"Impossible."

"Can you print our tickets?" we asked anxiously at the counter the second we disembarked, eager to make our tight connection.

We had less than ten minutes to get off the Bernini Express, walk from the Swiss train station to the Italian station across the sidewalk, print our tickets and have them validated. Failure at any of these steps would result in a missed connection and a forfeit of funds. The lady glanced at our paperwork. "Impossible," she said, then turned her gaze to an invisible task, ignoring us.

According to fine print on our travel voucher, passengers without validated tickets are subject to a hefty fine. But ItaliaRail doesn't give tourists the option of printing hard copies of their tickets at home. Instead, it says to use a machine at the terminal and then another for validation. Neither of these machines were available.

We eyed the train which was due to pull out within minutes.

With no time to spare, we jumped onto a second class car and grabbed a seat. In a few seconds, the scenery started to move outside our wide open windows, blue polyester curtains flapping against our heads. "I wonder if we're going to get nailed," Gary mumbled out loud.

Switzerland changed to Italy right at the border. Gone were the tidy widow boxes overflowing with manicured flowers, the uniform cleanliness, the reliability of protocol. Instead we had warm weather and a little chaos.

Minutes later, an Italian ticket agent came up the aisle. Holding our breath, we handed her a random assortment of papers, all in English, and nothing that looked like tickets. She gave them a cursory glance, nodded her approval, and wished us bonjourno. Then a stranger poured us sparkling wine. "Welcome to Italy," she said, and we raised our plastic cups to the next phase of this crazy adventure.

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