Italy, Greece, and why you should never walk to an airport – originally published 9 May 2005

(written when I was living in Paris, 2005)

Preface: The Sunday we were in Rome, my friend got her wallet stolen in Termini station, when we were on our way to the Vatican. Apparently, everyone in all of Rome was also on their way to the Vatican for some pope announcement, so the pickpockets were all over the place. As we fought through the crowds, my friend got pushed and then came up to us with a horrified look on her face, saying her wallet had been taken out of her bag.

This situation would have sucked for anyone, but it sucked ten zillion times more for her, since her U.S. green card was in her wallet. She wouldn’t be allowed back in the states without it. That put a damper on the day, but long LONG story short she decided to come to Greece as planned and deal with the green card on her trip home. While we were in Corfu, she learned that that the best thing she could do was go to the American embassy in London (that’s where her flights were connecting), and in order to do that she had to leave earlier than the rest of us. So! Instead of the four of us, it was just my boyfriend, myself, and my friend Jen that were traveling back to Rome from Corfu.

The ferry & train trip from Corfu to Rome was very long, but we made it and were in pretty good spirits. After eating some dinner in Rome, we decided to head to the airport. It was about 10:00ish on a Saturday night, and our flight was at 6:30am on Sunday. We figured we would be at the airport no later than midnight, sleep on the floor, and be on our way. We were already exhausted, and sleeping in an airport (instead of on the pool deck of a giant ship) actually seemed like an inviting idea. So. We walk around Termini station for a long time, trying to figure out how to get to Ciampinno airport. It turned out that the metro had stopped running (at 10:30pm on a Saturday night, mind you). One guy told us to take a bus, someone else told us to take a train, and we wondered if we would end up in a taxi that we really didn’t want to do. Taxis in Rome are a ton of money, and I knew from experience that getting to the airport could be a 2 Euro expense.

We really should have just taken a taxi.

Finally finally finally, I find some guy at Train Italia who says “oh yeah, Ciampino airport, no problem, you take the 11:30 train, that will be 2 Euro each.” Score! We waited around for about 45 minutes, and then got on the train, tired and happy to be on our way. Me and my boyfriend were so insanely tired, and I wanted nothing more than to cover him up with jackets and snuggle next to him on the airport floor. Really, that idea sounded amazing.

Ciampino was the first stop. We got off the train around 11:45 and found ourselves… nowhere near the airport. At all. We were in some bumfuck suburb town of Rome. A quiet, totally dead town. We asked around – there were some younger Italian people there that spoke some english – and realized that we were about 4 or 5 (or more, no one really agreed) kilometers from the airport. We found a bus stop that went there but surprise! The buses had stopped running. They wouldn’t start again until the morning. 5:40am, to be exact. We got nervous. Getting on a 5:40am bus for a 6:30 flight was not really an option, and I had my doubts that the 5:40 bus would be there at all.

Our new Italian friends told us that there wouldn’t be any cabs that we could catch in town, and calling one from Rome would cost us big time, since they start charging from the moment you call. Miraculously, a cab showed up (it was bringing someone home), and the Italians tried to see if the driver would take us to the airport, but no go. Again, I must reiterate that it was a Saturday night, we were in the suburb of a huge city, and it was only about midnight. Our friends wished us luck and headed out. We were left with the train station security guard. I tried calling the airport to see if there were any cabs there that might be able to pick us up, but they said “no,” and then my phone died. We tried using pay phones to call cabs. It didn’t work. We tried asking the security guard for advise, and he spoke no English, but told us using hand gestures that we should NOT try to walk to the airport.

Well, by 12:30am our options were looking grim. My boyfriend had tried walking around, looking for cabs, and found nothing… but he said he did spot a sign pointing to the airport. So, it was decided. We would walk. After all, it was only what, 4-5 kilometers? Even though we were beyond exhausted, our adrenaline had kicked in and we said “hey, we’re young and healthy, let’s do it.” Jen had a 50 pound pack, and I had my backpack and carry-on suitcase with wheels. My boyfriend had a backpack and a duffle bag. We started to walk.

We kept walking.

At first, we were laughing about our situation. “Ha ha!” we said, as we plodded along. “Won’t this be a funny story?”

And then we kept walking.

On to a highway.

Here’s the thing: you shouldn’t walk to an airport. Picture it. To get to the Philadelphia airport, you have to take 95 North or South. Highways. Highways where cars drive very very very fast, and then take an exit for “departing flights.” No one WALKS to an airport. Picture the drive to LAX or JFK or Newark or Charles de Gaulle or any airport and you realize – it’s not a walking kind of thing. Especially when you’re carrying luggage, and it’s now about 2am, there’s one bottle of water between the three of you, and it’s been a long time since anyone slept well or showered. It would be bad enough doing this kind of thing in your “home” airport, but it’s even worse when it’s in another country, far far away, no one knows where you are, you have no working phone, and everything is in Italian.

We literally had to run across 4 lane highways and duck into the weeds whenever a car or truck drove by in some areas. At one point, I was pretty sure we were totally fucked – we had lost our direction and only luckily walked the right way. We saw a cat get hit by a car and killed. And we kept walking. Trucks whizzed by. No one stopped. We passed by a restaurant and a bar (picture rest-stop type places) where we asked people in our terrible Italian how far the airport was. They would point. We would walk.

The most beautiful sight I saw that night was the gates to the airport. We made it. It was about 2:45-3:00am when we got there, and seeing as how we started our journey at 12:30am, we calculated that we walked at least 9 kilometers/4 miles. Probably more like 5 miles. We were drenched in sweat and totally frazzled. We arrived at the airport at the same time that a huge bus full of high school kids arrived, so that was fun. I changed my clothes in the bathroom and sat outside, waiting for 4am, when the airport would officially be open. When it opened, we checked in, and I got myself a nice, big beer. Everyone else was having coffee and breakfast, but I had been thinking about that beer for hours, and it hit the spot. I felt drunk for 20 minutes, and then delirious (from being tired). And then, finally, I was on the plane and able to crash.

I guess it still makes for a funny story, seeing as how it’s over and in the past. But dear jeezus, there was so nothing funny about it at the time. Thinking about it still sends chills down my spine. Yesterday, we were near a highway overpass (but safely within the city limits of Paris, exiting a Park), and the sight of the traffic wizzing down the highway made us both feel pretty awful – knowing that we had walked down highways very similar, late at night, in Italy.

So, I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.

The end.

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