Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Leonardo Express

ROME - My Egyptair flight from Cairo banked left and swooped down over blue water edged in brilliant aquamarine to land smoothly at Rome Leonard de Vinci International Airport. To get into the city, I took the delightfully named Leonardo Express - the train - to Termini Station, then hopped a cab to the palatial Rocco Forte Collection property here, the Hotel de Russie, located 5 minutes walk from the Spanish Steps.

The Leonardo Express is the fastest and cheapest way to get from the airport to Rome. If you are coming here, I recommend it. To use the train, you take one of the three rather slow-arriving lifts from the arrivals hall and choose among several clearly marked commercial agencies that sell train tickets. They cost 11 euros for adults and there is generally a 1 euro charge for handling. Do not forget to use one of the yellow machines at the head of track 2 at the airport to punch your ticket; otherwise, you risk a fine if the conductor discovers you have not punched it. This is the Italian system for train travel. Go figure. The 12 euro ($18 U.S.) charge, plus whatever you pay for your taxi, still puts you below the 40 euro set fee from the airport to central Rome and well below what most hotels charge to send a car for you. Heading back to the airport, you take the long walk out to Track 25 and buy the ticket at a tiny ticket table operated by the rail station; same price, same validation process.

After I settled into my garden-view room in the Hotel de Russie, I strolled out into a rainy dusk, umbrella in hand, and walked down the wet cobblestones, occasionally running into a tangle of umbrellas with other walkers. At the Spanish Steps, a temporary replica of the Berlin Wall had been erected, a band was playing, and a crowd had gathered. I had stumbled upon the altogether satisfying celebration that the city of Rome has mounted to mark the 20th anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the signal event that symbolized the end of the Cold War in Europe. It was a satisfying moment, joining history and politics and romance in this intensely romantic city.

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