Europe 1999 ???????????


Around half past six in the morning we landed in Roma (Rome). There was a looooong queue at immigration for all of us poor sods without EU passports. Actually a number of long queues, a bit like at McDonalds where you never know which one will move fastest, and which one will split into two when they open another window.

And there were cops hanging around with machine guns. In fact, during our strolls around Roma, we would see quite a few such heavily armed Carabinieri (military police) outside some embassies and synagogues and so on. Makes you wonder how much they’re needed. And I’m not entirely convinced they made me feel safer.

We found our luggage and walked up to the airport railway station and caught a train into the city centre. We had a room booked in a nearby hotel, and after staring at the map for a few minutes, we dodged around the morning commuters and lugged our backpacks to the appropriate street.

We got to the end of the street without having found the place. But the friendly proprietor found us, and directed us across the street to a door which had a tiny "Hotel Sandra" sign beside it. We huffed and puffed up three flights of stairs and we were there. Alas, the room wasn’t ready, so we left our luggage there and walked around for a bit, trying not to get too

The first things I noticed the most about Roma were of course the things that were different from home. Everyone seemed to smoke. And there are obviously no parking spaces at all left near the centre of the city, because people park all over the place… over zebra crossings, at weird angles, double parked… A traffic warden on holiday from another city would probably have a heart attack within minutes of arriving.

Crossing the street is quite an art form. If you wait to cross at a zebra crossing, you’ll never get anywhere because nobody will stop. You have to just walk out into the traffic, then they’ll stop. More than courage, a death wish or good insurance, what you really need is the confidence that deep down, Roman drivers have absolutely no wish to run you over.

They have a quite unhealthy disregard for red traffic lights, too. Red in Roma apparently means you should stop if going means you’ll hit something. Most scooter riders and many car drivers would come up slowly to red lights, look around to ensure nothing was coming, and then accelerate through.

All these things, plus the very musical emergency vehicle sirens added to an overall impression of a busy, chaotic city, a city in a hurry to get wherever it was going, even if it meant going through the occasional red light.

After we got back to the hotel, the rest of the day was mostly spent showering, snoozing and otherwise recovering from the plane trip. L and Jeremy, however, ventured out and got thoroughly lost for a couple of entertaining hours.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.