trains in Italy…friend or foe?

Although it was a challenge to get here, I am finally in Bologna. My hotel has free wifi as well as computer and printer access.

Before catching up with Lucca & blogging about my exciting Pisa tower climb, I have two train stories to share.

Italy Trip 2009, Lucca, Italy

Train story 1:
Last Tuesday I took the train from Lucca to Pisa. I followed my map route to the train station but could not seem to figure out how to get out of the city (passing through the wall which surrounds the city of Lucca). I don’t know how I missed the little passageway, but ended up taking a route that veered farther away from the train station.

When I finally arrived at the train station, I was five minutes late for the train I planned to take. Fortunately the train to Pisa was running 10 minutes late. There was a line at the ticket window so I attempted to use the local train ticket machine. I was not sure how to purchase a roundtrip ticket, so I only purchased a ticket to Pisa. I validated my ticket and then checked the little TV to find my binario (train track number). Binario 4 was the train for PIsa.

Even though Lucca is not a big train station, it is a somewhat confusing train station. Usually the stairway to get to the other train tracks is easy to find, but I could not find the stairway at the Lucca train station. By the time I finally asked someone, I heard an announcement saying that the binario (train track) changed to number 1. That was easy. No need for any stairs. I got on the train and waited. I realized after a few minutes that the train I was on was the train that left in 30 minutes after the train I wanted to take. Meanwhile the train that was running late, leaving on track number 4 left. Oh well, not a huge deal. The train was fast, taking only 20 minutes to get to the little train stop (Stazione di Pisa San Rossore) near the tower in Lucca.

After a wonderful day in Pisa (will blog about my day in Pisa and tower climb next), I headed back to the little train station that is located near the tower. I thought about walking to the main train station so that I could see a bit more of Pisa but my feet were tired after a long day of walking all around Pisa.

I realized when I got close to the train station that I had no idea where to purchase the ticket. I saw a building that I thought might be the train station but it was not near the train tracks. As I started to walk towards the building, I heard the train arriving. The train station was pretty deserted and I did not want to end up hanging out for 30 more minutes for the next train, so I decided to run to try to catch the train.

The train guy was standing by one of the doors and saw me running for the train. Just as everyone else was boarded the train, somehow I tripped and fell. It all happened so fast but it also seemed to happen in slow motion. I first fell on my knees and put my hands out to break the fall. I also hit my head as my knees and hands hit the ground. I can’t remember exactly what part of my head hit the cement but I do remember hearing the thud. I ended up with a bloody left knee, I bruised the side of my left foot pretty badly, I somehow got a raspberry mark on my upper chest (right were the V neck of a t-shirt is located), I cut up my left palm a bit, smashed my watch and bruised my right wrist, ended up with big bruise under my right jaw, and smashed my camera which was in my right hand.

I could see in the distance that the train guy was concerned. Thankfully no one else saw me fall. I jumped back up and continued to run for the train. I am happy to say that I caught the train. I would have been really upset if after all that I missed the train.

When I boarded the train, I walked through the four cars and looked for the train guy to buy my ticket. I could not find him so I found a seat, knowing that if I was caught without a train ticket, I would be fined a pretty big fee for not purchasing a 2.40 euro train ticket. There was not much I could do at that point though and I was pretty shaken up and more worried about my camera. Fortunately, my camera seems to be working. Hopefully there was not any damage to the lens.

As I sat and assessed the damage, I noticed my bloody knee. A few minutes later the train guy walked through the train cars. There I was sitting with a bloody knee, all shaken up, without a train ticket. In my 10 years of traveling in Italy, I have never been on a train, bus, or boat without a valid ticket. As he walked through the cars, I tried to think up an excuse hoping that he would take pity on me as I sat there with my bloody knee. I guess it was my lucky day because he walked from one end of the train to the other and then back to the front of the train and did not check anyone’s tickets.

When I got back to Lucca, I headed to the Farmacia to purchase something to clean my knee. I usually bring some neosporin with my but forgot it this year. I bought these cool antiseptic cloths that come in individual packets. I also bought some square bandages that fit perfectly over my cut. Giulio, one of the owners of the B&B, gave me some ice from the kitchen for my foot. I rotated it between my foot and my knee. I also took some ibuprofin.

I still could not figure out just where I hit my head but was very aware that hitting my head could have been very dangerous. After going out for dinner, I stayed up past midnight to make sure I was not showing any head injury signs. Of course I had no idea what I would have done if I did start to show any signs. I am addicted to my solitaire game on my iPod Touch and played quite a few hands. I was making quite a few mistakes which had me a little concerned but realized I was just tired and it was not a sign of a head injury.

The following morning, the swelling went down a bit but my foot was very sore. Today is the first day that I have been able to walk on it without it being very painful, although it is still very bruised.

Train story 2:
Today, I traveled from Lucca to Bologna. I ordered a taxi 40 minutes before my train was scheduled to leave so that I would have plenty of time at the train station in Lucca to board my train. I even walked to the train station the other day and did a dry run figuring out where the stairway passageway was to get to the different train tracks. I purchased a Eurostar ticket for the train that goes from Florence to Bologna leaving least 30 minutes after the train from Lucca was scheduled to arrive in Florence. I thought I was all set for an easy train travel day.

When I arrived at the train station, I looked up at the little TV and saw that my train was set to leave on time. Although the yellow partenza board listed the binario as number 4, the TV listed it as number 3. Usually the little TV has the updated train track number. I went down the ramp and then walked up the short flight of stairs with my luggage and saw that the train was already there.

