Last time, I wrote about how wonderful my family vacation to Italy was. As with all trips, there are bound to be mishaps. Ours occurred in a taxi and at a train station.
After visiting Vatican City, we planned to have dinner at a restaurant recommended by my in-laws. Its location was about 10 miles away.
We had no trouble hailing a taxi driver who upon finding out our destination decided to charge us a flat rate instead of using the meter: 45 euros. That was my first mistake. But after a whole day of sightseeing at nearly 100-degree temperatures, we just wanted to eat.
With my oldest son in front, my wife, youngest son and I in the back, off we went in a real-life version of the Disney attraction Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It didn’t help that the back of the backseat was so upright that it felt as if someone’s hands were pressed up against me to lean forward.
Suddenly, the man was talking and I thought, “What is he saying to my son?” It turned out he was having a private conversation; speaking Italian, he probably thought we couldn’t understand a word (he was right).
Then, he started smoking. We found out later that drivers are forbidden to do that while transporting passengers. But with this man, laws did not apply as he would change lanes into the opposing direction in order to get around traffic.
Forget eating dinner, my life was about to end in a head-on collision. I quickly thought about our dog back home and how he would feel if we never came back from Rome.
However, we did arrive in one piece, ate dinner, then had a different taxi take us back to our hotel. Cab fare: 15 euros. And the man obeyed traffic laws.
Two days later, we went to the main train station in Rome to travel to Florence. My wife smartly purchased tickets months in advance, able to upgrade to business class due to the early bird discount.
Walking into the Roma Termini is quite disorienting. A visual onslaught of giant TV screens blinds you, only showing ads. Good luck finding the smaller screens displaying the needed information travelers seek such as trains departing and arriving.
Just then, my son spotted a young lady in an official-looking vest coming over to help us. “What terrific public service” I thought to myself as she took us to a wall with a printed schedule and told us to go to Platform 3.
As soon as I thanked her and was turning away, she put out her arm, palm raised, expecting a gratuity. And then it hit me — she wasn’t an employee; she was a scam artist.
Before we traveled, my wife sent me an article about the schemes to watch out for overseas such as pickpockets distracting you with jewelry or babies. Not on that list was people masquerading as train officials.
After giving her the smallest coin I had (half a euro), we hustled to Platform 3. Strangely, no one else was in that area. I tried asking for assistance from employees, but I received cold responses.
My oldest son, using Google Translate, was able to find out from one helpful person that the platform number for arriving trains is not posted until minutes before arrival.
Quickly, we found that information just as we heard an announcement that the train we needed was about to depart. With two bags in tow, I ran and found that train only to see it whoosh out of existence like a scene from a Chuck Jones cartoon.
So we had to purchase new train tickets costing us $225 in U.S. dollars. Unlike the business class tickets we originally purchased, these were second-class seats on a train that arrived an hour later.
The one part of our entire 10-day adventure to Italy that concerned me the most was the getaway day which entailed two taxis, one bus, one train, two planes, and lots of perspiration. To be continued.
BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of “Smart Kids, Bad Schools” and “The $100,000 Teacher.” He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.