Travel Tip: Don’t make this expensive mistake on the trains


Did you know that if you board a regional train without validating your ticket in one of the machines at the station that you face up to a €200 fine? Ouch. If you pay the fine immediately on board to the controller the fine drops to €50 per person, but that’s still a very pricey lesson learned.

A lot of people visiting Italy don’t realize that the tickets you buy for the slower trains are basically good forever.  Only by validating them in one of those nifty boxes at the train station does your ticket become valid for a certain number of minutes (or hours, the quantity of time varies from region to region) from the time stamp.  Hence the reason for the hefty fine, as potentially a traveler could use the same ticket for an unlimited number of trips if they never validated it!

I know the concept of validating a ticket is strange to those not from Italy (in most other countries when you buy a ticket it’s only good for that specific train so there’s no need to validate), so it’s actually a pretty common occurrence for visitors to board the regional trains without first validating their tickets.  Unfortunately, it’s also a common occurrence for these visitors to be fined once they are on the train.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for what you need to do to validate your ticket (it’s easy peasy, but I find that visuals always help with these sorts of things).

  • First, locate one of the validating machines (there’s usually more than one, even in the tiny stations).


  • Next, insert your ticket into the slot and then slide the ticket to the far left (that’s the trick that I’ve helped travelers with a gazillion times when I’m at the station).



  • Once you’ve done that, you should hear the machine stamping your ticket. When you pull your ticket out you should see the station name as well as the date and time printed on the ticket.


Et voilà… you’re good to go! Enjoy the ride.



You should see a green light on the validating machine, which means it’s working properly. If you see a red light the machine is out of order and you’ll need to find another one.

Sometimes you’ll hear the sound of the machine validating your ticket but when you pull it out you won’t see anything printed on your ticket (which means the machine has run out of ink).  In this case, find another machine and try validating again.

If all of the validating machines are out of order (not a common occurence but it can happen), go ahead and board the train but immediately look to find the controller (it’s actually easiest to spot them outside of the train at the stop, as they wait to make sure everyone is on board before getting back on the train themselves).  Once you’ve found the controller, explain that the machines weren’t working (“Le macchinette sono guaste!”) so that they can manually validate your ticket for you.

BEWARE:  If you don’t actively seek out the controller and they find you (instead of vice versa) chances are they are going to fine you anyway (as they’ve heard the excuse a million times, kind of like teachers hearing that a dog ate a student’s homework).

Lastly, I hate that I have to say this but I feel it’s my duty…

If you are fined for not having validated your ticket and you pay the controller be sure to receive some sort of receipt in return (showing proof of the amount paid, etc.).  Also, according to the official TrenItalia website, you should pay no more than a €50 fine per person if you pay the controller immediately.  If the controller takes more than that amount per person, something is very, very fishy (chances are part of the fine is being pocketed).  In the event that that happens, get details so you can report them accordingly.

How to avoid a €122 parking ticket in the Cinque Terre

As mentioned in a previous post, my advice is to ditch the car before arriving to the Cinque Terre.  But for those of you that absolutely, positively must arrive to the Cinque Terre with your vehicle it’s important that you know a few rules of thumb:

  • In Italy, you are more likely to receive a parking ticket rather than a moving violation ticket.  Driving in Italy is mayhem.  It actually took me a few years to work up the courage to drive in the cities here (driving on rural roads or the autostrada aren’t nearly as bad).  What surprised the heck out of me are the amount of moving violations that are committed on Italian roads all.the.time.  And multiple times I’ve seen these infractions committed right under the nose of Italian police officers (who didn’t bat an eye, let alone pull the offender over).  However, be warned that once your car is parked it’s free game for parking tickets.  Which leads me to my next point…
  • If you are going to drive in Italy, brush up on Italian road signs before getting here.  This is not the United States, or Australia, or the UK, or wherever else you might call home.  While some signs are universal (like the STOP sign), not all are.  Being able to properly read road signs is critical. Have a look at these, or even better, print off a hardcopy and bring it with you so you can brush up as needed.    
  • Just because you see other cars doing it, doesn’t really mean it’s okay for you to do it.  You might see 20 cars parked near a sign that says parking is prohibited.  My advice to you is to not risk it.  Chances are you’ll come back to find all 20 cars with a telltale pink ticket stuck under their windshield wiper.

parking sign 6

  • When in doubt, ask.  Yes, it can be a bit trying with language barriers and/or finding someone to ask.  But that extra effort to simply double-check could save you a good chunk of money (and a headache to boot!).

