Take me to Rome, I said to myself…
And so when I got the opportunity to travel to Europe, I chose Roma (in Italian) as my first destination. The Schengen Visa process is nuts but well I am sure there are countries in the world that sure make things a hell lot more difficult. But then that’s a story for another time…
I stayed in Rome with my sister for 3 nights and needless to say they weren’t enough. I intend visiting it again and probably stay longer (One can at least dream!).
We took an Emirates flight out of Mumbai and reached Rome’s Fiumicino Airport at 20:00 hrs.
Descending Into Fiumicino
Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport is also called Fiumicino (fee-yoo-mee-chee-no) airport simply because it is located in a town called Fiumicino 35 kms from Roma. It is a large and a very busy airport and the town of Fiumicino itself is a coastal town.
While our flight took off from Dubai, the captain let us know over the microphone that we’d be flying over the great Arabian Dessert, over onto Egypt and finally enter Italy from the South… Luckily for us when he said “fly over onto Italy from the South”, he meant flying over Sicily and then over the Mediterranean Ocean and then arrive into Fiumicino from the west… This meant getting a beautiful view of the ocean meeting the coast during descent…
Needless to say, my first view of Italy was mozzafiato (breathtaking).
Coming back to the Fiumicino Airport, it is a decent looking airport, its old but clean and pretty huge… There’s nothing blingy or glitzy about it, it’s actually really functional, so you aren’t really wowed by it when you alight from your aircraft… The Mumbai T2 terminal and even Kolkata’s new domestic terminal is snazzier but well airports don’t necessarily have to look like a shopping mall really 😛 Once we got out of the Jet Bridge, we started following the crowd hoping they would lead us directly to immigration or baggage collection but surprisingly the crowd led us into a “room”… We followed (we were lost really cause English had suddenly become almost non-existent) and then the doors of the “room” closed and the room started moving!
The “room” was actually a very fast train 😛
So yeah the Fiumicino Airport has a train running between the Arrival area and the “real” part of the Airport… We alighted from the train and we were immediately in front of the baggage claim belt… By now loud Ciaos and Ciao Belles could be heard and I made a mental note of finding out the difference between the two.
Ciao – Hello or Goodbye
Ciao Belle – Hello/Goodbye Beautiful
After baggage collection we got our immigration done and we were finally on our own…
Since Fiumicino is a little distance away from Rome, there are a couple of ways of getting to the Roma Termini (Central Terminal in Rome)… You could take a bus (70 – 90 mins travel time), a regional train (includes a train change) or take the Leonardo Express. I had researched and the latter seemed to be the fastest way to reach our destination and well the most expensive option of the 3.
Oh yeah! The Fiumicino Airport has a dedicated railway station of 3 platforms…
Leonardo Express is a dedicated, non-stop, fast train that runs between the Airport and Roma Termini every 30 mins. It consists of only First Class Compartments and hence if you are carrying a 2nd Class EuroRail Pass, it will not work and you will still have to buy tickets for the train. The tickets for the Leonardo Express cost Euro 14 (approx INR 1100/-) per person and is for 1 time use only. The seats on the train are not reserved and the ticket thus needs to be validated by the validation machine.
There are manned ticket counters as well as 2 self-help kiosks at the Airport from where you can buy tickets for the regional trains and for Leonardo Express. The manned ticket counters were closed when we landed as all shops and manual counters close by 6:30 to 7:00 pm in Italy. The kiosk “spoke” several languages apart from Italian, including English, German and Japanese. Buying the ticket was super simple as the kiosk accepted cards, coins as well as currency notes. This is where I “broke” my first 100 Euro currency note to get some change 🙂
Roma Termini is a landmark in the center of the city. It houses the main train station, the metro station and even the bus station. You can imagine how huge it is and how invariably convenient for anyone and everyone trying to avail any of the public transports that Roma has to offer to its citizens.
If that wasn’t enough, it has a fabulous shopping area replete with outlets for Sephora, Kiko Milano and other fabulous brands… We later learned that all major train stations of big cities in Italy have huge shopping arcades. Florence even had Mango and Victoria’s Secret while the Genova train station additionally boasted of a MAC Cosmetics outlet… You can only imagine what Milan Central had to offer to its visitors… Great concept I must say!
