An Italian train station can be one of the most intimidating situations a foreigner faces today – especially one of the EasyJet generation who prefers each step clearly marked in candy-colored block lettering – and Turin’s central train station, Porta Nuova, is no exception.
The clutter of construction in progress around and throughout the station makes it difficult to orient yourself, or see all the necessary signs, creating a less-than-not welcoming atmosphere for the tentative traveler. But don’t be discouraged! With the following tips, you too can navigate this bustling hub with confidence.
The printed “departure” and “arrival” charts posted outside the station are helpful for checking in advance the availability of a certain train, and not conducive to quick decisions. For example, if on your way home from work Tuesday afternoon you suddenly remember that Madonna has a concert in Milan this weekend, you can mosey up to the station entrance to check the partenza schedule, a framed white poster with small black type, to check outbound trains. NOTE that a different schedule applies to weekends and holidays. Choose an hour – let’s say 4pm, since she goes on at 8pm and you definitely need time to buy a t-shirt – and scan down the bolded destination cities for “Milano Centrale. 16,31.” 4:31pm… perfetto! Fearing you might miss that one because you’ll have trouble deciding between practical sneakers or snazzy thigh-high boots (you never know, you might score backstage passes), there is another departure for Milano Centrale at 17,20 (5:20pm). Left your wallet at home? No problem – simply note the times, and come back on Saturday afternoon to buy your ticket.
Before You Arrive
Know your destination city in both English and Italian, for example Venezia for Venice, or Roma for Rome. It sounds easy enough, but Porta Nuova has surely seen more than one newcomer do the glassy-eyed shuffle, squinting at the arrival board, and wonder why she can’t seem to find any trains to Venice. You don’t have to be one of these people.
If you want to catch a train today – as opposed to making plans to catch a later train – arrive early. Do not expect to enter the station at 9 without ticket nor strategy, and leave Turin on the 9,15 to Padua. This is unrealistic. Especially if it is one of your first experiences with the Italian trains, leave at the very least 45 minutes to locate the proper departure time, purchase and validate your ticket, find and board the right train before it leaves the station. If you’re particularly clever and athletic, you might be able to achieve all of the above with enough time to rest your haunches on one of the several concrete benches provided beside the idle trains… but what better place for the adage “better safe than sorry” than in Turin’s major train station!
Plan of Attack (Logistics)
You can ignore the “enter from Via Nizza” arrows and approach the station from Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II, the busy two-way boulevard bristling with public buses, cars and trams. You will walk past an ATM and a bank (on your right) before reaching the ticket offices and, then, the train station.
Look around. The bold blue signs marking all the necessities are your best friends. Blue = good. Once you reach the clear sliding doors, locate these components as soon as possible: the ticket windows (biglietteria); the electronic ticket kiosks – great for minimalising waiting time and awkward window transactions; the information window, a last resort; and the big signs indicating “to all trains,” or “ai treni.” (These change from week to week, according to the latest renovations.)
As many of the rail employees are as limited in their English as I am in Italian (“intermediate” is generous), I find it easier to use the ticket machines, each of which is equipped with an English language option. When dealing with machines it’s best to arm yourself with as much information as possible about your trip: name of destination city? traveling regionally (to another little city within Piedmont) or between cities (inter-city)? Do you have cash, or a bank card? An intercity ticket warrants the use of an automated touch-screen ticket machine found near the ticket windows, while a regional ticket can be purchased from the somewhat tired lower-tech ticket machines found farther into the station, just after a dim corridor flanked by blue construction walls.
Upon entering the actual train station, you’ll emerge from a shoddy construction tunnel into an open space with another info kiosk, a handful of newspaper and snack stands, and, looming over everything, the big black Partenza/Departures chart with blocky white type, on which is posted the outbound train schedule with times, destination city, and corresponding gate number. Here you can find your train’s arrival gate: very important! The board is updated every couple of minutes, and will determine whether you can sit at Gate 5 to touch up your “I HEART MADONNA” poster, or have to haul butt across the station to the very last binario.
Lastly, continue to check the yellow screen at your gate to see if the departure is delayed, and if so, by how much.
Photo of Porta Nuova train station, Turin, Italy originally posted by Max2006 ‘Work In Progress’