Train Travel Hints

Class counts!  If you can swing it – go to the head of the class! Our business class seats on Frecciarossa between Milan and Rome had all the bells and whistles. Imagine, electric leather seats that accommodate a butt of substance and can slide into an almost sleep mode. Wifi that works was a plus as were the electric outlets.  All the seats had tables for two or for the working team or card sharks, seats and a table for four.  Each seat arrangement had a cute little clear plastic wall that separated the chosen few from the folks walking down the aisle.  Hey look at me – walking down the aisle to the clean and large bathroom.

First class seats are not leather and may or may not move – depending on the train.  They too have mostly four seats configured around a table with places to plug in.  But they were a wee bit more squished than business class.  I hate sitting near the window – great view but I have to climb over someone to get out.  That means they have to unplug their laptop, move their stuff and get up – ugggg.

The stewards come around in both first and business classes offering the included prosecco, caffè, tea, water and juice.  Both have a choice of snacks and my favorite – little packets of wet style wipes to clean up your yucky travel hands.

H’mm other differences?  I think it is just the size of the seats. Oh yeah, in both classes, the steward also offers newspapers and will take orders for the food available in the snack bar car.  Wow – a rhyme – I’m sure there is a classier name than snack bar car though the bar was stocked.  Adjacent to our business class car was a real dining car with menus, linens and comfy seats. We didn’t try it but plan to on another adventure.

Stop pouting. We’ve taken the slow poke regional trains too.  The too many hours in a hot sweaty car kind of trains that didn’t have enough seats – you know like New Jersey transit’s old diesel war horses during the commuting rush.  The regional train from Rome to Boiano can be standing with your suitcase room only.

Trenitalia offers the super speedy Frecciarossa family of trains.  Intercity and regional trains connect big cities and pokey little towns along the way.

Italia Rail offers background information on the train system. I just discovered at that web-site that Trenitalia and a private French rail company combined forces to create Thello (pronounced tell-OH), which operates overnight long-haul trains between Paris and Italy!  How glamorous to take  Thello through Switzerland and wake up in Paris!  Rats, what would I wear???

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Marta waves bye-bye from the Benevento Train Station

Train Hints

  1. When you are on line or in line figuring out which train to take from point A to point B make sure you look at the duration of the ride.  What?  It takes ten hours from here to there? Rats – is there a connection too?  Changing trains when you don’t speak the language can be a real adventure or a night mare.  Keep looking at the schedules.  Wait, look this train is only 4 hours – how could that be?  One is a local/regional train which may have a connection and one is a super duper fast train.  The fast trains cost more but….
  2. My good buddy Nicola looked at Jack and I and asked why we were taking the fast train to Venice.  He said we were pazzo! A flight from Naples on a budget airline was half the price of the train ticket and got there in an hour.  So check out other transportation options.  Here are some of the budget airlines – Easy JetRyanairMeridiana (Meridiana also has cheap flights, but I’m told uncomfortable unless you are a size 4, from New York to Italy.)
  3. When your get to a station use your train number to identity what track – binario – your train is on. My cousins had first class tickets from Rome to Benevento but didn’t realize it was the fast train to Lecce with a quick stop in Benevento. They inadvertantly got the slow boat to Benevento with the pigs and chickens. No one looked at their tickets and when the train poked along they panicked.  I panicked too when the didn’t disembark at the appointed time. Lesson learned – use the train number on your ticket to identify your train.
  4. If you are going to change trains – we do that from Milan to Benevento – it is super important at the station to look for the train numbers.  For example, the fast train from Milan to Rome that we take really goes further south.  If I didn’t look for the train number I’d get on the wrong train.  In Rome, the train we take to Benevento ends in Lecce.  We always look for the train number.
  5. Especially for the regional trains, make sure you go up to the box near the track and validate your ticket.  Sometimes you have to look for the boxes.  I tried to do this once with an e-ticket that I had printed and folded to fit.  It wouldn’t work, the train was coming, I yelled bad words in a lot of languages and stomped off.  So I stopped trying to validate  an e-ticket and  I haven’t gotten a fine.  Though I could – but hey, I’m a middle aged plus woman with a great smile. If you have a ticket make sure you stick it in the slot at the bottom of the box and get it stamped.  This is also important on buses and subways.
  6. When you find the binario – track – that the train is on you then have to find the right train car.  For the fast trains, your ticket has a carrozza – passenger car – number on it AND the seat number.  Don’t be fooled by the big number painted on all the cars – look for the smaller numbers near the doors. The signs will give the car number and what seats are near that door – cars have doors at both ends.  Even the regional trains are labeled.  We made the mistake of getting in a first class regional car – that looked as dumpy as the rest of the cars – and paid an up-charge.  PS – not all regional trains are dumpy.
  7. The train app – Info Treno- is helpful.  I like to follow my travels and get a handle on what stops are coming up.  You can use the application to help you pick trains too.  Following your train with the train number, however, is easier than trying to figure out what train to take.
  8. Luggage is a pain in the butt.  You have to schlep it.  I’m sure there must be porters but I’ve never seen anyone hustling for our bags.  The platforms are not all level with the trains.  There are steps up into the train.  That means you have to haul a suitcase up.  We only take small carry-on luggage when we take the train.  Even when we fly into Milan and train it to Benevento we send our big luggage on ahead. (Mail Boxes Etc.)  Business and first class trains have slots behind the seats for luggage. I tried to explain that to Jack as he was hernia bound lifting a bag onto the overhead shelf.  The big hint – was the picture of a suitcase in the space between the seats.  At the front of some cars on all trains – note the word some – there are shelves for luggage.  Luggage is a pain in the ass.

