Italy has changed. But Rome is Rome.
— Robert De Niro
Sometimes the sharpest memories of a trip result from misadventures which were neither planned nor desired. That was the case with our pre-cruise arrival in the Eternal City a few years ago.
My husband and I arrived at Fiumicino airport one spring morning, looking forward to spending two nights in Rome to recover from jet lag before our Mediterranean cruise.
Thinking we should take the greener and less expensive mass transit option for our transfer to the city, I had planned that we would take the Leonardo Da Vinci airport train to the Termini station in the heart of the city. That way I would know whether to recommend this for clients. We managed to purchase our tickets from a kiosk at the airport train platform, then got on the next train. The luggage storage space on the train was not very spacious but we managed to wedge my big cruise suitcase and George’s more modest one onto the ledges available.
The non-stop train ride probably took twenty minutes and gave us a chance to view the landscape and edges of the city. Before long we were un-wedging our luggage and departing the train. We followed the signs to the taxi stand.
Imagine our confusion when we got to the taxi stand to find an empty street. There was one car parked at the curb but the driver was nowhere to be seen. Eventually a driver did appear and we learned that the taxis were all on strike that day. Who knew? I was well aware before this trip that short-term strikes called at a moment’s notice are a way of life in Italy, but I never anticipated that our need would intersect with such a thing. The driver (who seemed more an entrepreneur than a legitimate cabbie) considered driving us to our hotel on Via Veneto. He seemed tempted and named an exorbitant price, but all of us lost interest in that kind of deal in the end.
No matter. We could take the subway to get close enough to complete the journey on foot. First, though, we decided to call the hotel to be sure we went to the best stop. Thus began adventure Number Two.
Hmm. How do you use an Italian payphone? There were no slots for coins. Some lounging (or should I say striking) cab drivers told us we needed to buy a card at the newsstand to insert into the phone. So off I went to the shop inside the terminal to buy such a card, minimum amount please. Back in just a couple of minutes, I tried to fit the card into the phone – no luck. (Several times I tried the same thing with the same result.) Finally one of the cabbies took more pity on us; he came over, snapped one of the corners off the card, and inserted it smartly in the slot. Oh! Grazie, grazie!
We phoned the hotel. Yes, the strike is a problem today. But you can take the Metro just two stops to the Barberini station. That puts you at the foot of Via Veneto and it is a short walk from there. Good.
Feeling refreshed with courage we headed to the Metro entrance. Another encounter with a ticket machine – or was it a live person – and we were inside, on our way. Note that the picture at the left shows steps down to the Metro stop. Yes, the big (fifty pound) suitcase needed to go down the steps. We did not see any elevators or even escalators to get to the tracks. George (my hero!) managed to portage my big green monster down several sections of steps. He even moved his smaller case, too, while I wimped out, minding the carry-on bags in the staging areas. (With two people, two hefty bags, carry-ons, and some concern about theft, it got to be sort of like the logic problem of how the man can get the fox, the goose, and the bag of grain across the river safely in a rowboat with space for only one thing besides himself.) Eventually we were all together on the platform.
The subway ride was the least exceptional part of the subway experience. Arriving a quick two stops later, we had to go up the steps to street level again.
But there was the Piazza Barberini Fountain, there was Via Veneto, and it was a beautiful day. We made our way uphill to the hotel. Once we got a cold glass of water at the hotel, we knew it had been worth the trouble. We were in Rome!
Two days later, we were happy to take the more expensive private car transfer to the port to board the ship. Some experiences are worth having once – but only once!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
30 January 2014