Train Travel in Italy
Trains in Italy reflect the personality of the Italians. They can sometimes be loud and late, or be on strike. But overall, with all its flaws and imperfections, the Italian railway system is a reliable transport system that has been taking its people around for over a century now.
It is very extensive and covers the whole Italian territory. Italians have always relied on the train as primary transport especially in the decades when the automobile was still a luxury good and gasoline - then as today - was much more expensive than in America. Back then, entire families moved from the South to the North to seek employment with literally a cardboard suitcase, and food enough for the whole trip that many times lasted days.
Sometimes I think this sense of necessity that made us live crammed on top of each other in public transportations has created a sense of commonality that survives even today as still many Italians choose the train over car, and which the Americans on the other hand - always accustomed to travel alone in their vehicles - have never developed. In the US, trains traveling is certainly a less stuffy and a more relaxing experience than it can many times be in Italy, but it will certainly be more expensive and with a poorer choice of destinations and timetables. In Italy instead, it can be rather convenient and easy, and nowadays it's become even quicker, as new high speed trains connect major cities like Milan, Rome, Venice and Naples in a few hours.
Indeed, if you happen to travel by train during your Italian trip this will be also a journey into the culture and way of doing of the Italians; you'll have to share your compartment with other passengers with very little leg room and very little room for anything else other than your assigned seat, and alas, most likely you will be forced to listen to their phone conversations.
It will seem to you that we are always fighting with someone, but maybe we are simply debating where to meet or talking about the omnipresent soccer. High chances are that if the trip is long enough, someone intrigued by your “foreign presence” will ask you where you are going and where you are from. Italians, aided of course by their hands, will bend over backwards to speak to you in English, and tell you where you need to get off and how many stops are still missing. And if they are from that area they will tell you the best place to visit because they know better.
And they will advise you on the best restaurant because they know about that too, and because eating well is mandatory in Italy: godforbid you end up in the wrong spot, they shall take that as a personal scorn.
So take your chances and purchase your train ticket, it may well be your ticket to traveling and understanding cultural Italy.
Nicoletta Lucia Paganucci