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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tannas

Italy’s Fast Train, Paying for a restroom in Milan Train Station, and a Failure to Understand

Unlike California, Italy has fast trains.  Run by Trenitalia, these red trains fly smoothly over the rails and allow you freedom to explore Italian cities easily in one day.

The Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) are beautiful and comfortable trains.  They serve you coffee, water, and a sweet if you’re traveling in the morning…and on the way back to your destination, they offer prosecco and a choice of savory or sweet for a snack.  I know you’re asking…so what?

In October when 5 of my dear friends joined me for a villa trip in Tuscany, we bought our train tickets before we even left the States.  Our plan was to see as much of Italy as possible without driving, traffic, and getting lost.  The trains were perfect.  From Florence, we were able to spend an entire day in Venice using the bullet train…a mere one hour and forty minutes.  We also went to Naples to access the Isle of Capri.  And the longest reach, by far, was our day trip to Lago di Como.  The train ride from Florence to Milan is short, but maneuvering a train change in Milan to a local train…not so easy.  so I had the brilliant idea to hire a driver in Milan to take us to the Lake.  So far, so good.  We had time for a fast boat to Bellagio, a leisurely lunch and time for shopping in this exquisite little town on the Lake, and also time for the slow boat back to the Como port.  It was a perfect day.  What made it more wonderful for me was being able to show my friends this gorgeous Lake area.  They had never seen it.  It was a bit chilly and the autumn colors dotted the shoreline framing gorgeous mansions with the Swiss Alps peeking through the clouds.  Breathtaking, really.  I never get tired of that boat ride along the Lake

And here is where the fun (?) began.  Our driver was waiting for us and all was fine until we came upon an accident on that winding road back to Milan.  The driver kept looking at the clock and often said “hmmm?”  I knew that was not good news.  We made it to the huge Milan station.  However, the normal 40 minute drive took almost 60 minutes and we were in need of a bathroom.  We hunted and followed the signs, but this bathroom was beautifully hidden.  Upon arrival, we discovered we had to go through a turnstile after  depositing two euro.  Didn’t seem like a big problem.  There were several men standing there waiting for their wives, holding multiple shopping bags.  After several unsuccessful attempts of depositing the money and the doors not opening, and the men laughing at us, one kind man came over and showed us how to crowd up, two at a time and push through.  What a relief.

By the time we found the main tracks, we patiently looked up at the board to find our train number.  We waited and waited and noticed other trains leaving and became concerned.  Being the leader and the one who speaks Italian, I trudged with trepidation, a sick feeling in my gut, to the station master to ask about our train.

“You missed your train and there are no more trains to Florence tonight.”

My heart started to beat rapidly, my stomach roiled, and I glanced over at the remaining ladies who were waiting patiently and chatting, unaware of our new dilemma.  When I told them, they didn’t panic.  I guess they knew somehow I would find a way.  Immediately I called the driver who had dropped us off, I called my landlady at the villa, and they told me to wait and they would get back to me.  In about ten minutes, which felt like an hour for me, we had a driver who would take us to Florence.  The driver, Giacomo, arrived about 15 minutes later, and we arrived at our villa at two in the morning, tired but happy to be “home.”  A little side note:  Their autostrada rest stops are spectacular.  Food is tasty, the variety is unreal, and the cappuccino delightful.

I had both American time and military time on my paper ticket, but I simply could not understand why we had missed the train when it clearly showed we had plenty of time.  Note to self:  Write down the time next to the military time so there is no confusion.  Or learn how to count in 24 hour increments or simply learn military time.  It’s what they use in Europe…and when in Rome…as the saying goes…

A costly error of time, money, exasperation, but in the end, we all laughed about it and slept in until noon the next day.

Recommendations:  Make your train reservations before you even leave home.  It’s easy.  Always take the Frescciarossa if possible.  They now have one from Florence to Bari!  Write down American time next to military time.  Know your trains number and final destination so you can easily find the binario for the train.  And most of all, be flexible and have a sense of humor.  Oh…one more thing…don’t be in charge of all the tickets.  Give each person their own ticket so many eyes are checking the facts.

The ease of train travel in Italy is delightful.  With Florence as our base, we went north to south and east to west with ease.

Or google Train Travel in Italy.  There is a site in English

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