The best part about traveling Europe is taking the train, especially an Italian train. I far prefer taking a train and spending hours looking out the window than dealing with airports and lines – so much so that I took the train for 49 hours to get from Spain to Italy.
That was a bit crazy.
Using the Eurail pass for the train is perfect for non-planners like me. Who may wake up one morning and decide they want to be in another town or even another country. But even I have been burned by taking the train.
Today I landed in Rome to spend 3 weeks throughout Italy. My hope was to get a quick train straight to Modena so I could spend the afternoon in the city. All I needed to do was head to the train station at the Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport to jump on a train to Termini station at Rome city centre where I could find a quick train to Modena.
I made a fatal flaw. As I bought my ticket at the ticket booth (in English) I saw the Italian train I wanted was leaving in 1 minute and figured I could make it. When I ran to the platform I jumped on the train and it took off.
Except I noticed that after 30 minutes none of the signs said Roma anymore and it looked like the countryside. I waited another 15 minutes and there were no longer train stations but commuter platforms. I was not on the right train.
I got off at the next station hoping to find a ticket booth that would help me renavigate but none was to be found so I went to the other side of the platform and jumped back on another train and prayed the train police wouldn’t come find me because I don’t speak Italian.
I was lucky and we passed by a huge station so I exited and was able to buy a ticket to Modena. I wasted a couple of hours but it reminded me that I should share other do’s and don’ts for taking Italian trains.
Essential Italian Train Tips
ITALIAN TRAIN: DO
Validate your ticket. Even if you buy a ticket for a specific time with a specific seat you need to find the machine that time stamps it. I was lucky the first time I took an Italian train because a woman asked me where the machine was and when I looked like a startled tourist she insisted I come with her. That same day I saw two Americans fined 75 Euro for not stamping it.
Even if you don’t speak Italian you can usually just gesture shoving the ticket and people will know what you want. Depending on where you go it could be this old yellow machine or newer green and grey ones. If you still can’t find it I’ve heard you can write the time and date with a pen and they’ll accept it.
Expect Italian trains to be on time. The high-speed options are accurate but the regional trains are often late. The upside is that they are less expensive so if you have the flexibility go slower.
Go get a drink and something to eat at the bar. There are photos of everything so you can just point. Expect to stand there are no seats.
Download the travel app DB Navigator it includes all of the Italian train schedules as well as other countries and will also tell you what platform. It’s been indispensable.
Jump on a train unless you are sure. On the outside of Italian trains it indicates the train number as well as the car number. They make it easy for you.
Next time I will take my own advice…1 minute is not enough time before the train leaves.