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.
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!
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!