The most common mistake I see here in the Cinque Terre is that visitors park in the resident-only parking (which will nab you a *gasp* €122 parking ticket!). IMG_4791

 When  you see this sign, BEWARE: IMG_4795 Here’s a key to reading this sign:

First, have a look at the symbol.  The circle with the red outline means “restricted vehicular access.”

This is further confirmed by ZONA TRAFFICA LIMITATA (more commonly known amongst Italians as ZTL) which means that it’s a traffic zone with restricted access.

0-24 means that the restriction is in effect 24 hours per day.

ECCETTO AUTORIZZATI means that the exception is for those that are authorized (in this case, those that have a residents pass that is displayed on the vehicle).

Rule of thumb:  When you see a gated area, assume that you are not supposed to enter. This is your cue to read the nearby signage.IMG_4798

Here’s another example of an important sign, though this one a tad trickier:


The symbol means pedestrian-only access and that is confirmed by the AREA PEDONALE on the sign.

The cross on the sign represents Sundays and holidays and the time range next to it (0-24) refers to the time range that the area is pedestrian-only  (in this case, all day on Sunday or the holiday in question).  Vehicular access is not permitted on Sundays or holidays.

The symbol beneath the cross (two hammers crossed) represents working or weekdays.  Monday through Friday the area is pedestrian-only from 10:00 to 14:00 (10am to 2pm) and from 16:00 to 6:00 (4pm to 6am).  Using backwards logic (bear with me), this can be interpreted as it is possible there will be vehicular access between 6am and 10am and between 2pm and 4pm.

On Saturdays, the area is pedestrian-only between the hours of 10:00 and 6:00 (10am and 6am), so between the hours of 6am and 10am restricted vehicular access is permitted.

Let’s see if you’re getting the hang of this:

parking sign

The large, square blue sign with large white “P” denotes parking spaces.

8-20 indicates a restriction during the hours specified (from 8:00 to 20:00 or from 8am to 8pm).

3 ore = 3 hours, so there is a 3 hour time limit from 8am to 8pm.  Using backwards logic this means that there are no restrictions if you park there between 8pm and 8am.

The smaller blue square with the “P” and what looks like a bent piano keyboard is a symbol to represent that you must use your disco orario (the little manual spinning clock that will be mounted on your front windshield) to indicate at what time you parked your car there.  This is how the local police will guage whether or not you have exceeded the 3 hour limit.  In case your car is not equipped with one of these clocks (most rental cars are), the next best thing is to write clearly on a piece of paper the time you parked the car (and display this piece of paper on the dashboard).


The double arrows indicate that information provided on the sign applies to the spaces on both sides of the sign.  

IMPORTANT:  Keep in mind the color coding for parking spaces in Italy.

parking sign 2

white = free parking (but have a look at signs to see if there are restrictions)

parking sign 3

yellow with a blue handicap symbol = handicap parking (a special placard must be displayed)

yellow without a handicap symbol = either private parking or a loading/unloading zone (be sure to read the signage nearby)

parking sign 7

blue = payment parking

DISCLAIMER:  The Cinque Terre villages are made up of three different comuni (city halls): the Comune di Riomaggiore (which encompasses Riomaggiore, Manarola, Volastra and Groppo), the Comune di Vernazza (which encompasses Vernazza and Corniglia as well as other neighboring hamlets), and the Comune di Monterosso (which encompasses Monterosso and neighboring hamlets).  Each comune has different penalties and fines for different parking infractions.  The above ticket of €122 was issued in the Comune di Riomaggiore for parking in the ZTL.

