Travel experiences gone wrong: The joys of indirect nighttime bus rides across Europe

, by Paola Lo Bue Oddo

Travel experiences gone wrong: The joys of indirect nighttime bus rides across Europe
Photo: CC0

They say travel broadens the mind – not least because travelling means unexpected experiences. Paola Lo Bue Oddo speaks about her bus journey to the European Youth Event in June 2018.

Sitting in sulky silence, disgruntled passengers glared at their visibly embarrassed bus driver.

Of all the European cities where you can be stranded in June’s sweltering heat, the lovely Geneva might not be the worst. Yet not many of us had foreseen that the bus company had secretly been discussing a potential three-hour delay for our return journey from Strasbourg to Milan – or how expensive and humid the Swiss city was.

The cause of this unfortunate event was an interesting miscounting of bus seats and passengers. The bus driver’s solution was that several passengers would have to generously volunteer to disembark and wait for the following bus. As expected, general chaos and arguments ensued.

Crawling out of my bus seat, I walked down the luggage-laden bus aisle in order to reach my friends, who had been herded towards random seats. I was annoyed to discover that all of them were sleeping, except for a fun-loving friend who – having just lost her ID card during our trip to Strasbourg – was anxiously going through her bag again.

Brawl at the bus station

Although certainly not the worst transportation experience I have ever had, this trip was particularly memorable because of its purpose: attending the European Youth Event at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where thousands of youngsters from all over Europe discussed key policy issues with high level decision-makers.

My outbound journey from Milan to Strasbourg had been characterised by a night-time bus station brawl between a couple of drunk tourists wearing flamingo shorts, an unexpected summer hailstorm which kept passengers awake throughout the ride, and a sensitive grandmother berating my companions – all because they had wanted to kill time by brainstorming a multilingual range of swear words.

Of course, no trip is complete without a creepy stranger stalking to girls outside a petrol station at night. Surely enough, this time around, once the bus came to a halt, that multicultural specialty was included as well. Once our Milan–Strasbourg bus stopped in Germany at around 4am, we were instructed to just wait around the square for a couple of hours, until a second bus would finally take us to Strasbourg.

Surprised at the detour and feeling quite cold, my friends and I shrugged and decided to look for a kebab shop somewhere. After a long conversation with a couple of wobbly locals – who had approached us to ask us for directions – we boarded the mysteriously empty second bus to France.

Safely back home

What about the return journey, where my friends and I volunteered to leave the bus and wait for three extra hours? I did manage to arrive home in one piece, amid a flurry of French, Italian and German insults directed at the bus company and an overall foul mood throughout the ride from Switzerland.

Despite the delights of indirect, nighttime bus rides across Europe which so many fellow participants took, one point stuck with me. Namely, the fact that so many young Europeans travelled to Strasbourg by bus and train – all with a common objective, sharing similar personal experiences, hopes and struggles – made me realise that today’s European youth and citizens are much more alike than some would dare admit.

What’s your most unexpected, embarrassing or hilariously catastrophic holiday story? Send us your contribution at tnf [at]!

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