Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses— Part IV

Mike on a local bus

 "It was a nightmare. The band had to tour Greenland by bus." ~ Fred Schneider

As I mentioned a few days ago, we were supposed to pick up a rental car in Rome so we'd be able to drive to and from Sulmona. Because someone whom we won't name forgot his international drivers license, we ended up not able to rent a car.  It wasn't a big deal, really, except that we had to take that horrible regional train to Sulmona, and we'd have to take one back since we had tickets on a train from Rome-to-Milan.

Novelia had told me previously that I should look into taking the bus back to Rome. I don't know what it is exactly, but as much as I love train travel, I dislike bus travel. I tend to blame my bus discomfort on two things—years spent traveling to and from school on crowded, yellow tubes that were always too hot and a summer spent crossing Mexico via a crowded, hot, stagnant bus.  I can take short jaunt bus travel, but, for me, the longer trips leave me disoriented and uncomfortable.

At any rate, because our tickets from Rome-to-Milan had a 10:30 departure, we had to leave Sulmona early to make sure we'd make the Milan trip in time. The train, if there were no delays, would get us there with a little time to spare. The "IF" was what bothered me, so I checked the bus schedule. The bus would give us a two-hour window in Rome, so we decided the bus was the way to go.

Tour bus

We boarded the ARPA bus at 6:30 and set off. I tried to sleep a little, but the seats were too scratchy and uncomfortable, so I spent most of the trip looking at the scenery as we rushed by.  There was little traffic until we hit the outskirts of Rome. The closer we got, the busier the traffic on the three-lane highway became.  The driver slowed the bus down to mach-1 speed so we didn't fall behind.  I continued to look out of the window.

"Holy crap," I exclaimed. "He's weaving back and forth."  Our driver, apparently intent on getting us to the train station on time, was changing lanes almost constantly.

"It'll be fine," Mike answered. "How much farther do we have to go?"  

"I just saw a sign for Tiburtina, so we must be close."  We were heading to the Tiburtina Train Station.

The bus coasted to a stop in the middle lane.  I looked out of the window as a gal on a Vespa shot between the bus and the car in the left lane.  A second Vespa zipped by, as did a third, fourth, and fifth.  Had the window been open, I could have pulled their helmets off.

"So much for staying in lanes," I said to Mike.

"They're in a hurry," he replied as another line of people on scooters (24 by my count) zoomed by.

The bus edged to the right as we approached the exit.  I looked out of the window to see that a car had slid next to us. Actually, there were cars the entire length of the bus, and they were so close, I could have jumped out of the window and danced on their roofs.

"Oh, my," I gasped. "Look at how close the cars are now."

"I'm glad I'm not driving," Mike told me.  I was, too.  My husband is not a patient driver, and he would have probably tried to drive down the one-inch space between the bus and the cars.

Rome traffic (from an image on the web)

As we neared the exit, the bus driver could not move completely into the exit lane, so he was driving between lanes.  Suddenly, he hit the horn. Once. Twice. Three times.  He finally maneuvered the bus in front of a Mercedes, and we were in the exit lane with about 40,000 other cars.  We edged forward slowly. 

"We're 15-minutes late," I told Mike.  "This is the reason we took the early bus.  If we were trying to catch a train at 9:25, I'd be stressing."  I'm sure he rolled his eyes because I stress over everything.

The driver hit the horn as we finally rounded the corner.  We were again stuck in a long line of Rome traffic.  A few of the other riders got out of their seats and stood in the aisle.

(Side note: I have no idea why it is this way, but 10-minutes before a train or bus is about to arrive at its stop, the Italians get up and stand by the door. It's amazing to watch. I've even been on trains where they get up as soon as we've left the stop before theirs. It's like they're afraid the train will only slow down and not stop at the station.)

I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the 20 minutes it took to drive the one mile to the train station. Suffice to say that the driver, obviously aggravated by the traffic and by the fact that we were running late, honked the horn and ran the bus over the sidewalk to move us forward.   I closed my eyes.

We finally made it to the station, and the driver flew through the lot to get to the stop.  He honked the horn most likely in warning that he was going to get to that stop no matter what.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have finally arrived at Tiburtina Station," he announced as he hit the brake. We were about 40-minutes late.   He opened the luggage compartments and the bus door and bounced off of the bus before any of the standing passengers could get out.  As we exited the bus, I saw him, cigarette in hand and eyes closed, leaning against a light post.  Passengers who had stowed luggage below were on their own to climb into the bus's stomach to retrieve the pieces that had shifted to the far side.  He was done.

 So were we.

"You want to get coffee?" Mike asked me.

"Only if they have nothing stronger."  I was joking but serious.  We had a little over an hour before the train left....

Let the fun continue.

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