Sunday, August 31

Travel to Italy - Booking Online Trains, Hotels & Automobiles

Rome, Sweet Rome
This past August brought me from Cefalù, Sicily up to Florence & Tuscany (to Il Grande Prato Agriturismo), to Milan, Como, Verona and onto Lucerne and Geneva, Switzerland and ultimately over to Annecy, France for a hearty helping of fondue. [Let's just say, between the inclement weather up north it was decidedly therapeutic.] So you can imagine my elation of coming home to Bella Roma, with its sunny days and empty streets and heck - even the hordes of dumpster divers appear to have taken August off.
While in the past I've picked on the places where this country dependent upon tourism makes continuous #touristfails, I'd have to say...I was pleased as prosecco during my travels, so I thought I'd share some of the Amore with you...Starting with the trains that got me to where I needed to go.
I love train travel.  And the trains are so spiffy, the waiting rooms with wifi and with Italo leaving right near my house, it's truly a pleasure.  Although, I'd gladly take the conversational compartments and the low fares back any day of the week.  And, the cellphone-less travelers, which is why conversations were being conducted in the first place.  ItaloTreno bent over backwards to help me with some ticket snafus, when they saw I had double-booked two tickets.  And most local trains I boarded including the glorious ones shuttling passengers back & forth from Palermo to Messina were pleasantly clean and air-conditioned.
On Trenitalia, the company I love to hate, as always their staff and conductors were the best thing on dozens of wheels. Their new Itinere food service providers even lowered the extortionist prices, and gave me a 5 euro coupon besides. Heck, they even mixed a Bellini for me during the drinks offering. Can you say, 'Benvenuto competition'?  And while I still have never successfully logged in on a train, and I still can't stand the blinding lighting, train designers have finally caught onto the concept that people actually tow luggage aboard.  Although it's Italo whose trains have the cutsie step that comes out so you don't have to hoist your bags like a Sherpa.

Online Bookings - Caveat Emptor or Carpe Diem?
In Sicily, you couldn't find a rental car if your life depended on it-which leaves me wondering why fleets aren't upped in the summer months there, but the trains and stations were so terrific, I didn't really care in the end. And while the proprietor didn't show up for a last-minute booking in Cefalù (and lied about it to Hotels.com), getting a morning ice cream-filled Sicilian brioche made it all better.
In Milan, I rented a car thru Economy Car Rentals
which was efficient and inexpensive, although they said the price included the 'after hours pickup' - which I didn't have since Maggiore was open til 11 pm each night (what a change from years ago!)  They didn't cut me any deals on grace periods either but, I love them anyway. The convenience of picking up a car right at the train station is fantastic.
I used DirectFerries - UK for my ferry crossing from Salerno to Messina.  I was a bit nervous that I'd arrive at the boat and they'd say, Direct Chi??!!  Instead, an air-conditioned bus took me from the station straight to the port, a mini-bus came and picked me up at the entrance to escort me round the truckers loading up the ship, and the driver even ran and got me my ticket, while everyone welcomed my little pooch Archie with open arms (okay, I confess: the boat was practically waiting for me to board -- I hadn't read the fine print about arriving 2 hrs prior).  The ride was delightful with the only glitch: the woman purser who didn't want to let me have my dog with me on the deck (when everyone else said it was okay...).
It was the Swiss Train online system (sbb cff) that was the most difficult to work around when attempting the supersaver fares [Hint: they're offered only once you've committed to the train & time, like some wild teaser].  I spent over 10 hours booking tickets all around Switzerland (three times) and in the end, I never received a confirmation.  Thus the rental car when I got to Milan.  A friend says there's a Swiss train office right in Milan's train station - next time, I'll try there.
And, the icing on the gelato?  If you take Italo and you end up in Rome's Tiburtina Station (the boondocks, for most of us), you can imbibe in a terrific GROM gelato & shopping before your trip, and with a simple €1.50 bus ticket you can hop a ride on the railroad, over to any of the other Rome train stations...!  And at my beloved Ostiense station (where Eataly is to be found)?  Some lone, intelligent soul (or fatigued traveler) at Trenitalia has finally figured out that the airport train could use an elevator up to the platform - it's still a work in progress, but hey...Read here for what life has been like without it.
Now...if they would just re-institute the baggage handlers...Perfetto!

5 comments:

Anne Harm said...

Great post! Appreciate all the detailios, what it's really like.

Anonymous said...

Re:

> Although it's Italo whose trains have the cutsie step>

End of the second paragraph: what is a 'cutsie' step? Just making sure.

Francesca Maggi BurntbytheTuscanSun said...

When train doors open a step comes out between the platform & the steps onto the train--to close the gap, first & foremost btw the platform & the train.
But also, their steps are easy (eg not steep) & you waltz right in.
On the evil Trenitalia, you have to first hike up steps so steep that my dog Archie has to be picked up & placed inside the carriage - he can't take the steps.
You can imagine with a purse - computer - suitcase & doggy bag what it's like.

Anne Marie Harm said...

Got it... what a hurdle.

Aeldra Robinson said...

Online booking or advance booking is always a better option. If you have a plan to travel then you can book hotel, train tickets in advance. Last year I visit to Italy and I have make my travel plan through routeperfect. Best service.

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