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- Travel Tips
Scary Train Stories
Staying Safe on the Rails
Welcome to an assortment of `night train experiences´! The scary trains page has first hand accounts of problems people have experienced on night trains.
Salerno to Bologna
I am American but I lived in Italy from July 1997 through July 1998 so I got to spend a lot of time on Italian trains and at all hours of the day and night. The only bad experience I had was on an overnight train trip from Salerno to Bologna. Everything was fine when I got on the train in Salerno. It was just me and an Italian girl in the compartment, so I went to sleep right away. Somewhere after Napoli an Arabic speaking man and a Spanish girl joined us. This was still fine until another man came in and started arguing very loudly with the man that was already in the compartment. This only hindered our sleep. Finally the other man left and I went back to sleep. Shortly after we left the Roma station I woke up, looked over and saw the man feeling up or touching inappropriately, the Italian girl. When he saw me watching he stopped but kept telling me to turn the other way or go back to sleep so he could continue molesting this girl. I ended up staying awake for the rest of the night watching this guy so he wouldn’t do worse to the girl.
What I would recommend to girls is don’t travel alone especially at night and if you have to try to get in a compartment with someone that looks trust worthy like a grandmother or some other woman.
Siena to Venice
I was travelling from Siena to Venice last summer on a 5am train….I fell asleep in the car (there wasn’t a soul on the train) and I awoke to an Italian man going through my bag. I jumped up and screamed. When I did he attempted to communicate with me saying he needed a drink of water. I could smell the alcohol and the body odor on him a mile away. After I denied him a kiss on my hand, he stormed away in disgust! – Lisa
Italian night trains are the worst! For female travelers without men—beware. Italians are known to be forward but it was ridiculous.Men were constantly showing up to our sleeping compartment and wouldn’t leave when we told them we weren’t interested. I left to the restroom at one point and was groped twice—-one was a train employee. I loved Italy and I loved the people but I think the night trains are a free for all. Good luck!
My wife and I were on a 3-month backpacking trip last fall that began in Scotland and led us through 14 countries in Eastern, Western, and Southern Europe. Prior to our departure we were given many misleading warnings and heard several unfounded myths. From the attitude of people in France to the smell and filth of Venetian streets. We were very happy to find that most of these doomsayers were passing along second and third hand information that was blatantly inaccurate. However, one of the few warnings that rang true through our experiences was about the night trains through Italy.
We spent a few nights at the Pink Palace in Corfu, Greece (this was actually the opposite, we were told how great it was but disagreed after our visit) and took the ferry over to Brinidisi, Italy. During our time in Greece we met many wonderful people. One of these people was a single traveler from Quebec named Sylvan. He had spent twelve nights in Rome before going to Greece and he was heading back to Rome on the same train as we were. It was a very full train and everyone was crushed into the small cabins with bench seats facing each other. My wife and I locked our doors, we were with people we trusted (to the extent that you can trust fellow travelers you met 3 days ago), and we are very cautious with our money belt. We experienced no problems. Upon arrival in Rome, Sylvan recommended a good hostel so we walked from the train station. He took us on a two-hour tour of the places he had seen and restaurants he had sample, and the best Gelati stand in Italy. When we arrived at the Hostel we booked a couple of nights but we had not stopped at a money machine yet. Sylvan said not to worry, he would front us and we would all walk down to the money machine. He opened his fanny pack (Mistake #1) and proceeded to root through his receipts in a panic. He had been wiped out. He had about $300(US) in various currencies in his possession. Lire, French Francs, Drachmas, US$, CAN$, and even a few Russian Rubles he had traded with a friend as a souvenir. He also lost an irreplaceable $250 watch he had bought in Munich for his brother’s birthday. Sylvan was lucky, they left his cards and passport, but he was already talking about cutting his trip a little short to compensate for his loss.
The night before he was on a train with two women he had met on the ferry. They shared a cabin and were up for most of the night talking. He said he wasn’t sure exactly what happened, but when he woke, everything was gone. He still does not believe the women could possibly have done it (Mistake #2) but he is unsure what actually happened. We also heard the rumors of gassed cars and midnight robberies, but who knows. The morale is, don’t ever wear a fanny pack and don’t ever trust ANYONE around your money, cards, Eurails, and passport. If you lose everything else it can be replaced, always have the important stuff on your person.
