Jeez! Welcome to Rome; welcome to Italy! Travel in this country functions in a way that has you believe that the lunatics have taken over the mad house! Now, I know that that is neither a nice thing to say, nor is it politically correct – first impressions however are lasting and, unless something wonderful happens to change things around, indelibly burnt into the psyche.
As things stand I never want to see this country again – and this from someone who idolises Valentino Rossi, Ducati and Loris Capirossi! I also think that Sophia Loren has aged beautifully in a way that only Italian women can.
As an aside, this train is already twenty minutes late and it hasn’t left the station yet!
Our experience of Bella Italia got off to a ‘good start’ at Rome’s badly mis-named Leonardo di Vinci (a disseminator of ideas and information) Airport – the baggage from our flight – everybody’s – took an hour and twenty minutes before it popped onto the carousel to join the dozen or so bags that had been going round and round the whole time. Now, speaking from my own political perspective, there was a damn good reason for the delay. The day before one of the baggage-handlers had been killed because of lousy health and safety and his colleagues were holding snap, one hour strikes to try and get something done about it. In my book that’s a bloody good reason to inconvenience people, and J and I would have gone and stood on their picket line in support – if we had known what was going on! There was no information and inquiries were met with double-talk or stone-walling by staff – frustration was the result.
(As I’m writing this we are on the ‘other’ train hammering along, in a generally northerly direction through some beautiful but badly flooded countryside.)
Things really looked up when we got to our B&B, just a five minute walk from Rome’s Ostiense Station. We were met by Alessandro, the owner, and taken up to our room – without doubt, the best B&B on the planet, bar none! More of this in a later post because the place and the owner deserves promotion.
Anyway, back to the plot . . after a scrumptious breakfast we wandered back to the station, feeling pretty good about life and things in general, to catch our fast Inter-City train to Livorno. When it eventually appeared on the board it was to tell us it was cancelled! There we were, impatiently standing around waiting for the ticket office to open after their tea-break. The clerk was wonderfully efficient, explained the problem and wrote down the solution – go to another Rome station and take a differently routed train to our destination. ‘You must get this existing ticket validated at the ticket office there, before you board the train’, she told us.
Rome Terminali Station ticket office on a quiet day – this whole area was jammed full (stock picture)
When we arrived at Roma Termini we trekked to the ticket offices and joined the ‘cattle market’ standing outside – here we had to get a ticket (another ticket) from a vending machine and wait to be called. There were at least two hundred people milling about and our first ticket put us behind a hundred plus other people. With only an hour to our alternative departure time, we hedged our bets and got tickets for all categories! Everything was so slow and it made air travel seem like a magic carpet ride. What amazed me was the patience of Italian people; in a similar situation Turks would have been rioting and the ‘Robo Cops’ would have been deployed to defend the state!
Turks trying to change their railway tickets
When we eventually got to a clerk he told us that the train that was cancelled, wasn’t cancelled – he’s adamant! ‘Now you have a problem’ he says. We haven’t got a problem ‘now’, we’ve had a bloody travel problem ever since we arrived in your bloody country! J stamped on my foot and scowled, ‘We need this guy on our side’, she muttered from the corner of her mouth. The guy stomped off.
When he returned he was all smiles; our, by now, tattered and scrunched e-ticket had been validated and full directions in Italian English had been written on the back. How we turned on the Turkish charm and we parted company with smiles, hand shakes and ‘Grazie’s and ‘Ciaoa’s all round.
Writing this as we hurtle through the flooded countryside with storm clouds gathering outside, I’m feeling pretty optimistic. All we have to do is get off at Pisa, and find the local train that will take us fifteen minutes down the track to Pontdera where, with luck, a fair wind and no localised flooding, our friends from Oz will be waiting to whisk us along the Yellow Brick Road to the village of Cevoli (pop: 235 or something like that).
Alan Fenn, Cevoli Köyü, Tuscany
ps When the local train pulled in to Pisa it was to the wrong platform and about a hundred frantic passengers and their luggage jammed into the underpass trying desperately to get there before it left! Now we know why their bloody tower leans over – don’t we?