Friday, August 24, 2007

Three forms of transport in two hours

Once I landed at Ciampino Airport outside of Rome on my flight from Paris, I had to make my way to the UW Center on the corner of the Campo di Fiore in the city center. Like most cheap, secondary air carriers, Easy Jet flies into outlying airports.

I had several options besides hiring a private car or taxi, which are too expensive. I could take a bus all the way to the main train station in Rome, called Termini (estimated time: 40 minutes). I could take a bus to the Ciampino train station and then take a train to Termini (estimated time: 20 minutes). The last option was to take a bus to the nearby metro station and take the metro to Termini (estimated time: 30 minutes).

Originally, I bought a ticket for the bus to the Ciampino train station because that appeared to be the fastest way to go. However, once I got out to the bus stop, I found out that the next bus was not for 50 minutes. I went back inside and exchanged my ticket for the bus to the metro station. I got on the bus, which was VERY crowded. We waited for a while and then drove to the metro station.

I lugged my suitcase down the foul smelling stairs to the metro station and was confronted with problem #1: The signs listed the directions to Track A or Track B, but there was no map or signage indicating which track led to Termini. Eventually after wandering around a while I found a map, but still couldn't figure out which track led to Termini. Finally, I saw someone in a uniform who pointed to the correct track.

Lightbulb #1: It would have been faster and easier to just take the bus directly from the airport to Termini.

Once I arrived at Termini, my plan was to store my luggage in the baggage consignment and then take a city bus to the school to get the keys to my apartment. Once I arrived at Termini from the metro, I walked through the station to the baggage check, which is a LONG way off the beaten track. When I got to the baggage check, I couldn't figure out where to go to actually drop my bags off. There was a cashier and another line for picking up luggage, but didn't appear to be a line to drop it off. By this point, I decided I didn't want to hassle with it and that I would spend the 15E to take a taxi to the school with my bag and another to my apartment if necessary. I then started the trek from the baggage check to the main entrance of the train station to find a taxi.

Lightbulb #2: The Italians have a real aversion to useful signage.

Eventually, I made my way outside and found the taxi line. The paperwork from the school warned not to accept taxi rides from independent operators hawking rides and to only use one of the white, city-licensed taxis. I got in the cab and we were off! The taxi driver drove like a crazy madman. If my friend Anjali was in the taxi she would have demanded he stop and would have walked instead of remaining in the cab! I have never been anywhere where drivers pass into oncoming lanes of traffic while in the city.

At some point during the hair-raising ride, I noticed that the meter was really high, but assumed it was his license number or the time or something other than a meter. When we arrived, not more than 8 minutes later, I got out of the cab with the 15E plus a 2E tip in hand. I got my bag out of the trunk with the driver and then handed him the 17E. He then said, "Ma'am, there is a meter." I went to look at the meter and it said 38E (and change). I said, "I have paperwork that says the taxi is only 15E" and showed him the letter from the school. He then repeated, "There is a meter." I said, "You must not have re-set it. I am not paying 38E for that taxi ride." He said, "The meter." I said, "Call the police and we'll let them resolve the dispute." He said, "Bye-bye," took the 17E that I had previously given him and left.

Lightbulb #3: When in Rome, make sure they re-set the meter when you get in the cab before leaving.

Overall lesson: Don't try to save 10 minutes of time and 3E (the difference between the bus direct to the city center and the bus/metro combo) at the expense of transfering luggage around. It was exhausting!

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