When in Rome . . . Don’t Sleep in the Airport
Sleeping on the floor in the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome has to be right up there with having a root canal. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being as good as it gets, I’ll give it a 1.
Much as I love experiencing new things, I doubt I’ll be doing that again. It wasn’t so much the dirt on the floor, since I sat with my back against the wall. (And used my suitcase to prop up my legs.) It seemed the best position, and I had a neck cushion for comfort. Turns out, not so much. By 2:30 a.m., after just one hour, my back was in agony. I literally did not know if I could rise from my seated position without an arm pulling me up.
Things went downhill hours earlier, after taking a three-hour train trip from Naples. I arrived at the train terminal (called Roma Termini, or Stazione Termini) at 4 p.m. Wednesday and found myself at loose ends. By that, I mean without access to the hotel I thought I would be staying in until it was time to leave for my 6:45 a.m. Thursday flight. So I was stuck with about 12 hours of free time and my luggage, since the train station had nowhere to stow it. The airport did, but it was 25 minutes outside of Rome, which meant taking a train or bus out and then returning to the city. That wasn’t an option because I figured if I left, I probably wouldn’t make it back to Rome.
After an hour of walking around the terminal hoping to run into friends, I made a decision: dinner was in order. Or at least a good glass of red wine or cappuccino. Lugging my bags, I walked two blocks and found Tomoko Tudini, a restaurant with outside tables. Ordered salad and vino, and began strategizing. As I sipped my delicious vino and ate the delectable salad.
The good news is, the food was great! The bad news was, there simply was no way to see any sights with my bags. If my health didn’t prohibit it, the cobblestone streets soon would have.
My waiter was a fellow named Eduardo, who was very gracious and helpful. When I explained my predicament and asked about leaving my bags there while I went sightseeing, this is what he said: “For you, madam, anything.” That he said it with a beautiful Italian accent was even better.
With that I set off walking, using the map Eduardo had given me as a guide. I stopped at a few nearby shops to look around, which proved quite fortuitous. One sales clerk urged me to watch for pickpockets. He even told me what to beware of: groups of four or five women gathered together, complete with babies in strollers. If you get close enough, he said, they will surround you and suddenly you’re a victim. “Better to cross the street, if you see these women,” he said.
That was really good advice, since I know I had tourist stamped all over me: iPhone in hand, I kept snapping photos of everything as I walked. (Of course, so did everyone else.) Then suddenly, there it was: the Colosseum. Famous for many things, including being the spot where Christians were martyred. From there it was a short walk to the Roman Forum, which still has remnants of the beautiful architecture and once pristine statues. Connected to the Forum is the Appian Way, a famous road built in 312 C.E.
I also saw some incredible interior architecture and one exquisite fountain. I’ve no clue what the first famous sight was. But I’m pretty sure the second one was The Fountain of the Naiads. Gorgeous works of art, whichever ones they were. I didn’t find the Spanish Stairs or see the Fontana di Trevi, as I had hoped.
By 10:30 p.m. I was all walked out and went to retrieve my luggage. Had my last tiramisu and cappuccino, and headed for the train station. Turns out, though, the trains had stopped running for the night. So had the buses. Which left me at the mercy of an Italian taxi driver who didn’t speak a word of English. His beat-up Mercedes reeked of diesel fumes, to the point where I rolled the window down and hanged my head out the window. And subsequently froze. (Feeling, as I did so, like Meg Ryan in French Kiss, as she walks the streets of Paris missing all the famous sights she’s heard of.)
This is where it gets really good. The 25-minute taxi fare cost 50 euros, and when I asked for a receipt, the driver hands me one. It reads “Cica Cica Boom Night Club – Floor Show – Lap Dancers.” I asked a nearby security guard if it was legitimate. “It’s Italy,” he shrugged, with a you-know-what-I-mean look.
Inside the airport terminal, I looked at my watch. It was 12:30 a.m. I went in search of a bathroom where I could brush my teeth, and a café with an electrical outlet. Along the way I saw people sleeping everywhere. Every seat was taken, and so was any free out-of-the-way space where you were less likely to be trampled on. And suddenly, I knew how Steven Spielberg came up with the idea for the movie The Terminal, in which an immigrant (played by Tom Hanks) ends up living in the JFK terminal.
Having been awake since 6 a.m., I was so exhausted that I opted to find my own corner somewhere. That’s when I heard a voice that was distinctly American. More specifically, a San Francisco, U.S.A., American. It was another writer. Her name is Alex Leviton and she wrote for years for Lonely Planet. Now she’s working at Gogobot, a new Internet start-up that lets her continue pursuing her passion for travel. She also has her own app, called Umbria Slow. (It’s available on iTunes.) And her own blog!
Well Alex had connected with Tamiris, a Brazilian traveler whose boyfriend was watching their luggage. We decided there was safety in numbers and less chance of having your bags burgled, and headed off in his direction. That’s how I came to be sitting on the airport floor in immense pain, not long after.
When I awoke, I went to charge my iPad and try to get some work done. Before long, Alex had joined me. She hadn’t found the airport accommodations any more comfortable than I did. So we began chatting: about her recent house fire, our shared enthusiasm for doing social good, and, most ironically, her visit to Morgantown, W.Va., where I now live. Last year, you see, Alex attended the All Good Festival, which used to be held a few miles from my last home. Since then, it’s moved to Ohio.
Alex’s flight was earlier than mine, so we exchanged contact info and headed our separate ways. I went to check in for my Brussels flight, which was still two hours away. We landed at Brussels a couple of hours after taking off and I nearly missed my connecting flight—all because I was famished and needed to eat. But I didn’t have enough euros left, I wasn’t sure my bank card would work in Belgium, and the shop keeper didn’t want to fool with U.S. dollars. So he practically gave me breakfast for free. “Next time it’s on you,” he said, cheerily enough.
I was the last passenger to board the plane. After sleeping, watching part of Madagascar 3, and reading and writing, we reached Montreal. Which is where I forgot my wedding ring. In the ladies room. I had removed it because it was too tight and it wasn’t until we were landing in Toronto that I realized my faux pax. Toronto almost felt like home, except that home was an hour’s flight away, to Pittsburgh, Pa., and a 90-minute drive south to Morgantown.
By the time we touched down on the tarmac, it was 10:44 p.m. We were 14 minutes late. I didn’t care. I was utterly exhausted and covered with nearly 48 hours of grime. After showering, I literally fell into bed by 2 a.m.—and was wide awake by 7 a.m. Of course, that’s 1 p.m. in Rome.
Apparently you can take the girl out of Italy, but you can’t take Italy out of the girl. At least not until she’s had several more days to catch up on her sleep.
(To share in the sights I saw while in Matera, Ischia, Naples and Rome, check out my Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest pages. I’ll be posting more photos in the days to come.)
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Daleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.