Our second experience was in the daytime on a journey that originated in Pisa. We were leaving Italy and were on our way to Granada, Spain. All through our trip we had heard stories about the Gypsies and pickpockets of Italy, especially in Southern Italy. We heard about the techniques they use: blocking your vision with a map or piece of cardboard, using their children to rifle your pockets, small bands of children surrounding you and confusing you. We spent about 10 days in Italy and experienced none of this. We were almost disappointed (but not quite). On our way through Cince Terre my wife and I had a first class cabin to ourselves (we are 27 and 28 and did not qualify for cheaper 2nd class Eurails). We are sitting with our shoes off; reading and relaxing when our cabin door pops open. In storms two gypsies, straight out of the movies. Gold teeth, big hoop earrings, ragged layered robes. They were almost a parody of themselves. The one on the left was holding a baby and the one on the right, who was quickly approaching me, was holding a bundle close to her chest that looked like a sleeping baby. She was holding a handful of change out in front of her a was repeating over and over “Money! Money! For Baby! Money! Money!” We immediately recognized what was going on from all of the stories we had heard. As she got real close to me, she talked louder and louder and was shaking her change filled hand in my face furiously. She then got uncomfortably close and tried to block my view of my pants by the bundle she wanted me to believe was her baby. Every time I started to look down she yelled a little bit and shook her hand more. As I looked down, out from under her robes came her other, hidden hand. It was making its way for my pocket! I was in no danger, everything of value was strapped inside my money belt, but their skill and confidence amazed me. You just don’t see many pickpockets in America (they just threaten you with violence or hurt you here). It was like a magic trick.
The trick is to keep the victim focused on something other than their valuables. The robes, the costumes, the yelling, the shiny change, it was all a distraction. The were quick and knew exactly what they were doing. I immediately pushed her hand away and said no (I was saying no from the time they entered our cabin). She kept trying. So I stood up (at 6’2” 215 lbs.), gave her a good stiff shove on the shoulder and yelled at her to get out now, slowly advancing and using the best mean look I could muster. They quickly backed off and left. But not before she could look over her shoulder, make and odd shape with her fingers, and mutter something very angrily and harshly with squinted eyes. I had received my very first Gypsy curse. Unfortunately, when I got home from my trip I didn’t get any ‘Thinner’, like the Stephen King story. I actually got a bit thicker from the lack of exercise. About five minutes later we saw them both running full speed past our cabin and jump off the train. Someone was yelling. I’m sorry to say, somebody probably fell victim to their ploy.
I’m not recounting these tales to scare anyone. If you’re about to embark on your first European journey or extended trip, my advice is to not listen to the naysayers and voices of doom. Before my trip I actually had someone ask me why I wanted to go all the way to Europe when there is so much to see here in America (which I’ve already seen much of). This from a man who has never left California in his life. I hear about how rude the people were in some places, how bad the food was here or there, how crazy we were for quitting our jobs and leaving all we had built up over the years. All from people who have never done it themselves or have gone on some horrible packaged, cart me around on a bus tour. These are the same people who discourage everyone around them from doing anything out of the ordinary or different. They are scarred of change and adventure and are comforted by stories that tell of adventurous and daring people being punished or suffering for their courage. It makes them feel better about not following their own dreams and fantasies. It helps them to justify their own fear. Listen to the people who have been there and can give you good, solid, cautious advice. Ask someone about your destination or a possible waypoint. If the first thing out of their mouth is negative, move on. Ask someone else. If they tell you how wonderful it was, or what a great experience they had even though it wasn’t what they expected, then ask them if they have any concerns or warnings. A real traveler loves to tell a good story. But it is usually with laughter or with sober experience and lessons learned. Not with fear and discouragement. They’ll tell you what to do to protect yourself, not to stay home or go somewhere else. I love telling people about my gypsy curse and a possible train gassing. They’re fun stories and we laugh our way through them. Sylvan was in good humor after his ordeal and probably had a great finish to his trip. We had a wonderful time at the Alhambra. We did hear many sad stories about stolen fanny packs, backpacks, etc. Usually it was because of inattentiveness or plain naivete. But most of the time the traveler continued travelling. The trip continued to thrill. And the stories and experience just got better as they went on. It’s all part of the grand adventure. Happy Travelling. – Larry Grady Huntington Beach, CA
Rome to Brindisi
