When we travel we tend to want to find and experience only the positives of a place and for the most part that’s generally what happens, however; along with the good always comes the .. not so good. This post and the one or maybe 2 that follow aren’t so much as to cast a bad light upon this amazing country but rather to help visitors know of differences here to where they likely come from. Some of these will be procedural differences in how things are done, some will be down to cultural differences here in Italy. I’m only writing based my experiences between Italy (so far as I’ve experienced it) and place I’ve lived.
So, lets see what knowledge I can impart on you wouldbe travellers to Italy! I’ve only been living here for 2 1/2 months as of this post, I’m far from an expert on all things Italian .. especially when it comes to parlando Italiano.
Train and Bus tickets
I’ve touched on these before but it’s worth mentioning again I think.
Train tickets in Italy are generally very cheap. When buying tickets to most places you’ll find there will be generally 2 price groups (outside of the 2nd and 1st class tickets). These will either on Regional trains or on high-speed more direct trains. All trains in Italy are operated by Trenitalia which should at least mean your experience should be consistent anywhere in the country. The regional trains will be the cheapest options for travel with the side effect of the trains being slower with more frequent stops, seating has been a free for all in my experience. This can be nice if you’re not in a hurry as you get to see more of the countryside and smaller stations. The other lines you’ll encounter are the Frecciabianca, which are nicer trains, usually always reserved seating (check your ticket) and they’re faster with a lot less stops, this comes at a bit of a higher price.
No matter which kind of train you choose to use in Italy the process is exactly the same. You can queue to use the ticket machines at the stations, which are multilingual often including Chinese and Japanese plus a usual mix of EU languages. Using these machines is quite easy but time consuming as you navigate the multiple screens to select destination, times, number of tickets, etc, etc. Payments are by cash or credit card. You can also go to the ticket counters, but be warned, language will be an issue if you don’t speak Italian. Regardless of how you buy your ticket from the previously mentioned ways, the next step will be the same. While making your way to the train platform you need to be on the look out for a ticket validation machine. The look of these can vary from area to area but should be easy to find, however; expect to find them not working too so make sure you can quickly find another. Follow the instructions and validate the ticket for this leg only for each person. Don’t validate your return tickets yet. Failure to validate will result in a fine on board the train when the guards come around. They don’t easily fall for claiming ignorance but it does happens. Don’t risk it for the sake of step of validation.
The best way to buy tickets is with an app like TrainLine EU (Android | iTunes). There are some other apps but most people I know use this one. The app lets you plan your train journeys and purchase tickets, this includes return tickets as well as tickets for other travellers in your group by filling in a simple user profile for each traveler. One huge advantage is that you are given your tickets in PDF format and when asked by a guard to see tickets you just present your phone and they can scan the QR-code or just check your details against the assigned seating if there is any. This is truely a paperless way to travel and should be used by everyone.
On the note of assigned seating, be sure to check your ticket if you have an assigned seat on the train. While many seats are empty when you leave the station, it doesn’t mean someone else at the next stop might not have it, so please be polite and only use your seat or be ready to give it up and move somewhere else. Tickets will indicate which which carriage (Carozza) and seat (Posti) you have been assigned. Carriage numbers are usually marked by a sticker on the door to the carriage. There will also be indictions on which seat numbers are at that end of the carriage. These are helpful to try and get on closest to your seat and avoid trying to move around a packed train.
I don’t think I can say much more about train travel really. Some trains will have a service carriage where you can get food and drinks (hot and cold), other trains will have a cart that gets pushed through the train and you just stop them and get what you like. Be warned, the coffee serviced is instant and not nice at all, and if you need milk in your coffee (or tea), don’t bother. A lot of regional trains will have double decks on them, get on the top if you can for the best views on your travels.
I’ve also mentioned this before. Tickets can be sometimes be bought at machines, make sure you select the correct routing code for the ticket or you could face fines if questioned on the buses. Ticket inspectors will often board buses en masse and through all doors to try and stop the mass evacuation of ticket cheats. Fines are quite high compared to the price of a ticket so don’t risk it. You can also buy tickets from some drivers, but this isn’t consistent and it will cost you nearly double, so don’t. The Tabacco shops (Tabbachi) are your best bet, look for the big T signs and you should be ok. My experience has so far been they will speak enough english to get you the correct tickets, pretty sure you can buy them in singles but if your using the buses a lot just buy them in books of 10 to save you headaches. These also need to be validated once you board the bus, typically there is a machine at the front door and back doors, like the train validation machines, expect to find defective machines, at least one on the bus should work though. The correct way to board Italian buses is by the front door or the rear most doors, the middle doors should be used to exit the bus. If you’re at sat/standing at the front or back, you should start making your way to the middle doors at least 1 or 2 stops before you need to get off (especially if it’s busy), do not expect the driver to open the front or rear doors to let you off.
Tipping and Service Charges
Firstly, tipping isn’t a thing in Italy as a rule. Unlike how we typically do things in the UK, Canada, US etc. When you leave and don’t leave a tip, it’s not rude, it’s normal here. Wait staff as a rule are paid pretty well with decent minimum wages unlike in some other countries. That’s not to say you can’t leave a tip, but it’s really not expected.
If you eat somewhere with table service, you will quite often see a charge on the bill such as Coperto (Table charge) or Servizio (Service charge). These charges are usually per person, so if you are 4 people, expect to see 4 or at least a number divisible by 4. Typically I’ve seen these to be anywhere from €1 – €3 per person, the higher charges are usually more upscale kinds of places. Some of this is for the operating costs of serving you, ie: cleaning of your dishes, replacing breakage over time, heating/lighting and that sort of thing, some also apparently goes to the wait staff as a sort of tip (I’ve only read this and not actually verified it).
A lot of places don’t charge this, but you will usually get it in tourist areas like beach fronts, eating near big attractions and the like. I will address some of this in another post about some common scams here.
I think this is enough for now on this post. I’ll have another shortly with some more observations I’ve made here.
BTW, this has been written entirely while I’ve been sat here on the beach front in San Terenzo at my fav coffee shop. It really is the life and if you hate me for it, that’s ok too 😀