I just got back from a 10 day vacation to lovely Italy. There is a lot to tell and a ton of pictures to share! But, I will start with some information that may be helpful for others traveling. While planning the trip to Italy was a lot of fun, it took a lot of time and research to find out what I needed to know to make the trip successful. I thought this may be a good way to save others a lot of time in planning.
Turns out Milan, Italy is among the least expensive destinations to fly to in Europe. So, we flew into Milan and took the train to our various destinations including Florence, Rome, Naples, and Pompeii. Italian trains are great! Traveling by train is affordable and extremely convenient. The trains are very modern, clean, have at seat power, and large luggage racks (just remember you will need a plug converter for American electronics when traveling anywhere in Europe).
The major train stations along our route were Milano Centrale (Milan), Firenze Santa Novella (or Firenze SMN- aka Florence), Roma Termini (Rome), and Napoli Centrale (Naples). There are other stations in these cities too but these are the big, central hub stations. The train stations are well organized, easy to navigate, and all the arrival and departure boards show English translations of many words in addition to the Italian words. The only thing you will have to know in Italian are the Italian city names. For example, Florence is called Firenze, Naples is Napoli, Rome is Roma, etc. So, know your cities in advance!
It is important to know that there are different kinds of trains. There are intercity trains, high speed trains (called Frecciarossa aka Red Arrow in English), and local trains (sort of like a subway). You can buy tickets at the stations or buy them in advance like I did. If you buy trains at the station you need to validate the ticket right before you use it or you may be fined. If you book in advance, you will have assigned seats and no ticket validation is required. I bought all my tickets through Italia Rail and printed the voucher which I showed to the train conductors.
We used the Frecciarossa (high speed) for travel from Milan to Florence and Florence to Rome and they have a nice selection of food for eating at your seat. The prices are very fair and the food is decent quality (you can bring your own food too, but we bought it on the train). We took the intercity train (slow, long distance train less expensive) from Rome to Naples. It took about 2 hours for that trip but the price was right! The intercity trains don’t have food for purchase, but you can bring your own. Still, both train types are comfortable.
One of the major benefits of buying train tickets in advance is that you know exactly which trains to take. So, when you go to the station you simply compare the train number and the train type (intercity vs. Frecciarossa) from your ticket to the departure board and the train’s track will be posted about 10+ minutes in advance of the departure time (usually and sometimes even earlier than 10 minutes).
One thing to be aware of… the train’s destination may not be the same as your destination. For example, our train from Milan to Florence showed a destination of Napoli. Our stop, Florence, was one of the stops in the middle of the long trek from Milan to Naples and it was not specifically listed on the board. It is very important to compare the train number on your ticket to the train number on the departure board and use the train number as your guide. If in doubt, mostly every conductor I met spoke sufficient English to confirm the train stops.
Overall, the trains were on time and we had minimal problems with train travel. One of our trains did break down and we had to be moved to another train. But, as a regular train commuter for work in NYC, this was nothing different from the problems I experience in NJ/NYC with the trains regularly.