Getting Around Italy

By train

The Italian rail system has different train types: TBiz, EurostarItalia, Eurostar City Italia, IntercityPlus, Intercity, Espresso, Interregionale and Regionale, Eurostar Italia and TBiz being the classiest. Generally speaking, for a given distance each tier costs twice as much as the one below it. The train cars used by the TBiz and Eurostar Italia services are far newer than those used by the other types, but are not necessarily more comfortable. In fact, the cars used by Intercity trains might be split up into distinct, six-seater compartments, which is really nice when you're travelling in groups. A new level has been introduced recently. It is called Intercity-plus and it is just a way to have passengers pay more than the intercity fares. Recently, many of Interegionale trains have been classified as Intercity.

The main practical difference between train types is reliability. Intercity services are generally very reliable, but if you need to catch a flight, for example, it might be better to pay extra for the Eurostar Italia. Interregionale and Regionale are less reliable, and stops in many more stations along the way. The other big difference between TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity with Interregionale, Regionale and Espresso services is that on the best ones seating reservation is compulsory, where every passenger has a seat allocated to him/her. This means that the train will never (theoretically) be packed with an impossible number of people, but it also means you will need to purchase tickets in advance. Actually, many passengers with tickets for other trains that take a wrong one will have to pay the cheap fine for not having a seat reservation. As a result, on major routes or peak hours, expect to find your seat taken, in this case usually a brief discussion is enough to get your seat. During commuter hours, on major north-south routes during the holidays, or before and after large political demonstrations, trains on the lower train types can become extremely full, to the point where it gets very uncomfortable, in which case you could find yourself sitting on a tiny fold out flap in the hallway, where you'll have to move for everyone passing by.

The pricier train types are usually faster, but there is not a consistent speed difference between trains. The main difference being the number of stops made along the same routes. On some routes, the Eurostar will cut the travel time in half, but on others all trains go more or less at the same speed, and taking the Eurostar Italia might be a waste of money. Just check the FS website or the printed schedule, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to see how long the trip will take.

On long routes, such as Milan - Rome or Milan - Reggio Calabria, Trenitalia operates special night trains Treni Notte. They depart around 10pm and arrive around 6am and don't have beds but it could be a useful options to save money and time.

The ultimate way to get the cheapest train tickets is to leave early in the morning usually before 7:00am.

On the train schedules displayed at each station, every train is listed in different colours (i.e. blue, red, green). The arrival times are listed in parentheses next to the names of each destination. One thing to watch out for is that certain trains only operate seasonally, or for certain time periods (for example, during holidays).

The lines to buy tickets can be very long, and slow, so get to the station early. There are touch-screen ticket machines which are very useful, efficient, and multilingual, but there are never that many, and the lines for those can be very long too.

To avoid queues at the station you can reserve tickets in advance via the internet at the Trenitalia website. You can then either print out your reservation details or have them sent by SMS to your mobile phone. Phones do not need to be Italian. The conductor will validate your reservation details when you are on the train and provide you with your ticket.

Eurostar trains can fill up, so if you're on a tight schedule you should buy those tickets in advance. If you are running late and don't have time to buy a ticket, you can just jump on the train, but you will have to pay extra when the conductor (il controllore) comes around (a flat fee, somewhere around 5-10 euro) and they don't take credit cards. Technically, if you don't have a ticket you are supposed to find the conductor yourself and buy one (otherwise you have to pay another fee - approx. 20 euro), but for foreigners it's enough to just stammer something about being late and they will almost never hassle you about this.

Also, the way the system works is that unless you validate the ticket by inserting it into one of the yellow boxes on the platform (it says Convalida on the box), you could keep using it for months. The yellow box just stamps a date on the ticket, so the conductor knows you weren't planning on using that ticket again. Technically, a ticket that isn't validated is just like not having a ticket: you have to buy another. It is quite important not to forget to validate your ticket as the conductors are generally not tolerant in this particular matter.

The cheapest way to travel in a region is to buy a zone ticket card. A chart displayed near the validating machine tells you how many zones you must pay between stations. To buy a zone card for the next region you would have to get off the train at the last station and because the stops are so short you would have to board the next train (usually in about 1 hour).

As of January 10, 2005 a smoking ban in public places went into effect in Italy. You will be subject to fines for smoking on any Italian train.

There are special deals offered too...some of them are reserved to foreign tourist and others are available to locals. Some deals are passes that allow travel during a chosen period, while other special offers are normal tickets sold at decent prices with some restrictions. Before you choose to buy a pass, check first if it is cheaper than buying a normal ticket (or better, a discounted normal ticket, if available).

If you are travelling a lot, and you're not Italian, you can get a TRENITALIA PASS: you buy a number of days of travel to be used within 2 months, however you still have to pay a supplement on the compulsory reservation services, i.e. TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity which will between EUR 5.00 and EUR 25.00 depending on the train type. Details are on the Trenitalia website [11], and also on RailChoice website at [12].

By car

Italy has a well-developed system of highways in the northern side of the country while in the southern it's a bit worse for quality and extension. Every highway is identified by an A followed by a number. Most of the highways (autostrade) are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance (example: if you are on A1 Milano-Napoli at Milan toll station you'll be charged for the entire 700km distance). All the blue lanes (marked "Viacard") of toll stations, accept major credit cards as well as pre-paid card (Viacard) you can buy at tobacconist, Autogrill, gas stations.

