Navigation is my thing. When I am planning a trip anywhere new, I research the local transit options extensively, finding routes, timetables, and stop locations, whether it is for bus, metro, train, or other. Most of the essentials end up pasted in a travel notebook, a nice hard copy for when I don’t have wifi access. Getting to wherever we are going becomes a fairly easy and efficient endeavor.
The real adventure begins when all of that gets tossed out the window. And I mean all. A few days ago I made probably the biggest local transit mistake I ever have, and my wife was along for the ride. We had spent a wonderful day out in Tivoli, visiting the exquisite gardens of the Villa d’Este and enjoying the old town. As an aside, the Villa is UNESCO listed and completely worth a day trip out to Tivoli to visit, if you are ever in the Rome area.
Villa d’Este Tivoli was lovely, but I wish I could have paid for the entrance tickets with plastic.
We just had one little hiccup: the entrance fee for the Villa completely cleaned us out of our remaining cash. I even had to ask my wife to fork over her bathroom money (which you need in Italy). We were literally down to 0,27€.
Luckily, lunch was payable by plastic, and we already had return tickets in hand. At least, partial return tickets. The train dumped us at Tiburtina station in Rome, and I then had to figure out how to get us back to the hotel. We had yet to meet a metro kiosk that accepted credit card, so our chances were slim that we would be able to get back to the hotel without pulling some more cash out of the ATM.
Which I was loathe to do, because it would drop our balance below the amount needed to waive the $12 monthly fee. I had been meaning to schedule an ACH transfer from one bank to the other to add to our balance, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Bad move. I can just hear my dad quoting the rule of the 5 Ps.
But then I had a thought: I was 99% certain our metro station shared a platform with the local rail, so maybe I could find a TrenItalia ticket from Roma Tiburtina to EUR Magliana. Then I could use my plastic. Thirty seconds later I was at the kiosk, punching away. No ticket popped up when I entered ‘EUR Magliana’, so I just tried ‘Magliana’. Bingo. A ticket showed from Tiburtina to Magliana, leaving in twenty minutes, for a whopping 1€ per person. This looked like exactly what we needed.
I briefly wondered if ‘Magliana’ and ‘EUR Magliana’ might not be the same station, but looking at the timing and price of the fare, it made sense that we would just be headed across Rome. With a swipe of my card, I paid the 2€ to get my wife and I right back near our hotel. Our lack of cash issue could be solved later.
Or so I thought. The train departed on time, and roughly half an hour later the announcement came on that we were arriving at Magliana station. I instantly knew there was a problem. The landmarks didn’t look right, and the station we were pulling into wasn’t the same as the metro station. We got off, and I tried to get my bearings. Only one building was recognizable, one we could see from our hotel window. Except it appeared we were on the opposite side of it from our hotel. And based on the topography, we were also across the Tiber river. My guesstimate was that the hotel was a solid mile away. Not good, but also not terrible.
With no map at the train station, and the one in my backpack useless (we were beyond the areas I had studied and printed), we headed down the road in the direction I figured should be toward our hotel. Checking the map at the first bus stop we encountered, my suspicions we confirmed. We were across the river and a good distance from the EUR Magliana station. And even further from our hotel.
The only option was to hoof it. We had a lot of daylight left, and I figured it would be a good hour back to the hotel. The issue I was most worried about was crossing the Tiber. I knew of only one bridge in the area, and it was pretty much part of a highway. Traversing that did not sound like fun, and my wife was already unnerved about walking down the narrow roads with no sidewalk.
But then we had a stroke of luck. One of the bus stops we encountered had the 771 route listed, which I knew passed somewhere near our hotel. Sure enough, it had the stop at the metro station. But the direction didn’t seem right to me, and we were still out of cash. And I had no idea if or when the next one might come by on a Sunday.
We kept walking, and the road got both busier and harder to walk along. The sidewalk was long gone, and the shoulder was disappearing as well. Crossing an overpass, we saw another bus stop in the distance, and this one had two people waiting at it.
Now, my Italian isn’t very good. Actually, it’s pretty nonexistent. With a decent grasp of Spanish, I can fake my way through reading it, but conversing in it is next to impossible. When we reached the couple at the bus stop, I started in with ‘Parlo inglese?’. The answer was a quick ‘No’. This was gonna be tough.
I spent the next 5 minutes trying to confirm that we could get back near our hotel on the 771 bus that day. What I gathered from the sad excuse for a conversation was: (a) Italian was also not the native language of this couple, (b) the 771 was running on Sunday (good news), and (c) I think he was telling me to take the 128 instead (which made no sense).
Trusting the route I knew, I decided we would jump on the 771 when it arrived. Without tickets. If the transit police were riding this route, this was going to cost us far more than any ATM or account fees. Ten minutes later it pulled up, and two stops down the road we literally saw our hotel go by. Stepping off at the next stop, we were quite thankful to be back.
The Sheraton Roma was a welcome sight after our little misadventure.
The bus ride revealed that the route over the river would have included some treacherous walking, and I was very thankful that we hadn’t attempted it. The bus back was a life saver.
Luckily the transit police didn’t catch us. To ease both our consciences regarding our unpaid bus hop, we decided to buy two extra tickets once we had some cash, and simply toss them. Fair enough in my book.
All said and done, we saved ~$6, but it cost us over an hour, and caused us more than a little headache. Looking back, I would have happily have pulled some cash from an ATM instead. Lesson: Be prepared and go with what is familiar. Unless your willing to risk a spontaneous adventure.