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Italiarail

by /bio/awinegeek »

I just used Italiarail to book my train tickets for my upcoming trip to Italy this April. There are often questions posted here about buying train tickets so I thought I would share my experience.

 

In the past I have used the Trenitalia website without too much difficulty. It was always a little quirky, but not too hard to navigate once you understand some of the little quirks. Well, after spending a frustrating half hour on their site yesterday, I just gave up. I remembered reading about italiarail somewhere and decided to check it out. What a pleasure to use.

 

italiarail.com

 

Italiarail is an English language site that is hooked up directly to the treniatlia ticketing system. The search features are a breeze to use. It recognizes both English and Italian city names (you can search for Padua or Padova, Florence or Firenze). The prices were the same as on the official trenitalia website. All of the same “super economy” discounts were there. There was a 3.50 euro processing fee, which is well worth it for the ease of use, but I was able to get that refunded (more on that below). Italiarail also didn't require entering detailed info on each traveler (which is what was hanging me up on the official site, it wouldn't accept a birthday for the “child” ticket)

 

The only possible disadvantage I can see is that it did not allow me to select specific seats. Its system selected them for me. I was hesitant about this, but I checked the seat numbers on the official site as I booked and was able to see that it chose 3 perfectly fine seats together and facing each other at a table as I would have chosen for myself. (And interestingly, as I checked the “official site” the seats that were pending my purchase on itailia rail were blacked out as sold, so that confirmed that it is indeed hooked directly to the official ticketing system.)

 

In short, I can highly recommend buying Italian train tickets through italiarail.

 

I also recommend checking out the the Man in Seat 61 website seat61.com for lots of detailed info on trains. The site as been updated since I last saw it years ago and is an amazing resource on train travel.

 

Italia rail charged only one 3.50 Euro fee for the whole booking of 3 tickets on two separate train trips. But as I saw on seat61, you can this refunded if you contact them at  seat61@itailarail.com. I sent an email and within a few hours had confirmation of my refunded processing fee. Very cool.

 

Happy travels,

 

AWG

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/mushroom »

is it still the same trip you outlined before?  I seem to recall Padova, Venice and Florence around eastertime?

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/awinegeek »

Hi mushroom,

Buon anno!

Yes, it is the same trip. We fly in and out of VCE. On arrival we head to Padova for nights, then Firenze for 5 nights in an apartment, (day trip to Pisa), and then finish with 3 nights in Venice.  We planned this last July and kept it a secret from our neice until just a few weeks ago. She is now 13.  We are all very excited about this trip. Her spring break is the week before Easter, for some reason, so we will be heading home on Good Friday, and not have to worry about any holiday hours etc. 

non vediamo l'ora,

AWG

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/mushroom »

That's great that the timing of the trip is just ahead of Easter, when you are likely to enjoy fine weather and be able to load up your suitcases with chocolate eggs, but still not get caught in a crush of fellow tourists or have important sites closed.

 

I can't remember if I already said this, but if it is possible to time your visit to Pisa so that it includes seeing the tower beyond sunset, lit up at night, might be worth it.  In addition to how dramatically pretty it can be,  the crowds thin, which is a plus.  I suppose it all depends on when the sun goes down the week you will be in the area, and the train schedule.

 

I seem to remember that you spent more than a day in Pisa yourselves, so you probably already know that the complex of the Campo dei Miracoli has a number of quirky points of interest apart from the quirkiness of the leaning tower -- i.e., the acoustics of the bapistery, the modern-day history of the Camposanto (or its associations with the English Romantic poets), the museum explaining how frescoes are made and restored if they've been terribly damaged, etc etc.  I have a 13 year old nephew, and right now I'm debating in my mind whether to take him to Pisa or France on his next visit here (he's doing well in his French language studies at school).  I think if I take him to Pisa I'm going to make visiting the Bapistery for its acoustics as a priority, since he has a particular interest in music and sound.  That's a long way of saying that if you don't have time to examine every part of the Campo dei Miracoli, depending on what interests your niece has, some corners of it might be more interesting to her than others, so it's worth tracking down details about what there is to see in its various components (including the tiny museum of the duomo).

 

 

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/awinegeek »

Yes, you did mention the idea of going to Pisa late in the day. I love that plan. Smaller crowds sounds like a big plus to me. I am looking forward to going back to Pisa. We didn't really spend too much time there last time. It was our first night of our first trip to Italy. There was jet lag exhaustion and first time in country jitters, (especially after our bancomat fiasco upon arrival.)

 

I was just looking at the Pisa monuments web site today. Unfortunately it looks like the museo del duomo is closed until June.

 

Last time after settling in to our hotel for a bit, we checked out the tower, and we did go to the baptistery. Then it was time for much needed aperitivo and then dinner. Next morning we went back for a more relaxed view of the piazza dei miracoli, but then had to get back to check out of our hotel and then head to Florence. So we are looking forward to getting more time to enjoy the sights there.

