Yet another 'What do I do in Italy?' question...
February 3, 2012 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I need to figure out what to do at night/early morning in Italy. Special snowflake details inside.

So I'm going to be in Italy for a little over a week next month, travelling by train. I'd like to minimize the amount I pay in hostel fees, so I'm thinking of taking overnight trains, most of which leave between 9.00 and 11.00 PM and arrive at 5.00/6.00 AM. So far, I'm planning on Milan, Florence, Venice and Rome, in that order, before heading back home to France. I'm still deciding whether night trains are a good idea, and I have a couple of questions:

1) I'm a young woman of colour, travelling alone and for the first time in Italy. How safe are these cities at night? FWIW I speak French, and I'm going to try to get some basic Italian phrases down before I go.
2) Any recs for what to do, both early in the morning and late-ish? I'm not a club/pub person- I don't like loud noises and I don't really drink, but I wouldn't mind just sitting in a cafe and people-watching. Cheap/free things would be great, and off the beaten path stuff is welcome.

posted by Tamanna to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
At night are movies, theater, opera too obvious? Mornings, I'd suggest churches and farmers markets. In any case, dress warm.

(also: have a good way of securing your stuff if you're going to be sleeping on overnight trains.)
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2012

I'm still deciding whether night trains are a good idea,

I hope addressing this part of the question by itself isn't off topic: are you the kind of person who can sleep anywhere? If so, sleeping on the train can work fine (although you'll want to keep all your essential stuff close to your body while you sleep). If not, it could turn the trip into a Zombie nightmare, where you're too exhausted to really enjoy where you are. I think trying to see four great world cities in a week is just too hectic a pace. You could spend a year in any one of them and not feel like you'd exhausted the experience. Do yourself a favor pick one or two at the most. Find a cheap hotel and enjoy the experience of discovering a "favorite" cafe that you return to each morning; of returning to that amazing Cathedral or that stunning museum for a second or third time (it's incredible what you'll see on return visits that you just missed on a first one). And do it all while not hopelessly sleep deprived and a little freaked out walking the streets in the wee hours of the morning by the train station.
posted by yoink at 1:54 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Italian here.

I strongly suggest not doing this. Trains in Italy are a) notoriously unreliable, b) notoriously dirty, c) notoriously expensive for what they offer. It will not be a restful sleep, you're going to have to worry about your belongings, and you're going to have to worry about getting to the train station. Train stations in big cities are, by and large, one of the places johns go to pick up prostitutes. You may never be in danger, necessarily, but you may certainly be very, very uncomfortable. I would not, ever, want to be in Milan's Central Station alone after 9pm and before 8am at the earliest. I mean it. There won't be many things open before 6am/after 9pm (and if they're open and close to the train station, they will almost certainly be seedy as shit) and it'll be cold and probably wet. You do not want to get stuck outside with nowhere to go or inside where you may not feel safe.

Hostels are cheap and safe. If you can't afford to spend a week+ in hostels/hotels, I strongly suggest you reconsider and at least do it in the summer when there will be people outdoors later in the evening and it will be light earlier in the morning.
posted by lydhre at 2:03 PM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have slept in sleeping compartments in trains and had...okay sleep. I have slept in the regular sitting areas and been incredibly uncomfortable - between having to sleep kind of upright, and being paranoid about having my stuff stolen, I would not want to try to see Europe while operating under that kind of sleep deprivation.

Sleeping compartments are almost always if not always-always going to be more expensive than a hostel.