A 30 minutes train ride later on the Leonardo Express, we reached Roma Termini. I had inquired from a gentlemen on the train earlier as to how I could get to Manzoni from the Termini and he told me that once at the Termini, I needed to go 2 floors below the station, to the metro station where I could catch a Line A metro to Manzoni… Armed with that knowledge, my sister and I alighted the Leonardo Express at 10:15 pm with our luggage (1 suitcase strolley and 1 bag) and started looking for signs that directed us towards the escalators to the metro station…
The Roma Termini is a convenient place with a number of travelators and escalators and hence lugging your luggage is actually pretty convenient.
A Personal Anecdote
Let’s take a step back here… It took us a while to realize that the sudden decrease in population (from India to Italy) was something that we hadn’t accounted for when we thought that the train station was desolate cause honestly even at 10:00 am in the morning, it looks empty! Italy is different, it simply has a much lesser population than we are used to seeing here in Indian train stations. Also, as far as cheats, pickpockets and petty criminals are concerned we didn’t really see or meet any and had no untoward experience whatsoever.
When planning a trip to an unknown land, read up about it on travel blogs but do not form an opinion… Make an opinion of a place only when you experience it. Blog articles are not lies but everyone has had different experiences and everyone has a unique way of analysing a situation.
In Italy, they add ‘-eteria’ or ‘-eria’ to the noun that they are selling… A place selling Gelato is called a Gelateria, you know a pizzeria, a cafeteria… Same way a place or kiosk selling Biglietto (tickets) is called a Biglietteria.
There were about 7 Biglietteria machines lined up and finding one free, my sister and I confidently walked towards to it. We had already used a kiosk at the Fiumicino Airport to buy tickets for the Leonardo Express and it was a breeze so how different could this be? Well , well, well… We were in for a rude shock… The Biglietteria for metro, tram and bus tickets have a different User Interface than that of trains and we couldn’t figure it out all… Plus everything was in Italian!!! It was close to 11:00 pm now and the exhaustion from the travel from miles across was slowly starting to set in…
Finally, I went up to the Informazione (Information Center) that was shut (late hours you see) but had 2 policemen standing next to it. Both were wearing different uniforms. In India we have police all over wear the same khaki uniform except for probably Kolkata where they wear white. But 2 policemen in one city would for sure wear the same uniform… But this is Italy my darlings where the police uniforms have been designed by Giorgio Armani and hence things are ought to be different here…
In all fairness, Italy has not one but multiple police forces, the ones that I know of and came across are:
1. Polizia di Stato (State police)
2. Carabinieri (Military trained police to fight organized crimes)
3. Guardia Di Finanza (Military trained police under the ministry of finances, part of Europol, used as riot police and anti-fraud police)
4. Polizia Di Municipale (generally regulate traffic and also work again petty crimes like pick-pocketing etc)
Coming back to the 2 policemen I approached at the metro station, one was from the Polizia Di Stato and the other was a Carabinieri… I asked them if they could give me change for Euro 10 in coins, the state policeman nodded in denial while the Carabinieri policeman smiled and said something in Italian. It sounded so exotic and if I was not in a hurry to shower and finally end the long long day, I would have honestly asked him to slow down and teach me a little of that exotic accent (probably over a cup of cappuccino). But I was certainly in a hurry and all I muttered was Non so Italiano with a sad, tired face… He then said, “buy 3 tickets”… Ummmmm, what, why? I said, “we are 2” and showed him 2 fingers. He nodded and said Si.
He then gestured me to follow him and led me to the kiosk at which my sister was still fiddling… Point 1, the police may look like they aren’t alert and are probably gossiping but well they aren’t! The guy for God’s sake knew who I was with at the metro station and at which ticket kiosk was my sister standing! Point 2, the people in Italy were starting to seem really helpful and friendly 🙂
So, he explained to us (in broken English and fluent Italian) how to change the language and then told us that the machine was out of change (could not dispense 7 Euros) and hence either we should enter the exact amount in coins (Euro 1.5 + 1.5 = Euro 3) or we could buy 3 tickets (Euro 4.5) and have the machine return Euro 5.5 to us… 2 tickets we could use that night and the extra third one we could use anytime till the next 2 months.
At 11:00 pm, for just us 2 girl, in a “desolate” underground metro station, in a country that speaks no English, that Carabinieri policeman was a ray of hope that our Italian Adventure would be everything we had hoped for!
Finally, the Carabinieri saw us off just short of the platform and he even waved goodbye. It was sweet 🙂
Key takeaway point is how seamless the public transport system in Italy is! Flight to Train to Metro all without having to actually step outside!