Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Train in Italy

Traveling by train while jet lagged in a foreign country may seem like a daunting task, but you can do it! I recently arrived in Rome, found the train station in the airport, bought a ticket and rode to the main terminal in Rome (Roma Termini), bought another ticket and rode to Florence (Firenze). After a few days there, I took the train to Orvieto, which is the closest train station to Benano.

I am woman of let’s say “mature” years, and I did all this train riding without any help, all by myself. And, it was a very pleasant experience—not to mention less stressful and cheaper than taking the same route with a rental car.

Of course, once you get to Orvieto, you will need to rent a car to get to Benano and see the sights in the nearby Umbrian countryside and small villages. For visits to the larger cities and more distant sites in Umbria and Tuscany, you can choose to drive to Orvieto and take the train. It will be easy since you have already got the hang of the Italian train system.

The first thing you should do is visit the Trenitalia website at www.trenitalia.com

Here you will find all kinds of information about the trains in Italy including instructions for buying tickets online and downloading a mobile app for your smart phone or i-Pad.  Here you can see schedules and times to help you plan your trip.

I do not recommend buying a ticket online to be used immediately upon arrival in Rome. Your flight might be delayed or canceled. Besides, it is very easy to purchase a ticket at the station.

In the Rome airport, after claiming your baggage and passing through customs, follow the signs that say “Tren”. Ignore the long line of people trying to buy tickets from a human being, and use one of the freestanding automatic ticket dispensers. It’s easy. Choose your language, and follow the instructions to purchase your ticket to Roma Termini.

Look at the board overhead to see what track (binario) your train will be on, and THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: be sure to validate your ticket in the small box at the beginning of the track before getting on your train. If you don’t see it, just ask someone.

When the train stops in Roma Termini, avoid the temptation to walk into the building at a right angle to the train, unless you want to rent a car. Walk toward the front of the train and into the main terminal. This may be a little overwhelming, but take a deep breath and look for the now familiar automatic ticket machines straight ahead of you.

Buy your ticket to Orvieto if you plan to go straight to Benano. Take a look at the duration of the various options. The intercity trains will get you from the main terminal in Rome to Orvieto in a little over an hour; the regional trains take about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes and cost about half as much. My only recommendation is to choose an option where you do not have to change trains; there are many direct trains and this option is just easier.

Other advice

  • Watch out for pickpockets and panhandlers in the big city train stations. Keep your valuables on your person, and do not turn your back or walk away from your bags.
  • Watch out for gypsy taxi drivers. They generally approach arriving passengers at the end of the train platform or in the terminal. These are unlicensed and will generally charge you more than the official taxis just outside most train stations.
  • It’s OK to eat and drink on the train. Pick up a bottle of water, a snack or a carry out from one of the terminal shops before boarding the train.
  • When in doubt, ask a question. The people who work for Trenitalia wear gray uniforms and generally speak English. They are very nice and helpful. Do not hesitate to stop them and ask a question. The people who look like mechanics or train workers are also customer-friendly, but their English skills may not be as good.

A Mystery is Solved

Ah, sweet mysteries of life …

I took the train up to Florence for a quick visit last weekend. Lacking any plan for the day, I got off the train and just walked toward all the good stuff. It’s easy to understand why Florence is such a popular destination. The beauty of the city practically slaps you in the face. The main attractions are pretty concentrated in a relatively small area, so it’s a delightfully walkable place.

While I was meandering, I heard some band music, so I hustled over to see what was going on. I couldn’t make any sense of what I saw, although it was thoroughly riveting.  It seemed very spontaneous; there didn’t seem to be a planned parade route. The uniforms were captivating …

and then the musicians took off at a trot — while they were playing! The crowd that had gathered broke out in a cheer.

I assumed this would be one of those things I would never quite understand.

But when I described this band in my Italian class this week, my teacher beamed at my good fortune. I had apparently happened upon a highly prized Italian treasure — i Bersaglieri.  These men are the musicians who represent a very prestigious corp of the Italian Army. I Bersaglieri are known for the black feathers on their helmets and the “fast jog pace they keep on parades.” And I got to see both!

What a day.