Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (https://www.fodors.com/community/)
-   Europe (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/)
-   -   Our train experience in Italy, FYI (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/our-train-experience-in-italy-fyi-957761/)

SB_Travlr Nov 27th, 2012 09:59 AM

Our train experience in Italy, FYI
 
We were in Venice in September, and at the end of that stay, took a train first to Bologna, then another to Milano. Here's what we learned:

1. I wished I had less luggage -- but it was a long trip that began in sunny September Rome, and ended in cool English October. Oh, and a Windstar cruise also. We still had a few things we didn't use, but the luggage started to feel like a ball and chain!

2. We weren't sure about what time we'd want to travel, so did not buy a Venice - Bologna ticket till we were actually in Venice. We decided to check out the vaporetto trip to the station the day before, so bought our tickets then when we could easily see what would work best for our schedule.

3. We bought first class tickets, thinking there would be more room there. WRONG! The rail car was packed with travelers from all over, many of them coming from cruises. With lots of luggage. It also turned out to be the train that continued on to Firenze and Roma, so it was very popular/convenient.

4. We were a bit too leisurely to board the train (our seats were reserved), so all the prime luggage space in racks and at the end of the cars was pretty full. Thanks to helpful fellow passengers, we managed to wrangle our bags okay -- but the storage space soon filled up, and some bags were just left next to the rack where they blocked the walkway... No issues from the train conductor, but I don't think it would be approved on BritRail!!

5. When we arrived in Bologna (a very busy and large station) we decided to buy our tickets for Milan right away. I joined a very long line for the booking office, but a guy in an official "Travel Information" vest came over to say that he would help us book tickets from the machine. I was a bit dubious at first, but it worked out great. I speak some Italian, and he spoke a bit of English, so we worked it out. He was very helpful, found us seats on the fast train (in First again), and then found a half-price rate as long as we did not change our reservation. Not a problem, and we were happy with the savings.

6. Train to Milan: we arrived at the station in plenty of time, and discovered that the train was going to be 35 minutes late (it was coming from Naples). We had already learned that to change platforms at Bologna station, you have to take an elevator down to underground tunnel, then another elevator up to your platform. It was well signed, but I had High Anxiety about how much time we would have to make the move once our platform was posted, and get ourselves to the right place on the platform for the first-class car.

7. As it turned out, no worries. They posted the platform number about ten minutes before the train arrived (55 minutes late), so we had enough time to get us (and our luggage, grrrr) into place. It was less crowded, so there was space to put the bags between seats and in overhead racks, with a bit of an assist from a fellow passenger. The train turned out to be a comfortable, roomy high-speed Eurostar, and we zipped along. Speed gauge in the carriage kept us posted about speed, and at one point we reached 300 km/hour!!

So my advice? Travel as light as you can, and be grateful for help from officials and fellow passengers with muscles. And get yourself into place on the platform before the boarding scramble begins. :-)

wendywired Nov 27th, 2012 02:23 PM

Deare SB_Travlr,

Your tips are very helpful. One question: if you had it to do over, would you have bought your tickets in advance or was the convenience of buying them at the time you wanted once you were in Italy worth it?

Thank you!

Wendywired

worldinabag Nov 27th, 2012 02:47 PM

Hi

Thanks for the feedback. We also experienced the problems highlighted with baggage. Luckily there was a couple of spare seats so we stored our bags there. We bought 2nd class tickets (Florence to Venice) and thought this was the reason for the luggage storage "free for all" i.e you get what you pay for. I vowed I would pay the extra to travel first class next time in the hope that luggage storage would be a more orderly experience. Clearly from your report this isn't a solution either. To be honest I found travelling by bus a less harrowing experience. Luggage is stored underneath the carriage and the bus driver provides assistance if required. In future I will choose bus travel over train travel if travel times are not too dissimilar.

willowjane Nov 27th, 2012 03:43 PM

Thank you so much for this information. I know it is probably silly, but I am a bit nervous about the new experience of train travel for us next year in Italy . You gave some good ts and information.

girlonthego Nov 27th, 2012 04:10 PM

Thanks SB Traveler for the train tips! We will be traveling by train from Switzerland into Italy next May. So, we will have to be on our toes and I am telling my girls to pack light!