 

 

I am trying to figure out what day to go to Pisa. I would have liked to just played it as it happens depending on weather, but to climb the tower we will need to reserve in advance. I am pretty sure my niece will want to climb the tower, so that will require some planning. We are in Florence for 5 nights from Thursday through Tuesday. I think logistically Sunday would make sense to sort of break up our time there. Is it a bad idea to go on a Sunday? It is Palm Sunday, I imagine there might be ceremonies etc. I found the info on the web a bit confusing. It shows the Duomo open from 10:00 to 20:00, but it also lists times for services. I imagine it is closed to visitors during mass? Trying to decide if Sunday is a bad day to visit. Whad'ya think?

 

And it looks like the set up in Florence has changed since my last visit. Climbing the cupola requires a timed reservation. Last time we just showed up on a day with good weather at a time when the line looked relatively small. With a advance res it will be hit or miss on weather. And it looks like they only sell a combo ticket for the whole complex.. Last time we paid separately for the sites we saw.

 

And of course we will also have to plan in advance our visit to see the David,. And we must figure out when to fit in a visit to San Miniato al Monte in time for Gregorian Chant. So I guess we will have more of a planned itinerary than I was originally imagining. With 5 days we hopefully should have enough time for some spontaneity.

 

I am also planning a dinner with Le Cesarine in Florence. (what we used to know as Home Food.) Months ago I had picked out what I thought was a good menu/cesarina/location but did mot actually book it. Now it appears they have changed the set up a bit. They say they will use their expertise to match our needs to the right Cesarine. I trust that will work out OK, They do say they will send us the menu in advance. I expect that this dinner in an Italian home will be a highlight of our trip.

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/mushroom »

I think you might run into difficulties with ceremonies on a Sunday, and maybe especially Palm Sunday. They won't close the church but they will severely restrict tourists from moving freely through the church, taking pictures, talking. Even on ordinary Sundays there can be afternoon (5pm) masses.  You might get much more precise information by posting your question on the Pisa forum of Tripadvisor. You're very likely to find a local who knows the answer.

 

You also might want to take a look at this cruise ship docking schedule for the port of Livorno.  Just about NOBODY who takes a cruise that docks in Livorno stays in Livorno. They get onto the train and go to Pisa or Florence.  Depending on the size of the ship, they can make an impact (although they tend to leave by 3pm or so.)

 

http://crew-center.com/livorno-italy-cruise-ships-schedule-2019

 

But again, somebody on Tripadvisor with more local and current knowledge can give you a much better picture.  It might be that you can safely make a climb-the-tower reservation online just a few days before you want to go, once you've seen a weather forecast. I don't think you need clear skies to enjoy Pisa, but I'd rather be in Florence were it pouring rain than in Pisa.

 

Regarding reservations for the "real" David and climbing the cupola, my plan would probably be to just book each first thing for any morning (separately), as early as you think reasonable after finishing a comfortable breakfast, and then rest of your day is free to do anything (even go to Pisa).  I'm hazy on Catholic rituals, but I think they sing (chant?) the evening vespers every evening in San Miniato -?- so I would just go on a clear day if possible so you can also enjoy the views from up there.  But check information better than mine about particulars, including how you get up there and back if you want to skip the climb, or don't want to descend in the dark.

If a combo ticket to the Duomo includes the museum of the Duomo, I do think it is worthwhile to examine at least a few of the real Bapistery doors, since the cleaning reveals so much detail that isn't visible on the replicas, and you generally don't have to jockey with so many other tourists to get a close up look at the doors that are inside the museum. Your neice might also appreciate knowing the story of how these and other artworrks were rescued in '66 by hundreds young Italians and young tourists, many only in their teens, who flocked to Florence from all over the world when they learned the Arno had broken its banks with such terrible force, and they became locally known as gli angeli del fango, "the angels of the mud", for all their volunteer work for weeks on end, saving the priceless Renaissance treasures of Florence. Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise were ripped right off the Bapistery by the flood in '66 and it took more than 25 years to fix the damage and clean them.

https://www.historytoday.com/richard-ivan-jobs/florence’s-mud-angels

 

The Home Food dinner sounds enchanting.  Your neice will be in good hands. Is she up for eating rabbit and spleen? If not, I'm sure they will find wonderful Tuscan alternatives.  (I just cooked and ate a rabbit for dinner, but I have to admit that while it was delicious, it still didn't match up to the Home Food rabbit cooked for me by a "cesarina" in Florence.)

 

 

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/awinegeek »

 

What a great story on the 'Mud Angels”. Thanks for sharing that.

 

I did find the Pisa duomo schedule and it looks like they have masses all morning then at 12:15 and then one final one at 1800. So if we go late in the day, we should be able to get in to church before the 6 pm mass and then still have time for the other sights, then maybe climb the tower afterwards. sunset is just before 8. I will ask around some more and decide. I guess I might have to monitor the tower web site and notice how far in advance they fill up with bookings, when we get closer to the season.

