Thursday, July 28, 2016

Trenitalia or Italotreno - Buying Your Train Tickets Online

Milano Centrale Train Station.
   Once you've pretty much finalized your itinerary and made your lodging reservations, you can begin to firm up your transportation between cities you'll be visiting. If you're renting a car, this would be a good time to find the best routes to your destinations. If you're going with a tour group, you'll be able leave the driving and planning to someone else. But, if you're planning to travel around Italy by train, you can start purchasing train tickets before you leave home and save quite a bit of money in the process. Trenitalia has a great "how-to page" for doing just that. Just click here to get started. And, here
for how to buy your tickets online. You should also check fares between major cities on Italotreno. Often, Italotreno fares are cheaper than Trenitalia's. You may even be able to snag First Class (Prima) seats for less than Second Class (Smart) if you start earlier enough. Just remember, that those less expensive seats usually won't allow changes or refunds. Also, I did experience some difficulties completing ticket purchases on Italotreno's site. First of all, the page where you choose your departure and destination cities is in English, but when you click continue after choosing times and the number of passengers, the next page where you choose which train/ticket displays only in Italian. The first two tickets I bought went through without a hitch. After that, I couldn't complete a purchase. In the end I bought our last two tickets on Trenitalia. On Trenitalia, be sure to check the box to proceed "without log-in." Another thing to look for is the "Choose the seat" button which appears over the "Continue" button. Otherwise your seats will be assigned without your input. Just take your time.

   I'm going to include some photos here of some of the Trenitalia pages you will be using to buy your tickets. Be sure to use the Italian spelling for the cities/towns you're visiting. It's also good to know beforehand if a city has more than one train station and which station you want. Many times, you'll want the station with "Centrale" in its name. Usually, that's the main train station near the city center, but your lodging may be nearer to another station. Check that out with your hotel or apartment rental office.  Tripadvisor and/or other travel sites can also help you to determine which station you need. As you do this, you can also learn directions for entering/exiting a train station you'll be using. It's pretty easy asking a question or finding an answer in a Tripadvisor forum for the city/area you'll be visiting.

So, here are some of the photos from my online ticket buying for our upcoming trip to Italy:

Start here at the Trenitalia English (EN) page.

Choose "One Way" or  "Return" for round trip; your departure station and your destination station, your dates, the approximate hours you'd like to leave and the number of tickets (adult & children). Then click "Search." Since we're flying into Linate Airport in Milan (Milano),  and taking the train the next day for Florence (Firenze), I've chosen Milano Centrale station which is close to our Hotel Mythos and Firenze Santa Maria Novella station (SMN) which is close to the city center in Florence.

On the next page, you make your choice (solution) for which train to take. For our purposes, we will choose the Super Economy Frecciarossa option for 69,80 euro for two adults. (I waited a few days to book this ticket and the Super Economy fares were sold out for the time we wanted, so our price went up by 10 euros. However, other departures were still available for 59,80 euros later in the day). Hover your cursor near the price and the "choose" option pops up for you to click. If your getting a "return" (round trip) ticket, you'll have to "continue" to choose your return trip details. You can see that the trip will take 1 hour and 39 minutes - in our experience, the fast trains in Italy like the Frecciarossa are almost always on time to the minute.
 We try to time our departures when going to another city so that we'll be able to check into our lodging right after we arrive. Sometimes there is more flexibility on check-in times with self-catering apartments than with hotels. Hotel Mythos in Milan was very accommodating when we requested in advance for an earlier check-in time. They also were willing to hold our luggage in a safe place if the room was not yet available. Either way, no worries.

So far, this is what our "Cart" looks like.

Choose your seat and click continue...

We have heard that there really is little difference here, so we choose the "I continue without change" option.

Choose your payment option here and click "Accept." And, on the next screen choose "purchase without registering," and fill out all of your information with the same email for all passengers. After you hit the "Confirm" button for payment, you'll receive an email immediately or very shortly thereafter with your ticket and all the information. I just completed my first ticket purchase for this trip and the process was easier than previously so you should have no problems. One thing that I missed on this one, though, was the option of picking our seats, but the ones we were assigned look fine.
So, we're all set for the second leg of our journey. We have our plane tickets and our hotel reservation for our first night in Milan. On our second day, we'll check out of the Hotel Mythos, grab a coffee and a brioche at the station and board the Frecciarossa for bound for Firenze.

