Back in 2011 I posted a practical three-part blog on using the Italian rail system. You can check them out here:
Train Travel in Italy (Part 1) – Understanding the Schedule
Train Travel in Italy (Part 2) – Purchasing Your Ticket and Boarding
Train Travel in Italy (Part 3) – Your Journey and Getting Off at the Right Stop
While much remains the same, a lot has changed in the last six or seven years. Nearly everything we’ve encountered recently is much improved, from the automated kiosks for purchasing tickets, to the ticket validating boxes, to the information screens in the stations, to the trains themselves. Here’s a brief update on some of the changes:
Purchasing Your Ticket
It is still possible to purchase your ticket at one of the manned ticket windows in many stations. The bad news is fewer windows are now open and many smaller stations have no ticket window at all. The good news is that automated kiosks are more plentiful and reliable. They are multilingual and accept both credit cards and small bills (in euro, of course).
Validating Your Ticket
It is still essential to validate your ticket before boarding in one of the machines in the station. Failure to have your ticket stamped will result in a huge fine if the conductor catches you.The good news here again is that the notoriously inefficient yellow metal validation boxes are gone; replaced by more reliable blue green plastic gizmos. The slot to slip in your ticket is clearly marked. Just make sure to align your ticket to the left. You’ll hear the machine stamp your ticket if all works as it should.
If the machine you’re using does not stamp, find another, and if you’re out of luck board the train, but find the conductor right away. Don’t wait for him to find you!
On a recent trip to the Sud Tirol (northern Italy), Barbara and I found sophisticated blue validation boxes capable of reading train tickets electronically as well as travel cards such as the Sud Tirol MobilCard. It was a bit disconcerting to have the machine swallow your ticket and then spit it back out validated from another slot.
Electronic Screens in the Station
At one time we had to rely on massive paper schedules in the station and trackside as well as a loudspeaker with an electronic voice that sounded like someone was speaking Italian into a paper bag. Thank goodness those days are gone. Nearly every station now has electronic screens, both inside and trackside, making keeping track of the train you want much easier. The information includes the train’s destination, its scheduled arrival time as well as if it is late and what track (binario) it will be on.
On the Train
Trenitalia has been continually upgrading its trains. Not only are they more modern and comfortable, but they are more user friendly for passengers. The trains now have realtime video screens, some showing velocity as well as the time and upcoming stations. More cars are now handicapped-accessible.
The big news is the private Italian high speed rail service – Italo. It runs on many of the major lines like Venice to Florence, and Florence to Rome, and is competitive in every regard to the deluxe high-speed TrenItalia Freccia service. We have used the Italo twice and cannot speak highly enough about it.
Some General Advice
It doesn’t matter how seasoned a traveler you are; the best advice I can give you is don’t be in a hurry. This is when most mistakes are made. Barbara and I got on the wrong train just this past spring (all my fault – I admit). We arrived late and were in a rush. I realized it as soon as the train left the station – in the wrong direction! It was really no big deal, but could have been avoided if I would’ve heeded my own advice. Slow down and pay attention!
|Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.