We had an interesting experiance on the train from Rome down to Brindisi to catch the ferry to Greece. We had been forwarned of the danger of thieves on the train so when we boarded the train we wanted a sitting car to ourselves. We immediatley got on and shut all the curtains. Soon enough though these three Italian men came up and were very insistent that they stay in our car. We were trying to be polite but they wouldn’t listen. Then this Italian woman starts shouting at the men and we all stood there while she is screaming at them. Finally the three men left and she told us in verybroken english that the men were trying to rob us and she took off her belt and showed us how to lock our door. After we did that, the men came back seven times through out the night but found our belt securely in place. If that woman hadn’t of helped us, I have a feeling I would’ve only been backpacking a few weeks instead of a few months. – Crystal Brown
Last summer my girlfriend, cousin and I were travelling by rail with our lives on our backs. Italy was a great place but their railroad leaves something to be desired. Florence was our first stop. I read in our travel book on the way there about Gypsy women hanging around the train station, distracting you with children and by waving handkerchiefs, and then pickpocketing you. We arrived and started making our way through an underground passage to the surface streets. I thought we were in the clear after leaving the station, but I thought to soon, there they were, children and all. We picked up our pace and attemted to charge through we me in the lead. They left my girlfriend alone, she was wearing a dress with no pockets. I on the other hand was the number 1 target, she was looking at me and talking and then looking at my pocket and back at me. Her eyes shifted back and forth between my face and my pocket as she approached. The gypsy women got close enough to make people think! that we were intimate, at this point she was to close and with my arm down in front of my pocket I raised it in her direction pushing her back. With our passage now clear we rushed up the stairs to the surface streets and preceded on to our hotel without further incident. Later in our trip we went to Sorrento, just south of Napoli. We had to transfer trains in Napoli and planned it so we wouldn’t have to spent more time than we had to in a city with a third of its population unemployed. However we did have to go to the train information desk in the station. We got in line and the three of us stood in a half cicle facing the distant info desk. We kept our packs on in the hopeful event that the line would move quickly. A man stood behind my girlfriend, which seemed normal for a line. But we were suspicious and fanned out to form a small circle to face each other, talk and watch each others backs. As we cicled up we rotated so that no one was directly in line. My girlfriend was now perpendicular to the line and yet this fellow was still behind her. We all decided that her backpack was getting heavy, so she took it off and set it in front of her. My cousin and I did the same as we realized that the line was not moving as fast as we had hoped. A min! ute or so after our packs were down we noticed that the suspicious man was no where to be found. Maybe he just got tired of waiting in line. These two incident were our only scary times. Italy was beautiful and full of wonderful things and I would not hesitate to go back.
Tran Beyea Theft from Backpacks
This took place in Slovakia on a train from bucharest to prague. By comparison i felt much more secure on the trains into italy later in that trip. so here’s what happened: in and out of every country from Romania to Czech rep, we had two checks one for customs one for passports, so for every border crossed there were four stops. there were three borders Romania Hungary Slovakia and Czech. that means we stopped 12 times during the 22 hour trip. The worst part is that we were robbed near the end of the trip (nearly out of Slovakia) when we grew really tired (my friend and I shared a couchete) and let our guard down. we could only sleep for a max of 4 or 5 hours before we stopped for a passport or customs check. In retrospect I realize that it was the attendant to our couchette that may have robbed us. I accidentally let slip (in Romanian to a Romanian) that this was my first time in Eastern Europe so I imagine he let us have the regular treatment. I realized this because he was the one who discovered the bags in an empty room and called our attention to them. What he was doing in that room i don’t know. He has his own, also the doors to the train car are locked on both sides and he in the only person who lets people in or out. The good news is that we only lost the equivalent of $6 US. The bad news is that the woman next door lost all of her money, I hear her exclaim in Romanian that it was all the money she had. By comaprison the trains in italy were fast, efficient, clean ,and the people were hospitable most of the time.
Securing your Compartment
I took a night train from Nice, France, to Venice, Italy. I was placed in a couchette with a young woman who spoke French and Spanish, plus a young non-backpacking American couple. Before the train departed the Nice station, the young woman informed us that robberies are common on night trains, and we should not only use both locks on the door to our couchette, but we should also secure the portable metal ladder used for accessing the top bunks in front of the door once we were ready to sleep. The woman was sincere and matter-of-fact and we thanked her for the tip.
