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Monday, August 11, 2008

Rome - What I Learned On The Way Home

Yesterday, we returned from our vacation to Italy which included stops in Florence, Poveromo, Venice, and Rome. Due to a very high rate of Internet access at the Cavalieri Rome Hilton -- try 27 euros or $40 a day -- I still have a couple of days worth of Rome picture to post.

However, while I work on that I wanted to share a couple of things that I learned on the trip home. Hopefully these will help you if you are traveling to Rome, Italy, or even Internationally. These were three valuable lessons for me.

Lesson 1: Watch the Taxi drivers. We took a Taxi to the airport from our hotel (55 euro) since it was just about the same price as taking a Taxi to Roma Termini (26 euro) plus the Leonardo Express (11 euro per person for 22 euros) not to mention not having to haul our three suitcases and three backpacks through the station, onto the train and into the check-in.

But, that is not the real story. We jumped in our taxi at 7:30am -- I immediately looked up and saw the meter started at euro 5.80 for the night rate rather than the normal euro 2.80 rate. Then as we started the 22km drive to the Leonardo Da Vinci / Fiumicino airport, the meter started going up really quick -- it was at 10 euros in almost no time. I look quickly at the tariff rates and noticed we were in "Tariff 2" which was still the night / out of town rate even though it ended at 7am.

With my Spanish based Italian attempt (I can speak Spanish -- but not really Italian -- so when I try it comes out as Spanish) -- asking why the Tariff was set to 2 instead of 1. Actually understanding the driver, he looked at his watch, changed the Tariff 2 back to Tariff 1 and muttered it should be at one (basically half the price per km) since it was past 7:30. Knowing I just gave up about 5 euros, but not having the vocabulary to state it -- I just decided to take it out of the taxi driver's tip. With only 80 euros left in my pocket, I no longer had to stress about running out on the way to the airport. Whew.

The taxi driver then appropriately changed the fare to Tariff 2 once we got out of the city about 5km from the airport. He acted annoyed that I only left him with a 4 euro tip -- however, I felt it was more than fair.

So, lesson #1 is to always check the tariff setting when you get into the taxi cab.

Lesson #2: The international terminal at Leonardo Da Vinci / Fiumicino (ROM) is NOT the international terminal for flights going to the US or Israel.

So, you cabbie or choice of transportation drops you off at the International Terminal in Rome. That's nice. You walk into the lobby only to see that your check in desk is in the 500's. Hmmm, that's not in this terminal. Rather, you need to hop to Terminal "T5" and now you need to find the bus stop.

Once you jump on that bus, you sit in crowded -- yet now space specifically for luggage -- terminal bus to take you 5 minutes to the other terminal. Here you will spend 40-50 minutes getting through the "special" security measures for those flights destined to the United States or Israel. Once you finish those, you jump on a bus to be taken back to the main International Terminal where you can then walk to you gates.

The advice -- first, make sure you tell your taxi you need to go to terminal T5, not just the International Terminal. Secondly, give yourself an extra hour (for a total of 3 hours) to check in and get through security in Rome. Especially if you want to do any duty free shopping.

Lesson #3: Re-tag your bags before you go through customs if you are standby on an earlier flight.

Our original flight from Washington, DC (IAD) to Los Angeles (LAX) after our flight from Rome, Italy (ROM) had a 4 hour layover. However, we were waitlisted for a flight that left a couple of hours earlier. We asked about being confirmed on that flight during check-in at Rome and were told to check back in Washington.

Once we arrived in Washington, DC we immediately cleared customs, headed to the Red Carpet Club and tried to confirm our new flight on United Airline. The only problem? Our bags were still in the system under our original flights and could only be re-tagged before we went through customers.

The lesson? If you have an opportunity for an earlier flight and have to clear customs, you should have your bags re-tagged for that earlier flight BEFORE you go through customs. Once you go through customs, the bags are in the system and need a couple of hours to be redirected. No standbys for that!