Trenitalia, Executive Class – Frecciarossa: Roma Termini to Milano Centrale

Introduction

This visit to Rome has been quite an eye-opener for me. This is not the first time for me to visit the city, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it quite like this. The temperature during my stay was in the mid- to upper 30s, but it was a dry heat. Add to that the fact that we’ve had more or less nonstop rain back home in Basel, and the hot weather is a nice distraction!

The main objective of this trip had been to see some of the sights, as they say, which are otherwise only very difficult to access because of all the tourists. In as much, I think I’ve been very lucky. Althoug there were many tourists like me around, I never had to queue to enter anywhere, tickets were still available even at short notice and in the evenings I was able to enjoy the best of Italian food without ever having to wait for a table to become free and without making reservations. What I don’t know, though, is whether this is one of the few positive effects of the pandemic, or whether it is because of the summer holidays, when most self-respecting Romans tend to leave the city to head for the beach. One way or another, I’m not complaining. And I definitely want to return to Rome soon.

Getting to the station

Today I’m taking the train from Rome’s Termini station to Milano Centrale, which is a journey of three hours and thirty minutes. From the Sofitel to Termini it’s a twenty minutes walk, and there’s plenty of shade to protect me from the sun. Even so, the concierge at the hotel looks slightly alarmed when I refuse his offer to call me a taxi.

The Frecciarossa lounge

There are two lounges available at Termini: the Freccia lounge and the Freccia club. If I understand correctly, the former is for passengers holding an Executive Class ticket, whereas the Freccia club is for members of the frequent travellers programme.

The Freccia lounge is very basic. It has individual seats with small tables, as well as larger tables for groups to have meetings. There are no snacks to eat but there are hot and cold drinks available. Other than that, it offers welcome respite from the sweltering heat!

Just as a side note, the Frecciarossa is Trenitalia’s brand of highspeed trains. The word translates as ‘red arrow’. The fare system is quite complex. There are four classes of service, and for each class of service there are another four fare types that can be selected, depending on availability and restrictions. The Executive Class is the highest service standard on the train.

Boarding

There is a rear exit from the lounge through which passengers reach the ticket readers to enter the platforms.

Admittedly, the train may not look as funky as the French TGV, but this model can actually go as fast as 300 km/h, although that speed is never reached during my journey.

The seat

The seating configuration in Executive Class is 1 + 1 abreast, and there are four rows for a total of eight seats. Seats 2 and 3 face each other. The leg space on these seats is amazing.

Every seat has its own power outlet, a reading light, a button to automatically lower and raise the blinds, a foldable table, and storage space. The seatback has a good recline and there is also a leg rest that can be raised for additional support and comfort. And it really is a very comfy seat. The only drawback is that the seat covers are leather.

The crew

Interaction with the crew is minimal, which I suspect may be because of Covid. Still, they seem friendly enough and go about their duties professionally. There is also a cleaner on the train who I see passing through our carriage three times on the journey.

A sealed face mask with disinfectant gel is already at my seat, together with some still water and a sealed paper cup.

The meal

As soon as we depart Termini, the meal service begins. And it’s huge! First, there is box containing a few goodies:

In addition to another disinfectant towel and a can of sparkling water there is a packet of crackers and potato crisps.

A doubledecker tramezzino, with one layer filled with prosciutto cotto and the other with cream cheese and grilled veggies.

A chocolate and coffee cake.

And with that, the crew also bring me rather a large platter of bresoala and cheese. The meal is really good, but there’s just so much of it. It’s also a bit of a shame that the whole thing is served in one go, taking up all the space at my seat.

To drink I have a Coke Zero, but there are also complimentary alcoholic beverages available.

Arrival

After its departure from Terimini, the train makes a brief stop in Roma Tiburtina, and also calls at Florence and Bologna stations before reaching Milano, from where it continues to Torino. The train originates in Napoli.

We arrive exactly on time, despite there being a slight delay until they allow our train to enter the station. Milano Centrale is an enormous railway station. The weather here is not quite so pleasant as Rome. It’s only slightly less warm but a lot more humid.

Getting to the hotel

As I will only be staying the one night, I picked a hotel near the station, the Innside by Melià. The hotel only opened recently, as I suspect there haven’t been all that many guest staying due to the pandemic. The hotel is conveniently located five minutes away from the station on foot, close to several tram and metro lines.

