Transportation in Italy
Before I begin to write, let me just start by saying, this could be a long winded article. I will try my best to keep it short but I have A LOT to say on the matter of public transportation in Italy and most is not so positive (which is rare for me). I am generally an optimist and can always find the good in situations, and at first I definitely took each late bus or crazy scenario as an adventure and learning experience, however, after far too many waits in the cold for over an hour, buses not showing up, or trains stopping randomly and abandoning me to rainstorms, I’m just a little frustrated. Just a little.
I am heavily dependent on public transit since I live in Pinerolo (45 minutes by train) from Torino. A typical day of commuting includes a 15 minute walk to the train or bus station, 45 minutes on the train (1 hour by bus) and another 10-15 minutes to arrive at my destination in the city center. If I give myself 1.5 hours to get somewhere I should be totally fine, right…? Not so much.
Okay, short story time!
Thanksgiving Day (a very important American holiday tradition) in November, Abby and I planned a dinner and invited a few Italian friends to join in on one of our favorite traditions back home. Earlier in the day we cooked together, prepared the feast and were so excited to share these yummy treats with people who have never experienced the American style stuffing, pumpkin pie, turkey (attempted to find a whole turkey but no luck…) and all the typical delicious dishes of the season. I left 2 hours early because I was being responsible and time efficient and going to set everything up before our guests arrived. Such a good plan! However, that is not how the story goes…
Once I left Pinerolo, within 2 minutes of boarding the train we stopped in a small town called, Airaska where we didn’t move for about 20 minutes. I tried asking the attendee why we were stopped but my Italian was very limited. Language barriers can be a bit tricky, especially in situations like this. Eventually he communicated to me through passionate waving and hand motions to get off the train and wait for a bus. Keep in mind, that we were thrown out into a blistering rainstorm, with heavy winds and hours of nonstop pouring. I waited under a platform with a group of maybe 10 others and there we stood for over an hour…just waiting.
All the while, the guests are arriving for dinner and the feast is getting cold. I didn’t eat much that day so that I would have room for TONS of food at dinner (because that’s how us Americans do it :), so I was starving! I luckily am a pro at putting on my makeup anywhere from trains and cars to city streets and apparently even while waiting for buses during a storm. I definitely proved to myself that day that my skills run deeper then I knew. I used my laptop camera as a mirror and finished my makeup for dinner since I was no longer going to have time to get ready. Though I used my time efficiently and proved to be resourceful, I was however getting hard core stares from all the gentlemen standing and waiting. And why wouldn’t they? I wasn’t necessarily being inconspicuous and “hiding” what I was doing. It’s not everyday that you see someone setup a makeup station while abandoned at bus stops. They were probably shocked and figured out instantly I was foreign. I made sure to face away from them in an attempt for more privacy but I could feel their feelings of equal judgement and intrigue looking my way. I get that a lot…
Anyways, I eventually bordered a bus that I thought was taking me to the main train station in Turin where I would grab a quick metro over to dinner, but ended up at a station with only cancelled trains to the city and no buses running due to weather (they are also often cancelled or delayed because of strikes or the fact that multiple trains share the same train track and have to switch off…hmm…). I was stuck. Dah! By this time it was already past the scheduled dinner time and all guests had arrived. Finally, after no solutions and my friend talking to Italians in an effort to get me out of there, he drove to pick me up and saved the day! Shout out to Luca Russo for that (thanks again!). To sum it up it took me 3.5 hours to reach a destination only 1 hour away.
Unfortunately, that was only one example of unreliable transportation these last few months. To anyone who has traveled by train or bus in Europe we all understand that the system is unreliable and it is part of everyday travel experiences to miss our rides, be stuck in the middle of nowhere and fend for ourselves. Sometimes it can be chalked up to memories and funny situations and other times we think, “Really? The bus is late again? How am I supposed to get anywhere on time?”
Well, here are my only solutions so far:
- If traveling in a city, ALWAYS give yourself extra time to reach your destination.
- Walk as much as you can. It’s a double bonus to get exercise and see the beauty of the city.
- As far as traveling to and from cities around Italy, I highly recommend BlaBla Car (carpooling) and Flixbus, especially if you are budget conscience. Both companies might not be the most time efficient, but it gets you there and it’s affordable. Both important things. The two train companies I travel with are Trenitalia or .Italo and though they arrive on time, it is no guarantee you will arrive at the time listed. However, they are faster (maybe).
- Try your best to enjoy the journey. If you have lower expectations and don’t compare to more organized systems around the world all will be well. You will be pleasantly surprised and jump for joy when you are on time! At least that’s my way of looking at it.
Whew…and I’m done. I think I got it out of my system. Remember that this article was focused on Italy, specifically and in no away reflects the people of this country, just the reality that Italian cities seriously need to rethink the structures of public transportation and aim to reach for efficiency and organization. I think many of us would appreciate that.
Con Tanto Amore,