Many italians uses an electronic pay-toll device, and there's reserved lanes marked in Yellow with the sign "Telepass" or a simply "T". Driving through those lanes (controlled by camera system) without the device will result in a fine of 50 euros and a payement of the toll from the longest distance. Due to agreement with other countries,if you're foreigner, you'll pay also extra cost for locating you in your country.

Policemen sometimes read your ticket at the toll station to see how long you took since joining the autoroute: they can use that info to give you a speeding ticket. Even if speeding is very common on Italian Highways, be aware that there are a number of automatic and almost invisible system to punish speeding and hazardous driving. If you don't know the road very well you should probably keep a reasonable speed.

Since 2006, some highways are checked by the "Tutor", an automatic system that checks your average speed on a long section (5-10 kms).

A good clue of a nearby check system is when cars around you suddenly reduce speed. If you see a lot of cars keeping themselves just under the limit and nobody overtaking, you'd better do the same.

Speed limits are:

  • 130 km/h on highways (autostrade);
  • 110 km/h on freeways (superstrade);
  • 90 km/h on single-lane roads;
  • 50 km/h inside cities.
Italian laws allow a 5% tolerance on local speed limit. Fines are generally very expensive.

Motorbikes should drive always with the headlights on, for other veichles that applies only outside cities.

Drink and driving is a controversial issue. The tolerated limit is 0.50g/L in blood, being above this limit is thus illegal and can entitle you an expensive fine and licence withdraw and maybe also a night in jail, but you'll find that people of every age are not significantly worried for that and there's nothing such designated driver or else. All passengers are required to wear their seat belt and children under 10 must use the back seat. Unless clearly posted on the road you are using, you are supposed to yield to any vehicle coming from your right from another public thoroughfare. Signposts used in Italy are patterned according to EU recommendations and use mostly pictograms (not text) but there are minor differences (example: highways directions are written on green background while the white stands for local roads and blue for the remaining).

There is also an Italian carpool agency called ViaVai.

By bus

Buy bus tickets before boarding from corner stores and other shops. The payment system for most mass transit in Italy (trains, city buses, subway) is based on voluntary payment combined with sporadic enforcement. Specifically, you buy a ticket which can be used at any time (for that level of service, anyway) and when you use it you validate the ticket by sticking it into a machine that stamps a date on it. Once in a while (with varying frequency depending on the mode of transportation) someone will ask you for your ticket and if you don't have one you get a fine, and theoretically (sometimes happens) you can be asked to present to the Police for a formal report. Usually line enforcers aren't very condescending, especially in northern Italy. In almost every city there's a different pricing scheme, so check in advance ticket formulas and availability.

For tourist may be very convenient to buy daily (or multi-day) tickets that allow you to travel as much as you want in a single (or more) day. Every major city also has some type of City Card, a fixed-fee card allowing you to travel on local public transportation, visit a number of museums and giving you discounts on shops, hotels and restaurants.

Check for both these possibilities at local Tourist's Office or on city's website (which is often of the form www.comune.cityname.it as for example www.comune.roma.it).

By thumb

Hitchhiking in Italy is related with the hippies and "on the road" kind of culture. Therefore, it is considered out-dated and useless. You will rarely find Italians hitchhiking unless there's a serious problem with the bus or other means of transportation. Hitchhiking in the summer in touristy areas works okay because you'll get rides from Northern European tourists, and it works okay in very rural areas as long as there is consistent traffic (because you're still playing the odds), but hitchhiking near large cities or along busy routes is extremely frustrating. As long as you stay on the Autostrada, hitching from one "Area Servizio" to the next, you will not have any trouble crossing the country. Off the Autostrada things are a bit more difficult: Italians are generally very friendly and open people, but they're less likely to pick up hitchhikers than anyone else in the world. It is easier to hitchhike out of the Bronx than it is to hitchhike in Italy. Hitchhiking is not recommended for women travelling alone. Hitchhiking along expressways and highways is forbidden.

By Boat

For sailors and non-sailors alike: Italy is best approached from the sea and it is more convenient and comfortable than traditional onshore “tours”. A yacht charter to Italy is the most fulfilling way to experience this magnificent country. Although the yacht charter industry is smaller than one would expect for this incredibly popular tourist destination, there are many reasons to choose a yacht over a more conventional onshore approach. The Italian coast, like the French coast, attracts luxury yacht charters of the highest standards. “Touring” Italy from a private yacht is surprisingly convenient and comfortable. Experience the breathtaking scenery, fascinating history and the unrivaled Italian lifestyle as local Italian people do when on their vacations. Italy’s dramatic coastline is best appreciated from the sea and the Italians know it! In between visiting the numerous cultural destinations for which Italy is renown, there is always time to take a refreshing swim. Most enjoyable, is relishing the fact that from a private yacht you have a certain relief from the crowds and traffic that are traditionally unavoidable in Italy’s most popular destinations. There are major distinct nautical regions in Italy: Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily. Each has its own flavor and focus. Be sure to plan your itinerary carefully as each region is rewarding in its own particular way.

Source: Wikipedia





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