Travelling Italy by train has been on my wish list for many years. I think it is on many people’s bucket list as one of those “must dos”. On our two week journey around Italy by train and bus we had some great and not so great experiences…
Our first train was an exciting experience on a Trenitalia Frecciarossa train from Milan to Rome. These are the sleekest and fastest trains in Italy. They look modern, have many carriages and the inside is just as nice, with comfy seats, fold up tables and significant luggage storage above your heads. There are also screens along the walk way with advertisements and useful information such as where the train is on a map and the speed. We were taken aback when we saw the train speed had picked up to 191 kph! But it was only just getting started as it pushed on reaching a top speed of 299 kph! No wonder it took less than three hours to travel nearly half the length of the country! We didn’t realise it went so bloody quick! It was good fun though, as the ride felt so smooth for most of the journey and it certainly didn’t feel like we were going at about 180 mph, unless we looked out of the window…we did see some beautiful countryside, apart from when we went through tunnels. Having no view was the least of our problems, however, as it made our ears pop like we were descending swiftly in an aeroplane!
All our Trenitalia journeys were on a Frecciarossa train, except our last one from Florence to Venice, which was with an older class of train, a Frecciargento. This train had a longer nose and half the amount of carriages. I was looking forward to a different type of train but we had been spoilt by the Frecciarossa. The argento had less room for luggage, along with smaller seats and a slower speed. At least the latter meant no ear pain. But overall the trains with Trenitalia were fun. They’re all generally well maintained with good service, except for some of the older trains that looked like they had seen much better days in the far distant past.
When we were in Naples we had to leave Trenitalia and use the Circumvesuviana line. These trains were frequent and busy and no where near as fancy looking. We had to get one of these trains to Sorrento, which had some great views of the Gulf of Naples, as long as the window you were looking out of wasn’t covered in graffiti. The train moved quickly and efficiently along the coast, stopping often. It was more like a metro than a train, as many locals used it in their daily life. There was no air con, luggage space was limited and getting a seat was also a challenge. It was much more of a bumpy ride too. An almost surreal moment occurred whenever the train went through a tunnel with the windows open, it created a mixture of strong winds and loud sounds of the train and wind gushing through the carriages. I felt like Winston in Ghostbusters!
There was graffiti at all of the stations we visited, but the graffiti at the train stations around the Amalfi coast was on another level. In some places there was no space left on the walls to graffiti anymore, even the signs showing the names of the stations had been covered. The graffiti problem isn’t specific to Italy. We have seen excessive graffiti in many European destinations – Crete, Lanzarote, Prague and Portugal, to name a few. But on these occasions the graffiti was dotted around in random places, as you would expect to see it. But with the stations along the Amalfi Coast to be so covered in grafitti that it is not possible to read which station you’re arriving in, I don’t understand why nothing is being done about it. I don’t understand why the government isn’t doing something about it. Southern Italy is much poorer than the north, but surely the graffiti can be painted over, stricter laws could be put in place as a deterrent or even better security at train stations, such as a guard, a security camera or simply just some proper fencing to stop kids getting on the track. Maybe I’m naive, but it’s just my opinion.
Our most traumatic travel experience was not on a train but a bus from Sorrento to Positano on the Amalfi Coast. The main issue was a clash of two cultures. The English speaking tourists queuing appropriately, against the Italian locals who obviously thought it was about who could get on the bus first. Our bus ticket was only €2.70 each and we got to the bus ten minutes before it was supposed to depart. We thought we joined the end of the queue, as we stood behind people standing up the steps of the bus. But after a few minutes had passed it was clear the bus was full and then it left. We presumed the people standing around were waiting for another bus as they were showing no effort to get on the bus that had just departed, so we stayed where we were until we were told to move to the actual end of the queue when a rude Australian woman told us that all the people standing around were actually waiting for the next bus.
As we waited for the next one the queue began to increase. Tourists went to the back of the line while locals hung around where they wanted until they were told by some miffed tourist to move to the back. They all complied until a bunch of local kids showed up and failed to grasp the concept. Once the bus showed up I knew it wasn’t going to be straightforward, but what I didn’t expect was once it became time to get on the bus the two docile older American men that had been in the queue and quietly sitting on a wall the entire time let the red mist descend, at which point the shit hit the fan.
The door was opened along with the luggage compartment on the side of the bus, at which point the two men jumped up, grabbed their luggage and charged for the luggage space, while their wives surged forward onto the bus, making sure the the local kids could not get on. The problem escalated when the two men turned on the rest of us. One of the guys threw his bags in the compartment and while I quickly threw our two rucksacks in he turned back for another suitcase barging through the crowd, nearly knocking over a mother and her two small children. The other man started physically pushing the people in front of him in the queue getting a few stiff words from my wife while doing so. I thought, wait a minute, it’s the tourists versus the locals here, we should be working together! But by this stage as the bus filled up and people appeared to take the – we have to get on the bus or we die approach, I had to join the scrum by the door…
I had already given one of the locals a little shove with my rucksack as she tried to nonchalantly take me on the inside. But once I just had my little backpack on I joined up with a big friendly American girl for cover and pushed, shoved and shouldered my way to the bus’s steps. The bus was rammed full with a mixture of shell shocked tourists and casually unaware locals. I think what annoyed me the most about the whole experience was not the rudeness and sheer ignorance of the locals, but how they didn’t seem to react to being pushed and shouldered and seemingly had no awareness of what was happening.
However, the whole pushing and shouldering issue wasn’t just to do with transport. Walking the streets of anywhere in Italy people very rarely got out of your way. They will knock and bash you instead of stepping aside, not apologise and not even appear to show any awareness that they did it. I managed to get a few retaliation knocks of my own in though, which ironically they did notice. While in Venice a couple bashed into my wife seemingly unaware of her existence. They stopped a few steps away from us to talk between themselves. So I headed straight for them and squeezed myself straight through the middle of them both, trying to replicate what they had just done themselves. They looked at me in shock, as they should, but that just showed that they didn’t realise their ignorance in the first place.
Suffice to say on the journey back to Sorrento from Positano we booked a private transfer. It cost us 60 euros, the driver was late because he missed our hotel and he dropped us off at Piano di Sorrento train station instead of Sorrento station, but it was still better than taking the bus…
Overall travelling through Italy was a wonderful and exciting experience. To get the best out of it I suggest using Trenitalia as much as possible and being one of the first on the train, especially if you’re getting a Frecciargento train. We booked our Trenitalia tickets all before we left for Italy, saving us a lot of money. With the Sita bus that goes around the Amalfi coast, it is cheap and pretty frequent, so it is a good form of transport if you don’t mind a wait and a bit of a scrap. But then again, we could have just had an unlucky journey.
Tripadvisor is also good for info on travelling around Italy.