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There’s no place quite like Rome. Despite the crowds and chaos, I adore this city and its spectacular historic structures, but remain confused about how anyone ever figures out how to escape from its giant, multi-lane roundabouts once they’re inside. I’ve traveled to Italy’s capital on numerous occasions, but can’t imagine a single situation where I could ever be cajoled into driving there — and that includes being chased by gladiators and/or lions.

 

Even walking in Rome has its challenges. I was reminded of this on my most recent trip while making my way from the main train station toward the Coliseum along busy Via Cavour. Thanks to a general disregard for the sanctity of sidewalks, even an innocent stroll made in the quest for gelato at a streetside café can morph into a hair-raising, heart-pounding dance with danger.

 

Instead of being a relative safe zone for pedestrians, sidewalks in Rome are too often a maze of parked motorcycles and cars, uneven surfaces, and a racetrack for scooters dodging in and out of street traffic. I’ve discovered that there’s a general national driving tendency toward impatience that’s encapsulated in Rome’s traffic chaos. The sound of drivers aggressively honking their horns (despite a poorly enforced traffic law that restricts horn use to emergency situations), colorful language aimed equally at other motorists and pedestrians attempting to negotiate crosswalks, and a general air of anything goes when it comes to the city’s ubiquitous scooters can be both unsettling and dangerous.

 

Rome does have a metro system of sorts, but the two lines cover a very limited part of the city. Since the downtown area is small, fascinating and easily walkable, traveling on foot is my preferred method of moving about. Paying attention and being alert to surroundings is essential, of course, regardless of where you are; but it’s key when in a foreign country, especially if you’re alone. Within a five-block stretch, I dodged a car going the wrong way on a one-way street, two boys on a scooter weaving through pedestrians on the sidewalk, and a pair of police officers mounted on horses. The policemen, to their credit, both smiled and tipped their caps to me.

 

Leaving Rome by train on my way to the small town of Chiusi in Tuscany, I was reminded by a steward on the station platform who saw me running with my suitcase that I needed to stamp my ticket before boarding. There’s a stamp machine at the beginning of each track, and I slipped the ticket in as required. As friendly and helpful as the station staffs generally are, I know that a hefty fine is the penalty for an unstamped ticket; and that the train conductors are fairly rigorous about examining tickets once the train is under way.

 

When I reached the station in Chiusi, I hired a taxi from the stand in front of the station. Italy prohibits taxi drivers from stopping on the street for fares, and passengers must go to queues found in front of stations and near popular tourist sites. My destination was about a 50-minute drive away, and I’d traveled those particular, very narrow hill roads during other trips. Before the driver pulled away from the curb, I made a point of telling him — half in Italian and half in English — that I wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t want him to drive fast. He smiled and agreed, and the trip past olive groves and vineyards was enjoyable. It’s easy to forget, but sometimes all you have to do to be comfortable is to make your wishes clear.

Posted in: Globe Tripper

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About the Authors

Bobby Gondola
Debra Bokur

Globe Tripper
At Grand Central Station when she was 9 years old, Debra Bokur decided that a different train from the one her parents were boarding looked as though it might be going someplace more interesting, so she took that one instead. She still loves trains, and has since traveled the world as an award-winning journalist, magazine editor and filmmaker. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Debra contributes regularly to Global Traveler Magazine, and serves as the magazine website’s daily feature writer.

Debra is a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001). She holds degrees in both Theater and English Literature, and has been the poetry editor of the nationally acclaimed literary journal Many Mountains Moving since 2002. She has also been the travel editor at national publications including Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine, American Cowboy Magazine, and Fit Yoga Magazine, and has been a frequent guest on Wine Country Network’s national radio program discussing the topic of international travel.

Debra once lived a double life training horses professionally in the disciplines of dressage and three-day eventing while serving as an editor and writer at several equestrian-themed publications. Her current favorite places to wander are Iceland, Switzerland, the U.K., Israel and Italy. In her new blog, Globe Tripper, Debra will bring us along on her adventures.

Bobby Gondola
Bobby Gondola

World Wanderings
Bobby Gondola serves as Director of Operations & Development at Year Up, a nationally recognized workforce development and higher education program for urban young adults. He leads both the internal operations and external relations. Previously, he was Director of External Relations at Opus 118 Harlem School of Music in New York City, the Harlem-based violin program made famous by Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart. He also worked as a community development consultant in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa.  

Bobby earned a B.A. in painting and politics from Salve Regina University and studied abroad in Rome, Italy. He also holds an M.P.P. in Political Advocacy and Leadership from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he was a Public Service Fellow. Bobby lives in Providence, Rhode Island and serves on theWaterFire Providence Board, College Leadership Rhode Island Program Committee, and the Providence Public School Board. He has traveled to all continents, except Antarctica and Australia, which he’ll get to. Eventually.

Aaron Shapiro
Aaron Shapiro

My Driver Project
Aaron Shapiro is a 2011 alumnus of University of Maryland, College Park, where he received a B.S. in Global Health and completed a minor in International Development and Conflict Management. After graduating, he joined the Global Health Corps as a program manager for Gardens for Health International in Kigali, Rwanda. Aaron has interned for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security, the Social Justice Coalition in Cape Town, South Africa, and volunteered at St. Lucia Hospice and Orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania. Aaron has also traveled in Congo, Burundi, Uganda, and Zambia. He is currently working in Washington, D.C. and applying to medical school.

Photo of Natalia Jaffee
Natalia Jaffee

Traffic Lights are Optional in Hanoi
Natalia Jaffee is a 10th grade student at the United Nations International School of Hanoi. She grew up in Potomac, MD and attended Cold Spring Elementary School and Cabin John Middle School. While visiting Maryland in the summer of 2011, she interned at ASIRT and published a personal account of the road situations in Vietnam. Natalia enjoys traveling and has traveled throughout East Asia. In her free time, she enjoys running, playing soccer, cooking, and reading.

Photo of Laura Blanar
Laura Blanar

From A to B Safely: A Transportation Travel Blog
Laura Blanar traveled through Asia, Africa and Oceania with her husband, Adam, for 14 months. Prior to her travels, she worked at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as a research scientist, and in injury and violence at PAHO/WHO as a contractor. Laura holds a Masters of Health Science from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a specialization in health systems, and also obtained the B.A. in public health from the Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in several professional journals relating to injury and public health. In September 2011, Laura entered a PhD program at the University of Washington in public health, with a focus on injury. When not traveling, Laura enjoys running, wood carving and reading non-fiction and mystery books.