The Sofitel Villa Borghese, Rome

In Rome I’m staying at the Sofitel Villa Borghese, which is perfectly located in a fairly quiet part of the city (as quiet as it gets in a place like Rome…). From the hotel it’s a twenty minutes walk to Roma Termini railway station. The Spanish steps and the luxurious Via Condotti, the Fontana die Trevi and the Vittorio Emanuele monument are all within walking distance.

The hotel’s facilities are excellent, the rooms and reception are elegantly appointed and very comfortable. What’s more, the restaurant is located on the top floor of the building and offers excellent views of Rome. Most importantly though, I think this Sofitel’s outstanding feature is its staff. Everybody at the hotel was very friendly and open, and gave the impression of actually liking their job.

The room I stayed in had a fully stocked fridge, tea and coffee making facilities and bottles of still water. The room overlooked the street leading up to the hotel, but it was still quiet enough to get a good night’s sleep.

The Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum gets its name from the statue of a colossus that once stood near its entrance. The colossus has long since decayed to dust, but the huge amphitheatre, which is part of the Forum Romanum, still stands, and a lot of it has remained largely intact.

A visit to the Colosseum is certainly worth it. I must confess that my prior knowledge of the construction and its history was somewhat limited and relied heavily on the Gladiator film, which featured Russell Crowe strutting around, showing off his chest hair and being perhaps just a tad overly dramatic. Fortunately, as you enter the Colosseum, there is an interesting exhibition which tells you a lot about the histroy of the building and its purpose through history.

Just a word of warning though: there isn’t really all that much shade inside the Colosseum, so if you’re visting in the summer, like me, make sure to take a hat and use a powerful sun screen.

Tickets to the Colosseum and the Forum Romanum can be purchased online. Entry to the Colosseum is for a specific time slot, and the guards will only give you twenty minutes leeway to enter. For the Forum Romanum however, you do not need to have a specific time slot.

The Vatican Museum – I Musei Vaticani

Introduction

The Vatican museums house an huge collection of art that has been collected over many centuries by the catholic church. The collection ranges from ancient Roman statues to contemporary pieces by Salvador Dalì. The collection is immense, and a visit to the museum leaves you with a sense that probably there is a lot more to show but that is not on display.

The Stanze di Raffaello refers to a set of four reception rooms that were originally commissioned as the living quarters for Pope Julius II. Each one of the four rooms is decorated in frescos done by Raffaello, which is where they get their name from – The Rafel rooms. Probably the best known of these frescos is that of the School of Athens in the Room of the Signatura.

But without a doubt, the absolute show stopper of any visit to the Vatican museums is the Sistine Chapel that was painted by Michelangelo. Perhaps the best piece of advice to give anybody visiting the Vatican museums to make sure they keep looking up, because the decorations on the ceiling are truly amazing, and this is even more the case in the Sistine Chapel: in the centre of the ceiling is The Creation of Adam. And this, I must admit, left me completely speechless. Again, it’s one thing to know about these famous pieces of art and reading about them in books. But to see them for real is quite humbling. Not just because of the artistry and craftsmanship that when into their creation, but also because one cannot deny just how much these unique works of art have shaped Western civilisation and culture as we know it, irrepsective of whether or not one approves of the catholic church.

Practicalities

Tickets for a visit to the Vatican museum can be booked online. From what I’ve heard and read on the web, in usual circumstances tickets sell out fairly quickly. So it’s normally best to book as far in advance as possible. However, I visited in July 2021, when Italy was only just starting to recover from the Covid pandemic. There were quite a few visitors on the day I visited, but the facilities are obviously used to coping with significantly larger crowds. There were no queues for security and I was actually allowed in thirty minutes ahead of the scheduled slot I had registered for. Upon entering museum, you first need to exchange your online ticket for a paper ticket, simply to let you through the turnstile to enter the exhibition.

Photography, as well as video or audio recordings are not permitted in the Sistine Chapel. The photos below are all from the actual musem and not the chapel.

St. Peter’s Basilica

Introduction

Michelangelo’s Pietà is a marble statue of Mary holding the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most important sculptures from the Renaissance period. Upon entering the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, the Pietà is located immediately to the far right of the edifice.

Without a doubt, most of us have already seen pictures of the sculpture in films or photos. I consider myself fortunate enough to know, now that I have seen it with my own eyes, that none of the pictures even come close to doing it justice.

