Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Transportation in Italy

Of course the idea of an automobile can be dated all the way back to when the wheel was first invented; however, I am going to place you back to when major progress was made to the auto industry. The first automobile was built in France by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769. Not long after came the first automobile patent in the United States which was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789. Evan produced his first self-propelled automobile in 1805. Although self-propelled, this vehicle wasn't anything like how our vehicles work today. Finally, in 1870 an inventor by the name of Seigfried Marcus put an internal liquid fuel engine in a horse carriage which made him the first man to propel a vehicle by means of gasoline. As were finding out today this may have been our biggest mistake as a civilization due to global warming concerns. However, when directly eyeing the auto industry, this was necessary to jump start the idea that has effects each and every one of us everyday.

Karl Benz built his first automobile in 1885, was granted a patent in 1886, and began producing automobiles in 1888. Notice the last names if you are not familiar with the history of the auto industry. In 1889 Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach designed a vehicle from scratch rather than using a horse carriage fitted with an engine. By the 1900s, mass production on vehicles was under way in France and the United States. The first company formed to exclusively build cars was Panhard et Levassor in France. Next came the United States auto industry startup called Duryea Motor Wagon Company founded by brothers Charles and Frank Duryea.

Oldsmobile had a production line up and running in 1902 and would dominate this era of automobile production. By 1903, Cadillac, Winston and Ford were all producing cars in the thousands. A few years later in 1908 the Ford Model T was introduced and became the most widely produced and available car of the era. In 1910 the Mercer Raceabout debuted as the world's first sports car. Slightly over a decade later the Austin debuted and was the most widely copied vehicle ever and served as a template for cars around the world. Later in 1934 the Citroen Traction Avant was the first mass produced vehicle with front wheel drive. Finally, Oldsmobile introduced the first automatic transmission in 1940 and no longer than 10 years all automobile manufactures were offering the same technology. 1950 and 60's was when the auto industry had the ability to really focus on the wants rather than the needs of consumers. The classics we love to see are in prototypes. 1962 hits and the first super car was introduced as the Ferrari 250 GTO. 1964 sets a mark and Ford releases the Mustang that became the best selling and most collected car of its era. In 1977 Honda introduced the Accord and it went on to become the most popular car of 1990s. A huge win for Chrysler, their 1983 release of the minivans were introduced and pushed station wagons out of the market. Many of these vehicles lasted decades and many can still be found today. More recently, Toyota has recently surpassed General Motors in leading worldwide auto sales and now holds the number one selling brand in the world.

As for the future of vehicles, manufactures are moving towards hybrid and hydrogen automobiles. Hybrid automobiles use a mix of technologies such as combustion engines, electric motors, gasoline, and batteries. Normally, the vehicles run on batteries that are found in a pack in the vehicle, and once the battery is dead the gasoline kicks in. Hydrogen automobiles generally use the hydrogen in one of two methods; combustion or fuel-cell conversion. Hydrogen can be obtained through various methods utilizing natural gas or coal. One can almost say history repeats itself, simply with a different goal. As noted at the beginning of this article, a gasoline powered engine was a major jump start to the auto industry. Now we have most everything else we can want and need, and the main focus is finding the best way to power the vehicle again that can both be environmentally safe and cost effective. This is because fossil fuels have been the number one proven cause of global warming, the supply is inevitably going to diminish, and the price is definitely not going down.

You’re going to Italy! Hooray!
Okay, now wait a minute. How exactly are you
there, and when you arrive, how will you get around? If you think traveling in Italy is as easy as hopping in a rental car… well, it’s time to read this guide! Come with me as I walk you through Italy’s transportation system; it might be a little different from the way we do things in the US, but it’s not
hard!
Naturally, the first thing you’ll need to do is book your flight into Italy. You’ll discover almost immediately that there are very few direct flights into Italy. Most go through London, Paris, or another major European city. It’s annoying, but the split flight presents you with another option.
Instead of booking the entire flight at once, consider booking just the flight to London on a major airline. You can spend a night or two in the city (hooray!) or leave immediately, but you’d book the second leg of your flight on a European airline like Ryanair or Easyjet. These airlines have fantastic travel discounts for Italy and fly frequently into smaller airports, closer to your destination. You can also fly “open jaw:” into one airport and out of another. On a recent trip I flew from London into Parma, spent a week in Tuscany, and then made my way down the coast to fly out of Naples. Not all roads lead to Rome!
Be cautious of money traps, however. You may get cheap flights to Italy, but you could pay the difference in incidental costs like shuttling from one London airport to another – there are three! Many discount airlines also keep prices low by charging for checked baggage, so take a good look at their website before booking.
If, however, your time is more valuable than money, go with the simple one-booking flight.
The most convenient form of long-distance transportation in Italy is the train. If you’ll be visiting more than one location within the country, don’t try to drive or fly. You can get to most major and many minor destinations by train in one or two stops. Check timetables and buy tickets on Raileurope.com.
Be aware that this is a two-tier system. There is a base charge for the ticket itself, and then an optional additional charge for a seat reservation – available only on some particular trains. If you’re traveling in the middle of summer, or if you have a very specific schedule, I would recommend buying the reservation on top of the ticket. Otherwise, no reservation is necessary. Some routes don’t even have the option.
If you’ll be using the train for three days or more out of your trip, consider buying the Trenitalia Pass, which you can use as many times as you want for three days out of a given sixty-day period. (You can also add on travel days if you need more.) This pass acts like an unlimited ticket, but any reservations you make will still be at an extra cost.
The biggest question regarding transportation in Italy is no doubt “Should I rent a car?” Fortunately, 98% of travelers will find their answer in this one simple rule: If you’re staying in a city – do not rent a car!
Italian cities are very compact and pedestrian-friendly… which renders them almost impossible to navigate by car. Large portions of Rome and Florence are even off-limits to private transportation. Finding parking is also more trouble than it’s worth, so don’t even bother. If you’re basing your trip out of Florence, Rome, Venice (good luck with a car there!), or another major Italian city, renting a car is pointless. For day trips, use local busses, trains, and taxi services.
If, however, you are staying in the countryside or in a Tuscan hill town, the answer is yes, do rent a car! You’ll want one in these rural areas to get groceries and explore.
The one exception here is compact coastal areas like the Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast. These regions are composed of tiny towns connected by narrow, winding roads – a terrifying drive if you’re not highly experienced. Here you may want to use local busses and ferries to get from one town to the next.
The final mode of Italian transportation is the public bus. It’s possible to get schedules on the internet before you go, but frankly I wouldn’t try. The best way to handle Italian bus systems is to simply wing it. If you’re in a city or a coastal area, odds are there will be a stop nearby. Purchase your tickets ahead of time at local tobacco shops, then relax and have fun figuring out the schedule. Get friendly with locals waiting at the stop – odds are, even if the sign is totally unreadable, they can tell you which bus will get you where you want to go… even if the only Italian word you know is “Duomo!”
After all of these Italian transportation options, I thought I’d end by reminding you of the one form of transportation that never goes out of style: your own two feet! Whether you use a train, plane, or automobile to get to your destination in Italy, once you arrive there’s simply nothing like meandering around. Shop in an outdoor market… Admire ancient architecture… Stroll through town on a moonlit night… Italians are walkers, and they’ll inspire you to become one too.
When in Rome… travel as the Romans do!