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November 10, 2014

We’d run hard to catch the train, only to realize it wasn’t attached to anything; the correct train was on the far side of the station. We reached it and threw our backpacks aboard the train as it started moving. Exhausted, we fell asleep in one of the empty compartments shortly after pulling out of the station.


We woke in darkness to discover our train was no longer moving. It was 1976, and Mrs. Chatterbox and I were catching a ship from Brindisi, Italy, to Patras, Greece. I couldn’t shake the feeling we’d been sitting there a long time. I left Mrs. C. in our compartment and went to explore. The compartments I passed, like the rest of the train, appeared empty but for us.


A dimly-lit sign on one of the platforms informed me that we were in Bari, sixty-two miles from Brindisi. No one was around to ask how long we’d been there or when we were likely to depart.   


The sound of breaking glass and crude laughter caught my attention, and I hurried back to our car to find Mrs. C. crouching beneath the window. She was trying to stay out of sight while observing a group of teenagers walking on the tracks, vandalizing the train. A dozen drunken young Italians were hurling wine bottles at us and urinating against the train. Before long they climbed aboard and began running through the train. When shots were fired, I  tried to lock the door to our compartment and discovered the latch was broken. I flipped off the lights just as a mob of hooligans burst into our car. I could hear the doors to other compartments being pulled open.


This was happening quite unexpectedly. My mother, a self-proclaimed expert on all things, had often claimed that youngsters in Europe drank wine with every meal and were immune to its effects; I wished she were crouching in the darkness with us so I could prove to her how wrong she was.


I needed to protect my wife, but only one thing came to mind. I quickly pulled off the leather belt I’d purchased in Florence and laced it through the broken latch, using it like a rope to tie the doors shut. It wasn’t much protection if these delinquents really wanted to get to us, but it was all I could think to do. The door rattled as someone tried to slide it open. I held my belt taut, as if our lives depended on it, and prayed for a conductor.


We breathed a sigh of relief when the vandals disappeared. The lights blinked on and the train started rolling southward toward Brindisi. I was re-looping my belt when the conductor materialized in the doorway and briskly demanded to see our tickets and passports.


“Where the hell were you when the train was shot at, doused with urine and battered with bottles?” I shouted angrily.


He ignored me, handed Mrs. C. our paperwork and disappeared.


This was one of the rare times I felt our lives were in danger while traveling. Years later while watching a Harry Potter movie, I’d be reminded of this icy moment of terror when Harry and company, as they traveled on the Hogwarts Express, were stopped by Dementors trying to search the train.  







I kept expecting to say that you woke up from a nightmare! What a chilling experience ...
By: The Broad on November 10, 2014
My goodness you two lived life on the edge. Hoping it is nothing more than your fertile imagination after a few drinks.
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 10, 2014
whoa....very scary indeed
By: Oma Linda on November 10, 2014
Daniel, although I've been known to embellish from time to time, this is exactly as I remembered it.
By: Chubby Chatterbox on November 10, 2014
And this is why I stay at home and just read your travel experiences. This one was fun! For me.
By: Cranky on November 10, 2014
Yikes- that must have been so scary. The worst thing like that while we have been traveling was on the Paris to Lisbon train and when stopped in Spain a bunch of gypsies got on board and tried to steal our stuff...we fought back and they left. Nothing as scary as what you endured.
By: Kathe W. on November 10, 2014
i had hoped it was just a nightmare, too! sadly, it was a real-life one!
By: TexWisGirl on November 10, 2014
I have to admit I was almost hoping they would get in your carriage just so I could read that you beat the vandals to a pulp with your bare fists. :D
By: LL Cool Joe on November 10, 2014
Oh that sounds terrible. I wonder if those people were human traffickers looking for prey.
By: Michael Offutt on November 10, 2014
That sounds pretty scary. Good thing you didn't get hurt.
By: PT Dilloway on November 10, 2014
I can relate somewhat, Stephen. As a kid, my parents and I traveled to Bulgaria via jet from Toronto, Canada to Yugoslavia. From Yugoslavia to Sofia, it was via trains and a bus. On the return trip, after one of these old trains we were aboard stopped, my mother was pushed--we were told--by Gypsies and she took quite a fall onto the pavement. Your trip sounded far more dangerous!
By: Michael Manning on November 10, 2014
Wow! That must have been a very terrifying experience. I traveled on the trains in Europe back in '85 but never had anything like that happen.
By: Catalyst on November 10, 2014
None of my train trips in Europe were so frightening! The conductor was probably hiding, too.
By: mimi on November 10, 2014
Wow- that sounds incredibly scary! Quick thinking about using your belt..I would have been so frightened. I'm glad you were not hurt.
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on November 10, 2014
Did you ever find out where the other passengers were?
By: fishducky on November 10, 2014
What a horrifying experience.Thank goodness for the belt. I too am wondering about the other passengers and wonder why didn't the train pull out before the hooligans got on board? That kind of stuff takes the glamour out of traveling.
By: Akansas Patti on November 10, 2014
But what about your pants? I certainly hope they didn't fall down. I'm sure you mother told you to wear a belt. Because she's an expert on proper attire.
By: Val on November 10, 2014
That would certainly have scared me. When traveling in a foreign country you have the disadvantage of not knowing the language.
By: red on November 10, 2014
I, too, kept thinking that this would turn out to be "just" a nightmare!
By: Pixel Peeper on November 10, 2014
I think you're very brave to travel as much as you do. But now I believe you travel with tour groups. Good. The world isn't a safe place. (Says the person who's never traveled anywhere except Canada and Egypt.)
By: Lexa Cain on November 10, 2014
That is a helluva story and a bit frightening too. Your recounting of it made me want to grab the conductor by his jacket and shake him a bit. Arrogant and uncaring jack ass that he seemed to be! Glad you had the presence of mind to protect Mrs. C.
By: Tom Cochrun on November 10, 2014
That would have been intense. Sounds like you handled it amazingly.
By: Rick Watson on November 10, 2014
That's terrifying. Did you ever learn where the other passengers were? Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 10, 2014
You kept your head in a moment of real danger, truly well done!
By: John on November 11, 2014
Smart, quick thinking. That's scary.
By: Scott Park on November 11, 2014
Thankfully, you had that McGyver moment and used your belt to lock you in.
By: Hilary on November 11, 2014
Stephen that's a horrible experience to go through. how brave of you to protect mrs c and where was the conductor the whole time. are you sure it wasn't a dream?
By: Fran on November 11, 2014
It seems to be a bit of a mystery why the train stopped at all and why there were no train police that patrol the tracks. Good thinking on your part. I'm surprised it didn't put you off travel for good.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on November 12, 2014
When the Roman Empire fell, it went all of the way down--huh?
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on November 12, 2014
How terrifying!!
By: The Bug on November 13, 2014

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