I'm female and have traveled alone in Europe. I very rarely felt like I was in actual danger, but I've had many "oh god oh god please make him go away" moments. Being trapped on an overnight train in situations like that is not something I would wish on anyone, especially if I weren't pretty fluent in the language.
posted by rtha at 2:27 PM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I once took a flight back from England that landed in Bergamo at one and got into Milan at two, with the intention of take a five o'clock train out, when I was 20. I grew up in a dicey area and seriously, two minutes of walking around the front of the station convinced me to track one of the guys on the bus back to his hotel and ask about a single room for the night. While I've never had a problem on the trains (or with sleeping on trains) it requires that you essentially sleep on top of your gear or have a friend watching out for you at all times. Honestly, look around-- a hostel may be able to spot you a night for a couple of hours or work, or maybe AirBnB/couchsurfing will have better, more affordable options. Also, at least two if not all of those cities will still be fairly cold at night, and even Rome gets cool. Train stations are often not well heated at all, nor are train cars. I don't want to sound unduly pessimistic but if money is really an issue, have you considered getting a hostel in a (potentially) less expensive place like Bologna or Verona and doing day trips? Or Siena? I feel like the amount of money you'll spend on either sitting down and eating in places that can secure your belongings or that are open in the morning, as well as train/bus tickets themselves, might be a factor too.

The good news is that cafes are open quite early in Italy and the smell of fresh bread definitely makes it easier! I would second church or worship services, as well as markets getting set up-- I'm sure Metafilter can help point you to local ones when your trip has more firm locales. I can sympathize because my own Milan/Verona/Bologna trip was done alone and I really didn't want to spend a huge amount, but it ended up being a lot of work to keep it together for a week. Many cities have female-only dorm options, which are often sponsored by religious orders but are not at all religious in nature. I stayed at a very nice and clean one in Verona which was barebones but very safe. Make reservations in advance, though.

Last minute, hopefully helpful, thoughts: research which stations have reputable left luggage facilities AHEAD of time, and where they are in the terminal, or if any hostels will let you leave your backpack there for a fee. Even if you are taking overnight trains, you will need some time without your stuff. If you can meet up with anyone along the way, do it. Make sure you know, for a fact, the closing and opening times of the stations and the ticket counters. Budget in at least fifty euros or so for emergency transportation issues, honestly, whether it's last minute bus tickets somewhere or when you really need a shower and a break.

Lastly, I have never felt unsafe while on a train in Italy. So I hope you have an amazing trip, and that all of the planning is worth it!
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:00 PM on February 3, 2012

Are you going to spend the whole week without showering?
posted by pewpew at 12:54 AM on February 4, 2012

Hostels and cheaper day trains (ie, non-high-speed) might work out to be the same price as a night train ticket and sleeper/couchette supplement.
posted by mdonley at 8:57 AM on February 4, 2012

Okay, I know this is a late addition, but are you very set on going to Venice? Because if you aren't, or if you're not on a five-day Eurorail pass or a similar all-inclusive one, you may have an easier time anyway sticking to the more western cities. You won't have a lot of time per city with even three to do, and the trip to/from Venice is much longer than the train between Milan and Florence or Florence and Rome.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:37 AM on February 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone!

Late response is late, I know, but for anyone still reading...

I'm on a six-day flexible pass, so my tickets are in a sense already bought.

There's also been a slight change in plans- rather than going in the beginning of March, I'm going at the end of it. I've also decided to maybe cut out Milan, since a friend who's just been told me to ditch that one if I had to make a choice.

Also, the responses have convinced me that I'm better off taking day trains- the safety hassle and lack of sleep just doesn't seem to be worth it.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by Tamanna at 5:53 AM on February 10, 2012

I did a similar thing last year, though I only did one truly overnight train.

I will tell you right now that you will not be able to sleep well on a train overnight. I'm a sleep-anywhere champion and overall budget travel ninja, and I did... so so? My friend I was traveling with, who hadn't traveled this way before basically didn't sleep a wink and was a pissy mess until she got a couple of nights of proper sleep in an actual bed under her belt.

I'd suggest going Milan - Venice - Rome (overnight) - Florence, especially if you've decided not to do the overnight train thing.

I didn't feel unsafe on the overnight train I took. My concern was more that it was crowded and noisy.
posted by Sara C. at 12:03 PM on February 13, 2012

« Older Temping in LA   |   Playlists for ebooks? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.