 

Then again, I found out that you can cancel or change your res any time up to one day before your scheduled booking. They don't charge you until the day of your res. So it might be easy to make late changes based on weather or whim. And since you can only book a max of 20 days in advance I have plenty of time to think about this.

 

I did visit the museum of the Duomo in Florence, but was unable to see the doors. They were tucked away in a special room undergoing renovation. Hopefully they will be accessible this time. I did enjoy all of the displays of the scale models of the duomo prototypes.

 

We are planning to book David in the morning and will probably do the same for the cupola. Agree that it is best to do first thing. It stresses the rest of the day if you know you have an appointment to keep later in the day.

 

The Gregorian chant happens every day at San Miniato at 545 PM (530 sunday). The view from up there is awesome, so yes we will try for fair weather for that. Last time we took a bus up there, but walked down. I will get familiar with the bus routes. We are not as young as we used to be, and might just kill ourselves climbing those towers, so we plan to use the buses, or taxis a bit to cut down on some of the longer walks.

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/mushroom »

Yours truly doesn't do staircase climbs on vacation. That's my everyday life, and holidays are supposed to be getting away from it all! 

 

You might want to stay up in the hills around San Minatoto see the sunset over Firenze and the Arno, which is another reason not to want to walk down in the dark.  I seem to remember getting lost on my way down -- not seriously lost, because you see Firenze the whole time, but I ended up walking on a narrow unpaved path, and I am sure there is a better way to descend.  I recall wishing I had taken one of the many taxis I had seen in the piazzalle Michelangelo, so that's yet another option.

 

Harder for me than climbing up stairs at my age is coming down them, especially something like medieval cupola or belltower stairs, since I wear progressive lens eyeglasses, and descending steep narrow steps is very nervewracking. I actually don't like heights, and have never climbed the tower of Pisa and tend to think I never will. It's funny that I don't mind at all looking out a plane window -- although flying into my local urban airport is rather horrifying --  but I used to have a NYC apartment with a 29th flr balcony, and I'd practically crawl out on my hands and knees to water the plants...

 

Am thinking your niece (and your wife!) might enjoy getting some soaps or such from the historic Farmacia of Santa Maria Novella, and both the museo San Marco and Gozzoli's Magi chapel in the palazzo Medici Riccardi strike me as more kid-friendly than the Uffizi or the Bargello. Inside the Accademia, if you decide to stay longer than just looking at David, i was immensely impressed a fabulously detailed and well preserved embroidered altarcloth upstairs from the 1300s (it was used in Santa Maria Novella), and their are many other colorful and enchanting artworks upstairs (the gallery is not big, and i think more interesting than the plaster casts gallery)

 

http://www.wolffchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/20150625-25.jpg

 

I also think the many rooms of historic musical instruments are beautifully displayed in the Accademia, so if it is a rainy morning that might be worthwhile and if your niece plays any instruments herself

 

I've heard both the jewelry and the shoe museums in Florence are interesting for certain types of kids, but I've never been. Ditto the Galileo museum.

 

 

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/awinegeek »

The Farmacia is on our to do list. Thought we would pop in before taking the train to Pisa, as it is near the station, or possibly if we hit Sostanza for lunch in the same neighborhood.

 

I think she might like the music exhibits in Accademia, ( I liked it), she does love music. I don't remember if we ventured upstairs last time, but thanks for mentioning the alter cloth, We should have time to linger there for a while.

I also really liked seeing the half finished sculptures on display. I think it gives you a good appreciation for how the artist can look at a block of stone and envision a sculpture.

 

And I hope she will appreciate seeing the cells of San Marco, much more interesting than a regular art museum.

 

She is interested in science, (and everything!) so Museo Galileo is on our list of possibilities, but not necessarily a “must see'. It looks like it is a very “interactive” museum, so it should be kid friendly. At very least I want to see the sundial outside.

My plan for our last day in Florence is to give her the option. By then, after a week in Italy she'll get to decide if we go to a science museum, or the gardens, or just walk around shopping, or go to the market and then cook, etc.

 

Unless she insists, I would happily skip climbing the Pisa tower. It seems that it is maybe better to apprieciate from below, so you can see the tilt. But the cupola of the Florence Duomo is well worth it. The view is incredible, of course, but the part where you walk along the catwalk along side the dome frescoes, is fantastic. And most fun of all is the part where you climb in between the 2 layers of dome to reach the peak. That in itself makes it worth the 463 steps. I look forward to going up there again (Mrs. AWG, not so much :-)

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RE: Italiarail

by /bio/awinegeek »

mushroom,

 

I noticed that you made the NY Times 52 places to visit in 2019 list.  It looks beautiful. Hope that doesn't negatively impact the peaceful life in your town.  That is the problem when a "hidden gem" becomes unhidden. :-)

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