You only have to look at Italy’s car industry to know the nation’s people like to travel in style. Last week, however, I discovered that the country’s planes and trains have plenty of ground to cover before they can catch up with the reputation of their four-wheeled familiars.
Furthermore, I think improving public transport might reassure the visitors (that Italy’s economy badly needs) that a slice of la dolce vita needn’t come at the expense of being on time.
I’ve had time to mull it over, too. Last Tuesday I visited Milan for the design trade fair Salone del Mobile for which the city did a commendable job of marshalling the tipsy throngs of design-minded fairgoers to the many events around the town.
My journey, however, started inauspiciously when my late-to-leave Alitalia flight from London City airport inexplicably touched down at Milan’s Malpensa airport (an ailing mega hub 45 minutes from the city). This was not its handy inner-city cousin Linate, the destination my ticket promised.
Now hours later than its intended arrival time and on the runway of the wrong airport, the plane (having relieved itself of some more belligerent passengers) refuelled, replayed the safety videos and made the short and wholly unnecessary hop to Linate. No apologies or explanations were forthcoming.
On Friday I took the train north via Verona to Bolzano – the view was sublime. Low-slung Italian villas gave way to rolling hills, orchards, vineyards and Teutonic churches, flanked by glimpses of the snow-capped Dolomites. For the second time in a week, however, the manner of the journey did its best to detract from the stunning scenery on show.
The elderly train with its bolted shut windows was slow to move, quick to stop and unbearably hot. Delay after delay was compounded by the lack of direction from the ineffective platform signage and oblivious staff.
How can you trust a train if it doesn’t say where it’s going and if it never leaves when it says it will? What about an airline that doesn’t take you to the airport printed on your ticket? The answer is that you can’t. And if this isn’t remedied, tourists can’t trust them either.
Improving Italy’s transportation infrastructure would help people to appreciate the things it does very well – its quality of life, food, flair, style – rather than tearing their hair out about the organisations it lacks.
The hard work’s done for this beautiful country; I just wish someone would connect the dots.
Josh Fehnert is edits section editor for Monocle.