Speed meets style: the luxurious high-speed Frecciarossa connects Milan and Rome in under three hours.
  • Speed meets style: the luxurious high-speed Frecciarossa connects Milan and Rome in under three hours.
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Venice: the absence of cars and Vespas… well, you just have to be there to understand the city's magic.

From our tiny – but not "tony" – locanda (inn) near central San Polo, Kay and I would awaken to the pealing of bells from the nearby Frari church, and late at night we might fall asleep to the clacking of heels on the cobbled path outside.

If we couldn't sleep, we listened to conversations drifting through the small Sant' Agostin piazza and up to our balcony. "Ripeta, per favore," I heard myself saying. "Non parlo Italiano molto bene."

The wake-up call at six was jarring. Time to catch the Frecciarossa to Naples!

I nixed the mercenary water taxis and gambled on walking to Santa Lucia, Venice's train station. Using a detailed map, I carefully plotted a route that would get us there by crossing the Grand Canal via the Scalzi Bridge. (Screw-ups were not an option.)

As events unfolded, the only real downer was hauling my wife's bulging suitcase up and down at least three bridges. Ah, the romance of Venice...

But an hour later we were comfortably ensconced on Trenitalia's luxurious Frecciargento ("silver arrow"), and soon gliding out of Santa Lucia and across the city's long railroad bridge. (I had previously made Rail Europe reservations back in San Diego. What with insurance, etc., two Freccia tickets from Venice to Naples would set me back $525!)

Before long we were racing through pastoral Italian countryside. Whoosh! Kay and I alternately gazed at tidy vineyards and nestled villages and scoped out our neighbors. There were Italian families vacationing and business types returning to Milan or Rome. Many were engrossed with Kindles, laptops or iPads. (WiFi is free on the Freccias.)

Our train's tech-savvy seats, the overhead complex of switches and monitors, our streamlined carriage... all served to remind me of our initial American Airlines flight to Rome. Sure enough, a trolley soon rolled by with free drinks and newspapers. I picked up a vino rosso and a Herald-Tribune. I suddenly felt smug about ruling out travel by plane or rental car.

At Milan, our Argento stopped for an hour and we transferred to the faster Frecciarossa. Trip time to Rome's Termini: about three hours.

Halfway into our trip, the nearby monitor registered that we had just hit 300 kph, or about 186 mph. Outside our window, speeding cars on the nearby freeway drifted behind like slugs on drugs. Many of our new neighbors were either surfing their electronics or... sleeping! I stretched a little myself, and ambled off to get a beer.

(It was all about options.)

The carriage aft was the busy diner, and I had to dodge frenetic waiters doling out what looked like a veal ragù. Scuzi! The white-clothed tables were packed with hungry diners. I fought my way to the rear of the diner to a bar alcove, where I promptly ordered a Peroni beer. After thirds I got to chatting with Aldo, my neighbor.

He looked sharp in his custom Italian-style suit, and seemed fluent in English. I soon gathered he was a cell-phone rep from Milan headed back to Rome.

“Forget about the diner,” he chortled. “Thirty Euro for a prix-fixe and another ten for a demi-liter of vino? Lunch for two – perhaps a hundred of your American dollars after gelato, espresso, servizio!”

Aldo informed me that he had recently taken the Frecciarossa's newly installed Executive Class carriage to Rome from Milan. He bragged about the Executive's 24/7 valet service and deep-reclining leather chairs, and rhapsodized about the conference room, with its “32-eench” demo monitor. Nothing like a few hours of top-tier briefing (and cappuccino drinking) prior to showing up for work!

I returned to my seat and surfed my trusty iPad. A private Italian firm, NTV (Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori), plans to compete with the state-run Freccias and roll out 25 high-speeds – their “Italo” – by the end of this year. (In spite of an economy that fizzles like a stale beer.)

I then Googled info on the Freccias vs. Alitalia: Milan to Rome. Distance: about 300 miles. Alitalia planes cut train times by more than half (1 hr. 20 min.) and charge about the same: $125. Deals vary.

But traveler blogs had the real story: factor in time and expense getting to the airport; delays with checking in, security; delays with getting the (crammed) plane off the ground; baggage retrieval, frustration...

Our Frecciarossa made a stop at Rome's Termini and then headed south for Naples. The next day we planned to ferry over to the island of Ischia, not far from Capri. Andiamo!

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