Travel: An eternity to reach the Eternal City

Martin Scudamore flies with Go and wonders why, if all roads lead to Rome, it is so difficult to get there from Ciampino airport
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The Independent Culture
ROME AND back for pounds 100. That had to be good. And the price has come down even more since we flew at the end of October. Everything about the flight was fine: the non-ticket system, the check-in, the plane, the leg room; all the usual standards seemed to apply. There was no "free" food, but we expected that, and the sandwiches, snacks and drinks were reasonably priced.

Ciampino airport, though - that was another matter.

As we approached Rome's second airport, we were offered return coach tickets to Termini (the rail hub of the city) for the equivalent of pounds 7 each. We would then require a metro ticket to continue to our hotel. According to the information in the in-flight magazine, a combined bus/ metro or a bus/train ticket for the entire journey would cost 2,700 lire, just pounds 1. So we declined the Go offer and headed for the baggage reclaim, where, we were informed, we could buy the tickets. "No, not in here; there's a machine outside," informed the security man.

The bus stop had on it, helpfully, "Bus to Roma". But the machine was impossible to understand, even in English mode, and the cheapest ticket was 6,000 lire. So, on we went to the departures hall, where the news- stand was supposed to sell tickets. Yes, but they cost 2,000 lire, and were for the bus only.

We gathered from the timetable that we had just missed the 12.20 bus and the next was at 1.20pm. As that time approached, we realised that some other people at the stop had bought the Go coach tickets. So what had happened to their coach? Well, they had never been told clearly where to find it: a German man familiar with the airport said that he had seen it lurking behind some buses in another bay, but now it had gone. The passengers had no option but to catch the bus with us, and to pay again.

After a few miles the bus stopped at a station. No visible markings anywhere. We disembarked and headed towards the tracks, only to discover that this was the train station, not the metro we wanted. The bus had departed, along with the helpful German, and we were left to guess which platform we needed. It was pure luck that the next train that came along took us into Termini, and that we were not asked to show any other tickets.

Now we faced only a hot, unpleasant walk underground to the metro, and the opportunity to be robbed at the second stop.

Rome, the Eternal City? Seemed more like eternal damnation on our arrival. So is it worth trying to save every last penny on fares?

A taxi would have prevented our being mugged, but would have cost, as reported by Go, between pounds 18 and pounds 27, according to the amount of luggage. In any case there was a cab strike all the time we were in Rome. When available, a taxi might be the better bet, as you have saved so much on your plane fare, although it does seem ridiculous to pay pounds 50 to get from Stansted to the edge of Rome and than half that again to reach the centre.

Returning to Ciampino airport at the end of your stay can be equally scary. Out on the metro to Anagnina station at the end of Line A, buy a bus ticket from the ticket office, and the airport sign directs you up a short flight of steps to a vast concourse dotted with buses and noticeboards, with views over Rome's hideous outer suburbs with their sprawling blocks of flats.

The airport bus is waiting, but has no driver - and, more worryingly, no one else there has any luggage. When we were there we thought we must be mistaken. Even when the driver arrived and we set off, we were not confident. At each junction we expected him to take the wrong turning and to head, inexorably, for Naples, or back to Rome.

When we finally reached familiar ground at Ciampino station, the driver got out and switched off the engine. "Aeroport?" we moaned. "Dotto", he appeared to say, and departed to smoke a cigarette with his friend the inspector.

On returning to the bus he took an unlikely detour (the road was in many places so choked with apparently randomly parked cars that the bus could hardly pass) to drop off the inspector right at his house.

If we had been up against a tight time deadline we would have been frantic by now. This does not seem to be a feasible link in a well-ordered international travel itinerary.