In the end, we didn’t place the ladder in front of the door, and we didn’t get robbed. But the young woman, who awoke before any of us the next day, informed us there had indeed been a robbery in the middle of the night in a couchette a few doors down. Apparently no one inside the victimized couchette heard the robbery. And I don’t remember what was stolen.
I guess we were lucky. But the experience caused me to wonder how thieves know which couchettes hold the loot. As a backpacker, I wasn’t carrying much of value with me, and to determine that, a robber would have had to noisly search my padlocked belongings, wasting precious thief time. Naturally, I – or someone else in the couchette – would awaken before the perpetrator could get away. It takes time to find the valuables, and trains stop only briefly in each town on the route, cutting the thief time even shorter. Plus, most bags are heavy and make noise when shifted around inside a small couchette.
My theory is this: dishonest train personnel “tip off” thieves as to where the valuables are located, then enjoy a cut later. After all, train personnel observe passengers boarding, and they visit each sleeping chamber to check passports, tickets, etc. They also remain awake all night (or should). I don’t know for sure, but I imagine train personnel aren’t the highest paid individuals in Europe. All of this would explain the thieves’ apparent efficiency in robbing night trains.
One last thought: it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE to get a solid night’s sleep on a night train, so how the h*ll would someone be able to sneak into your couchette, ravage your things and get away with the best of the lot in just a few minutes? There has to be more to it. – Julie
Germany – Poland
A couple of comments on the safety of overnight trains from Germany into Poland. Last summer I was hassled at 3am by a scary Polish policeman (apparently…). He wanted me to change my German marks for his Polish zloty, he told me banks in Poland wouldn’t be open the next day. I didn’t fall for it and got a very good exchange rate at a bank the next day. The next night, on the same train, the friends I was meeting up with were gassed somehow and had their money and credit cards stolen. they had locked the carriage doors, had all their valuables safely hidden but were still robbed. A bit scary really! – Anna Cartledge, University of Exeter
Nightly Robbery – Florence – Rome
I was on holidays with my sister last June, we planned to spend 8 days in Italy, our plan was to visit Rome-Florence-Venice, we used the night train service. It happened 2 days before our trip ended, we took the train route Venice-Florence-Rome, from Venice to Florence it was ok that we joined the compartment with one old man and he got off in Florence, after that only me and my sister in that compartment. We fell asleep then we woke up again at around 5 pm and, then we realised that we were robbed, my sister handbag was stolen, I found my handbag underneath the seat but our 2new wrist watches gone also money. Both of us lost around USD2000. One women helped me notify the train officer but he was so helpless, sorry to say that but it’s true, such even worse when we reached the destination and filed the case at police station in that Train station, Termini. (At there, we met other 4 Americans who also robbed on the same train, not surprise, maybe same gang and it’s said that possibly theif used something spraying to make the targeted persons sleeping) My sister also lost her passport so we needed to go to the Embassy, we asked for help about this, but police gave us the ridiculous answer that we must take the bus (we didn’t have money left at that time) – how bad it was that police gave us the wrong address of Thai Embassy! (we found out when we got there).
The point I’d like to tell from my story also from what I told afterwards is Don’t take NIGHT TRAIN Florence-Rome Robbery takes place almost daily. And Police there just got you to file the case for 4 page police report and nothing else-like their brains!
Hope that this helps to remind who plan to go to Rome, have a safe trip.
On the other hand…no problems to report
I was in Italy for about 10 days in the summer of 97. The Italian trains were admitedly the worst that I found in Europe, in terms of crowds, air conditioning, and cleanleness. This is not a complaint however, because they were also the cheapest I found. People should realize that you get what you pay for. I didn’t have any problems with seedy individuals, even on the two night trains I took. Keep in mind however, I am a male and was traveling with two other guys. Safety in numbers and gender I suppose. Lone travellers, and women may have different expereinces, but take all the usual precaustions, and I don’t see any problems outside of isolated inncedents. Happy travels. – Brian
I’ve been on two overnight train rides last summer. First from the France/Spain border to Porto in Portugal: I couldn’t see any signs of robbery or anything like that. But the train was absolutely crowded. It is very important to reserve seats or
much better couchettes for this train. Also on the ride from Marrakech to there were no problems. And we could still get a couchette a day before. It has just been strange that the conductor took the interrail tickets , but gave it back in the morning. For me night train rides are just perfect because yoiu cans save a night and arrive in your destination already in the morning. I haven’t had any bad experiences at all. But of course I have been careful, had my docuets righ