“Reporter: ‘Which of the cities visited did Your Highness enjoy the most?’
Princess Ann: Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to – Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”
~ From the movie Roman Holiday
Trains in Italy: the key is to be flexible. To be ready for the train to stop, inexplicably, at a station for 30 minutes or more for no real reason. Expect delays. Expect heated Italian conversations about how long the train is taking at the station. Then expect Italians to make the most of it, take a long smoke break, chat with most everybody on the train, sleep, snack, take another smoke break. Maybe a wine bottle will be opened. Maybe the people in the cabin will share their snacks. Maybe the little blonde Italian girls will run back and forth in the narrow passage-way outside the cabins, chasing each other and laughing, and it will make everyone smile. “They are Italian?” mentioned the lady on my left. Sono Italiano. “Maybe their parents are from somewhere else. They speak such good Italian,” answered the older man across from me, with a shrug. Il genitori…un altro luogo. The parents…from a different place. Bene l’italiano. Good Italian.
Trains in Italy: love the journey. It’s cliché. It’s true, though. Love the countryside. Soak up the Italian conversations. Look out the window as much as you can. Walk the narrow hallway outside the cramped cabin. Feel free to hate the delays at the train stations. Everyone hates them. Fermata. Long. Il treno é fermo lungo. Ay. Sempre in ritardo. The train is stopped long. Always late. Sigh loudly when the train hasn’t started in 15 minutes. Feel free to join the lady on your left in giving a *tsk* and shaking your head. The lady who somehow has managed to fit what seems like an entire grocery store in her magic Mary-Poppins-esque purse. Over the course of the four-hour train ride, she had pulled out: 1) A big bag of cookies 2) Crackers 3) A sandwich 4) The biggest water bottle I have ever seen in my life 5) A couple granola bars 6) Another sandwich 7) A chocolate bar 8) Her book 9) Her phone 10) A planner. I need that purse. It looked ordinary from the outside, but I ask you, how on earth did she fit all of that in there?
Trains in Italy: the moral of the story? Plan on getting to your destination at least an hour to two hours past the “Arrival Time.” Wish everyone in your cramped and crowded cabin a “Bon Voyage!” when you leave. Especially to the kind, old Italian man with the weathered skin who helped you with your luggage and told you that “Is okay” when you accidentally kicked him waking up from your nap. Realize afterwards that even though you stressed about getting off the train in time – oh no, what if I don’t get off, and the train starts again, and I’ll be at a different station, and I’ll have no idea where to go, and did everybody get off and where is Rachel, oh she’s right behind me, do we have everyone? – remember that trains stop at stations sometimes for 30 minutes for no apparent reason, and that you probably could have gotten off and on the train again 6 more times before the conductor would even think about leaving the station.
– Exiting out of Via Flaminia Metro Station –
Metro in Rome: take it. But remember that you can buy a ticket from the newsstand. It saves you the stress of figuring out the machine whilst people wait impatiently behind you and a homeless woman tries to help you in exchange for money and you want to figure it out on your own but you can’t and you also don’t want to pay this aggressive homeless woman who is eyeing your change.
Metro in Rome: prepare yourself to be in a very cramped and claustrophobic space. Now would be a good time to practice your blank commuter stare. The trick is to focus on something that is next to someone and look at it blankly until your stop (don’t actually look at any people, and definitely don’t make eye contact with anybody, least of all the attractive Italian man in the gray suit who you’ve already been accidentally staring at without meaning to), when suddenly you come to life and have to be ultra-aggressive to even try getting off the metro. Unlike the train, this is actually stressful because the metro doors close fatally fast and you have to really push your way out if you want to even have a chance of escaping. The Italian women have this down to a tee. They use their heels to step on anyone who is in their way. (Note to self: wearing heels in Italy is not a bad idea if you’re not walking super far. It can actually come in handy sometimes. They also make you stride with purpose. I think the right pair of heels can give an air of confidence. It sure seems like Italian women have embraced that.) Hold your purse close. Keep an eye on your friends. The metro stations are a maze, and you’ll get swept up in a crowd and onto a different metro if you’re not careful.
Metro in Rome: Consider yourself lucky if you get to be next to a hot Italian man, complete with a leather jacket, sunglasses, a crisp-button-down shirt, cologne, and classy, classy shoes. Try not to swoon, but try to stumble a little bit when the metro comes to a screeching and scary halt. Stumble in his direction so that he could potentially catch you, and it would be love at first sight. But be careful not to step on his classy shoes with your Italian heels.
All in all: take it in. Tell your mind, hold this moment, don’t forget it. Even if you think that you’ll forget what you had for breakfast, maybe time you tried to buy a ticket at the metro station, the long walk through the winding street in search for dinner – the memories will come back to you at different times. Sometimes at random. And you’ll go, to the person beside you, “I remember the time when…”