August 23, 2014

Public Transportation in Italy


I was really impressed with Italy's public transportation system.  Like, really impressed.

So impressed, in fact, that my mood flew the whole gamut while on vacation in Italy: frustration, annoyance, quiet resignation, maniacal cursing at the transportation gods, profuse sweating combined with nervous, high-pitched laughter, and eventually a dazed admiration that a transportation system could be so unreliable that one could actually rely upon it... for being late or delayed! 

Perhaps I've been overly spoiled with my previous experiences of transportation in other countries.  Flights have been delayed, but never canceled.  Trains have been five or seven minutes late, but never more so.  Buses have been mildly odorous, but never rank.  And I've yet to suffer through the nightmare of traveling during a strike.  (I know, I know; I've probably jinxed myself with these last five sentences.)  Beyond a few obnoxious advances from a pimp in the DC Metro ("Hey ladies! I'm an entrepreneur!") to the usual pieces of gum stuck under a train table in Germany, I've never had any major complaints.

But Italy was different.  We landed in Naples and after gathering our luggage and purchasing tickets for the bus station shuttle, we made our way out into the streets to locate the bus stop.  Unlike the tour bus services and other city bus stops, which were conveniently in front of the airport entrance, the stop for the Napoli Garibaldi shuttle bus was several hundred meters away, located around the corner and in front of a McDonald's.  We finally figured this out (after Danny asked a random van driver idling on the side of the road if he was the transport service; undoubtedly his thoughts were, Turisti stupidi...) and got on the bus with no other incidents.

The ride through Naples was eye-opening.  Traffic laws, schmaffic laws.  The laws of the jungle would be more appropriate.  Bigger vehicles take the right of way, whether it's legally theirs or not, and Vespas zip through red lights with hardly a by-your-leave.  As Rick Steves remarks in his guidebooks, red lights are "discretionary" in the opinion of most Italians.  Chaos rules.  Sidewalks end at busy intersections with no marked pedestrian crosswalks; simply stare boldly at the face of impending death, er, drivers and high-step it across the street.  Be quick, though, as drivers will be right on your heels.

The shuttle dropped us off at the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, which was nothing more than a glorified concrete island in the middle of where several busy roads intersect.  When asked which way to the train station, the bus driver pointed some 600 meters away down a busy street lined not with sidewalks, but with jersey barriers, leaving a scant 6 inches of shoulder space to walk along with the traffic.  Hearts sinking, we prepared to run the gauntlet.

Let's just say that you feel very much alive after power-walking down the road with mere centimeters between you and espresso-fueled crazy Italian drivers.

Once in the cool underbelly of the Napoli Centrale station, though, we experienced even more of what Italy's public transportation had to offer: the cattle-train enterprise cleverly disguised and advertised as the Circumvesuviana train line.  Imagine what a sardine feels like when packed into a tin can -- only make the outside temperature 100'F and don't expect any air conditioning!  Granted, we arrived in the middle of the afternoon commute, but I certainly didn't anticipate that my first impression of Italy would involve the fascinatingly curly and sweaty arm-pit hair of the Italian gentleman crammed beside me on a train.  Buona sera, Signore. 

I could say that we had a more pleasant experience on the Circumvesuviana two days later when we went from Pompeii to Sorrento, but that would be a lie.  The train schedule alleged that it would take thirty minutes, but we should've known better than to trust anything even in print!  We spent an hour enduring the boisterous yells, catcalls, and hoots of some rowdy Italian youths en route to the beach.  With no air conditioning.  But thankfully the return trip was quieter and, well, almost enjoyable.  My bet is that all those youths were too drunk to return to Naples.  Or maybe they drowned.  At any rate, we actually got to sit down on the train!

And don't even get me started on the transportation fiasco with our Mt Vesuvius excursion... granted, it wasn't public transportation, but when you're spending 22€ a person, you expect that the transportation would have the decency to be punctual.

To add insult to injury, all the fretting over tardy transportation back from Vesuvius ended up being a waste of energy since the train from Naples to Rome ended up being over an hour late in leaving.  As in, we sat on the train for an hour with no explanation as to why we weren't moving.  The train conductor better have had a serious case of the runs to justify such tardiness.

Admittedly, there were a few bright spots in Italy's transportation system.  Maneuvering the metro system in Rome was a breeze (minus the scam artists who hang around the ticket machines), and the trains were more or less on time.  Most of the cars were new, and we rarely had to stand or feel like we needed to sanitize ourselves from head-to-toe after exiting.  And there was a really friendly fellow on the Circumvesuviano train who helped me hoist my luggage onto the car.  If you're reading this, Signore, I'm sorry I thought you were a scam artist at first.  My bad.

