Now that I’ve reached the old-man age of thirty, I have started to appreciate some of the life lessons I’ve learned during the past ten years of having to act like an adult. One of those is that, sometimes, the events of life take you down a certain path, to a situation that you really just hate to be in. There’s nothing to be done about it other than to grit your teeth and persevere. The only way out is through.
Rome Fiumicino is one of those things. I hate transiting Rome.
I’ve done this at least six times. Each time I arrive at my departure gate sweaty, winded, and stressed I’ve said to myself, self, you need to give yourself more time to get across this stupid airport. And yet every time, I end up with a bargain-basement ninety minutes.
The first time, I missed my flight. The second time, I flew MeridianaFly and was saved by an on-time performance that rivals Amtrak. Since then, I’ve managed to consistently make it to the B gates just in time to throw a damp wadded-up boarding pass at the gate agent as I run down the jetway for final boarding call.
But it wouldn’t be a true Italian experience if it weren’t hectic. Take today’s adventure, for example:
Every five-ish minutes, another people mover arrives at the station in the main terminal and what was once a quiet (for Italy) mezzanine erupts in the clatter of fifty designer hard-sided spinner suitcases rolling at once over the studded tile floor. Everybody has the same time crunch, so only the Italian grandmothers take their time.
Then down the escalator to security. I almost never have a boarding pass for the final leg – thanks Alitalia – and must begin the perennial tradition of talking my way past the security guards since the Alitalia transfer desk is beyond security. Somehow, they always look at me and guess I’m American, since they start out in English and let me through anyway. However, pretty much anything I have brought with me has to come out of my bag: laptops, cameras, lenses, belt, shoes, liquids, jacket, small children. Everything goes on the x-ray belt, in the open, and no amount of protesting will sway them. Next time, I’m dumping the contents of my suitcase onto the belt and moving on.
Once through, it’s another test of wills. The aisles are a sea of travelers, and they always seem to be flowing en masse away from wherever it is that I’m headed. I’m a salmon, furiously swimming upriver against the current as if my life depended on it, dodging left and right, struggling through the crowd. On either side of the aisle, shops like you wouldn’t believe. Bulgari, Coach, Armani, Louis Vuitton. As if anybody has time to stop and shop. Only the Italian grandmothers take time to stop and look.
Next stop: passport control. The line here is usually painfully long, and as Rome is a major tourist destination, clearing passport control as a non-EU citizen is a major hassle (the Italian grandmothers make up for their lost time here). Once I finally get to the immigration officer, he can’t be bothered to stop playing Bejeweled on his iPad long enough to even look for an empty page. Half the time his stamp ka-CHUNKs right over some other stamp (this time, over my Machu Picchu stamp!) and then I’m on my way.
Contrast this with the last time I left the EU through Germany. There the immigration officer spent five minutes flipping back and forth through the pages, counting stamps and days in-country. He couldn’t find my most recent entry stamp (it was there, just in very light ink).
“Verr is ze entry stamp for ze EU?”
I tell him I entered in Rome.
Looking totally defeated, he sighs, flips to a blank page, and stamps me out. Even the Germans hate it when people transit Rome.
So anyway, back to Italy. Once I’ve successfully passed security, passed immigration, and gotten my boarding pass, either my flight is delayed or I’ve missed it entirely. Right about now, I realize I need a bathroom stop. This is highly recommended if time allows as the lavatories on Alitalia look like a good place to catch some flesh-eating bacteria. I always make sure to leave plenty of time, however, because the person in the stall ahead of me will be needing time to finish his cigarette.
All in all though, getting through Rome is a great preparation for another three months in Sicily, because if I can make it through those ninety minutes of insanity, I can make it through anything.