Rome: Airport/transit solutions and discount shopping

Visiting Italy can be challenging for the savviest visitors and the tests on patience start at the Rome FCO/Fiumicino International Airport. Approximately 7-10 million visitors select Rome as a destination making it the third most visited city in the European Union (following London and Paris). Because Rome has been an important destination for the past two millennia it may be difficult to reconcile the glitches in the system with the many years of tourism experience.

As you reach for the second glass of wine to stem the frustration level of FCO, it is important to remember that “change” is not a priority in the Italian business /tourism plan and unless something is totally broken there is little incentive to alter (or improve) the condition. The “hiccups” in the system can be exasperating and hearing time and again, “this is Italy,” does not make the bad performance go away. The best remedy for the headache? Know that the system is not designed to be both effective and efficient! The fact that something works at all is the marvel and a reason to celebrate.

Airport Chaos (FCO)

Fiumicino, Rome’s international airport, is frequently the first stop on an exploration of the country. In 2015, 40.5 million passengers were served by FCO making it the 8th busiest airport in Europe and 35th busiest airport in the world (2014). As a gateway, there is an expectation that airline and support staff working the facility have a skill-set and personality that focuses on customer service.

Unfortunately, tourists are treated as an annoyance. Trying to get assistance – from reporting lost luggage to finding ground transportation to city hotels, the amount of disdain I endured as I attempted to get information and guidance is beyond measure.

Noteworthy is the fact that many airlines that fly into Rome do not have on-the-ground representation – so – when something happens with a flight there are no airline staffers to contact. Lost luggage is a global problem: 26 million pieces of checked luggage went astray on international flights in 2011.

Emotional Intelligence

The Lost Luggage section of the airport is outsourced and the personnel have no concern for the discomfort of airline passengers. The only focus of the staff is to fill out the paperwork and get back to conversations with colleagues.

Lost luggage is definitely an unpleasant experience and bad things happen to good people. The expectation is not “perfection;” the expectation is that personnel assigned to work with distraught passengers have the emotional intelligence to be kind and supportive, and to complete the report correctly and quickly so that that details can be sorted, the luggage located and swiftly returned to the traveler.

Be Prepared

What to do when luggage goes missing? Go directly to the Lost Luggage window near the carousel and hand the employee the following documents: 1. Luggage receipt pasted on the airline tickets, 2. Hard copy/printed photo of the missing bag (photo and print prior to departure from home). (Fiumicino does not have Wi-Fi so you may not be able to use your cell phone to show a picture of the bag), 3. Your name, address and telephone number, 4. The name, address and telephone number of your hotel. 5. Dates you will be at your Rome hotel.

You will receive in return a claim form showing that you filed a report and a telephone number to call to determine if the bag has been located and when it will be returned. Make certain that you get the name, title, and telephone number of the person who recorded your claim. Do not expect the Lost Luggage department to call you! Do not expect any funds to replace your lost clothes – at this time. If and when you are compensated is always “at a later date.” Keep receipts for all items purchased due to lost/delayed luggage as they will be necessary when a claim is filed with the airline.

When you get to your hotel, get online or on the telephone with your carrier, explain the situation and ask to have the claim reviewed. It is very likely that the airport employee did not fill out the form completely or correctly – which could delay the finding and return of your luggage. If you do not speak Italian, ask the hotel concierge to assist.

Getting to Hotels

FCO is located 16 miles southwest of Rome. The airport is linked to the city by train (Leonardo Express), busses, taxis, shared vans, hotel shuttles and limos/car services. The train costs 14 Euros (subject to change) and tickets should be purchased in advance (don’t wait to buy at the departure platform as they will be more expensive). Get the ticket validated at a yellow machine just before using as it expires 90 minutes after validation.

Bus service from FCO to Termini

1. SIT Bus Shuttle. From Terminal 3 to Piazza Cavour Termini. Buy tickets on the bus for 8 Euros.

2. Terravision. 4 Euros will take you from FCO to Termini. Buy tickets online or at the airport.

3. Tam Bus. From Terminal 3 to Termini and Ostiense Station. Tickets online or on the bus 4 Euros.

4. Schiaffini. Departs from Terminal 3 to Termini for 4 Euros one-way.

5. Cotral. Departs from Terminal 2 and connects with Cornelia Station (Metro Line A) and Magliana (Metro Line B). Buy tickets from a newsagent of tobacconist or on the bus for 7 Euros.

Moving Around Rome

Rome is a pedestrian city. When possible, the best way to experience it is to walk the cobblestone streets. After a few hours of walking up and down stairs, up and down hills, along the medieval sidewalks and streets, it is likely that your feet will start to ache. Be mindful of the possibility of foot stress and wear cushioned walking shoes or sneakers. Do not even think of wearing heels!