I am not at all a religious person, must I must admit I was moved by the sculpture, and found it difficult to walk away from it. It’s not just the realisation that you are standing in the presence of such an important piece of art, nor inconceivable talent of Michelangelo’s craftsmanship, or the amazing accuarcy and detail of the sculpture that leave you speechless. I think, what moved me was the immense look of despair on the face of Jesus, and the solemn, despondent sadness in Mary’s. She sits there, with her murdered son in her lap. Her left arm is slightly raised, with the the palm of her hand facing up, in a gesture that suggests the silent question that all of us ask ourselves when we need to come to terms with the loss of a loved one: why does it have to be this way?

The Basilica

Visitors are free to enter the Basilica without a ticket, as it is still an official place of worship. However, visitors are expected to behave with the necessary decorum befitting such a place. Short shorts, sleeveless tops and a big cleavage are nor permitted – on men or women – and guests will need to cover up before they enter.

Apart from the previously mentioned Pietà and the oppulence of the decorations inside, it is the sheer size of the Basilica that impresses the most. To begin with, you’re not even fully aware of it, until you find your bearings and see just how much the people in the Basilica are dwarfed by the height of the ceiling.

Alitalia, Economy Class – Embraer 175: Zürich to Rome

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Date: 06 May 2017
Departure: 18:42
Arrival: 19:45
Flight time: 1 hour 3 minutes
Seat: 10C, aisle

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Introduction

On 25 April 2017 Alitalia’s management announced that the unions had rejected the carrier’s restructuring plan, even though Etihad Airways and the Italian government, in a moment of mental aberration, had agreed to inject even more money into the notoriously lossmaking operation in Rome.

And so the carrier’s management was left no other option but to declare bankruptcy. In the meantime, the Italian government announced that it would only be able to give the airline a credit (never to be seen again…) to keep the airline afloat until a more permanent solution can be found. Meanwhile though, the banks in Italy have explained that they were not in a position to invest in the company.

So is this the end of the road for Alitalia? It very much looks like it. But strangely enough, even while I write this, in my mind I can hear Gloria Gaynor belting out a powerful rendition of that tedious epic classic ‘I will survive’…

Getting to the Airport

I’m travelling with the wiry R. again. We’re starting out from the office in Winterthur, which is a journey of about fifteen minutes by train to Zürich airport. We catch the 16h28 train and already it’s standing room only.

Check-in

At Zürich airport Alitalia’s handling is done by DNATA on row 2 of check-in 2. Web check-in, app check-in and self-service check-in are not possible in Zürich, so you have to go to the counter to obtain your boarding pass.

Boarding

The flight is boarding from gate B34. There is a first boarding call which seems a bit useless, given that it isfor passengers in Business Class, Frecce Alata, Etihad Guest, SkyTeam Elite and SkyTeam Elite Plus passengers – which probably account for about 90% of the passengers on this evening’s flight.

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The Cabin

The seat pitch is good and I can easily stretch my legs. What’s more, row 10 is properly aligned with the window, which means you can look out the window without any major contortions.

The cabin and seat look very neat, clean and well maintained. As far as comfort goes though, the seat could be better. But this seems to be a general issue on the Embraers: the seats are a bit too low for my liking.

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The Crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight, one male and one female and both of them are in their early forties, I would say. And both of them have the biggest ‘couldn’t give a shit’ expression on their faces I’ve ever seen. Okay, so let’s be gentle with them and put it down to concern over their beloved employer’s impending demise.

During the service, the crew’s mood shifts from ‘couldn’t give a shit’ to ‘my goodness, I’m so glamorous because actually, I’m a model you know’. Which, for the female means that she laughs like an imbecile for no apparent reason while the male simply gives everyone the stink eye and refuses to talk to anybody other than his colleague. Charming, I’m sure.

The Meal

Ooh, crackers! And a choice of water, Coke or Diet Coke. That’s it. This is usually where I go off on the kind of tangent that really irritates the more aeronautically interested readers of my blog who are keen on airplane pictures and not food descriptions – all very well written and tastefully poetic of course – of the catering. But what can say? It’s just crackers. Although I must say the sparkling water I have with that really goes well. A symphony actually!

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Arrival

The flight time to Rome is just over one hour and we have good visibility all the way, providing some excellent views of the Alps as we make the crossing. We park on a remote stand, from where we are bussed to the terminal. Our flight arrives in Terminal 1.

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Getting into Town

In Rome we’re staying at the Hilton Garden Inn at Fiumicino Airport. There is a complimentary shuttle bus that runs from the departure concourse of Terminal 1 to the hotel every fifteen minutes and takes about ten minutes to make the journey.

Conclusion

All in all there is nothing much to say about this flight. The crew could have been perhaps a bit more engaging and a bit less useless. Other than that, I can’t really complain. They got me there.