The PSA I wish I didn’t have to make

Security warning for theft

Here in the Cinque Terre we have a *big* thorn in our side: pickpockets that ride the trains and circulate amongst passengers at the railway stations.

As toursim in our area has dramatically increased in recent years, so have the thieves that have come to prey on said tourists.  It’s incredibly frustrating and infuriating (not only for visitors but also for locals).  And for the pickpockets it has become quite a lucrative business.


You will find warning signs posted and voice recordings playing throughout the train stations in the Cinque Terre, La Spezia and Levanto, cautioning visitors of the danger of pickpockets and thieves.  Local law enforcement agencies have tried to increase their presence in the stations and on the trains but they are outnumbered (and oftentimes outsmarted) by the young thieves.  Most of these pickpockets are young females from nomad camps in Genoa, some even sport baby bumps (*gasp*).  These thieves (or should I say those that send them?) are astute and they know their way around Italian law (which, due to a loophole, is basically “catch & release” with Roma minors and pregnant women).

On a positive note, these pickpockets know not to enter the villages themselves as they are quickly spotted by locals (who have an eye for recognizing them despite their attempts to blend in by dressing like tourists), so the villages themselves are still very safe.


Here are some tips to help keep your belongings safe while on the trains and at the stations:

  • Do not leave your luggage or personal items unattended. Ever.  It takes just a matter of seconds for those items to disappear.
  • Be especially vigilant in crowded areas and when there’s a rush to get on or off the train.  This is the easiest moment for pickpockets to snag wallets or other valuables as you are distracted (and so is everyone else, too).  The thieves usually work in teams and while one is pushing the crowd towards the door the other is using quick hands to lighten pockets and purses.
  • Keep an eye out for faces in the crowd that are watching people’s personal belongings more than people’s faces.  If you notice bag watching taking place take it as a sign and be on high alert.  Don’t forget that these thieves usually work in teams so you might see them making eye contact with a second (or third) person.
  • Be cautious when using the overhead racks on the trains or when storing a bag under your seat.  You can’t imagine how easy it is for these trained thieves to simply pull a bag out from underneath you (without you even noticing!).  And I can’t begin to tell you how many times people get up to exit the train only to remember that they left something on the overhead rack.  By the time they go back for it, it’s gone.

My recommendations for you…

  1. Do not keep all of your valuables (cash, credit cards, passports, etc.) in one spot.  The old adage, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” definitely applies here.  Spread your valuables out in multiple places, leaving just one credit card and limited cash handy in your purse or wallet.  Once you get to your accommodations, leave valuables there rather than toting around everything with you (just bring the bare necessities when you’re out & about).
  2. If you do place your luggage on the overhead rack or beneath your seat on the train, try to wrap or clip the strap in such a way that your bag can’t be easily removed.  When I put something beneath my seat on the train I usually will have a strap wrapped around my ankle.  I am also well aware when someone sits behind me (in the back-to-back seats) and I’ll make a point of moving my belongings and making eye contact with them if they seem suspicious.
  3. I know you might cringe at the thought, but money belts really can be a lifesaver.  As mentioned previously, keep only the essentials in your purse or wallet while traveling (one credit card and enough cash to get you through your day).  Everything else (like your passport, remaining credit cards and cash) should be either tucked safely in your money belt or deep within a larger piece of luggage.  Don’t put anything you’ll need to use frequently in your money belt (because there’s nothing worse than having to partially undress in public each time you need to get something out).  In my opinion, your money belt really is the safest place for your passport.  There are lots of options for money belts out there, but this one that goes around your neck or this one that goes around your waist are both available on Amazon and have fab reviews.  For the love of all things holy, do not wear your money belt outside of your clothing (this totally defeats its purpose).
  4. Have photocopies of everything (the main page of your passport, front and back of your credit cards, etc.).  This will be really handy in the unlucky event that your belongings are stolen.  Of course, that means you should store these photocopies in a different place from the originals.  It’s also a good idea to leave a copy of these things at home with someone else, too (just in case).
  5. Buy travel insurance.   Make sure that it includes theft and be sure to read the fine print so you know what’s included (and what’s not).  If you have travel insurance and you’ve been pickpocketed you will need to file a police report for your claim.

