In which everyone gets woken up by security and I have a conversation with a handsome stranger at the bus stop
A mild commotion wakes me up mere minutes after I finally manage to fall asleep. Mind still fuzzy, I look up. Oh, I think. It’s security.
Two airport security officers are approaching the first table. (I’m on the fourth.) All around me, the other table occupants are already rifling through their bags and taking out their passports. I keep outwardly calm — a note in one of the forums I’d read back home had mentioned something like this might happen — but I’m still a bit apprehensive. I’ve been detained at an airport before, through no fault of my own, and I’m not too keen to have it happen again.
They approach the second table.
The third is empty.
My passport’s already in my hand.
Evidently deciding to split up, one of the officers leaves his partner by the second table and walks towards the rest of us…
…I brace myself…
…and then he goes straight to the fifth table.
I fidget in my seat and watch them both, glancing from one to the other but trying not to be too obvious about it.
Officer A stays where he is.
Officer B inspects the fifth table’s occupant’s passport.
The occupant of the sixth table gets back from the bathroom and she gets asked for her passport too.
Everyone but me is asked for their passport and given an emotionless head-to-toe. And then, eventually, the officers leave. Everyone resumes either sleeping or tapping on their laptop.
And I’m still there, holding my passport.
Huh…that was strange.
I was in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and it was 2 AM. My flight had gotten in minutes before midnight and by then it was too late to catch the last train to Roma Termini (the central station). I had several options:
- I could take a cab — but taxis charged a flat rate of €48. I suppose I was being an awful cheapskate but it felt silly to spend that much money on a cab just to sleep half a night in my barely €20+ hostel.
- I could take a night bus — if I could figure out how. But given that I wasn’t too familiar with Rome, didn’t know much Italian, and had a greater than average tendency to get lost, the night bus didn’t exactly seem very prudent.
- I could stay at a hotel/B&B near the airport — many of them even offered airport shuttles. However, none were within walking distance (in the middle of the night too!) and the ones I could afford that offered a shuttle service required a surcharge for late night pick-ups. Overall, it would cost the same as or even more than a taxi.
- I could stay at a lounge — but most of the lounges I looked up online were airside and again not significantly cheaper than a cab.
- I could cancel my hostel for that night, find somewhere in the airport to sit in for a few hours, take the first bus out, and save €65.
Well, it should be obvious by now which option I went with.
Specifically, after collecting my luggage, I followed the signs to the departure area, where I figured there would be more seats available. Just next to the check-in counters, there was a cafe; it had already closed for the night, but outside it were a group of tables and chairs that seemed perfect for an overnight sitting. (Well, no, perfect would be a nice, cushy chair and a blanket but cheapos can’t be choosers.) There were already 3 or 4 people there but I still managed to score a table that was right by an electric outlet. I got to Skype with my family, check my email, attempt to get some work done, and charge my devices before I figured I’d try to get some shut-eye.
And then that strange scenario unfolded.
I’d previously read in some forums that in Fiumicino, officials will try to get Schengen residents to leave the airport because they can obviously come and go as they please without worrying about border control and so they didn’t have to stay in the airport. I guess that’s the reason I wasn’t asked to show my passport. With my black hair and the shape of my eyes and nose and all, they probably decided I wasn’t likely to be a resident — for once, profiling had worked in my favor!
But my favorite theory about what happened is that my guardian angel was shielding me from the guards’ view 🙂 — I swear the guards didn’t even look at me! — and I’d like to hold on to that theory, if you don’t mind. 🙂
Way before 5 AM, I start walking towards the bus station. To your right as you leave the terminal, the Internet had said. At the ground floor, I pass by several benches that would have also been fine for an overnight sitting — except that the hallways are too deserted for comfort. I wouldn’t have dared close my eyes there.
I still have a lot of time so I stop by the one open cafe and have a hot chocolate, which surprises me with its thickness. Where I live, hot chocolate drinks are watery affairs. This one, though, is literally like chocolate that has been melted, it’s so thick.
Sufficiently warmed, I go out of the terminal and on to the bus stop. The ticket counter is still closed. Where am I supposed to buy a ticket? I can’t recall seeing open ticket booths inside the airport terminal.
A man is already standing by the bus stop itself so I go over.
His name is Fabrizio and he doesn’t know where to buy a ticket either. He’s from a coastal town in Tuscany and has himself come from a holiday in…I can’t remember now…Laos? Myanmar? His flight had gotten in the night before, too late for him to catch the train from Termini to his hometown, so he figured he’d spend the night at the airport.
“Me too!” I say. “I didn’t want to spend €48 on a cab.”
He nods his head vigorously in agreement, though in his case it would probably have to have been a cab and a hotel, as I can’t imagine anyone spending the night at Termini to wait for a daytime train.
“Are you from Viareggio?” I ask. (It was the only Tuscan coastal town I know, lol. )
“No, my town is south of Pisa,” he says. Viareggio is north. “Across the sea from Elba — do you know it? It’s where…”
I tell him I’m going to Florence in two days and will visit Siena, San Gimignano, and Monteriggioni on a day trip. We talk about the Palio, about the fierce rivalry among the districts in Siena, about how all these cities in Italy used to be rival kingdoms. (Thanks, Tigana.)
We also talk about the Philippines: when would be the best time to visit, what months were typhoon season, whether it was safe for Caucasians, where to go.
“Go to Palawan,” I urge him. I tell him both Boracay and Palawan are well-known for their beautiful beaches but Boracay was more crowded and noisy and was really more of a party place…
“I mean, unless you’re interested in that sort of thing, of course,” I hasten to add.
He grins and says no, he isn’t, but I wonder anyway if I’ve put my foot in it.
“I mean, it all seems rather pointless,” I mumble and he says, “Yeah.”
I’m terrible at small talk but Fabrizio is unintimidating. The bus comes along after a while. He talks to the driver in Italian then translates for me: we could board the bus without tickets and someone would be waiting at Termini to collect our fares as we disembark. Great.
I store my bags in the bus’ luggage compartment then take a seat directly behind the driver. Fabrizio comes up a minute later and takes the seat beside me. I wonder if he felt compelled to, if he’d rather have taken a seat further back but was just being nice.
(I majored in Psych in uni; people’s thought processes are interesting to me. But man do I suck at small talk. 🙂 )
At any rate, we spend the ride in companionable silence and only speak again at Termini, to say goodbye.
I think about my goals for this trip: (1) talk to locals, (2) talk to fellow travelers, and (3) buy a book from a bouquiniste. With Fabrizio, I had talked to both a local — an Italian, anyway — and a traveler. I wouldn’t have done if I’d taken the cab to the hostel.
Plus I’d had another [non-] run-in with airport security — a good story to tell the folks back home if nothing else.
Yeah, I think staying was the right choice.