Friday, August 11, 2017

"You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany. We must be cautious" - Termini Station.

Termini Station, Rome's main rail hub, has a rather poor reputation.  People say that it is crowded, poorly laid out, and a magnet for petty criminals of all stripe.

This general prejudice is entirely justified.

But lets include it in this week's "History in a Place".  Not all history is fun.

The name Termini by the way does not refer to it being the terminus of assorted rail lines.  It took its name from the ancient district "Termini", which in turn got its designation from the Baths (Thermae) of Diocletian which are right across the street.

We went through Termini station twice on our trip to Italy.  It is such a chaotic blur that I find it impossible to actually describe it as a whole.  I could only take in brief glimpses.

There were fancy high fashion stores in the place.  It seemed to me that harried travelers already hauling over sized luggage would be a questionable clientele.

There was an older woman sitting on a cart talking to the police. "I can't believe it....", she said in English.  

Outside on the pavement a young man in shabby clothes lay next to a half empty bottle.  He was motionless.  His eyes were slightly open.  I suppose he was simply very drunk but I have seen enough dead people to say he was doing a fair impersonation of one. The police seemed unconcerned.  The big suitcases on wheels swerved to avoid him.

Four young girls were having trouble with the bus system.  They were ten or eleven years old, well dressed, talkative and without any visible adult presence.  As we waited for a bus I saw them hop onto one and a moment later, hop off, still chattering.

Our bus arrived and we got on.  I was hauling more luggage than I prefer to.  The girls got on and one of them looked at me and said "Trastevere"".  I said in Italian that, yes, the bus went there.  Then she pointed at the floor and said, in English, "Is that yours?"

There on the floor of the bus was my wallet.  I bent over to pick it up. When I looked up the four girls were gone.  So of course was all the cash in the wallet.

It's not as if we were absolute naifs in this matter.  I had my wallet in a front pocket and it was jammed in with some other items that should have made removal difficult. But these were pros.

I did have a money belt that contained our passports and back up credit cards. Actually they left one card in the wallet, either because they could get in trouble by having something other than anonymous cash on them or because the few seconds they had were not sufficient to retrieve it.  I rather appreciate that they did not just hop off the bus with my wallet, the bother of cancelling that card would have been significant.


Time for a bit of practical advice.

Avoid Termini station entirely if possible.  If you are arriving from the airport don't take the Express train in.  Either get a taxi, which is worth it, or if you are going to Trastevere just take the slower local train that goes to the station in that part of town.

I have worn a money belt in various higher crime cities and felt a bit silly about it.  I won't feel that way again.  Just keep daily expense money handy.  Unfortunately in the sort of cash oriented economy that is Italy this will still be a bit of currency.

I suppose if you actually observed this scenario playing out you could yell for the police or grab one of the little Dodgers.  I don't doubt that the screams of protest, appeals for help, accusations of molestation etc would be a performance worthy of High Opera.    
Oh, if you do end up in the Termini area there are a few other sights worth seeing.  I think if you were a couple hundred yards away from the station you will have no hassle beyond the countless hucksters all trying to sell tickets to bus tours.

Take a brief look at the Pre-Republic Servian Wall next to the station.

There is also a very good museum nearby, it is a branch of the Roman National Museum in the former Palazzo Messimo alle Therme.  Really outstanding mosaics and sculptures.  This collection outgrew the space at the Baths of Diocletian (also well worth your time) that we visited earlier.

There are other ancient sites in the area around Termini but with the usual Italian access issues and my general distaste for the neighborhood I did not explore further.


Honeybee said...

My aforementioned trip to Rome was 50 yrs BCCC (before current credit cards). Thus, I was probably lucky. And "Europe on $5 a day", as the book promised, made for slim pickings if I'd been targeted. The cavernous granny purse I carried had emergency "unmentionables" layered atop the important items, a system which could have also been a deterrent. Or, my naiveté and chance good luck got me by. P.S. Remind me not to go to Rome with you, Mr. Savy Traveler!

Borepatch said...

Been there on one trip in 1989 (I think) - it was borderline then as well.

Didn't know that the Baths of Diocletion were across the street, though.