16 June 2016

Our worst travel day in Italy

I have to admit, I worried about the travel arrangements for Day 19 of our trip to Italy in May. Our goal was to leave the agriturismo where we stayed in Civitella D'agliano (a very small town near Orvieto) and arrive at our hotel in Praiano on the Amalfi Coast. The trip would involve starting out by car, 3 train rides, and then a local bus to our final destination. In retrospect, I shouldn't be surprised that it turned out badly.

Step 1: 30 minute car ride to Orvieto
We left Civitella D'agliano right after breakfast and drove to the train station where we returned our car. That went smoothly. When we visited Orvieto a couple of days earlier, we had scoped out the train station and the rental car return site. Even though we'd driven the route before, we used Google Maps on my iPhone to make sure we didn't make a wrong turn at the beginning of our journey.

Step 2: 1 hour train ride to Rome
As we waited in the train station, we became worried when we received news that our train was 15 minutes late. We only had 20 minutes to make our connection for Naples. Our concern turned to real anxiety when the train made an unscheduled stop and just sat in the station for at least 15 minutes. When the train did finally start moving again, it seemed to be moving too slowly, and we kept getting later and later. 

Step 3: 1 hour train ride to Naples
Needless to say, when we arrived in Rome, more than an hour late, we had missed our connection. We had trouble finding out how to get re-booked. When we finally did get to the customer service desk, we got re-booked on a train that was scheduled to leave in 5 minutes. When I expressed concern, the answer I got was to the effect - no problem, that train is 20 minutes late. 

Now, other than being late, the ride to Naples was the best part of the trip. The train zipped along at 250 kph. We were served a complimentary glass of wine. I was able to plug in my phone to get it charged up. The seats were plush and comfortable. Nice ride.

Step 4: 1 hour train ride to Sorrento
When we got to Naples, we found the track for the local train to Sorrento. We got our ticket with only 5 minutes to spare. When the train pulled into the station, there was a jam packed crush to get aboard. We, of course were not only tired and frustrated, but we were handicapped because we were lugging two big suitcases. We got on, and eventually a few seats opened up. But the train was stuffy and rickety. Definitely not a nice ride. 

But wait. It gets worse. 

Step 5: 1 hour 20 minute bus ride to Praiano
When we arrived in Sorrento, we found the desk to buy bus tickets to Praiano. We had a 20 minute wait for the bus. Of course, when it arrived, there was a mad rush to get on. My wife got seats while I stowed the suitcases. Though I had a seat, the bus was jam packed. When it finally left Sorrento, we began an unimaginably gruesome ride around the hairpin corners of the Amalfi Coast. And at each stop, more people got on than got off, so the already crammed bus became even more overcrowded and stifling as we went along.

When we finally arrived in Praiano, we disembarked, but at the wrong bus stop (according to the instructions of the hotel staff). Fortunately, the correct bus stop was only 2 blocks away. Unfortunately, when we called the hotel to get the shuttle, we were informed that it was too late, the shuttle had stopped running, and besides, it had broken down. So the conclusion of our journey was a half mile walk pulling our suitcases up a steep hill. We finally arrived about 2 hours later than planned.

So what could I have done differently? 

Option 1: I considered driving directly to Naples. That would have cut out two train connections. (But it also would have cut out the one quick and easy train ride from Rome to Naples.) Also, it would not have eliminated the awful train ride to Sorrento or the awful bus ride to Praiano. Ultimately, I rejected this option because I worried about driving in Naples and finding the car return site and the train station.

Option 1a: I suppose we could have driven all the way to Praiano. But we'd heard horror stories about trying to drive on the Amalfi Coast, and we didn't even consider this option. 

Option 2: Hire a private car, either from Sorrento to Praiano, or from Naples to Praiano, or even from Rome to Praiano. This would be the most expensive option. But it may be worth considering for anyone who's wants to visit the Amalfi Coast and avoid the worst of public transportation.

Option 3: Rather than go to Sorrento, there is a high-speed train that serves Salerno from either Florence or Sienna. It's still a long bus ride from Salerno to Praiano, which you could avoid if you hired a driver. For our trip, it wasn't a practical option. It would have been too far to drive to either of those cities to catch the fast train. But it would be worth considering for some future trip. 

But you know, one bad travel day out of 26 days in Europe wasn't too bad. Just frustrating at the time.

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