I’ve spent a fair bit of time with Italian public transport (and English public transport, generally any transport accept hitch hiking). I have mostly travelled by train in Italy, though my experience of buses did involve main roads where slow cars were over taken by an impatient bus driver. I honestly can’t remember if I embellished the phone in his hand, but I don’t think so. This was the outskirts of Tuscany where buses were few and far between (mainly operating for school hours) and involved waiting hopefully by a delicately thin bus stop pole next to a main road. What I did find was that, in my experience, some of the buses I was on did not have bells. This was an oddity for me, and made stopping the bus tricky. Especially as it was unlikely to pause anywhere on the main road on its own volition. In the end I got up twice, the first with a tentative “ferma” which I had just looked up in my phrasebook, the second with a more firm – panicked – “ferma” as my stop sailed away at least a kilometre from me. Be nice to the timid, we end up with long walks in the too hot heat. My brief experience of driving (not me, someone else driving while I was the pampered passenger) was hectic. Fast and, yes I’ll say it, on the wrong side of the road!
For me, by train is a good way to get around Italy. Not that there haven’t been issues. My first attempt of lone travel involved an hour wait for a train after stepping off the plane, but I was too relieved to be on the right platform to be worried. Worried? I’d just arrived from England and there was the sun! I sat back and relaxed. A worse experience was travelling to Siena, after train strikes we ended up stuck in Florence. It was a Sunday and we should have been checking the travel updates, I will do now (at least, I plan to). We got a train out and back in again before doing what we should have done the first time, and grabbing a coach. I haven’t travelled by coach much in Italy, but the Florence to Siena one was lovely and relaxing after the day we’d had (it was sunset just as we were drawing away). The coach station is close to the train station we didn’t have any trouble finding the coach and getting tickets, much to my pessimism’s surprise.
This isn’t painting trains in a good light is it? Other than these moments, which yes can be stressful (like all travelling, though even then in company isn’t that bad), I’ve really enjoyed travelling by train across Italy. Cheap (compared to my usual train fare anyway), comfy and the first double-deckers I’d seen. I did find travelling at night to the smaller stations was tricky, the lack of lights on the platforms made getting to my stop a bit more guesswork than is comforting.
The main thing I’d say for travelling in Italy (if you’ve been before you’ll know what I’m going to say) is validating your ticket. There is a machine on the platform (like there is on buses for bus tickets) which stamps the date on your ticket and without this you can be fined. I actually think this is a really good system, you can choose when to use your ticket this way, but I was surprised to find little information about it considering the importance. I’ve heard a few people say they’ve ended up being fined which seems like such a shame, and would be incredibly frustrating. I only saw it on the off-chance while overly researching my first lone trip. Without this I would not have thought of using those innocuous (usually green) machines. Now you know, they’ll be easy to spot and you can avoid the fines.
Overall I would say taking the train in Italy is my favourite. I hope one day to attempt the terrifying and use a moped in Italy, and I’d definitely like to try cycling in some of the gorgeous country side. Hopefully this will be a future post, when I complain of the ensuing soreness. However for seeing a lot of Italy nothing beats the train for me. The views, being dropped straight into the city, planning your day trips around places accessible via the rails, watching your new destination draw closer from the train window, it is all brilliant.
(Now, say the title five times fast.)