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TRAVEL: Italia Part 2 - Fiumicino & Roma Termini





When In Rome Do As The Romans Do


If I was asked as to where I'd like to plan my next vacation, I'd say Rome :) And before they raised their eyebrows, I'd hurriedly add "and Southern Italia"... Like I mentioned in my Italia Part 1 post, Sicily, Napoli and Sardigna is something I regret not visiting (due to time constraints) and hence if I ever get a chance to travel again, you know where I will be going :)




Coming back to this post, today I plan on sharing with you all my experience landing at the Fiumicino Airport and the drama behind how we managed to make our way from the Airport to the room we had booked in Rome...
So let's get started...

Disclaimer: We did not opt for a luxurious, relaxing trip. We did not stay at comfortable hotels and we did not indulge in designer shopping. We had a little backpacking trip of sorts and if you are not into that sort of a thing, you may not find the article very interesting...
Rome -> Roma
Florence -> Firenze
Milan -> Milano
Venice -> Venezia (venet-zia)

Accommodation/Hotel Stays in Italy

We did not stay in hotels in Italy and no its not because of the cost :P There are quite a number of 3 star reasonably priced hotels all over Italy (with probably the exception of Venice :/). However, like I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to 'feel' Italy and hence we decided to stay in people's homes... Ummmm yeah there is a concept like that :)
For those who aren't aware there is a wonderful concept called Air-BnB. Ok, in all fairness AirBnB is probably not the pioneer in this but it is hands-down the most successful, most popular and widely trusted website that connects people who very thoughtfully open their homes (hosts) to travelers like us (guests)...
In short, we live in local's homes, pay them a fee for their troubles and they provide us with a comfortable private room, the use of their kitchen and other amenities (depends on the hosts) and very likely we forge a bond of friendship that is based on mutual respect, interest for travel and in some cases matching of ideas...

We had booked a private room with a private bathroom at a guy's place in Rome, which was close to the Roma Termini (Rome's Central Train Station). I had gotten in touch with Simone (si-mo-ne), the guy we were staying with, over whatsapp and he had given me directions on how to reach his place on Via Matteo Boiardo in Manzoni from the Roma Termini...
Tip:
In Italy, Via means Road and hence Via Matteo Boiardo would translate to 'Matteo Boiardo Road' in India. Pronunciation of Via is vee-aah.
Our cozy room in Roma

We had the good fortune of living with some genuinely awesome people in Roma, Firenze, Genova and Venezia and for those who have been in doubt about Air-BnB, I would recommend it whole-heartedly. Try it, experience the novelty of it and I am sure you will not regret it :)

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 :POnce 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!

LOL

The "room" was actually a very fast train :P
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.
Note:
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... 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 is one manned ticket counter and 2 self-help kiosks at the Airport from where you can buy tickets for the regional trains and for Leonardo Express. The manned ticket counter was 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 :)
Tip:
If you are only carrying currency notes in higher denomination values like Euro 100 and Euro 500, use them at the ticket counters to make change. Lower denomination Euro notes and coins come in very handy especially at cafes, street shopping for souvenirs, public restrooms and when you have to tip.

After we bought the tickets, we walked a few steps, went down an escalator and then up another one and we were at the Fiumicino Train Station, pretty impressive! Here, there were a couple of ticket counters, a validation machine and an automated gate to the Binari (bee-naa-ri) or the platforms. There were 2 trains, one on platform 2 and the other on platform 3. Both trains looked different. One had Regionale written on it while the other had 'Leonardo Express' written on it. It is a no-brainer, which one we boarded :)


FYI, the Leonardo Express looks like a "bullet" train and is in the colors Red, White and Teal (Bluish Green).

Roma Termini

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, 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.

The first thing we noticed about the train station was how desolate it looked... There were very few people around and because it was after 10 pm in an unknown country that spoke a language we didn't understand, it made us a little uncomfortable... We had read a lot of articles and blog posts about how Italy had so many pickpockets and cheats and people up to no good especially looking to fleece and loot non-natives... We were nervous and yet we continued going 2 levels below... Finally we were at the metro station and there were a few people about including police & military personnels, much to our relief...

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.
Tip:
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.

By the time we adjusted to the lack of population in the metro station we figured out that metro, train, tram and bus tickets are something that one needs to purchase from self help kiosks. There are very few manned ticket counters and they function only for short hours during the day. The rest of the time you got to use the Biglietteria!
Tip:
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...




Not giving up, my sister and I first tried changing the language to English, not being able to do so, we braved it out in Italian and finally got the machine to understand that we needed 2 tickets. All that we needed to do now was make the payment and be on our way but it just wouldn't accept my Euro 10 currency note and I didn't have Euro 3 in coins. Thinking that probably the machine was out of change, I tried inserting my card but it wouldn't listen!!! I asked people around for change but not so surprisingly everyone was out of coins... Oh well!

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. Ummmmm, what?

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. More on the technicalities later.


We proceeded to buy our tickets while the Carabinieri slipped away to resume his gupshup with his State Police friend... Once we bought the tickets we started walking towards the metro gates, the Carabinieri again caught up with us and asked us if we knew where we were going, I told him Manzoni, to which he said something in Italian... Looking at our blank faces he tried to explain the metro routes and Line A and B in his broken English... Since I had already got this information from the Gentlemen on the Leonardo Express I enthusiastically kept nodding my head everytime the Carabinieri uttered a term I understood like 'Line A', 'Anagnina' etc... It was a funny sight I am sure for some one watching us but for my sister and me it was sign that we were welcome in Italy and if ever we got stuck we could always turn to a policeman for help...

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 from this post is how seamless the public transport system in Italy is! Flight to Train to Metro all without having to actually step outside!

In my next post I will cover some facts and trivia about a smooth travel in Italy and a lot about Italian Railways...
Stay Tuned!

Comments

  1. One of the best travelogue I have ever read..so genuine..no bragging..no sponsoring..cravng fr more posts..ciao belle :)

    ReplyDelete

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