It’s the Journey not the Arrival that Matters, Italo !

photo courtesy of NTV

An announcement is made, while we’re en route, that the train will be delayed by 30 minutes to an hour.  Alas, it hasn’t happened yet but hope springs eternal.  Like children listening to the radio on an early snowy morning hoping to hear that school has been cancelled, we hope that our train, en route from Rome to Florence, will be delayed so that our delightful journey on the new Italo train will be drawn out indefinitely –– and this even though we’re travelling with two young children.

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Our snug and very comfortable private compartment for four has large, clean windows to look out onto the passing Lazio, Umbria, Tuscany landscapes.  The children are so content with books and drawing paper that they have only passing interest in the movies offered on their individual monitors, like those in business class on airplanes.  And, since we mention airplanes, the food on Italo is much better than even that on most business-class flights –– not that we wish to damn by faint praise. In fact, Italo has partnered with Eataly (the same Eataly in New York City that has attracted such positive attention).

If one wants a substantial meal, served in the form of  Japanese bento boxes, one orders it in advance, and it is succulent and fresh; otherwise, in the Club Car class, one is offered an assortment of delicious and innovative fresh snacks, both sweet and savoury.

Wireless internet is free. Bathrooms are impeccable. Would we like a newspaper? Architectural Digest? Our personal steward in the salotto (salon) car appears often to ensure that all is just as we wish.

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However, perhaps the best and most important part of Italo is the staff.  They are mostly young, vibrant and demonstrate the esprit de corps and bonhomie that only good management that treats all its employees well can sustain.

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It starts when one enters the special office of Italo in whatever train station one happens to be in.  From being in a big, ugly and impersonal station, one feels as if one has been transported to a small-town or country train station.  One is greeted by a host of service personnel asking (in English for non-Italian speakers) if one needs assistance, which assistance is given immediately.  Missed one’s train?  Do not worry –– a new ticket is issued for the next train (a confession: we know, as this has happened to us twice).  Confused about which track?  There are Italo train personnel standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the proper train track and alongside the track, as well, to direct one to the proper carriage –– all seats are reserved by number of course,  unlike American trains.  Travelling with children and too much luggage?  Train personnel helped us carry our bags from the Italo office to the track where we were met by other personnel who helped us onto the train.

Clearly, the parent company of Italo, Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori (NTV), views itself not just as a transport company but as an up-scale tourism venture.  On our last trip, returning to Rome from Padua, we had a very pleasant chat with a member of the train staff –– a lovely young woman.  She holds a BA degree in tourism.  This is a company that takes seriously a commitment to customer service, employee welfare and social responsibility.  It was she who explained to us the conscious management decision not to have music piped through the audio system and to instruct all employees not to wear perfume or cologne.  The offered moistened towelettes are unscented.

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The president of the company and an investor is Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the chairman of Ferrari. One of the other investors is the head of a fashion shoe company, Tod’s. Thus, it should not be surprising that the trains are well engineered and beautifully designed. Interestingly, for a private railroad company, another investor is the French state rail agency S.N.C.F.

 In anticipation of your first voyage with Italo, do take a virtual tour of this extraordinary train, courtesy of Italo.

Train travel in Italy is now a joy.

Isabel in Florence

My name is Isabel and I am six years old.

Here I am dancing with lots of other children made of marble and who are playing musical instruments and singing.


I am in Florence.

Please go to Florence, it’s a lovely place.

I recommend five days in Florence.  We took the train from Rome, the trip is one hour and a little bit more. Go to the hotel everyone loves, it’s a hotel we recommend to all of our clients.  If you go there near Christmas it is going to have a presepio.

A presepio is something with little baby Jesus with Mary and other figures and Joseph and the donkey and the ox.  It is in the hotel’s window so everyone can see it and if you are good you can help them to arrange it.  There are also very nice lollipops at the desk.  Try one, they’re excellent.

There are also little candies but I do not recommend these as much as the lollipops.

I suggest that you visit at Christmas.  There is a lovely merry-go-round at that time.  But they will keep it running until May, which is very nice for you if you visit in the spring.

There is a wonderful children’s toy library in the Hospital of the Innocents.

It’s not a library where there are books. No, no, here there are toys.  I recommend playing here, especially if your parents are doing something that is not very interesting to you like a museum that you don’t like.

Maybe your mother can stay with you while your father is at the museum. There are excellent dolls, mirrors, a Noah’s ark, Lego, animals to play with (they are pretend). And children’s books in Italian and in English.

If you get hungry, don’t ever go to a place with enormous ice cream.

Don’t even touch those.  And don’t just go anyplace.  I recommend “Perchè no!” where I had chocolate and lemon.  One was sour and one was sweet but very good sour and very good sweet.

These are the owners.

This lady and this man and their children make all of the delicious ice creams.  They sometimes give children samples.  I sampled pear and it was yummy.

And to eat at lunch or dinner, there is a very good restaurant I recommend. It is called “Acquacotta” , and it is run by a lady who can read your mind.

I wanted to have the dessert menu and the lady brought it.  I had wonderful homemade crema ice cream and chocolate ice cream.  The first thing I had to eat was penne con pesto, which was my first course, which I think you will like.

There is something funny in Florence which is that they don’t put salt into their bread.  You won’t like it at first.  There is one bread though that you will like right away, it is called ciabatta, which is slipper, or ciabbattina, which is little slipper.

This tastes so good and it is cute and it has a little bit of salt in it.

There is a toy store that I recommend, called City of the Sun.  In Italian it is Citta del Sole.

There is a doll’s house. There are magic wands.  If you are very small or a baby, there are a few special things here that I recommend, for example sea creatures that spin.

If your parents insist on a morning museum, you should insist on a morning fratte.  These you can find really in just one place.  These are doughnuts and they are very good.  They have sugar on the top and they are warm.

They look and they smell like a pastry and they taste like a pastry too.  I thought I would never love a doughnut but the fratte is different. You can sit down to eat them or stand up.

There is a very nice store with art supplies in it.  There are many people here buying painting things and chalks and crayons and everything you might want to draw and paint Florence.  It is near the City of the Sun and is very good.

One thing you must not forget to do is to take a tour with our guide Francesca.

I love her.

It’s not that she takes everybody with her on her tours, she takes a few people, like a father and mother and one child or two children with her.

Goodbye from Isabel.