Friday, 1 June 2007

Italian Trains

I'd say I'm fairly experienced when it comes to using Italian trains - especially since I lived in Rome for four years - but travelling in Italy - and with Italians - is always nerve-wracking.

Take my seemingly straight-forward journey from Milano Centrale to Stresa on Monday evening. Firstly, to check the stops that a particular train is making you have to find a large yellow sheet listing all the daily departures - but there are only a few displayed even in the larger stations, and you have to make sure you're not reading the arrivals sheet by mistake.

Then you have to validate (or stamp) your ticket, making sure the machine you're using actually works: I stamped my ticket immediately on purchase but, once I got on the train, realised it had left no mark!

The train was due to leave at 19.25. Imagine my horror when the train started moving out of Centrale station at 19.10!!! Panic ensued and I asked a Mexican if the train was going to Stresa - he didn't know but did ask me if I was a Legionary of Christ! Finally a kindly man assured me that this was indeed the 19.25 train but that they were just changing engines and would return to the platform shortly.

Here I must confess that I chose to travel First Class, especially after the tedious flight with Easyjet (90 minutes late). The first class carriage was very comfortable and, best of all, the ticket cost EUR 6.80 - that's cheaper than a day travelcard in London AND it was for a journey of 87km. However, the first class compartment soon got rather full and noisy. I anxiously awaited the conductor, to double check that I was on the right train. When he came, 80% of the carriage emptied, as the second class ticket-holders went to their respective carriage!

Still, Italian railways are cheap and pretty efficient - and I got to Stresa in one piece and within half an hour of arriving was happily drinking some vino rosso and tucking into a calzone.



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