Bethany from mid-air, November 15, 2006

written by bryan on November 22nd, 2006 @ 12:36 PM

So Rome tried to beat the life out of me and it did a pretty good job. Well to be more exact Trenitalia (Italy’s train system) and the airport tried.

When we arrived in Rome 3 nights ago at the main train station, Termini, we took a room right across from the station. Especially convenient as there is an express train that goes from Terminini right to the airport every 30 minutes. We did note that on the posted timetable this train wasn’t listed as taking bikes, but I went to the train information booth and asked if bikes could be taken on that train. The answer was “Yes”. If only that was true.

We had a pretty good day yesterday other than wearing my feet out by 10 hours of never sitting and walking on uneven cobblestones in too flexible shoes. But a good day. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I recommended stopping in the station to buy our tickets to the airport the next day and checking exact train times. It was when the ticket machine would only give us a bicycle supplement ticket routed through another station that we started to question whether we really could take bikes on the express train. It made sense that we could – we had checked out the train and there was a bicycle-labelled compartment at the back of the engine and a luggage area at the back of the train more than large enough. But still … So we went back to the information area (it was late and ticket counters were closed) and asked the men working there who sad “No speak English. No bici (bikes). Tiburtina. In the morning.” Not good news. The schedule through Tiburtina left us leaving early to catch the connection and we still needed to access our bikes from where they were locked – not necessarily easy as the holder of the keys was sleeping elsewhere than where we were staying. And it made no sense. There was room for bikes on the express train and there was only a start and end so loading and unloading was not going to delay the train at a station!

So Bryan was up at 5:30 this morning for our 12:30 flight trying to figure out what we must do. He talked to 6 different people, reached the conclusion that bikes really were banned on the expressed train in boxes or not, and arrived back to our room announcing, “You won’t believe this but they tell me we must take the Metro in rush hour to Tiburtina Station and then we can catch the train from there to the airport.” So we frantically called the contact number for where we were staying and the hostess was over within 20 minutes to unlock our bikes. We tried to decide how we were going to quickly move two boxed bikes, two bags (luckily with rollers) weighing almost 30 kg each, and a couple of carry-on bags to the metro and through the metro system. In the end, we decided two trips were probably quicker. At least to the metro station and left the bags behind.

Of course, we reached the gates of the metro and were banned from entering. “Not possible. Must take the train.” I agreed it didn’t seem possible to me either but what were we suppose to do? Train officials told us that we could use the metro and even sold us the meto tickets at the same time as the train ticket and bike supplement. Bryan had tried to buy a train ticket to the other station, but was told that wasn’t possible.

So here we stand, time ticking down to our flight. Can’t take a train from the station we are at. Can’t take the metro to get to the train we need. Can’t cycle our bikes to the airport or other station as they were already partly dismantled and our baggage had outgrown our bikes. Can’t take a taxi because Bryan’s bike would never fit. Basically stuck. So we pushed/carried our bikes out of the metro and I went back to that dreaded train information area because it seemed to me that it was the best hope in an otherwise impossible situation with limited time. And this time, we found the right answer. Strangely from the same woman who a couple of days earlier told me we could take bikes on the express train. We needed to catch a train leaving in 25 minutes to Ostiense Station and from there we could take a train to the airport. Ahh, relief. At least there was a possible route. We just actually needed to be able to make the train times.

So we pushed the bikes in the boxes down to the very far end of the station and Bryan frantically ran back to get our other bags with the agreement if he didn’t make it back, I would go ahead with the bikes and he would take the express train with the bags. I had just heaved our bikes onto the train when he and our hostess arrived a fluster with the bags. He was a minute before departure time. In Ostiense we were able to leave our arriving platform by elevator but needed to navigate a set of stairs to get to our departing platform. Luckily the train was late or we wouldn’t have made the connection. Especially as we were initially given the wrong platform number by train personnel. At least the wrong platform had been accessible by elevator.

By this time I was numb and tired. Confused by the different information we received. And even more disheartened by how unhelpful people have been. I was surprised by the number of people who watched me walk past struggling with the empty boxes a couple or days ago and again today with the loaded boxes without offering help. Well, actually there was one guy who did help me carry box bike a short distance to the metro this morning. He probably thought I was crazy but he did help. But the assortment of Polizi and train personel in the station just laid critical eyes on us. I think it would have been better in Canada. At least when we finally made the check-in line at the airport, the lady behind us nicely moved our bags along for us as we dealt with our bike boxes.

The airport did not go particularly smooth either. We knew our bags were overweight and we were going to be dinged with extra charges. I didn’t expect though that after waiting an hour in the check-in line that I would then have to go spend 1/2 hour in the ticket line to be able to pay the charges and then return to the check-in counter with the receipt to be able to pick up our boarding passes. Bryan had in the interim gone to take our bikes to the oversized baggage check-in and unfortunately had to debox his bike (we had put considerable effort in taping it) in order to get through security. When I took so long he was getting a little anxious because he didn’t know where I was and I he didn’t have his passport or boarding pass or even wallet to go through security without me. He didn’t realize that I didn’t have the boarding passes either yet. But we did eventually meet up to go through security which went smoothly for and change, and passport control which didn’t go as smoothly as I was barked at regarding the shape my passport. My passport had been soaked in a heavy rain in Denmark and as we were camping in the wet for the following several weeks and failed to dry quickly, it kind of grew. Let us just say that my passport pages are quite decorated with pinks, yellows, and blacks.

Now we are in the air, probably somewhere over the Atlantic by now. Hopefully the rest of the airport stuff and getting back home goes smoothly. I am definitely going to be sore tomorrow and I’m bruised up a little on my arms from the bike boxes. Bryan is also a little anxious about his bike as he wasn’t able to retape it in the airport – we had already checked our rolls of tape and security just reused the tape that had to be pulled off. So much for our careful tape job.

Now, today would not have been the excessively draining event it has been if we had had proper information about the trains from the beginning. That is what frustrates me so much. We tried to pre-empt today. I may not have been ready to come home, but after this morning I was ready to leave Rome. Maybe I’ll feel a little bit more favorable about the city in a day or two.

Comments

  • Claudia on 23 Nov 12:14

    OH MY GOD! Sorry to hear you had to go through such an ordeal. I would have gone mad! but I totally understand as I have had to go through the same bullshit in Colombia. And in other Latin American countries such as Costa Rica and El Salvador. It seems to be the Roman legacy brought to us through the Spaniards! ;-) Oh well.

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