All Roads Might Lead to Rome, But it Wasn’t Easy

Today we disembark from Civitavecchia, Italy, the port of Rome. The good news is that we arrived to the port on time. We had packed everything the day before and all but my roll-aboards, Margaret’s computer bag and my little shoulder pack. Our 2 large bags were already down on the dock as they take the large bags the night before.

We woke up at 6:00 am and, strangely, Margaret was all rarin’ to go. She even opened the drapes and let in the VERY bright light…which would normally be a huge no-no for me, even a little crack. But, it was nice that she was motivated to get off the ship even if it was to battle to the airport. I told her that I wish I had one wish and that it would be that we were home in our nice comfy bed in Carmel. Not going to happen.

We had ordered a car service from a website that supposedly was part of the port and seemed very professional. They had sent a confirming email complete with a customer service number. The driver would be waiting with a sign with our name in front of the ship at precisely 8:30 am. That would give us plenty of time to make the 1 hour transfer to the Rome airport so that we would have the much needed 2 hours recommended for international flights.

We had a leisurely breakfast in Compass Rose and then made our way downstairs and got in the long line of people getting off the ship. 15 minutes later we were on the street with all of our bags optimistically thinking that we’d see a good looking Italian driver in his nice dark suit holding up the a sign with our name on it. There were about 15 drivers standing around but none with our name. Be patient we thought, it’s only 8:15. Then, 8:20. 8:29. 8:35. Now it was getting somewhat serious. I walked around the parking lot thinking that maybe we missed him. Nothing.

I had called the customer help number but it went to a full message box message. Three times. Margaret called it and actually got a guy named Mauro who said that our driver would be there shortly. But there was still no driver. Mauro insisted on texts that he was there. But we insisted that, no, he wasn’t. And, it was now 9:00.

As I walked back from another trip around the entire lot (and it was getting hot) I saw a driver I had seen earlier holding a sign with LI NO on it but it now had a quickly handwritten sign with our name. I said “hey, that’s us, let’s get going”. Yet, he didn’t make any indication that he was going to help us. I said, “hey, we need some help with our bags”. He said, “I’m not your driver”. “Then, why are you holding a sign with our name on it?” Irritated for some reason, he told us to meet him at his car, pointing to a Mercedes 50 feet away.

We loaded our bags in the car, clueless as to where this “not our driver” guy was taking us. He said something like “I am taking you to your driver”. Exiting the dock area through security, he went another 50 feet and stopped next to a gold Mercedes wagon. He dumped our bags on the street, said something clearly not complimentary in Italian (meaning, he was yelling) to the driver of the wagon, jumped back in his car and quickly took off back to the ship area. Apparently, our driver had been waiting about ½ mile outside the dock area holding up our name with no one around. Really? What’s up with that? Regardless, he loaded our bags in the car and we were off to the airport, going way too fast on really narrow streets lined with cars. We tried to ignore it as we were late to catch our plane at this point!

That was before he hit the freeway and he was going 100 mph (160 kph), tailgating, while texting and talking on his phone…no fun at all. During the drive, Mauro texted Margaret and said that the driver was where he was supposed to be. She texted back, “No he wasn’t….outside the port was definitely not just below the Mariner”. Several texts later he eventually apologized and said that he would give us the ride for free as their reputation was flawless. We said, “No, we’ll pay you 100 Euro”. He said, “No, it will be free”. We arrived at the airport and our driver took the bags out of the car and said (in Italian), 130 Euros please. We said, “Mauro said it was going to be free but we’ll pay you 100 Euros”. He said, “No, that’s not correct”. Apparently, Mauro had not told him about the revised rates and left it up to us to break the news to the driver who didn’t speak English. Really?

We handed our nameless driver 100 Euro and walked away. Only to discover that he had dropped us off at Terminal 3 instead of Terminal 5. I went back out to tell our driver what had happened but a guy had some form and was filling it out on the hood of the wagon. Our driver looked a combination of confused and pissed off and said something about finances. My guess? He wasn’t an authorized cab in the airport (or the port for that matter) and was getting fined for operating an illegal cab. Lesson? Don’t get in a cab in Italy that isn’t black or white, certainly not gold.

I figured out that we had to take our bags a couple blocks down the sidewalk and catch a shuttle bus to Terminal 5. It came about 10 minutes later, we loaded our bags and, after the bus was completely crammed full with people it drove about 10 minutes and dropped us off. We went into a pretty plain looking terminal and found the US Air Business Class desk. They inspected our passports and boarding passes and told us to go to Check In. “Wasn’t that check in?”. She said, “No”. Rounding the corner there was a massive line. Now we were in trouble. But, after some investigation we found out that this was for a Delta flight. We went around the line to the American/USAir area that had exactly one other person in line. Margaret started working the automated Check In terminal but found out that her passport, that she had just given the other lady, was missing! Panic set in. I ran back to the other lady and told her that her passport was missing. The lady said she had given it to another lady who had gone looking for her. I found that lady and took her to Margaret but she gave her passport to a tall man in a suit who then took Margaret way down the line of agents. I managed to take all the bags down to her and found that this was, in fact, the Business check in for US Air. Score! We checked our bags and headed for security.

