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Tuscan Train Travel
Tuscan Train Travel
Train Travel in Tuscany - Uncensored Italy
Traveling to Tuscany has a romantic mental image for those planning a visit Italy. We chose to travel from Rome to Lucca for a number of reasons:
- proximity to Florence
- close to Pisa
- within easy reach of Tuscan wine country
- a lovely medieval town with one of the last and best remaining continuous protective walls
Before leaving Virginia we had bought train tickets which we believed to be much easier than dealing with the hassle of purchasing at Rome's huge and confusing Termini train depot.
Arriving at Termini with plenty of time to spare we realized that our tickets were for the local 'milk run' trains which hit every conceivable stop between Rome and Florence (Firenze). Hours longer than the express trains. A switch was in order so we walked from the platform to the ticket line which looked to be about 30 minutes long. Our turn arrived and we were summoned over to one of the stern looking clerks - we must have looked like fish out of water because he proceeded to speak to us in English. Our request to exchange our tickets and pay the extra for an express ticket was met with ' ah I am sorry this is not possible due to the code on your tickets - you should have purchased tickets in Italy!' OK - we left the line and the thought of spending the entire day on one of the slow moving local trains held no appeal. We decided to abandon our local tickets but by now the line had grown larger. When we entered Termini we noticed that the station has electronic kiosks which also sell tickets and best of all sported no lines. We purchased assigned first class tickets on the express. I have learned to lean a little when travel throws you a curve.
Our ticket was a one way fare which does not require platform validation. But beware of Eurail tickets. Most Americans are unaware that you have to stamp these tickets on the platform using a yellow post hung machine. Failure to do this results in having to pay the fare again on the train! The reason for this are the limited time frame to expiry on the Eurail fares once validated. An unaware American family in our car failed to validate and were met with conductor and stewards demanding payment - he had no choice but to relent and pay north of one hundred Euros again. Needless to say he was not happy.
The train to Firenze was fast, comfortable and catered. Stewards came through the aisles with food, drink and reading material.
Things were falling into place - we were very happy with ourselves - arriving in Firenze with plenty of time to spare for our connecting local train to Lucca. The platform was unusually crowded for a Sunday and the Departure board was blank. Uh-oh. We flagged down an official who said to us ' please go to office number 7 for more information'. OK - what did that mean? Baggage in tow we went over to the office and stood among several other travelers hoping to go to many different Tuscan locations. From what I overheard the regional trains were on strike. I asked the official what our options were and he said 'you must wait'. OK - how long do you think? This was met with ' maybe later today, maybe tomorrow!'
Like I said, when traveling, you must go with the flow. We walked outside the terminal with a plan in mind to catch a cab into Firenze and stay the night. Things could be worse - we were stuck in the Renaissance capital of the world - we would enjoy it.
We flagged a cab and asked the cabbie to take us to the Hotel Berchielli - the same hotel we had booked four days hence. He said we could walk there faster as he would have to take a circuitous route due to the old city being mostly closed to mechanized travel. We started telling him our tale and our thwarted plans to get to Lucca when he said 'I can drive you to Lucca for less money than you would spend for a night in Firenze'. Well, fantastic! Take us to Lucca. He was right - cost was 80 Euros - less than a hotel and we saved our reservation in Lucca.
The drive through the Tuscan countryside was more comfortable and faster than the local Tuscan trains would have been. We passed through plains of grain dotted with small Tuscan towns on a four lane highway in the shadows of the Appenine Mountain range with our own tour guide. This was a great Tuscan treat.
Leaving Lucca for travel back to Firenze we awaited the 'Regional'. Hopefully nothing on strike. When speaking with the people of Lucca it was learned that strikes were fairly common and usually on Sundays! The train pulled into the platform arriving from Pisa and yes it was shabby with a mix of tourists, foreign laborers, and business men and women. The train was crowded but we found a torn and broken down pair of seats in a forward car. It turned out to be adventuresome and fun. The stops were numerous and exposed the eye to some run down towns such as Montale Agliana, Pistoia and Serravalle - this particular corridor was industrial and unkempt. But you could spy the affluence up on the Appenine foothills. If you decide to make a stop a good choice would be Montecatina Terme halfway between Lucca and Firenze. Braving the area around the train stop - a short drive or walk can bring you to the elegant area of town. Definitely worth a visit to experience its' hot springs which are enclosed by grand and imposing 18th century spas - a veritable architectural parkland. This town was popular with turn of the century nobles due to the rumored healing properties of the thermal water. It has a lovely central square complete with palm trees, gardens and great places to eat. But wait, there is more, the older medieval town of Montecatini Alto can be reached by cable car. The views are fantastic. Shop at the Grocco market and lunch with the locals at Piazza Guisti. Continuing on to Firenze the total trip took 2 hours and made 14 stops - an hour longer than our previous cab ride.
- be flexible during your travel
- do speak with people about your problems - they are more than willing to help and offer advice
- don't be afraid to spend a little extra to make yourself comfortable or to avoid a travel ' train wreck' - how many times are you going to be to Tuscany?
- don't buy your train tickets out of country
- do stamp your tickets even when in doubt
- avoid train travel on Sunday
- if you have an iPhone purchase the iTreni app which shows train schedules, stops and times - use the Italian names of cities such as Firenze for Florence