Keep in mind that this problem is persistent throughout Italy in any of the touristic hot spots (like Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, etc.), not just the Cinque Terre. Spare yourself the heartache and headache by always being vigilant.

*This post includes affiliate links.  If you make any Amazon purchases by clicking through the product links above you’ll help support the hosting and upkeep of the blog… at no cost to you! Grazie mille!

Insider Tip: The pass they won’t tell you about…


I’m saddened to report that with the introduction of the new Cinque Terre Express light rail (and the increased ticket prices that came with it), TrenItalia has done away with the weekly pass for the Cinque Terre trains*.

For those than plan to visit the Cinque Terre for just one or two days, the all-inclusive Cinque Terre Card is probably the best option.  For more information on the Cinque Terre Card and all that it entails, click here.

Are you planning to stay in the Cinque Terre for three or more days?   The monthly train pass which I’ve detailed here is worth considering.  While this isn’t as inexpensive as the weekly pass once was, it can still be advantageous for those planning to use the trains frequently during their stay.

Safe travels,


*While not available to visitors, the weekly pass is still available for residents of the Cinque Terre, Levanto and La Spezia (but proof of residency is required).


Transport in the Cinque Terre

If you’re headed this way you might be wondering what’s the best way to get out and about in the Cinque Terre.  There are three recommended modes of transportation: foot, boat and train.

It’s also possible to take a bus within the villages but keep in mind that they run up and down in the villages themselves and not between the five villages (however, there are occasional buses that run to secondary villages still within the Cinque Terre National Park).

It is possible to arrive by car to the Cinque Terre but keep in mind that the roads are very narrow and winding and that parking is very limited and therefore quite expensive.  Once you park your car you’ll want to use the recommended modes of transportation to get around (and most definitely not your car, trust me!).



It’s no secret that the hiking in the Cinque Terre offers up phenomenal views and stunning photos.  While there are currently two closures for the famous coastal trail, it is still possible to hike through all five villages by using the alternate trails for the closed portions (see my earlier post on the status of the Sentiero Azzurro).  Besides the coastal trail, there’s an abundance of other trails that can be hiked (free of charge!) throughout the national park.



The ferries between the villages usually start running at Easter and will continue up until the first few days of November (although early and late in the season the schedule will be limited compared to the summer schedule).  The boats are a great (and relaxing!) way to see the villages and countryside from a different vantage point.  Just keep in mind that the ferry will not stop in Corniglia (as it is the only village of the Cinque Terre located off of the sea).  The ferries also head down the coast to Portovenere which is a beautiful village that I highly recommend visiting if time permits.  Portovenere is about a 30 minute boat ride further down the coast from Riomaggiore and the coastline is spectacular to see.  Click here to check timetables for the ferries.



The Cinque Terre are located on the TrenItalia railway line that connects La Spezia (pronounced La Spetz-ee-uh) and Genoa (in Italian Genova).  Regional trains travel back and forth throughout the day, starting as early as 5am and as late as midnight.  Stop by the national park information points (at any station in the Cinque Terre) to pick up a handy pocket-size schedule of the trains running between the villages.  Once you have this schedule you won’t have to be at the station to know when the next trains will be running in either direction.  The trains are the least expensive and fastest way to travel between the villages, but don’t expect them to be panoramic (because of the unique geography of our area, the trains pass through tunnels nearly the entire time).  You can check train time and schedules on the TrenItalia official website here (enter in where you’d like to leave from and where you’d like to arrive).  If you are traveling by train internationally I recommend using the German railway site (as you won’t be able to check international schedules on the TrenItalia website).


Eco-buses in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

You’ll find green or white ATC buses in the villages.  These buses run up and down in the villages themselves (you’ll see lots of elderly locals using this service) as well as occasionally to other secondary villages in the Cinque Terre (for example, Volastra which is a little village in the Cinque Terre National Park above Manarola).  While it is possible to use these buses keep in mind that they won’t be as well connected as the trains, panoramic as the boats or as memorable as the hiking.