This line was very long. Ugh! And, a nice black lady that was in line in front of us discovered the SHE had lost her passport too. Jeez. This is crazy. Fortunately, she quickly found it and the line started moving much faster. But, this wasn’t security, it was passport control! The passport line turned out to be quick and we got through it in about 10 minutes. The security line after that was manageable and we got through it in another 10 minutes. By that point we had discovered that our flight was delayed 45 minutes so we had enough time. After all, we just had to walk to our gate. NOT! We had to wait 10 minutes to cram on another of those shuttles which took us over to the G gates. Finally, we arrived at a nice terminal and walked to a shared “Admirals” club of sorts. Free drinks, food and wifi! We were good again.

We made it to the gate, Margaret tried, unsuccessfully, to spend her remaining Euros and we waited another 40 minutes for our flight to board. We were on the right side of the plane, the two seat side, and we quickly settled in for our 10 hour flight. Once again they had a nice selection of movies and TV shows and we watched a couple of them together while I read Sharyll Atkinson’s book “Stonewalled”. Pretty amazing stuff about how the government is blocking access to public information and manipulating the press into following their lead. It was coincidental that, while reading this book, I stumbled on the HBO series “Newsroom” that, while I had seen it before, had never connected with it. But, I watched three episodes on the plane and totally got into it as it was completely in sync with Atkinson’s book. Shocking really and really well produced with a very emotional connection

We landed on time in Philadelphia and de-planed to find a new automated customs procedure. They have a bunch of kiosks that read your passport, take your picture and then print out a receipt that you bring to the regular customs folks. We got through all of that, and while we were speaking with the customs office a cute little beagle came by and started wagging his tail. Unfortunately he was an agriculture agent and the nice lady who had him on lease told us that the dog was indicating that we have some type of agriculture on us that is illegal to bring into the U.S. Yikes!

What we actually had was a pack that had contained an apple and banana that we ate on the plane. But that sharp-nosed little guy didn’t care that there wasn’t currently a banana in the bag, his nose picked up that there used to be a banana in the bag! We were informed we would have to go through further scrutiny at the Agriculture inspection station. So we collected the rest of our bags and got into another line about 12 people deep.   We had 2 hour connection time in Philly so we figured we were OK…that is always the way it seems!

Fifteen minutes later we explained our banana story, put our bags on an x-ray machine and were off to take our bags to the connection line. Normally, you drop off your bags and make your way directly to the connection gate. But, that’s not how it works in Philadelphia. Soon, we found ourselves looking at another long security line as it turned out we had to go outside of security and now we have to go back through. I told the agent that this must be a mistake that we were supposed to skip this stuff. She said, “No way, in Philadelphia you have to do the whole mess one more time”. Normally, I get the Pre-Check approval and Margaret doesn’t. But, this time, for some reason, she got it and I didn’t. Trying to get us both in that line was fruitless.   She said that our flight would leave from Terminal 2 which probably had a shorter line. So, we went outside in the 90 degree heat, walked about 2 long blocks in a messy construction situation, went back in and upstairs only to see a line just as long as the other one. Another attempt to get us both into the Pre-Check line, which was had no line at all, but failed again. No amount of my complaining worked so we got in the line in the very hot terminal and waited it out.   At this point, we had about 45 minutes before our flight left. What started out as a relaxing 2 hour layover had evaporated into no layover at all and we had to find something to eat on our 5+ hour flight.

Margaret had her mind set on getting a burger so we found the first food place that had burgers, ordered a couple with bacon and avocado, picked them up and hustled off to Gate 15, which, of course, was pretty much the last one in the terminal. Even though we thought we had Exit row seats, we tried to switch seats so Margaret wouldn’t have a center seat. After fumbling around on the computer for 10 minutes they had already boarded First and priority customers so we just grabbed our bags and got on the plane. Our exit row turned out to be a bulkhead with seat backs that didn’t go back. Ugh! We put the best face on it and settled down for the 5 ½ hour flight, gobbling up our burgers before the door had even closed.

The flight was smooth, Margaret played 3’s on her iPad, I read another 30% of the Atkinson book and we got a couple hours of sleep before a nice landing at SFO with lights twinkling around the bay.

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