Rome — First Impressions Part 1

Since we were to stay in Rome for a month, we took an apartment for the duration. We wanted somewhere away from the main tourist area, but close enough that we didn’t waste a lot of time in transit back and forth. After some research, I found an apartment in Trastevere (literally — across the Tiber) close to Viale Trastevere.

We had our instructions: from the airport, go to Fiumicino Train Station, take the local train to Trastevere Station, then up Viale Trastevere to the apartment. After a quick call to our landlord so she could meet us there (she warns us there’s a flea market going on around the apartment) we take the train.

Wanting to take the train is an experience in itself. It’s Sunday morning and the station is half-full, but it’s a small station, with three train tracks that end there. There are no indications in English, anywhere. Where there are signs, they are so obscure as to be barely intelligible. There is an information counter but there is a line-up and I know our train must leave soon. The ticket office is also open, with a line-up. Right beside the ticket office is a man sitting behind a dais with Express written on the front, coins and a billing pad in front of him. I take my courage in hand, go to him, and ask in my heavily accented Italian:

“Stazione Trastevere?”

“Cinque cinquanta.”

“Due bliggliette, per favore.”

The man, all without looking at me, writes up a ticket, takes my money (11 euros), and dismisses me.

Now I have a ticket (I’m not even sure it’s a legal one) but I have no idea which binario (track) to go to. I squeeze in between some people at the info counter, and ask my question:

“Il binario per Stazione Trastevere?”

Without looking at me, she points to the leftmost track. By this time, I’m beginning to think that Romans don’t really like tourists. (They don’t –more on that later– but it wasn’t the case here. By observing many salespeople, I noticed they are this way with pretty much everyone.)
Three minutes later, the train is announced — in Italian. It rolls in. I goggle. Up to head level, there is not one inch of the train that doesn’t sport graffiti. Large, in color or in black, some of them even cover the windows.

Ironically, since the trip ends at the Fiumicino Station, where the airport is located, the train isn’t set up for travelers with big suitcases. The train is two-story, with lanes so narrow no suitcase will fit. We carry them by the handle but have to place them on a seat because there is no stowage space. I begin to think that most tourists do not take the train but some other form of transportation. (Later in the month, I surmised that the local train to Fara Sabina, which we took, was a commuter train)

We arrive at Stazione Trastevere around 12pm, pretty much exhausted at that point. We’ve been up for more than 30 hours and are looking forward to dumping the luggage and taking a shower. The apartment is only three blocks from the station, so we decide to walk. I don’t have the energy to negotiate a taxi or figure out the bus system.

We walk up Viale Trastevere, dragging our luggage behind us and shortly after, we enter into mayhem. Our landlord had warned us about the flea market. What we had failed to comprehend was that the market took place on two streets a block down from Viale Trastevere, but that it also over time had spilled out and up to the avenue. Those didn’t have tables or booths, though. They were mainly gypsies sitting on the sidewalk with a cloth in front of them, with wares they could have found in garbage bins: used shoes, CDs with broken covers, necklaces missing some of their fake stones, broken or well-loved toys. Regardless, hordes of people stop and check out their wares; I even see money changing hands.

To our tired brain, the sight of all these people is bewildering and astonishing. Navigating a suitcase through there is so difficult we end up walking in the street. Once we find our street, we get confused by the numbering system of the building, and end up almost getting lost among the booths of the real flea market, which is more crowded than anything I’ve ever seen. Vendors yell the price of their wares, buyers dig through a mountain of stuff, sometimes three or four deep. The noise is almost deafening, and the sun, hot in a deep blue sky, is hot. We’re wilting.

Finally we spy a face we think might be our landlord, waiting for us behind a grill metal door. Eureka, we found it!

In Rome — First Impressions Part 2, my next post, follow us on our first trek into the City and some commentary on what we –blearily– see.

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