SARONNO, Italy - Well it looks like the Ferrovia dello Stato (the Italian train company) and the Ferrovie Francesi (the French train company) have kissed and made up. After a two year separation, they have decided that they really can’t live without each other.
|Milan's Central Train Station|
The breakup was the fault of the Italian Ferrovia dello Stato. It seems they were not watching over the French TGV trains that were parked overnight at Milan’s Central Station and the French trains were being vandalized. So the Ferrovie Franscesi left in a huff, saying they were going home to mother France and would not return until the nasty old Ferrovia dello Stato changed it ways.
Well, the gruff old Ferrovia dello Stato huffed and puffed for a couple of years, but in the end it realized it just could not live without it’s petite cheri francaise. So, as of Dec. 11, the TGV will once again leave the Milan Centrale train station, with stops at Turin, Oulx and Bardonecchia in Italy and Modane, Chambéry and Lyon in France, before it proudly arrives in Paris.
|Inside the Milan Train Station|
The French railway is counting on the existence of a market for travel between Italy and France and will try to regain the business it lost when the Italian Ferrovie offered up the long distance Artesia as a substitute for the TVG. Maybe the French don’t know that the Italians lost more than half of the market share with that move, and even now they, in an attempt to regain some ground, they are offering low cost prices starting at 25 euros one way in an effort to save face.
But never underestimate the power of an accent and when Mlle France, wearing the latest in French railway fashion designed by Christian Lacroix opens for business, Italy’s Trenitalia will be left in the dust.
|Information Board, Milan Train Station|
Now, how do I know this you ask? Simple. As a confessed train addict, I have taken Trenitalia’s best and worst trains and I can tell you that even the best Italian trains do not compare to even the most simple commuter trains in France. I have suffered in stuffy, dirty, non-air conditioned compartments for many an hour, crossing my legs and hoping I wouldn’t have to use the bathroom before I got home. and that was in first class. I shudder to think what the conditions were in second class.
Most of the long distance trips were from the south of France to Genoa, or the south of France to Milan. but when I was writing for Conde Nast, my train trips were usually within Italy, to Florence or Bologna or wherever fashion was happening.
|Don't Forget to Validate Your Ticket|
When the Ferrovie dello Stato first offered its super duper high speed train, the Eurostar, I had great hopes for the Italian railway system. There were cute, smiling hostesses who greeted you and offered newspapers to read as you traveled, the railway cars were clean and shiny and the bathrooms worked. If I’m not mistaken I think they even used to offer bottled water or juice, compliments of the Italian Railway Company. It didn’t last long. As soon they gained enough of a market share to do away with some of the older trains, whose tickets were considerably less expensive than the Eurostar - service and cleanliness went down the track.
|Gare du Nord, Paris|
On the other hand, when I took the TVG from Milan to Paris (and back to Milan), it was a train lovers dream. The car was clean, my seat was comfortable, I could actually see through the window and the bathrooms sparkled. But the surprises didn't end there. First came my complimentary breakfast. Was I dreaming? Then, at lunchtime, a waiter appeared by my seat to take my lunch order. When he served me lunch at my seat, I wanted to run home, pack up my bed and bring it back to that train and live there forever.
|The Complimentary Breakfast on the TVG|
Now those of you who read this blog with any regularity know that I am very pro-Italian, I love Italy, I love everything about it, except what has happened to the trains over the past few years. It used to be a wonderful way to travel – used to be.
Of course now the Ferrovie dello Stato has the Frecciarossa, the Frecciabianca and the Frecciargento – the Red Arrow, the White Arrow and the Silver Arrow – all high speed trains with high speed prices that given the Trenitalia record will too be reduced to a third world level like the Eurostar, as soon as they do away with the few remaining low(er) cost trains they still run. You can bet your pasta on it.
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