Mimar Nov 27th, 2012 04:13 PM

Yes, on the bus your luggage is stored for the duration of the trip. OTOH, if the bus makes intermediate stops, you have to watch to see no one steals your luggage. This happened to a friend of mine.

First class is rarely so crowded. It must just have been because the OP coincided with a cruise ship group.

kybourbon Nov 27th, 2012 06:35 PM

>>>I joined a very long line for the booking office, but a guy in an official "Travel Information" vest came over to say that he would help us book tickets from the machine.<<<

This sounds very odd. Is there a reason you didn't use the machine on your own (they are self-service machines)? Did you pay/tip this guy?

SB_Travlr Nov 27th, 2012 08:15 PM

Glad the report is helpful: the getting-on-the-train/bag schlepping and storing part is always the most problematic, I think.

kybourbon (great name, btw): I didn't pay or tip the guy, he's there expressly to help folks like me. Official, not a scam. I was a bit leery of using the machine because I had not done so before, and I wanted to be certain we made the right/best selections. Not sure whether or not I should feel insulted by your question -- I'm not an eejit! Trenitalia provides helpful folks like him as a service for tourists like us. We appreciated it. :-)

wendywired, I don't know if there is any particular saving to buying the tickets ahead. I did look into the idea, but we really did not know what time we would want to be getting the train -- it was our first visit to Venice. We were happy with the way it worked out.

StCirq Nov 27th, 2012 08:24 PM

Brilliant. Overpacking is a real curse. Thanks for validating it.

sundriedpachino Nov 27th, 2012 09:41 PM

SB_Travler, your post made us laugh thinking of our first few experiences on trains ie Rick Steve's paranoia about getting your luggage stolen. As newbies, we were intent on keeping an eye on our luggage the whole time. What was a thief going to do, throw our bags and himself out the train at 300 kph?

sundriedpachino Nov 27th, 2012 09:46 PM

By the way, we saw a LOT of people standing in line to buy tickets. They obviously didn't know about, or were a little reticent to use the self serve machines as well. No, you are not an eejit.

Dukey1 Nov 28th, 2012 03:35 AM

Travel light and plan to do laundry!

Dukey1 Nov 28th, 2012 03:36 AM

Oh, and in places like Venice where trains start out..get there earlier than you did.

annhig Nov 28th, 2012 03:48 AM

kybourbon (great name, btw): I didn't pay or tip the guy, he's there expressly to help folks like me. Official, not a scam. I was a bit leery of using the machine because I had not done so before, and I wanted to be certain we made the right/best selections. Not sure whether or not I should feel insulted by your question -- I'm not an eejit! Trenitalia provides helpful folks like him as a service for tourists like us. We appreciated it. >>

beware though people who will approach you at places like Termini when you are using the machines and offer to "help" you. a swift "non, grazie" should suffice, or if they are more persistent "vai via"! [go away].

I agree with the travel light advice - I thought that i had til I had to hump my case on and off the trains. BTW, many stations have lifts and/or ramps, but they are not obvious. on my outward journey last year because i was so nervous I didn't spot them at all, but on the way back, i managed to find them. they are probably there, if you look.

kybourbon Nov 28th, 2012 04:30 AM

>>>Trenitalia provides helpful folks like him as a service for tourists like us<<<

Trenitalia doesn't typically provide this. I've never seen this in any of the main train stations, only people dressed as if they were official trying to get tips. Naples has a lot of scammers that look official (dressed in a type of uniform) wanting to help with luggage or tickets, but they aren't (a lot of threads about this on Fodor's and other travel sites). In Rome, they aren't usually in uniforms and the police usually come around and make them move on. They just hang out around the machines offering to help and then demand a tip. Perhaps Trenitalia is making more of an effort to get tourists to use the machines instead of the ticket windows.