Crossing streets can be daunting as the traffic never seems to stop. However, if you patiently wait for a lull or gap in the ongoing stream of vehicles and then boldly step into the street (along the zebra stripes), the traffic will actually stop for you long enough to get to the other side. If you are not brave, look around and follow the locals as they cross the street. Over time you will develop sprezzatura – the art of looking cool as a dozens of cars and scooters speed toward you. Remember to stroll across the street as if you owned it…running is not good form.

Public Transportation

Some of the distances from one historical site to another or from a hotel to a restaurant may be too long for walking; public transportation is more than adequate. Purchase a one, two or three-day transit pass from a tobacco shop and use it for the Metro and busses.

There are apps that can help locate bus stops but they may not work or be precise. Check Google Maps for the bus number and ask the hotel concierge for the closest bus stop. Stamp the ticket for time and date at the onboard validating machines usually located at the front and back of the bus corridor. Failure to validate tickets can result in a fine.

If you are unable to locate a bus stop, cannot figure out what stop to get off, or are totally confused as to the direction you want to go – stop and ask the folks walking by. While the first or second person may disregard your plea, very quickly you will find a kind hearted local who will help you on your way. Saying “thank you” will encourage the Good Samaritan to help the next confused tourist they encounter.

Using the Metro

The Metro in Rome is not a complex operation; however, it pays to be cautious since it is easy to get on a train going in the wrong direction. The best way to make sure you will get where you want to go is to stop at the Operation Window (near the turnstiles) and ask one of the managers to point you in the right direction. Unless you speak Italian like a native, write the address on a card and show it rather than using fractured Italian. Most of the Metro employees are helpful and if you ask your question with a smile and demonstrate sincere appreciation for the assistance, transiting around the city will be easy as well as an adventure (and might even be a pleasurable experience).

Passes to Consider

The Roma pass (approximately 34 Euros) offers complimentary admission to the first two museums and/or archaeological sites, access to public transportation (busses and Metro), reduced price /discounted tickets for many museums, exhibitions, music events, theatre and dance performances and other tourist services. Alternatively, visitors purchase the OMNIA Vatican and Rome pass that includes the amenities of the Roma Pass as well as complimentary entry to the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, fast track entry to St. Peter’s Basilica and hop-on/off bus tours for 3 days (approximately 95 Euros).

Getting to the Mall

There is an abundance of great shopping in Rome; from the Via Veneto to the Spanish Steps, high-end designer brands tantalize and seduce. However, there is no need to break into the piggy bank to acquire a delicious array of Italian and international designer frocks and shoes and bags – if you are willing to devote a day in Rome to Mall shopping. Castel Romano is a designer outlet village (part of the McArthur Glen group) that is located 45 minutes south of Rome.

Guided tours are offered online but if you know how to shop and use public/private transportation there is no need to do anything more than line up for the air conditioned wi fi enabled bus, grab a seat and enjoy a 45-minute dream about all the designer labels available for acquisition at discounted prices. Check the website for departure times/dates.

The hardest part of the Castel Romano experience is actually finding the fellow who sells the bus tickets and then locating the bus. Upon arrival at the Termini station, walk outside to the bus depots (you will see dozens of busses arriving/departing). Walk to the bus information booth. The ticket seller standing next to the booth will be happy to sell you the r/t ticket to the Mall for 15 Euros (cash only). The next challenge is finding the bus stop. Walk back into the Termini, and walk outside toward Via Marsala. The bus stops across the street from the Hotel Madison (Via Marsala 60) and in front of the Pharmacia. If you arrive early, there is a delicious ice cream shop next to the Hotel Madison.

The Mall experience is very popular and people line-up early for the bus (first come first served). So – once you have located the appropriate standing place get in line (do not leave).

As soon as you arrive at the Mall, head for the Information Booth to get a discount shopping card that offers 10 percent discounts from participating shops. When you spend more than $155 (per store) ask for the VAT return form. Tax refunds are available at the airport.

Shops include: Valentino, Ermenegildo Zegna, Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Roberto Botticelli, Coach, Hugo Boss, Burberry and La Perla.

There are numerous dining options: Bonetti for homemade ice cream, WOK for freshly made Asian cuisine, Lindt for chocolates, Mastro Titta for Italian selections and Farinella for a Mediterranean menu.

Although there is a temptation to buy an entirely new wardrobe, check the tax rules and regulations for shopping that are unique to each country. The last thing you want to do is to have to be pay taxes on your bargains. Currently US citizens can bring home $US 800 in good per person, including 1 bottle of wine or spirits. You can bring back more but you will be taxed.

Rome and Time

There is so much to see and do, eat and drink in Rome – it is easy to spend 5-7 days in this city. This recommendation extends to all of Italy. There is never enough time to enjoy all that it offers. Ciao!

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