The truth is that it’s quite possible to arrive early at a train station and still miss your train. I found that out the hard way on my visit to Bologna. By the end of the trip, I understood just how significant 10 minutes was when traveling by train in Italy.
After a 40-minute train ride from Firenze SMN, I arrived in Bologna – a foodie’s paradise, where plans to have lunch, shop, do some sightseeing, drink plenty of cappuccinos and hot chocolates in between, and have dinner (all within 9 hours) would commence.
Maybe my friend and I were too ambitious to think we could accomplish everything on our list by 9 p.m., and the fact that alot of restaurants don’t start serving dinner until 8:00 p.m. (7:30 p.m. if you’re lucky) didn’t help either. We knew dinner was going to be a long process, and even though we were famished, we made the tough decision to skip dinner and head to the train station an hour before our trains departed.
Now it takes some pretty compelling reasons for me to show up that early for a train – in this case, the ticket I purchased was non-refundable. So while sipping on another cup of cappuccino and eating a muffin at the train station was not what I envisioned for my last meal in Bologna, knowing that I would soon be in Florence dining on something divine gave me something to look forward to and left me feeling more settled with my decision.
As the excitement of my dinner options in Florence grew, we went our separate ways and I made my way onto the elevator to catch my train, or so I thought. The elevator doors opened, and I couldn’t help but notice another passenger stepping off and looking just as confused as me. As we both tried to figure out the location of our track, we struck up a conversation – it turns out she was also traveling to Florence. We asked a nearby train attendant how to get to our track, to which he replied “oh that’s in the old part of the train station” and then motioned with his hands in the direction we should go.
The entire time we were standing on the platform, I noticed two trains pull in and depart. Although both trains displayed “Milano Centrale”, at the time I didn’t think anything of it. And so, our conversation continued; we exchanged our thoughts on vaccine mandates, discussed what brought us to Bologna, and how long we would be visiting Florence. She even introduced me to the VisitaCity travel app that came in very handy while traveling to other cities in Italy for the first time.
You know that feeling you get when something just doesn’t seem right? I finally glanced down at my watch; I was in shock – it was 3 minutes before our train’s departure, we were the only two still standing on the platform, and it was obvious that no more trains were arriving anytime soon. When I ever looked at the platform display board, my heart jumped. They changed the track and there was no announcement (or at least we certainly hadn’t heard it). We hightailed it out of there – up and down the stairs, through corridors, and down escalators only to see the train to Florence pulling out of the station.
I couldn’t believe it – the one time, the OONNNNNEEEE time I decided to walk over to the track early (mind you, it was only 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time), they changed the track number, and I missed my train. Tired and hungry, I reluctantly purchased another ticket for the next train. I didn’t know what was more annoying – the fact that I missed the train and had to buy another ticket which cost almost as much as my roundtrip ticket, or that I skipped a 3-course dinner just for this to happen!
From that point forward, my approach to train travel in Italy changed. No matter how early they posted the track information, my new rule of thumb would be to wait until 10 minutes before the train’s scheduled departure before making my way over to the train. This simple tactic could have saved me time, energy, money, and most importantly – a missed opportunity for an exquisite meal – something that no one should ever have to experience when visiting Italy! So, if you ever find yourself traveling by train in Italy, keep this in mind because those 10 minutes make a world of difference.
(Want to know more about the VisitaCity app? Read more about it and other useful travel tips here.)