Follow Caterina in the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books!
The Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook begins each chapter with a dialogue from a story about the character Caterina, an American girl who travels to Italy to visit her relatives. As the story continues from one chapter to the next, we learn Italian, and about Italy, in an engaging way through Caterina’s experiences.
One of the first things Caterina must do after her plane lands in Italy and she passes through customs is find her way on the Italian railway system. To listen to dialogues from Chapters 4 and 5 about Caterina’s encounters as she buys a ticket and boards a train in Italy, go to the interactive dialogues on our website at learntravelitalian.com/interactive.html. The Cultural Note below, also from the textbook, gives a bit of insight into how the Italian railway system works.
After Caterina arrives in Italy at Malpensa Airport, about 50 km northwest of Milan, she must then make her way into the city. First, she takes a taxi to the nearby town of Gallarate to get onto the local train system, called Trenitalia (www.raileurope.com/Trenitalia-Italy). This local railway cannot be accessed directly from the Malpensa Airport, but until recently, it was the only way to catch a train after flying into Malpensa. The train line from Gallarate goes to the largest terminal in Milan, the Stazione Centrale. Gallarate can also be reached by bus from Malpensa Airport for a small fee, about 1–2 euros, and buses leave regularly from the airport all day. Of course, there are also bus routes to many other nearby cities from the Malpensa bus terminals, including to Milan, for those who prefer to take a bus for the entire trip.
When at the Gallarate train station, Caterina asks for a train that will take her directly to Stazione Centrale, avoiding the possibility of having to change trains along the way. A typical train ticket from Gallarate to Milan should actually cost less than we have noted in the dialogue, and it takes between 40 and 60 minutes to reach Milan.
A newer, separate train system called the Malpensa Express, which opened in 1999, leaves directly from Malpensa’s Terminal 1, underground floor, every 30 minutes. As the name suggests, this train goes directly into Milan, but it ends at a smaller station, the Stazione Cordona. The Malpensa Express trains are new trains with only first-class seats and luggage areas between compartments. Nonstop trains are available in the mornings and late at night, but during the day, there are a few additional stops along the way to Milan for the 40-minute trip. To learn more about the Malpensa Express trains or to view a train schedule and current ticket prices, go to www.malpensaexpress.it.
In our dialogue, the ticket agent Rosa very kindly reminds Caterina to validate her train ticket before boarding the local train. In Italy, when using the local train system, it is possible to buy an “open” ticket, which can be used at any time within a 2-month period. Stamping each ticket with the date and time before entry on the train prevents this type of ticket from being used more than once. The name of the machine that is used to stamp the date and time onto the ticket is translated by the makers of the machine as a “ticket canceling machine” or macchina obliteratrice. The older machines are yellow, but the new machines now in common use have a green and white face with the Trenitalia logo and name along the top. These small machines are usually found attached to the wall at the entrances of the individual train tracks, which are usually on the lower level of the train station. When referring to what the machine actually does, you can use the verb timbrare, which means to stamp, or convalidare, which means to validate. The verb obliterare, which means to cancel, also means to stamp or to punch when referring to tickets. In effect, all three verbs apply, because the ticket is literally stamped, which validates it for travel, and is canceled for further use at the same time.
After boarding the train, the ticket inspector (il controllore) will come through each car and ask to see each passenger’s ticket. If the date and time have not been stamped on the ticket, that passenger will be asked to pay a cash fine before leaving the train. Signs are sometimes posted on the interior doors of the trains warning of the fine to be paid if the ticket has not been convalidato (validated)—in Italian, with no English translation! Tickets for the Malpensa Express also need to be validated. So remember to look for those little yellow or green and white machines each time you board a train in Italy and stamp your ticket the way Caterina did. It takes only a second but can save a good deal of money!
A word about the other major airports in Italy: Alitalia flights into Milan used to land primarily at Linate Airport, but nowadays, most passenger airlines land in Malpensa, which is the second largest international airport in Italy.
Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport remains the largest international airport in Italy. It is located 26 km west of Rome, and the nearest city is Fiumicino (which is the old name the airport used to go by and is still used for the airport code: FCO). It is very simple to take the train from this airport to downtown Rome. Just follow the signs to the ticket counter, or buy a ticket at the on-site Alitalia office or from an automatic ticket machine. After a 30-minute ride, the train ends at Roma Termini, which is Rome’s central station.
The Marco Polo Airport serves the city of Venice and is on the mainland, near the town of Mestre, just across the lagoon. The major island of Venice (Venezia) is connected by a bridge to the mainland and is served by a local train station and a large bus station. A city bus or taxi can be taken over this bridge directly into Venice from the airport. A taxi ride to the nearby town of Mestre to the train station is possible and will connect you to points north of Venice on the mainland and to the train station in Venice, the Santa Lucia.
—Adapted from Conversational Italian for Travelers, Chapter 3, “Cultural Note,” © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC, by Kathryn Occhipinti
—Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of
Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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