Discovering Your Inner Train Geek

I’m lucky to have Paul with me, at least for the first third of this trip. His company is enough – his willingness to write a blog post is icing on the cake. This one’s from Paul.

Here’s a tip for anyone staying near Orvieto and contemplating a day trip into Rome or Florence: it’s eminently doable, but simply rolling out of bed whenever you please (as we did) and showing up at the Orvieto train station (as we also did) with the intention of hopping a train to Rome (as we had) puts you at risk of a brief interruption in marital bliss (as we had), hereinafter referred to as a “BIMB.”

Here are two ways to avoid this and get the most out of your day-trip-by-train. First, don’t try it on your second day in Italy – you’ll be too jet-lagged to get moving early enough to make the most of your time in either city. Instead, do it on a day when you feel like getting up and out the door a little early. You can get to Rome or Florence by train before 10 a.m., but in each case count on catching a train that leaves Orvieto before 8 a.m.  (One Florence-bound and five Rome-bound trains do.) Don’t worry, the train’s rocking motion will help you recapture the sleep you bypassed. And it’ll be easy to find a train that gets you back to Orvieto in time for dinner (say, 7 to 7:30), if not a nap beforehand. This requires carefully studying the train schedule.

Which brings me to my second way to avoid having your day trip to Rome or Florence start off with a BIMB: one of you must be willing to find your “inner train geek.” Italian train schedules are readily available online. This easy access helps you familiarize yourself with the schedule and its symbols well ahead of time, long before you have your loving spouse breathing down your neck accusing you of misreading it.

Obviously, the definitive schedule (“orario”) is on the wall of the train station on the day you’re traveling. I find these schedules hypnotic, causing me to stand there for what must seem to Karen like hours, mouth agape in full fly-catcher mode. I dart back and forth from “Partenze” (the outbound schedule) to “Arrivi” (the return schedule), calculating trip duration (e.g., the fastest to Rome from Orvieto takes 52 minutes), and noting train types (the fastest are Eurostar, Intercity, and Euronight) and schedule changes for holidays (“festivi”), of which the Italians have un sacco (a lot). If you’ve mastered both the schedule and your traveling companions’ normal vacation pace, don’t be afraid to swagger to the counter and order up round-trip (“andata/ritorno”) tickets, rather than buying two one-way (“andata”) tickets. This should save you time on the other end.

One last piece of advice:  if you’ve got time to kill before the next train leaves for Rome or Florence, instead of cooling your heels inside the station’s sterile lounge, consider distracting your family or loved one with a coffee or spremuta (fresh-squeezed orange juice), or else a quick and cheap (€1) ride up the Orvieto funicular, which you can catch just across the street from the station.

Artist’s rendering of K&P, post-BIMB