Special Note: After (not before!) making my purchase, I looked at my notes for train fares I had researched to find a notation about the Italotreno fare between Milan and Florence. The price for two just 39 euros! As I have said in a previous post, these Economy fares often don't allow changes or refunds. Since the price I already paid is more than double, I put in a call to my credit card company just to see if I could cancel payment on the ticket, explaining that it was really my mistake. The charge had yet to be posted, so I'm waiting to see what happens. Meanwhile, I called Trenitalia and I'm waiting for a call-back now. I imagine we'll just have to live with the higher priced ticket and it's no major  problem, but I share this as a cautionary tale to take your time when buying tickets or making reservations. I had done the research, but neglected use it.
Special Note Update: I decided not to pursue the cancellation of our Trenitalia ticket. The mistake was mine and I had accepted the Trenitalia ticket restrictions. So, I just moved on from there this week to buy our three remaining tickets online: Florence to Naples, Naples to Bologna and Bologna to Milan. In the end, two of our tickets are on Trenitalia and two are on Italotreno.

Once you're traveling on the train, look for signs like the ones in the above photo in case you don't hear the announcement for your stop. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Milan, Florence, Sorrento and Bologna - Our (Finalized) 2016 Itinerary

   Still planning your itinerary? I've been working on ours since my last post on June 5th. It is no longer just a hypothetical possibility - flights are booked and paid for - Boston to Milan's Linate Airport on Aer Lingus changing planes in Dublin. Got another super airfare ($1336 total for 2 round trips - there are a few even cheaper air fares available now on Swiss and Lufthansa) for an early November departure before election day. We'll definitely be voting, though, via absentee ballots.

Milan, on our way to see da Vinci's The Last Supper.

   Having already visited several cities like San Gimignano and Siena two times each, we have decided to explore a bit more of this beautiful country this time. This left us with many great choices, as usual. Since we'll be spending our first and last nights in Milan, we thought that would be enough having been there for four nights last year. Florence is always one of our destination cities because we love it and now, we have friends there. Bologna also deserved another look, especially with an eye toward new days trips from there. Staying in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre seemed like an attractive option, too. Getting to experience Arezzo's huge antique fair was also on my list of things to do. From Arezzo we could easily visit Cortona. Both towns would be new to us.

Leonardo da Vinci statue in Milan.

   Those considerations made for some easy decisions for our itinerary. So, I got out a calendar and started jotting down days and cities. Here is the first draft of our itinerary with day trips from each city we would stay in and the (number) of nights in each base city:

Draft Itinerary #1

Milan (1)
Florence (5) - Fiesole, Prato, Portovenere (overnight?), Pistoia
Arezzo (4) - Cortona, Montepulciano, Montalcino
Bologna (4) - Ravenna, Modena, Verona
Milan (1) - Como

Not a bad looking trip, but after more conversation, research and nine revisions, here is our final itinerary for our 15 day trip in November. You'll notice some significant changes from Itinerary #1 with some cities missing and others added. When we learned that our regular Florence apartments would not be available this year, we decided to spend less time there and expand our visits to Sorrento and Bologna. We have never seen the Amalfi Coast so that change kind of pushed us out of our familiar nest in Florence. While it will be the longest train trip (about 3 1/2 hours total), we know it will be worth it. The choice of Sorrento over Riomaggiore was also partially made because we are hoping to increase our chances of better weather a bit by heading further south. We'll see how that pans out...
Near the Duomo in Siena.

Itinerary #9

Milan (1) take it easy day
Florence (3) - Arezzo, Cortona, Fiesole
Sorrento (5) - Capri, Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Pompeii
Bologna (5) - Ravenna, Modena, Ferrara
Milan (1) take it easy day

   This plan represents more train travel with our luggage than we have done in the past, but our experience doing that last year has given us some confidence. Plus, we are already planning to pack less clothing than last year so that we can more easily handle our suitcases. In 2015, instead taking one large suitcase and one medium one, we packed only one medium suitcase! Since we knew that we would have access to a washing machine in the apartment in Florence, we brought the clothes we each needed for one week even though it was a two week trip. This time, each of the three apartments we are renting has a washing machine. One even has a dryer! So, hopefully, we can pack even less than before. We may try to reduce what we take to fit in two carry-on bags and not check any luggage so we don't have to spend extra time in the Milan airport.

   Because we have already booked the dates and the apartments for each stay, we know when we'll be traveling, so we can take advantage of some great prices on train tickets by buying them online before we leave home. Sometimes the savings can be as much as 70%! For the day trips, we'll buy our regional train or bus tickets the day of or the day before those excursions. We will still have the flexibility to change our itinerary for our day trips as we choose to add/subtract places to see.

   Well, with four months to go before we leave, we have booked and paid for our flights, settled on a great itinerary and reserved all of our lodging. Pretty good preparations, so far. We still need to purchase our train tickets on the Trenitalia  and/or Italotreno for Milan to Florence, Florence to Naples (Sorrento), Naples to Bologna and Bologna to Milan. I've checked all of the prices for the regional trains for our day trips, as well. Still left to do: check out some smaller luggage options, go to AAA to get some euros, reserve rental cars for transportation to/from Boston's Logan Airport and do some more research on places we want to visit. Were well on our way and are excited to be embarking on another adventure to Italy!

   Next up - Buying Your Train Tickets Online Before You get To Italy