My wife and I will arrive in Marco Polo airport after an overnight flight from the US and take a taxi to Mestre, from which we will take a train to Bologna. I have assumed I will not book a train in advance because of flight delays, baggage issues, etc. It appears that both Trenitalia and Italo offer service to Bologna and trains run fairly frequently. I plan to have a list of trains leaving in a reasonable window after our arrival so I can have a handful of trains to try for. We will be tired and unfamiliar with the station, and I have not been able to find a diagram of it online. Any suggestions on how best to walk into the station and decide on where to look for departing trains and buy tickets? Will the taxi driver have a choice of doors to leave us? Thanks for any advice.
Mestre is a fairly standard type of station. You enter on the ground floor. The main entrance is on the north side of the station, which is also side closest to the airport. You'll see ticket windows (overhead sign in English and Italian) and banks of ticket vending machines. The tracks are at street level and there will be a stairway down to a tunnel to get to them. They will be marked "Binari" (Tracks) with the track number. Check the overhead train board that lists all the departing trains in the next 30 minutes or so and with the train number (shown on your ticket) destinations and track (Binario) number. Go to the tunnel stairway and go to the indicated stairway up for the train. Except, of course, for Binario 1 which is in front of you.
BTW, there are Trenitalia Freccia (hi-speed) trains, Italo trains (also hi-speed) and also Regionali trains going to Bologna. These are unreserved trains that make more stops, but some are not a whole lot slower than the hi-speed trains. They are always the same price and spur of the moment, are cheaper than the hi-speed trains. They are unreserved, so you just board and find open seats.
The hi-speed trains will have specific seats assigned, shown on your ticket with the carriage number and seat number. There should be a chart on the platform showing where each carriage will stop so you can be standing in approximately the right spot on the platform to board your carriage.
PS The hi-speed trains take 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to Bologna Centrale, making 1 stop at Padova. The walk up price for Trenitalia is 36 EUR pp 2nd class (which is fine). Italo similar times and maybe a few EUR cheaper. The Regionale Veloce take 1 hour and 51 minutes, making 6 stops along the way, and cost 12.75 EUR pp. They go every hour (for the most part) at 54 past the hour.
Mestre train station isn't particularly confusing, but I dislike it - always seems crowded and small to me. Perhaps part of issue is that I have arrived there a few times exhausted after a long flight, and I can't wait to get out of there.
FYI, if you want to save the taxi fare, there are easy ATVO express buses from the airport to Mestre station (8 euros each), no stops in between. It's extremely easy to take the buses - there are always people there explaining which bus to take, where to get on, etc. And they run fairly often. I can't think of another European airport that has such helpful people around to help weary travelers with public transportation. (Try taking the airport bus from Gdansk or Vilnius! Doable but a lot less friendly.)
Thanks to each of you for your replies. I had tried various search terms for a map or plan of the Mestre train station without success, and now I've had the chance to familiarize myself with it thanks to the virtual tour. I personally feel much more at ease entering a place for the first time when I've had the chance to see it. This tool is great because it also offers virtual tours of several other Italian train stations.
If I'm feeling alert enough I may opt for the ATVO bus; I assume that the driver can help with stowing suitcases underneath and that small carry-ons and personal items will fit in an overhead rack. The money not spent for a taxi would help cover the cost difference for a high speed train!
Thanks to the virtual tour I can see which door to go in for the Mestre ticket office, and that there seems to be a "Last minute" Freccia desk. That would probably be a great way to get reserved seats together on a high speed train without standing in the general ticket office line. I see that Italo has ticket machines so if their train is the next I could try to figure it out and pay there. From the signage it seems the ticket office is only for Trenitalia.
Again, many thanks!
Bill, there are Trenitalia ticket machines at the Mestre station, too. They may take US credit cards without a PIN. (not sure if there's a max amount that can be charged without a PIN). Some machines may take cash if you can get euros from an ATM.
If by chance you will have a working smart phone in Italy you can buy tickets from your phone. This is usually how I do it now - worked great for me in May. Download the Trenitalia app to your phone ahead of time. If you have a Paypal account, you can register that with Trenitalia ahead of time so purchasing tickets from the phone should be easy. The key is that your phone will have a working connection and enough battery life so you can show the tickets to a conductor to scan them while on the train.
If you are groggy when you arrive off the plane, make a note to yourself about the bus: you want an ATVO bus (there's a similar-sounding one from a different company - will get you there just not an express bus). Here's the schedule below. Yes, the driver or someone working for the company who is standing there at the airport can help you put the larger bags under the bus; the driver will pull out the bags when the bus stops at Mestre.
Andrew, thanks for the ATVO schedule and the Trenitalia app idea. I've been registered with Trenitalia for years but hadn't installed the app and I'll do so. I went to ATVO's website and there is a helpful video showing how to find their ticket machines, office and buses. I see there is wifi on the buses so I can check on trains en route to Mestre.