Part 1 of My First Day in Rome: Transportation

From figuring out how to get to Rome from the airport to wandering the streets for my hotel, I encountered more challenges during my arrival that I anticipated. Fortunately, I found it all fun. Well, maybe not all of it!

So much happened in my first day that I need to split it into two posts. This one is all about my initial experiences with transportation, which was a huge adventure all on its own!

Flight to Rome

No problems! Actually, this was the first flight in all of my airplane experience on which I was mostly unconscious for the majority of the time – felt like it “flew” by -haha! Ha. Ha. … The Italian couple sitting behind me -actually just the woman- continuously and passionately listed just about everything she saw out the window to her husband so that I felt obligated to look as well.

The lady behind me was narrating everything she saw out the window.

Beginning our descent!

Getting out of the Airport

Good god! This was a nightmare. Impulsive and free-spirited as I am, I assumed I could magically arrive in in the Trastevere section of Rome by following an explicitly marked road, possibly made of yellow bricks and lined with fields of flowers. I knew I needed to find the FR1, and that was about it. How hard could that be? Very hard, especially if you don’t know the language! Yikes! I forgot whether the FR1 was a train or a bus, so I was following signs for busses first. After a good 20 minutes of wandering, I finally attempted to ask a ticket clerk how to find the FR1 -in Italian, no less- and she sent me to the second floor. I walked back and forth up there for a little while in vain, and returned to another clerk, this time armed with English. Down the escalator she directed. Oh. Down. Trains. Duh.

I approached the train ticket booth. Eeek. More scary fast-talking Italians. I thought I’d be safer from humiliation by buying my train ticket at the automated booth. Hooray for self-sufficiency! Sure, Meri. First off, I obliviously missed the button to switchto English. It was a British flag, I found out afterward. Progressing along, I couldn’t read the Italian, so I was just pressing what I hoped were the right buttons to buy a ticket. When the symbols for credit cards appeared, I inserted my card. Italian words came up and no tickets came out. Sweat trailed down my forehead as I stared at the Italian on the screen desperately trying to figure out what it said. People around me were having no problems getting their tickets. Panic. Panic. Panic. To my rescue came a kind blonde Italian lady. She saw my distress, smiled, and tried to speak slowly enough to guide me through the steps. I couldn’t understand her one bit, but she eventually helped me realize that the automated booth wouldn’t take my card for some reason. (Note to self: investigate this later.) Kind Blonde Italian Lady directed me to a convenience store counter to get my ticket instead. 8 Euro. Cash. Change. Ticket. Done. Tante grazie sweet blonde Italian lady!

Train to Trastevere and the Harassing 12-Year-Old

Stupid me, my instinct to seek out a minimally inhabited train car left me all alone and vulnerable. I decided to go sit near other people so I could ask at which stop I needed to get off in case I couldn’t tell myself. I lugged my baggage a car down and sat across from a tall African man. Shortly after the train departed, a young girl strolled by and handed us each a piece of paper with some typed advertisement inItalian. I had no idea what it said, but thought it might be interesting to decipher later, so I put it in my bag. Bad idea. The young girl came back to ask each passenger something about the paper. The African man across from me was experienced enough not to even touch the paper; he left it in the seat next to him and just shook his head stoically to the girl’s questions. She came to me next, saying something fast in Italian, and I said the phrase I practiced over and over again, “Mi dispiace, non capisco.” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand). Well, that opened the flood gates of her pleading. She spewed Italian at me like a water hose on full blast; the only words I could make out were “bella” and “grazie”. She pointed to her bare feet, so I determined she was begging for money. I tried to play it cool like the man did, but it didn’t work. I shook my head. I stared dumbfounded. I grabbed my Italian phrase book and looked up how to say “leave me alone”. Nothing worked. I looked over to the man for help, but he just gave me a brief glance of sympathy. I had no choice but to get up and move. The young harasser followed me at first, but I went to a more populated car so she backed off. I spent the rest of the train ride searching for the phrases to say,  “I don’t want any,” “Please stop,” “Can you help me?” and “Please tell her to go away.”

At the Trastevere Train Station -Now What!?

Another oversight of mine was planning how to get from the Trastevere train station to my hotel in Trastevere. Again, I thought there would be some magical, well-labeled path directly connecting the trainstation to my hotel. I walked out of the station and gazed dumbfounded at the parking lot and the couple of bus stops in front of me. Hmm… Which one am I supposed to take? Can I walk it? I did the hovering trick where you try to hide your cluelessness and instead discreetly scope out your options by pretending you’re just bored and want to wander while you wait. That didn’t work. I just couldn’t decipher the Italian language. Instinctually, I pulled out my iPhone and started opening up any app I could think of to help. I don’t have service in Italy, nor was there free wi-fi at the station. Panic set in again. How was I going to find my way? Well, god came down to me in the form of GPS and the TripIt app. I didn’t realize that my phone could locate it’s current position on a map without cell phone service or internet. GPS is not tied to Verizon. Alleluia!! I’m saved! Before I left for Italy, I used TripIt to store my minimal itinerary. Now I could open it up and find a map with a red dot for my hotel location. A blue dot then popped onto that map, indicating my current location, and it moved as I wandered! The feeling I had was akin to winning the lottery. I had an interactive map!! I hovered over to the people waiting for the bus and pointed to the red dot on my map. The old ladies spoke fast Italian and lost me, but they pointed to the bus stand across the parking lot and said, “tre” while holding up three fingers. I nodded like a moron and bumbled over to that stop.

To the Hotel!