I asked the train guy to make sure that it was in fact the train to Florence. I got on the train and waited for it to leave. The train car I was sitting in was empty. Perfect! I would not have to worry about room for my luggage. The scheuduled departure time was 10:32. I did not hear any announcements that the train was running late.

At 10:35, I heard an announcement that the binario for Florence changed from number 3 to number 4 (which was the original train track listed on the partenza board). Just as the announcement was made a train arrived on track number 4. The train was the same type of train that I took from Florence to Lucca. I dragged my luggage off the train and looked up at the little sign by track number 4. The little sign by track number 3 still said Firenze (Florence). I asked a guy on the train I just got off of if that train was going to Firenze. He said it was. Major confusion set in. Just as I attempted to lift my luggage back on the train I was orginally already sitting on, the doors shut and the train started to move. I could not believe it. There was my train taking off and I was no longer on it!

Let’s just say that at that very moment I was not very happy.  Now if I did not have a Eurostar reservation in Florence (specific train to catch with seat reservation) it would not have been a huge deal since the trains go to Bologna hourly from Florence but since I did, I needed to figure out a plan quickly.

I was not the only one who got off the train that left for Florence. An Italian woman did the same thing. We both went to the partenza board and saw that there was another train leaving for Florence in a few minutes. This was a special train that I think only runs on Sundays and possibly on holidays. It was a slower train that had more stops and was scheduled to arrive in Florence 15 minutes before my Eurostar was scheduled to depart. This train was located on binario 5 and was set to depart any minute. That meant I had to lug my bags down and then up a flight of stairs with the possibility that the train could have already taken off.

We both took off down and then up those stairs. The train was still there. I boarded quickly while I noticed the woman having a very lively conversation with the train guy outside of the train (I assumed it was about the confusing announcement which by the way was announced both in Italian and English). This was the second time the Lucca train station announced information which caused me to miss my train.

Now that I was on this train, I started to wonder if the ticket I had purchased for the Lucca to Firenze train would work for this train. The train guy said my ticket was fine and told me that I had enough time to catch my train to Bologna in Florence.

Just as we were about to arrive in Florence, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. My 15 minutes to catch my next train was in jeopardy. My heart started to race again but after five minutes the train started to move. My train arrived at the farthest binario from the rest of the trains. Luckily, I know the Florence train station pretty well and found my train for Bologna with 5 minutes to spare.

More train problems ahead…
There is a scheduled train strike for 24 hours set for next Sunday, the day I am scheduled to travel to Stresa. I am still trying to find out more information about this train strike.

Trains can be such a wonderful way to travel in Italy when everything goes right and I am very fortunate that the horrible train explosion in Viareggio did not affect my train travel. Just once though, I would love to experience a stress free train travel Italy trip. I am starting to be too old for some of these crazy train experiences. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the strike is canceled.

11 thoughts on “trains in Italy…friend or foe?

  1. wow, what adventures! Scary that things happened the way they did, and I do hope you are on the mend! I always loved Swiss trains and almost never have been confused by them, although I always second guess if I am on the right train, even after living there. You might check out as sometimes you can get different country schedules. I loved that part about the Swiss site..
    Good luck and fingers crossed for avoiding the sunday strike!


  2. Oh Girasoli, my fingers are crossed.
    I am so sorry you are had to go through this, especially the fall. I hope your are healed already.
    And these confusing announcements are frustrating to say the least.
    I hope your next train experience is a pleasant one.
    Have fun in Bologna.


  3. Girasoli, my gosh girl, how much can one girl take. I feel so bad for you, taking that bad fall. I hope your are ok. How is your foot, better I hope. So many confusing times for the trains, makes me nervous about ever taking a train in Italy, ( until I go again of course lol) I can’ t believe you said you are addicted to a solitaire game on your ipod, I am too, but I don’t have an ipod, mine is on my palm. I hope you have a GREAT time in Italy from here on out. No more falls, or missed trains. Love reading your post each day. Stay well.


  4. Oh you poor thing!! That is too much! I am so sorry you fell and hurt yourself, hope it is all better now. And Trenitalia has not been treating you well! Too much bad luck in just two travel days. I will cross fingers and toes that the strike doesn’t happen!


  5. Hi Girasoli, wow! First, I’m sorry to hear about your bad fall and I hope you are feeling better. A head injury would’ve been bad so I’m glad you took caution like you did to make sure you were okay. I’ve had the experience of missing a train in Italy because of a Binario change and it is quite the adventure. I’m sure if that conductor guy would’ve checked your tickets, he would have let you slide.
    I will definitely keep my fingers crossed that the train strike is canceled and that all your future train travels goes smoothly… Take care!


  6. Yikes! What an awful train experience!
    Pretty scary hitting your head like that.
    Please, no more train stories – I wish you smooth travel days from now on, especially on the Stresa travel day.


  7. I, too, hope that you’re now feeling better and have had no lingering effects from the fall. I find that tripping and falling really shakes me up — I suppose because it doesn’t happen as often as when I was a kid. But it’s a real shock to the body.
    You have had a run of bad train luck, and Trenitalia can be so annoying. Really, really convenient — I appreciate how extensive its web of rail lines is. But the information can be pretty messed up. I hate track changes, and they always seem to be last minute — you can see the panic in people’s eyes as they have to make a mad dash.
    I hope the train strike is called off next Sunday, but if not are you able to check into your Stresa hotel a night earlier? Or stay an extra night in Bologna? At least Trenitalia has given you some notice, for once, so you can make a contingency plan!


  8. Ouch, I feel for you – Hope things are mending and you are fine. You seem to have a great adventure spirit and won’t let anything stop you – touche!


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