So there you are at Roma Termini (Rome's main station). You need an Italian local train ticket to Orte. The queue at the ticket office is huge. Hey - why not use one of these ticket machines that are all over the place?
You find yourself a nice machine (one without sputum all over the touchscreen) and press the flag for English. It springs to life and blares:
"BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS! IN CASE OF NEED, ASK ONLY TRENITALIA STAFF FOR MORE INFORMATION".
That was earsplitting. Your ears are still ringing as you look behind you.
You're blown sky-high. Assorted station pondlife is now looking at you. Wise to the fact that you are a sitting duck. A helpless victim. Already three men are offering to "help" you with the ticket machine.
Didn't see that coming? Neither did I when tried to get Italian local train tickets from a ticket machine.
It doesn't have to be like this.
For spontaneous tickets for local trains, three options spring to mind:
Ticket office means queueing. Ticket machines: getting to grips with unknown software. Online: yet another account or app, yet another password, credit card numbers, CVCs, TANs, pick-up codes (so you still have to use a machine)... waaaaah!!!
In Italy, there is a fourth option. Much easier, much more convenient. One that we tourists don't know about.
I first noticed Sisal Pay while on holiday at Otranto. Passing a bookmaker's with a little girl over my shoulder (my little girl, obviously. As featured in my Nightjet post), this is what I saw:
Sisal is a bookmaker. It was founded in 1946. People have been putting money on the horses and the football with Sisal for 70-odd years.
In 1995 Sisal started selling local train tickets and in 2002 they took up processing all sorts of payments with Sisal Pay. Now Italians pay for their gas and electricity with it, and use it to pay cash for things bought on Amazon. It is a useful service.
Sisal Pay terminals are all over the place. In addition to the bookmakers, any bar, tobacconist or newsagent can attach itself to the Sisal Pay network by getting a Sisal terminal.
Any place that has a @SisalPay terminal can furnish you with local train tickets. There are 40,000 of them throughout Italy. And definitely one near you.
Keep your eyes peeled for the above logo. Any bookmaker and countless bars and tobacconists should have a sticker or a sign somewhere, indicating that they do Sisal Pay.
At a newsagent's or tobacconist's, just queue up (it won't be a long queue). At a bar, make for the cashier and queue up there - in Italian bars you usually pay for what you want at the till, then take your receipt to the actual bar and order your drink.
This only works for local trains. I've read the terms and conditions for you. Here is what you can get using Sisal Pay:
Sisal Pay cannot get you tickets for mainline trains - Freccias, Intercity or night trains. Only the local trains in your region. This keeps things simple. But often, this is all you need.
In practice you will only be using Sisal Pay for short trips on which you don't want to blow a Eurail/Interrail pass travel day.
There are some tiny local operators (Ferrovie Udine Cividale, say, and Circumvesuviana) that don't sell through Sisal Pay. But these companies still distribute tickets through newsagents and tobacconists.
Well, a little bit of ticket-Italian would help you a lot. Even Grazie (GRAH-tsee-ay - thank you) alone is a small courtesy that won't go unnoticed.
Proper ticket sellers are used to dealing with even the most incomprehensible foreigners. In bars and newsagents, they might be a little less experienced.
At the same time, English and Italian are similar enough that if you speak English and wave your arms for a while, you'll get what you need in the end.
However, to save you the effort, I've designed an Italian ticket template in which you simply fill in the blanks.
Either download it and print it, or save it onto your tablet or phone and write on it with a photo editor.
The first half is for simple tickets, but I've also put in options for more advanced operations involving reservations and night trains. In most cases, this will see you through - but if not, it will definitely get you started.
You can find the Italian ticket template in the e-guide library. It is free. Subscribe to my blog (that is, join the free Rail Guide Europe club) for the password. I've put a button below so you can do that now .
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While in Italy I tried this out several times. Once at a bookie, twice at my local bar.
Both times it was easy. I didn't have to wait at all and I had my tickets immediately. No commission was charged.
Is there a catch? Well, one tiny one: the ticket is only valid for the day you specify. If your plans change, you can exchange your ticket at a Sisal Pay point up until 23:59 before the day of travel. You just have to pay a €0.50 surcharge.
The ticket is issued on Sisal's thermal paper - the same used for bets and lotteries. Keep it away from heat and try not to scrunch it up.
Now I'm sure some of you would prefer a real railway ticket from a proper Biglietteria etc. etc. But for the whatever-works gals out there, this is absolutely brilliant and saves much time and misery.
So next time you are in Italy and need tickets for a local train, just look out for a bar with the Sisal logo.
And for God's sake REMEMBER TO STAMP YOUR TICKET BEFORE YOU GET ONTO THE TRAIN!
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