posted on January 17, 2016 20:23
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.