper and a seat reservation BUT NOT AN ACTUAL TICKET to be on the train.

    When the counter person told me how much what I was buying cost I asked her again if the price included: Seat, seat reservation, sleeper reservation.

    IT didn’t.

    Just before we left the Helsinki train station a train conductor asked to see my ticket.

    He spoke no English and looked befuddled by what I was showing him.

    I overhead English outside the window, saw the woman who was speaking and asked if she spoke Finnish or Swedish and would help me. She said yes and got on the train and translated for me.

    She explained that yes I had a seat reservation and a sleeper reservation but NO ACTUAL TRAIN TICKET and I was about to travel the length of Finland or thought I was.

    She talked with the conductor and then said he asked if I could pay the difference in cash.

    I had used up all but about $12 in Finnish money and only had American Express travelers checks and some miscellaneous other money from the previous countries I had already been in.

    The conductor shook his head and took my $12 in Finnish money and walked away.

    I GOT LUCKY thanks to a fellow American, a Finnish-American, who it turned out then lived in Florida less than 10 miles from where I lived in Florida.

    A total strange SAVED ME.

    That was not the last time or first time or every since.

    Good luck in your ongoing life of traveling.

  8. Katie says:

    I would also be totally useless! I hate that guilty feeling you get! Reminds me of a similar train ride going from Italy to Spain on an inter rail pass. Our pass was legite but we didn’t have reserved seating and the train was getting busier and busier! Just put in my headphones and pretended to be sleeping and hoped for the best? Never got woken up but I couldn’t cope with the stress so always reserved our seats after that! Lol x

  9. Jenna says:

    Oh no! Glad it worked out ok! That would be horrible to get stuck in a random location.

    We had train situation like this happen in Belgium–we had tickets, but the computers were down at the station and so were the clocks–we hopped on a train 2 minutes too early, eventually realized it was the wrong train and we had no idea where we were heading! We were so nervous waiting for the conductor and hoping we weren’t going to have a huge ticket fee to pay. The conductor was nice–we didn’t have to pay anything additional and thankfully we were able to get on the correct train at the next stop!

  10. I do hear a few horror stories but usually things turn out better than feared. My philosophy for mistakes like this is just be honest, tell your story and inevitably get some sympathy.

  11. Melissa says:

    Reminds me of a train I took once from the Netherlands to Germany. My then-boyfriend was an Irish citizen and didn’t realize he’d need his passport, so he didn’t bring it. When the customs guy got on I used the two superpowers I possess: being fluent in German and being female. I batted my eyelashes and asked him what would happen if one of us forgot our passport, while handing him mine. He told me he was astonished to meet an American who could speak German, to which I thanked him and batted the eyelashes some more. He let us stay, then moved on to the next guy on the train, who was promptly removed for lack of identification. Moral of the story? Never underestimate the power of linguistic skills and eyelashes. Well done Kate!

  12. Megan says:

    You’re much better at skirting the wrath of transport officials than I am! I got caught by a metro lady in Budapest for not having a ticket (was in a rush and bought some off of two shady guys – needless to say they had already been used. Stupid traveler). I argued with the lady…and ran away as soon as she turned around. Not my proudest moment!

  13. What fun would traveling be if we didn’t get lost / go the wrong way / worry about if we are going the right way 🙂

  14. Hilarious!! I’m the same way!!

  15. Polly says:

    Italian trains! My study-abroad friends and I were so giddy over being able to order our tickets in Italian that we either missed or weren’t told the part where you have to get them stamped before boarding. Partway through the journey the conductor comes through. He says we’ll need to pay a fine… cue an argument between one of my friends and the conductor. Finally, I break in and say, “We’re sorry – how much do we owe you?” He shakes his head at the dumb American students, scrawls his signature and the time on each ticket, and leaves.

    Needless to say, I never forgot to get my ticket stamped again. I’m glad your conductor was forgiving as well!

  16. I got fined a couple bucks for riding a train in Buenos Aires without a ticket. generosity must be part of Italian culture

  17. Arianwen says:

    Haha. I always kick myself when I let myself down in the heat of the moment. If I’m going to tell a little white lie, it takes preparation. If I’m attempting it in a foreign language, it’s a lost cause!

  18. Kevin says:

    I seriously thought you were going to tell me that you were kicked out of the train into remote nowheresville. I don’t think your story would have been nearly as exciting had your facebook friend not planted a seed of panic in your mind.

  19. Oh I would have been rubbish at it too. Plus I reckon train conductors get secret agent training themselves to be able to read passengers’ body language in order to assess whether they are lying or not. If you are lying you tend to look up to the left for example.

  20. brian says:

    I am very interested in your travels although I have just discovered u I find it do amazingly courage and brave a true woman. I don’t want to bother just do what we cant and never forget a moment bless. Brian

  21. SIXVASER says:

    Ah the adventures you can have by getting lost. No other way to get into situations like this, good or bad…

  22. Oh what a palaver! I hate that feeling, I’m a terribly liar and could never smooth talk my way out of anything! I go bright red and stutter uncontrollably! Bloody Google maps, Always fails to deliver sound geographical advice in an emergency!

  23. OCDemon says:

    HA! Amateur. I rode the Italian trains for free several times and totally got away with it. Let me tell you my super amazing secrets.

    1) The train I wanted was RIGHT THERE when I got to the station, and was departing immediately. I hopped on and hoped for the best. I was in a cabin with several other people that were traveling together, and when the conductor came around, the mom handed him all the tickets. He stamped all 5, didn’t realize there were 6 people in the cabin, and then just walked away. The family looked at me funnily afterward, and smiled that “you’re such an evil genius” smile and that was that.

    2) The train was leaving, and the conductor just told everyone to hop on the train and they’d sell tickets after boarding. I stood in a circle with 8 other people and the conductor sold tickets to each one with a little belt machine. I was the last person in the circle. She got all the way to the person right in front of me, and I was all ready to pay, money in hand, and then she just walked away.

    Yes, my superpowers consist of incredibly good luck. Either that, or I was a ghost. Either way, I consider this a victory.

  24. Jess says:

    My sister actually gave me a lecture on the most recent trip about how I need to ‘stay calm when taking to authority figures.’ I maintain I was perfectly calm. She claims the first thing I said when the Mountie came up to our car was ‘Oh my god what did I do?’

  25. sarahmuriano says:

    My spouse and i relish, bring about I ran across what precisely I became trying to find. You have was over this four time lengthy search! Goodness Appreciate it dude. Have a fantastic evening. L8rs

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