It was bound to happen; we all knew it would eventually. Culture shock hits and I end up dazed and confused, looking very much like the American I am. What we didn’t know is that it would happen this soon. Sure, on the first day of my adventure in Italy, that’s acceptable, but the first half hour? Come on now! Low and behold, a half hour after touching down at the airport, I found myself standing at Florence’s Stazione Santa Maria Novella, train ticket to Rome in hand, looking like a foreign fool.

Buying the train ticket wasn’t difficult at all; I strolled right up to the automated kiosk, pressed buttons until I had found the train I thought I wanted, inserted the Visa card, and out came the golden ticket. I glanced it over and was hit by immediate panic. Whether it was 14 hours of being thousands of feet in the sky, the lack of sleep, or the time difference – I was beyond baffled. Not ever having to use military time in my life, the fact that my ticket had 15.05 printed on it and that I had purchased it at 15:45, had me positive that I had just thrown my money away with my first Italian purchase.

Luckily there was a nice lady at the counter to help me. Except she wasn’t nice at all, and wanted very little to do with me. After ignoring me, she then repeated “wait five,” while pointing into the distance, in response to all my questions – which was great because it was really friendly conversation I wanted, not assistance. But shortly after, my fears were soothed. I saw my train number (9537) appear on the reader board (so that’s what she was pointing to!) and realized that it hadn’t left without me! I wouldn’t discover until much later that the “15.05” printed on my ticket was the DATE my train was leaving, not the time of departure. (More tips on how the heck to read train tickets at the end of the article) 🙂

The next situation I found myself in was more alarming than embarrassing, but unnerving nonetheless; how exactly do I validate my ticket? I knew I had to do this for fear of the conductor kicking me off the train in the middle of the Italian countryside. And as much as I love the Italian countryside, Rome was where I wanted to get to. So how exactly to go about this… Sure the machine with the slot to feed tickets into was pretty self-explanatory, but which end do I have to put in? What if I put it in the wrong way and it has my ticket for some kind of ticket-validation-monster dinner? What if I stamp it at the wrong end and the conductor still kicks me off for being a stupid American? Allora, I decided to ask the locals. After a few failed scusi’s, a nice businessman kindly validated my ticket and sent me off to wait for my train.

All I have to do now is board the train and relax right? Exactly. Except that is not what happened. I had reserved a seat on this train, so instead of sitting anywhere I please, I should probably sit in my assigned seat right? Wish somebody had told me. Well, I sat down, got all settled. Only to hear rapid Italian and a ticket-in-face telling me that I, apparently, was not in the right place, and oh did I vacate quickly. So I picked another nice-looking, comfy train seat. Different seat, same situation. Except, this time, the gentleman spoke enough English to direct me to my seat, two cars down. Falling into my seat as the train left the station, I got to enjoy the lovely view of the inside of tunnels as the Frecciarossa (fast train) sped towards Rome.

Learn from me!

My Train-riding tips:

Validate on the left side of the ticket, before boarding. Note that validation is required for non-reserved/open seating trains, but not for the fast trains with reserved seating. On the safe side, I like to validate my ticket no matter what, just in case. Also, if you reserved a seat, you should probably sit in the one assigned to you, unless you know, you’re into Italians yelling at you. And hey, just because I can’t tell military time, check and recheck your train times – just to be sure!

Train ticket Italy

Some Italian train vocabulary:

Treno = train number
(I was on treno 9537)

Binario = platform
(Find your train number, next to it will be a “binario” number so you’ll know where to go to catch your ride)

Carrozza = train car
(As you can see, I was in in carrozza 007)

Posti = seat
(My seat was 1A Finestrino (window))

Data = departure date
(15.05 was NOT the time my train was leaving, it was the date of departure – May 5th)
*Remember that in Europe, dates are written in reverse: day first, month second

Ora = departure time
(My train departed at 16:04 (that’s 4:04 p.m. for the military time impaired)
*The 15:45 circled at the bottom of my ticket was the time of purchase

Happy train travels!

-Ethan