>>>We were a bit too leisurely to board the train (our seats were reserved), so all the prime luggage space in racks and at the end of the cars was pretty full<<<

On the AV and ES trains in Italy, there is space behind your seat to hold luggage also (unless you are in the seats at the end of the car). Up to a 25" structured case or a 30" duffel will fit.

For anyone wanting to use the machines, they are touch screen and you can select English. Here's screen-by-screen instructions.
http://www.roninrome.com/%20transpor...ickets-updated

bilboburgler Nov 28th, 2012 05:23 AM

If you think luggage is a problem try taking a couple of bikes, and as for changing platforms due to last minute changes they can be a nightmare. "Luckily" bikes have to go on the regionale (slow) trains which are often very difficult to get into with tourists lying on the floor etc. It can be very odd if the conductors have given up.

Normally conductors get very uppity if you bag is blocking an aisle, I think you got lucky.

The people who offer to help in many italian stations are not provided by the rail company and will expect a tip, or may even run off with the luggage (if possible) take care. On the other hand I've seen very elderly Americans at Roma and other station tired out of their minds, not sure how to ask for help and I've had to decline the tip :-)

Mimar Nov 28th, 2012 07:07 AM

In Italy you can buy train tickets at travel agencies with the Trenitalia logo in their window. No need to puzzle at a machine or wait in a long line while in a hurry. Most Italian travel agents speak good English. Look out for such an agency while sightseeing and just drop in. It's a much more leisurely experience. And you pay no surcharge for tickets bought this way.

GAC Nov 28th, 2012 12:49 PM

QUOTE:

"We bought first class tickets, thinking there would be more room there. WRONG! The rail car was packed with travelers from all over, many of them coming from cruises. With lots of luggage"

It always amazes me, in reading travel postings, to see how many tourists (mostly non-Italians) who choose first class seats on the Trenitalia fast trains (often at the full, "BASE" fare), believing them to be much more comfortable than second class (which they are not, in the main).

I make it a point to choose first class only if I can find a SUPER ECONOMY ticket not much more expensive than the fare I would otherwise be paying in second class for that particular train. Otherwise, I choose second class!

P.S.: First class seats on these trains ARE somewhat more comfortable, but usually not worth the significant additional cost. I don't want to give the impression that there are no differences whatsoever between first and second class! First class seats have 8.5 centimeters more seat/shoulder room, up to 5 centimeters more leg room (NOT in all cases), and you are given a complimentary snack and beverage at the beginning of the trip (Frecciarossa/Frecciargento; and Frecciabianca trains between Turin/Milan/Venice/Trieste).

SB_Travlr Nov 28th, 2012 02:02 PM

Well, for those folks who want to warn me about travel scams: I appreciate your comments :-) and thanks, but we've got that covered. Been to Italy (and elsewhere) plenty of times, and we're pretty well aware. I knew this guy was on the up and up because I had observed him (and others in the same uniform) working with travelers at the station, at info booth near booking office, and at the ticket change booth. Tipping was not expected or offered.

It's kind of a shame if we are so indoctrinated to look for a scam that we cut ourselves off from anyone who might genuinely want to help! And our helpful luggage wranglers were guys coming from one of the cruises, who were wrestling their own big bags too. Well, apart from the young Japanese guy who helped us in Venice. I just think of them as unexpected travel angels, and they've come along many times, in many different places. (One was a charming Italian woman who warned us away from a "helpful" guy at Naples train station on our last trip.)

My DH has knee and shoulder issues, so heavy bags can be a problem. My new rule: Never pack more than you can lift over your head. That will make it pretty limited in my case!

Mimar, thanks for the travel agent tip. We hadn't seen any in our relatively short time in Bologna. But then, we weren't really looking for one...


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:59 PM.