These hints are not meant to dissuade you.  We love the take the train.  The views are incredible.  I get to talk to all kinds of people and we sit back and relax.

Choo Choo!!!

Ci vediamo!

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Train to Venezia

The adventure was just starting  out and I discovered a great spot.  Our train trip to Rome on Trenitalia’s Frecciargento 9350 began in Benevento. My first stop – the ladies room. It was wonderful and I encourage all who end or begin their journeys in Benevento not to worry about using the bathroom. There were only two stalls but they were as big as horse stalls. That means you can take your suitcases in with you and not be squished. At New York’s Penn Station I shudder at how terrible it feels to have those bags pressing my knees. The other station  amenity that appealed to Jack was the bar. Due cappuccini per favore – cost 1.50 each – double what they cost in Pontelandolfo – but hey this is the city.

We decided to splurge and booked first class train tickets all the way to Venezia. Two tickets round trip cost us a total of €300. The first leg was Benevento to Roma with a quick change. The train arrived a wee bit early and we plopped ourselves in the commodious seats. It was a 4 top table just right for a game of bridge – which of course I don’t play. Oops, I’m sorry, Jack hasn’t quite plopped yet. His suitcase was too big to fit overhead and they don’t have a luggage rack at the front. Hmmm – put it on an empty seat! Good plan. (We lucked out and no one ever took that seat). The host came through with newspapers, snacks, water, sodas. Ahhhh.

The guy next to us had set up an office. Each seat has electric outlets so phone, lap tops – even wee portable printers can be set up. Commuting with style. Or is that working under pressure?

Out the windows, the hills of Sannio passed us by complete with sheep and shepherds. Jack read. I wrote. It was lovely. Than the other shoe dropped – what is that announcement about Caserta? There was a problem on the track after Caserta and we could sit there for 40 minutes. Beh! That puts a big damper in our travel plans – we have a connecting train in Rome. Our seat mate said I should talk to the Capo di Treno – who or what the hell is that? Lets go find out.

I walked through the first class cars towards the bar – how civilized – searching for Il Capo near the bar. Even though it is only 9:30 AM I am tempted to have a caffè corretto – toss that shot of grappa in that coffee please. Yes, he must be  Il Capo – I’m guessing head conductor. There, in a uniform that looked an awful lot like Captain Kagaroo’s, was the charming and robust Il Capo. He glanced at my ticket and said it would be easy to change the connection at Rome Termini – just go to the info kiosk between tracks 3 and 4. There is a train to Venezia every hour. Whoops – the train moved, I guess the wait wasn’t the predicted 40 minutes. We didn’t sit for 40 minutes, they put us on a different track. The sloooooo mo track from Campobasso to Roma. The same track the 12€ ticket from Boiano takes. The seats may be first class but we are poking along.