The most reliable form of transport! :)
The train from Rome's Termini station to Fiumicino Airport was also on time.  But Italy's public transportation system couldn't end our trip on a good note: our plane to Stuttgart was delayed for almost an hour.  Oh, well.  It's the Italian way!

Have you been to Italy?  What was your experience with their transportation?







(This was a rather tongue-in-cheek account of our experience with Italy's public transportation.  If you can't find humor, no matter how sarcastic, in the mishaps and obstacles, then you might as well give up traveling altogether!  That being said, I hope you don't interpret this post as my condemnation of traveling in Italy as a whole.  The public transportation flaws certainly didn't make our trip, but it didn't break it either!  Be sure to check out my posts on Pompeii, Sorrento, and Mt Vesuvius for positive highlights, and stay tuned for my future (glowing) reviews about Rome!)


Linking up with the #SundayTraveler!

20 comments:

  1. Didn't know that red lights may be discretionary! Europe sometimes is intimidating, I know the NYC subway system so well it's like - How do I learn another system (s) ? Great to know it doesn't seem that hard and if you two did it, so can everyone else!

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    1. Rome's metro system is ridiculously easy. It's just two lines - A and B. They're working on line C, but it looked like it would be a while before it would be operational. There were definitely a few aspects of Italy that were quite intimidating, but it's completely doable for anyone who goes in with a positive attitude, a realistic expectation that something will go wrong (like it does anywhere else in the world!), and an ability to just roll with the punches and have fun!

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  2. It seems like Italy's claim to infamy :)

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    1. You hit the nail right on the head!

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  3. Haha... I am not sure punctuality exists in the Italian dictionary! We gave up on Rome's subway system earlier this year, and I am from London and used to commute on a daily basis on the Underground! I think that says it all! :D Buses and trams were fine though!

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    1. Wow, really? I thought Rome's subway system was a breeze! Well, after we figured out that we needed to go down one more level at the Termini station to get the other line, that is.... :P London's system is a lot more complicated, but since it's all in English, I didn't have too terrible of a time with it back in February!

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  4. Katrina, I cracked up reading this post. So many times I've lamented Italian public trans, but I've also driven all over Italy, and at least the buses, trains, etc. are big and don't usually get threatened like small cars do.

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    1. I'm glad it elicited a smile from you! :) I cracked up a bit myself while writing it. You're right about the size factor - the bigger vehicles seem to get the right of way. There's no way I'd ever consider driving there!

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  5. The metro in Rome is really realliable and easy to work (Rome is HUGE, I couldn't have done without really). I've also caught a few busses and that wasn't too terrible either. We found the taxis (well, their drivers) more or less suicidal (life flashing by experiences)...
    Found you through SunayTraveler :-)

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    1. The metro definitely saved our feet from falling off completely! It'll be nice when they have Line C up and running.

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  6. Oh my gosh!!! This is one of the reasons why I haven't really visited Italy so far :D

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    1. :) Don't let it deter you, but definitely make sure you're mentally prepared!!!

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  7. Punctuality is an unknown thing in Italy I am sure of it :) As for the transport, we drove most of it so I cant say. But better to be late on a bus than stuck bumper to bumper in a rental car with bikes whizzing by you :) Big cheers for joining us for #SundayTraveler this week!!!

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    1. Yeah, I don't think we'd ever consider driving there! Is it better in Croatia? We're thinking that may be our next major trip, but since we'd like to see Plitvice AND Dubrovnik, it looks like a rental car is our only option...

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  8. Ah the joy of avoiding the Italian drivers while trying to cross the street. Makes for a lot of interesting stories!

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    1. It sure does! Nothing like an adrenaline rush to make you feel happy to be alive!

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  9. HAHA glad I followed you over from #SundayTraveler. Sounds like Colombia a bit!

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    1. :) We were joking that it was more like a third-world country than Europe! That's a slight exaggeration, of course, but when you're frustrated, anything goes lol.

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  10. Hahahha totally manically laughing. One day I waited an 1.5hours for a bus that's suppose to come every 15 minutes...Usually I just walk and at this point I tend to ignore time schedules. Yesterday I had 3 minutes to make it through Bologna Central Train Stations. I arrived 5 minutes after the train was suppose to have left. Alas, it hadn't even come yet! So I guess there is a plus to transportation being late?!

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    1. I was waiting for you to come back from vacation and chime in. LOL! Yeah, I don't think I could handle it on a daily basis! Then again, good ol' Richmond has no public transportation worth speaking of so maybe I'd be more immune to the tardiness if I had more exposure to it!

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