One of the fun things about getting around another country by public transport is that it’s a really good activity for people-watchers like me.
We’d followed our landlady’s instructions to the letter, and found ourselves at Trastavere station, looking for the train to Manziana. We were waiting in a rather grubby corridor, just below the platforms, watching the display board anxiously, not completely sure which train was the right one because of course it wasn’t going to say ‘Manziana’ and make it easy for us. Anyway, standing next to us was a guy in camouflage uniform with a Red Cross badge on his shoulder. He had no English, and we were tired after a flight and a previous train ride, so in the end we asked him ‘Manziana?’ After that he made it his job to check the different boards for us and shepherd us on to the right platform at the right time. Another star!
In order to take an Italian train, you have to buy the ticket in advance in a Tabachi shop, then get it franked on the platform before you get on the train. Being on an Italian station is a fun thing all by itself: everyone gets off the train and waits on the platform, and at first you wonder why they are waiting. Then the train leaves … and where the sign says ‘IT IS FORBIDDEN TO CROSS THE LINE’ everyone gets down on the boardwalk and crosses the line … … and if you look around for another way to cross, there is nothing. No bridge, nothing. So we rapidly learned to belt across with everyone else
The idea of getting your ticket franked is that they are supposed to be checked by ticket inspectors on every journey. If it isn’t franked then you have to pay a fine, even though you’ve bought your ticket. However, there were plenty of journeys where the inspector never turned up … you couldn’t bank on it, however.
Once inside the train (everything is covered with graffiti) you had a choice of levels: you could go to the upper carriage (too warm in hot weather), sit on the harder seats in the middle carriage (lots of leg room but numb bum by the end), or go downstairs where the seats were more comfortable but you ended up tangling knees with the passenger opposite
Then there was the time when we were on a crowded train coming out of Rome. A guy began wandering down our carriage between the seats. He looked as if he were a ticket inspector but we couldn’t be sure. He reached the middle of the carriage, between two groups of 8 seats where people sit facing each other.
And there he stayed. There was much laughter, and tale-telling. The inspector was the life and soul of the party. He never did get to us, one set of seats down, to check our ticket – everyone was having too much fun.
I liked his style
(image from gogobot.com)