Looking at the bright side – it is a clear and sunny day – the wifi works! I jumped to an empty seat, set up my iPad and keyboard, put on my classy shades, watched the world go by and sighed. Oops, I sat up straight, sucked in my gut and smiled. Here comes the cute host boy again with more drinks and snacks. I’m being good and just looking not touching. AT the snacks – the snacks.

We pass Cassino. It’s laundry is fluttering from terra cotta and sun kissed yellow high rises. Smaller towns are bleeps as the train chugs on. Then countryside with plowed fields and neat small homes surrounded by goats and sheep enclosed in make shift fences. I expect to see barefooted children with their dogs standing near the tracks waving. Factories – 1950s style boxes – break up the green. I turn my head – a field of solar panels out one window and untouched hills out the other.
Staring is great fun and really relaxing until my inner “equal justice girl” roars out and and dons her cape. I realized that all of the beautiful verdant hills are unencumbered with freakin’ ugly wind mills. I’ve written about the windmill blight on the Southern Italy landscape. I just need to say it again. How come they don’t put any on the hills outside of ROME! Take a cleansing breath and get over it. Questa è italia.

That reminds me – no one ever checked our tickets. Does that mean you can scope out first class and ride for free?????

Any minute the view I find unbelievable will appear. Waiting for it – yes, yes, – I poke Jack awake – there they are – the wonderful Roman ruins.

Roma Termini is always a ZOO! Lots of folks getting off trains, getting on trains – New Yorkers, you can understand this. Le Frecce, the fast cool train, department of Trenitalia has quick fix booths between tracks 3 & 4. This is important to know. We did have to wait about 10 minutes to get our tickets to Venezia changed. Instead of being on the 11:50 that we missed by 40 minutes, we were on the 1:50.

Since we had time to kill, we looked for a restaurant with seats. Close to the tracks is an American Style joint called “Roadhouse Grill.” We knew it was American style because there was a life size cow statue by each door – like the ones that artists paint in cute American towns. I rolled my eyes and looked at Jack. “It has seats,” he said. We went in and what a pleasant surprise. Clean, well managed and if you like beef a great place. The steaks coming past us were rare and gorgeous. Jack had a cheeseburger and said it was good. I opted for Caesar Salad with grilled chicken breast. The chicken was a real breast – not pressed goop. It was again, surprisingly, good. Lunch with one beer and one bottle of mineral water cost us €31.60. Not bad for lunch in a major city.

We are finally on the way to Venezia! Train 9430 was waiting for us on track 3. Only problem was our seats weren’t together. Beh! I fixed that in a smile and a wink. Ahhhhh my own wide reclining chair with foot rests. Nice leather seats, wifi, big windows and have I mentioned foot rests?

The scenery changes. The mountains are off in the distance. This valley of small rolling hills must have caused invading armies sporting armor and spears to grunt and groan. We race through tunnels and zip by fairly modern houses painted in those terra-cotta and sunny colors. I long for purple or red or green.

We had our snack and the requisite glass of wine and acqua minerale then stared some more.

Filling my huge window are fortresses, lakes, and beautiful villas set back and surrounded by tall, skinny evergreens. Toscana I shout. Next stop Firenze. Che Bella. An Italian portrait right out my window. Know what else was beautiful? This train had a wheel chair, easily accessible, huge circular bathroom. Complete with toilet paper! Traveling with a handicapped student, I remember an Amtrack trip to Washington and it was the train trip of hell. This ain’t Amtrack.

The view keeps changing as we go. I am mesmerized by the shifting landscapes – mountains to rolling valleys to the plains of the north to the long bridge over the water to the station “Venezia Santa Lucia.”

We got off the train, dragged our bags out the front door and gasped. This is what greets the weary traveler.


PS – toilest at this train station costs €1 and are just OK.

Train Facts:

Great App for your phone – Info Treno

You can purchase Trenitalia tickets on line at www.Trenitalia.com. They have deals all the time.

Overhead space doesn’t hold big suitcases – airline carry on size works.

You may be sharing a 4 person table with strangers. There is no extra space on the floor for that giant Murano lamp.

Use the Train Number not where you are going when you are trying to find the right track. You may not know the last stop on the train and that is the town that will be posted.

Ci Vediamo.