I boarded the bus and prayed that I could watch the blue dot get closer to the red dot on my map and then hop off at whatever stop got them closest. Sloppy, I know, but that’s my style. I have a fear of asking for help with directions -maybe just stubbornness, as a friend of mine would say. However, there’s no time better than the present to change. I’m alone in Italy without a cellular network as backup, so I have to open up and seek help when needed. Plus, I can practice my pathetic handful of Italian phrases on people. (Note to self: don’t just learn phrases YOU think you’ll need to say; learn phrases you think OTHER PEOPLE may say to you.) Anyway, young man was sitting nearby, so in bad Italian, I warned him that I couldn’tspeak Italian, but I pointed to my cherished blue and red dots on my phone. “English?” he asked. Yes, I am a dumb American who can only speak one language and expects the rest of the world to speak English to her… sigh. His name was Ali and we chatted in English until he told me to get off at my stop (I threw in a couple of Italian phrases to check my pronunciation/correctness with him. The Italian woman sitting next to Ali smiled at my attempts). Although you’re supposed to pay, I managed to get a free bus ride because I’m a clueless tourist. Okay, maybe clueless tourism isn’t so bad.

Using the GPS on my phone like a lifeline, I meandered through the busy but narrow streets of Trastevere, which is a district of Rome on the other side of the river from the center of the city. I took quite a roundabout way to get there, but eventually, after hours of nervous, clueless navigation of Rome’s cheap transportation options, I arrived at the front steps of Locanda Carmel. The front desk lady was welcoming, and she even humored me with my terrible Italian. She led me to my basic -very basic- room and got the AC running for me. I plopped my stuff down, kicked off my flops, and collapsed onto the stiff bed. It was wonderful!

Finally made it to the hotel!

Hotel room

Another view

Another view

It’s now 20 minutes past midnight here, so I can’t fill you in on the rest of my day (which got A LOT better!) Hopefully I’ll get a good night’s sleep and wake up early to write up “Part 2 of My First Day in Rome: Wandering”

Ciao for now!

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Reflections 1

“It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

Bilbo Baggins sure knows what he’s talking about! Here I am at the airport (2 hours early, a little overboard I have to say) ready to embark on my first solo adventure. With my own two feet I’m going to explore as much of Italy as I have the energy for. I have to say, I’m not as nervous right now as I thought I’d be. I’m going to confidently face the unknown and make the best of whatever comes my way. I treat this trip like an analogy to life, where no amount of planning and preparation guarantees you anything. You have to set goals for yourself and remain resolved to achieve them, but you must balance that steadfastness with adaptability and flexibility. Like a kite, your life must reach for the sky, dance recklessly yet purposefully in the wind, and stay tied to the people who love you. The falls back to the ground are just part of the fun! And so it shall be in Italy!

Life throws some interesting curve balls our way. Always expect the unexpected I’m beginning to learn. Fortunately I have family and friends that care so much about me. I know that their love, guidance, and well wishes will carry me through whatever rough winds life may send my way.

As Bilbo advises, I plan to step onto the road and keep my feet, even while being swept away!

Until Roma!

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Getting Ready for Italy

Wow. My first solo travel adventure is approaching. I depart for Italy in less than 4 days. The purpose of my trip is two-fold:  one, I’m recovering from a tragic, soul-crushing break-up, so I’m going to rediscover who I am on my own;  and two, I hope to begin a life-long hobby of summer traveling. The world is so immense and loaded with beauty –I want to attempt to discover more than just my New England surroundings.

Traveling abroad presents many challenges. The two I find particularly annoying are:

  • going without my iPhone and unlimited access to email, Google Maps, and internet
  • the power plugs in Europe (I can’t bring my fancy hair straightener with me!!)

I researched phone options and decided to go through my service provider Verizon because they have this Global Travel Program where I can rent a Blackberry Tour –supposedly it’s an awesome phone. I’m nervous that it may not have Wi-Fi capabilities even though the “gentleman” I spoke with over the phone claimed it did. He sounded like he couldn’t wait to get off the phone to text his sugar momma his plans for the evening.

As for the hair straightener, I scoured the internet for a power converter. Since US hair dryers/straighteners/etc. are too powerful in their wattage, they blow most circuits. I couldn’t find a power converter on Amazon to handle it (how dare you fail me Amazon!), and most posts on help sites recommend to just go all natural, so I gave up and will just have to find a way to make curly/wavy hair work again. People just don’t understand how important it is for a woman to feel confident with her hair!

In regards to planning my trip, I haven’t done much. I bought the airline ticket on impulse in May and only just recently booked a hotel for the first two nights in Rome. There are some things I definitely want to see, such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican Museums, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice, but I’ve decided that part of the adventure will be figuring out my trip as I go along. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet some dazzling people who suggest other intrigues. Flexibility is key for me. I’ll keep you updated regularly here so you know I’m still alive. (Love you mom!)

Essential items on my to-do list:

  • figure out how to get from airport to Hotel Carmel
  • research and buy the most practical train pass (I’m not renting a car)
  • load all of my important phone numbers/data into the rental phone (if Fed-Ex ever gets it to me!)
  • make sure the plants in my apartment will get watered

Now off to get some of those done! Arrivederci!

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6/30 Update on Phone Situation:

After wasting hours on the phone with Verizon trying to activate their crappy refurbished, back-bin, anti-Wi-Fi Blackberry rental phones to no avail, I’m going without a fancy phone after all. Skype it is! However, I may end up buying some cheap-o phone and SIM card once I’m in Italy for emergency calls and text messaging on the go. I simply can’t give up all my materialistic pleasures! I’ll let you know how that goes.

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