Benvenuti a Roma

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

This is Rome’s air traffic control tower:


I would find it to be emblematic of Italy—colorful and confusing.

The guide books and websites tell you to take the Michelangelo Express from the airport into the city.  I scribbled down directions for walking from the train station to my hotel.  How hard could it be after flying 5,000 miles, on no sleep, and with a full-sized suitcase and a big backpack?  Why spend 10€ on a taxi when I could walk for free, right?

Fortunately a coworker had been to Rome recently.  “Don’t take that Michelangelo Express thing,” she said.  “Go to the generic ‘Ticket Counter’ and tell them you want the bus that takes you directly to your hotel.”

“But won’t that be super expensive?” I asked.  “It’s like a half-hour ride.”

“No.  It’s only about 6€ more than the Leonardo Express.  It doesn’t have a name and there are no signs for it anywhere, but if you ask for the “door-to-door bus,” you get in a little van with a couple other passengers and they drop you off at your hotel door.  They call it a bus but it’s not a bus—but ask for the bus.  Got it?”

“Why wouldn’t everybody do it?” I wondered.

“Because they don’t know it exists,” she laughed.

It sounded too good to be true.  Since it had no name, I couldn’t Google it.  I couldn’t find anything on Trip Advisor or in guide books.  But it did exist, and it was great to go directly to my hotel instead of schlepping myself and my luggage from the train station.  Plus, since it wasn’t a train, we drove through the city and I got a nice little sight-seeing tour as a bonus.

Welcome to travel, where mysteries abound.  All you can do is laugh a little, go with the flow, and hope for the best—or at least for a little adventure.

I had found the Hotel Italia on Trip Advisor by Googling, “women traveling alone in Rome.”

I have spent time in hotels known as romantic getaways, and it can be depressing to be surrounded by couples mooning over each other.  There are safety considerations, and it’s worthwhile trying to find a place where you don’t pay a double occupancy rate.  Sometimes it feels like I am the only one traveling alone, but I’m not.  We’re out there, and dozens of women had taken time to suggest solo-female-friendly hotels.

I’m not aware that the hotel category “single” exists in the US, but it does in Europe.  In fact, maybe due to the age and quirkiness of European hotels, I have stayed in rooms with three twin beds, four twin beds, and now at the Hotel Italia, I would stay in a tiny room with one twin bed.

The front desk guy was Indian, of course.  He seemed melancholic and perhaps a bit resentful, that he had been meant for greater things than running a two-star hotel.  But he was nice enough. He opened a city map and did what he had clearly done many times—marked the hotel with a big “X”, circled the Big Sights and told me how far they were, and described how to take the metro to the Vatican.

“What time does it get dark?” I asked.  It was already 2:30 and I wanted to get out there and see what I could before nightfall.

“5:00 o’clock, and I would advise you to be very careful after dark,” he said, then retracted slightly. “I don’t mean to discourage you from being out a night, but as a woman traveling alone ….”

Well.  That was discouraging, but I wouldn’t be able to stay awake much beyond 7:00 anyway.

The Hotel Italia website proclaims itself a “Cheap Hotel” and they aren’t kidding.  It cost $85 a night to stay in central Rome, within walking distance of the Coliseum, and included breakfast and a free bottle of Prosecco to boot.  I tipped the bellman who showed me my room, tossed back a glass of Prosecco, then headed out to find the Coliseum.

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