Upon my arrival in Italy in 1992 and after a series of interviews with diverse architectural studios in Milan, Italy I found myself on the verge of not finding and opening in a firm that would be at the level of what I had left back at Miami (at the time I was working at one of South Florida’s biggest firms at that moment)
After running around for 5 months and countless interviews I was ready to give up and pack my bags along with my newlewed wife Elisabetta and head back to Miami this effectively ending my Italian adventure.
How of the blue I received a call from my sister in law who told me that their might be an opening for a position at a firm that designs Cruise Ships. Rolling up my selves I decide to go down to Genoa, where this office is located and give it a try. The interview went well and the salary offer was well above my expectations but their was one catch: the job was in Genoa which is roughly an hour and fifty minutes away from Milan.
I decide to take the position anyway and so starts my adventure with the Italian Ferrovie del Stato (Italian Railroad system) which has been ongoing till today.
This qualifies me as an expert on Italian train travel I would say…
Italy has a very extended railway system which covers 80 percent of the country with a series of outdated trains but at very reasonable prices. Just don’t expect comfort and cleaniness to be a priority on the secondary lines (so called Inter Regionale or Intercity lines).
As I have travelled on the Milan-Genoa line with Intercity trains for such a long time some considerations to bear in mind:
1. No big difference between 1st Class and 2nd Class
Their is no real big difference in the comfort level between both classes (yes the seats are wider but the cabins still date back to the 1970’s!)
I would recommend to go 1st class only on the basis of how many bags you are carrying and if it is high end season (July/August) since 2nd Class is super packed during the summer.
2.If you are travelling on an Interreggional train DONT FORGET TO STAMP YOUR TICKET!
This is a must! You will find prehistorical yellow boxes at most of the old stations or the new horrible looking green, white and red modern looking
Ticket punchers at more modern stations (My definition of a modern station hovers on Milan, Bologna and Rome….the rest of the stations are currently undergoing renovations so to say…)
If you do not obliterate the ticket you will get a fine that ranges in price depending on the mood of the ticket controller. If the guy is nice (and I have been lucky) you can get away with just a verbal reprimand but if he is not so nice we can be looking at a 50 euro fine.
3.Do not expect announcements in English at the train stations informing you that your train has been switched to another track!
I can count by the dozens the amount of times I have had to tell fellow English speaking folks that they better hurry to track 25 since the train will no longer pass on the platform they are calmy waiting on while they take selfies of themselves and their dog.
The same goes for the announcements on the train. Some of these train announcers would benefit from a Rosetta Stone Level 1 English course in my humble opinion. Just saying.
4.Do not hangout at train stations during the evening or for extended periods of time
I consider Italy to be one of the safest places I have ever lived in (Coming from Caracas, New York and Miami…yes it’s safe!) but the train stations tend to gather a vast amount of derelicts, homeless drunks and riftraff.
Please don’t sleep overnight in the stations or the surrounding parks and try to avoid spending excessive amount of time in them or the surrounding metro extensions. In Milan and Rome band of gypsies tend to target tourist with big suitcases and are experts in pickpocketing so steer straight to a guard or police officer if they start harassing you.
That is it for the basic secondary lines. Their is a high speed rail system that has been in place for the last 10 years and that is really a whole other story! The Freccia Rossa, Freccia Bianca and Italo Highspeed rail lines are the way to go if you are travelling between the major tourist cities of Milan – Florence – Rome – Naples – Turin – Bologna – Venice. Brand new modern trains that travel at over 130kms per hour can whisk you from Milan to Rome in 4 hours (by car it will take you around 6 hours to get there).
They have been discussing of building a high speed rail from Milan to Genova that would reduce my trip down to 45 minutes for the last 8 years but with my luck they will probably cut the ribbon for it the day I decided to retire! An ongoing joke with my fellow train companions that we toss around just for laughs