Credit due: While planning our recent trip, I consulted the web heavily and found that this site, http://www.seat61.com/ to be very helpful.
After a night in Rome, it was time to head to Riomaggiore. The plan was to take the subway to Termini, then the frecciabianca to La Spezia and then a regional train onward from La Spezia to Riomaggiore. The return trip was the same with the exception that the train between La Spezia and Rome was an interregional train, not as modern and a little slower.
We booked our tickets online for both the Rome to La Spezia portions and the La Spezia to Riomaggiore legs. We used the Trenitalia site and found booking to be straightforward. However, when trying to book far in advance, keep in mind that you may not be able to as train schedules do change depending on the season. Once booked we received email confirmation and, for t
he Rome to La Spezia and return we received an e ticket which meant we did not need physical tickets, only the PNR. We decided to book first class as it was relatively inexpensive but keep in mind it is not the same as Via 1. First class on the train meant a reserved seat nothing more. There was no meal provided though there was a bar car and a meal trolley but at cost. There was also no wi fi as advertised but the seats were comfortable and there was a place to pl
ug in our electronics. Our return from La Spezia to Rome was also booked in first class and we had a reserved seat in a cabin with six seats. We had the window seats. Our cabin companions seemed nice but talked non-stop for the entire 4 hour ride. On this train there was no food or bar car.
For the leg between La Spezia and Riomaggiore, we received a confirmation email which required us to obtain tickets and validate them before boarding. However, the kiosks did not accept the reservation number which meant we had to wait in line (more of a crowd) at Termini in order to produce the confirmation and have the ticket printed out. This took 40 minutes, not a lot of fun. This train runs pretty frequently and there is no reserved seating.
In all train cars we were in there were overhead luggage racks so our luggage rode right above us as both e Minaal and the Tortuga fit with room to spare. A few travellers had heavy rollers that they could not lift into the rack and so were placed on the floor and prone to rolling around.
A few lessons learned.
1. The Trenitalia website is a good way to book tickets but we should have only used it for the longer portion of the journey. We could have avoided the wait to see a ticket agent at Termini (there is machine which issues you a ticket with a letter and a number and a screen which lets you know when your number is called and which ticket window to get to) Had we known that right away we could have avoided trying to figure out how the line worked…Also by not booking the regional train online, we could have used one of the kiosks which are easy to operate and bought our regional tickets quickly.
2. If you already have tickets, there is no need to arrive too early at Termini. There is no place to sit other than a cafe. I think this is to discourage vagrants. We found the terminal to be pretty easy to navigate but the crowd we were standing in waiting to see a ticket agent was often visited by a drunk woman holding a beer begging for money and a mentally unstable individual. It was clear we were an attractive target for pickpockets and beggars.
3. The Board which announce train arrivals and departures is user friendly but do keep in mind that the station you are getting off at may not be indicated on the Board as it will indicate the final stop of the train (for us we were going to La Spezia but the train’s final stop was Milan), therefore know your train number. The platforms and tracks (binari) are easily identifiable by number
4. Bring food and water for the ride. While the frecciabianca offers food and drink, we returned on a slower Inter Regional train which did not. Obviously the vendors at the station are more expensive than elsewhere.
5. DO NOT FORGET TO STAMP YOUR TICKETS. If you do not have an eticket with a PNR, you need to get your ticket stamped at the green and white machines. Failure to do so will result in a hefty fine.
6. Bring toilet paper, contrary to what youse on the websites, the bathrooms were unsanitary to say the least. There was no toilet paper in our car. Glad we put some in our pockets when we left the hotel in Rome.
7. If you are planning a train trip in Europe, Have a look at the website above, seat 61, all advice he offered was spot on.
We found getting from our hotel near Piazza del Popolo to the station to be easy. The metro was crowded but OK. With our backpacks, we were fine on the multiple escalators. Overall, we enjoyed travelling by train and the slower pace. Other than the bathrooms, the trains were clean and comfortable. Also worth noting is that except for the last day, all trains were right on schedule, to the minute. Much better and less stressful than attempting to drive.