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Beware the Italian Train system!

Author: Linda von Merveldt
Date of Trip: October 2012



My husband and I just returned from a 12 day cruise around the Mediterranean, most of the ports being in Italy. As both of us have traveled in Italy before, we were over-confident of our ability to negotiate the Italian Train system. Regional and local trains are NOT like travel by Euro Star and if one is not well prepared in advance, can be frustrating, time-consuming, unpleasant, and COSTLY. I'll condense the review as follows:

Getting to the train station:

Train stations at Livorno and Naples are not easily reached from port. One has to negotiate shuttles, taxis, or local busses to get there. Our cruise ship staff AND a fellow cruiser both seriously underestimated the distance to the train station from the Naples Port. Walking more than a mile though the crowds and dirty streets of Naples was an unsettling and exasperating experience EVEN THOUGH we are physically fit and capable of walking long distances.

At the train station:

At the train station, there is the bewilderment of trying to figure out where to go, once there, to buy tickets, and how to communicate one's travel intentions to the staff at the ticket counters. Few of the people there seemed to speak enough English to allow clear communication and understanding. Knowing Spanish helps some (the languages are somewhat similar) but is not enough.

On the train:

Regional trains are grimy, and at busy times, simply stuffed with travelers. You may or may not get a seat. The windows on these are dirty, so it's hard even to appreciate the lovely countryside going by.

Time and ease:

If one wants to go from port to a location (say, Lucca for example) where there is no direct train, then one's travel time is accordingly lengthened by the wait time at the station for your connecting train.

Cost:

FOR NOT VALIDATING A $10.00 TICKET WE PURCHASED, WERE FINED $52.00!

Train travel can be quite low- cost, but the confusion of negotiating the system, and lengthy wait times, can reduce it's overall value. And, BEWARE OF FINES! These can be stiff, and can easily trump any cost savings you'd hoped to realize by taking a train as opposed to an organized tour. If you haven't traveled this way (and we had not) you are likely to be unaware that tickets must be VALIDATED prior to boarding, or you will be fined. It is not explained to inexperienced travelors that train tickets purchased on regional trains are not same-day tickets. They are good for travel within a several month period, and MUST be validated prior to boarding. In our case, we saw the machines, but thought our tickets were same-day tickets, and this did not apply to us. So, we would up with a stiff fine by the conductor, of 40 Euros. THIS IS A COMMON EXPERIENCE FOR INEXPERIENCED TOURISTS, as we later learned. It is hard not to suspect that the train system gets a considerable amount of additional revenue from from naive/ignorant/unsuspecting tourists who aren't savvy enough to figure this out on their own.

So, to take the train, or not take the train:

I would recommend that people take trains only if they are on a limited budget and must do so in order to avoid the costs of a private or organized tour. If time is short, plan accordingly, too, as train travel can be a slow way to get to preferred sights, and precious time can be eaten up waiting for trains to take you where you want to go, and return you when you want to go back. I'd personally want to get a step-by-step manual, explaining the layout of the station, where to go, and what to do, point by point. It's a sink-or-swim experience otherwise.

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