In Italy, I don’t like booking tickets via the internet. a) Because it’s most of the time not cheaper but you’re stuck with a chosen itinerary. b) Most of the time I have no access to a printer and you have to print all tickets.
So getting from Bagni di Lucca to Vicenza turns into a competition between Maria and I. She’s paid €33, will start her journey on the 8:20 am train and arrive at the final destination at 2:57 pm.
Grudgingly, I agree to also go to the station for 8:20 am. I had planned to take the next train but it doesn’t feel right to make our host Rod go there twice in an hour.
I had looked up a cheap connection on trenitalia’s website: €26 with 4 changes in between, all on regional trains. I don’t find it in the ticket machine at Bagni di Lucca station. There is no counter.
In the end, I pay €13.75 to get to Bologna and invest another €10.10 into a ticket to Padova, holding off on buying the final leg because of the faint chance that I’ll rather take the bus.
Our train is five minutes late and instead of the usual 4 carriage bullet train, we try to squeeze into a 2 carriage version that looks like it shouldn’t have been on the tracks for at least 20 years. I have to stand for the whole half hour with my big pack on my back.
In Lucca, I say goodbye to Maria hoping we might meet again if not along the way bump into each other in Vicenza. She says: “Yes, that would be nice.” and we part ways.
I find one of the big yellow posters listing all partenze, departures, and stops along the way. I find Prato in the small print of a Firenze-bound train, leaving in 40 minutes from platform 4.
After a short wander through the station, I decide to give that €26 ticket another chance and go to the ticket machines. There, for the first time in a year of Italian train travel, I discover a button in the left bottom corner: “Show all connections”. Sure enough, when I tap the button a world of cheap, all regional train connections opens up: Lucca to Vicenza, €23. Shocked that it took me so long to find that button and elated by my new knowledge I head over to the platform.
Five minutes after I have gotten comfortable there Maria joins me. That’s her train to Florence . I immediately tell her about “Show all connections”. She nods but is a lot less excited than I am.
There is a guy on the train, traveling alone with only a small backpack. Yet, he somehow has managed to block 4 seats. I prop my backpack between two of his seats so Maria and I can sit next to one another and the backpack doesn’t block the aisle. We start chatting, he keeps apologizing for his English but it’s really good, just with a strong Italian accent. Upon hearing where I am headed he warns me that the Vicente eat cats and never to order rabbit in Vicenza as it would most likely be cheaper cat meat. I am amused. He seems very sincere about this. Before popping his bright yellow earset back in and dedicating himself to the sports section of his newspaper he also gives me a wine recommendation: “Have the Merlot.”
When we reach Prato after one and a half hours I bid goodbye to Maria again, again I express the hope we might meet again, on this journey or in Vicenza, Maria leaves with a “I don’t think so”.
Once again I find the yellow poster on the platform. I have to run.
The next train to Bologna leaves in less than five minutes, 4 platforms down.
I race down the steps of platform 3, along the corridor, back up to platform 7 and board the train with time to spare.
I arrive in Bologna Centrale five minutes late, get off the train and look for the next yellow poster to find my connection to Padova. Because Bologna station is so important it takes me a minute to find Padova in the small print of the Regionale Veloce 2232 to Venice at 12:20. There is a FrecciaArgento leaving 10 minutes earlier but the board shows it’s already 10 minutes delayed.
It’s a total casino. Most of the trains on the board are late, some by as much as 2 hours, other trains have been canceled. In front of every screen droves of people are shaking their heads, some frantically scrolling through their phones for a BlaBlaBla Car. Finally, the announcer explains that there has been an accident with human casualties somewhere between Bologna and Rimini and that there are buses to the South available.
My train North looks like it is on time. I have 25 minutes until it leaves. It’s not raining at the moment so I jump out of the station to grab lunch at Pizza Leggere across the street. At €3, the vegetarian pizza roll is overpriced, but I’ve been here before and know it’s worth it.
Coming into Padova we are 10 minutes late. Still, I could just cross the platform and step right into the train to Verona with a stop in Vicenza, which leaves in only 5 minutes.
I still don’t have a ticket to go to Vicenza and, instead of buying the ticket on the train, decide to find a ticket machine. Getting there takes a minute, and then I need two tries to convince the machine to issue me my €4.10 ticket. By then the train has left the station.
So I have to wait half an hour. I take a quick tour around the station forecourt. But it’s raining again. Touts are trying to sell umbrellas. Without much success. I go back inside and find my platform.
It dawns on me that I’ve beaten Maria, both in price and maybe also in speed because I don’t see her anywhere.
All the way into Vicenza and until I leave the train station behind me I keep a look out for Maria. I arrive at 2:52 pm.
She’s not there.
Proudly, I tell my tale of how I am the Master of Italian Trains to my house sitting hosts.
For some general advice on booking cheap train tickets (and other public transport in Italy), I recommend my post Your guide to traveling Italy on a budget by public transport.