Overnight Train to Rome: BYOF and Watch Your Back

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Sleeper Car on Artesia: Lock Your Door

$175 for Italian chicken fingers: Non Grazie !

Artesia Train Ride Featured Three Hour Delays, Fraud, and Scam Artists

Last summer, we booked a family vacation to London, Paris, and Rome via Air France Holidays. Although it was a great learning and cultural experience for our kids, we experienced several misfortunes; one included getting pick pocketed at the Notre Dame Paris subway station by professional thieves.

But our troubles were only beginning.

After Paris, it was on to Rome on the overnight train. We were impressed with the website for Artesia, which happens to be a joint venture between Italian and French train companies. The notion of travelling through Provence and all the way to Rome seemed romantic and an enjoyable experience for the whole family.

Boy, were we wrong. Actually, the website experience was the best part of the Artesia encounter. The lounge at the Bercy Train Station in Paris was a joke. We checked out of our three star Paris hotel at 12 Noon, dragged all the luggage to Bercy only to find out that the Artesia lounge would not be open until 5:45 PM. With no place to store our luggage, we wasted an entire afternoon hanging around Bercy train station with two very bored teenagers.

We were told be three independent sources (including the Artesia attendant in the Bercy train station) that since we had paid for our couchette accommodations, that our dinner meal would be included. That’s a pleasant surprise, so we thought.

Unfortunately, we were grossly misinformed and our pleasant train trip watching the field of sunflowers in southern France, quickly turned into a nightmare.

A female dining car attendant (who reminded me of an Italian Grace Jones) stopped by our cabin at 7:15 PM to ask if we preferred the 8 PM or 10 PM dining car seating. We opted for the 8 PM slot. She said that the credit card machine was not working today….(scam…) We said that since our meal was included, it was not going to be an issue for us. She said “OK”.

After a mediocre dinner of pasta, chicken fingers, and a dessert torte, we were handed a bill for 128 Euros (approx. $175). We explained that we were told by three sources that dinner was included with our ticket (approx. $1000 as part of our overall package). She said that it was not included… they we had to pay 128 Euros in cash now… or they would call the police… Incidentally, the only people that were every presented a menu were tourist who were native Italians. No price list, menu, or relevant information was available. Most of the staff acted as if they hardly understood English (although that was purely an act…).

We retired back to our room and Artesia personnel banged on our door several times throughout the night to further badger us. The continually threatened to call the police… and even went so far as to suggest that they would throw us off the train in Bern, Switzerland. We felt so harassed; they we did not even want to leave the cabin to use the bathroom down the hall during the night.

We were held captive, because they retained possession of our four passports. At one point, they also suggested that my wife get off the train and be escorted by a supervisor to go to an ATM machine at a train station. Fearing that they would depart without her and break up the family, we would not agree to any of this nonsense.

After 17 hours on the train, we finally got to Rome some 3+ hours late. There, we were met by the “chef” or “boss” who amazingly was able to get the credit card machine to work. Upon duress, we very reluctantly paid the $175 for a chicken finger dinner and felt coerced throughout the entire Artesia experience.

The Bottom Line

BYOF: Bring Your Own Food. We don’t fault Air France Holidays for the myriad of problems that we encountered, but it’s clear that as a travel agent, they should have done a better job of clearly communicating exact details of what was… and was not included at every stage of the trip.

For the money we spent on premier couchette accommodations on Artesia, we did not deserve to be treated so terribly. It was a very negative experience that dramatically affected every member of our family. Whether or not the “dining car” is operated by a separate company, it doesn’t matter. Travelers and consumers should have the right to be shown the cost of anything they are expected to pay for. In our case, we would not have even gone into the dining car if we thought we were going to be charged outrageous prices for a very mediocre pasta and chicken finger dinner (and if we had not, our entire trip and Artesia experience would have been quite different). BYOF.

Retribution: For our these troubles, after we provided a detailed account of our misadventures and accompanying receipts, we were eventually compensated for the $175 dinner by Air France Holidays, our travel agent — one that we cannot recommend.

David Conti
David Conti is a health & wellness advocate, marketing executive, community leader, and creative corporate communicator. A graduate of Boston College, David’s many interests include corporate health programs, music, personal growth, sustainability, Qi Gong, and building a social media community. He is also the co-founder of NE Businesses for Social Responsibility, which he started in 1988.
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