Writer’s Block: Misfortune on a Roman Subway
A day full of bad timing and worse luck almost turned this dream vacation into a nightmare
Travelling in a foreign city can be an adventure—it certainly was in this case, for all the wrong reasons!
After graduating from the University of British Columbia in 2011 in civil engineering, and then doing four additional years of training and acquiring experience, my daughter Emma was awarded her designation as a professional engineer in November 2015. It was a big deal. When she first started at university, I’d promised her a nice trip to celebrate this coming accomplishment, so we had been anticipating this trip for about six years before it became a reality.
Finally, in October 2016, it was off to Europe. Emma had never seen any of the classical, ancient archaeological sites in Italy or Greece, so we decided to take a Mediterranean cruise to see the sights. It was a 12-day adventure beginning in Barcelona and ending in Venice, hitting all of the famous venues, and then some.
After a bumpy start—losing Emma’s luggage in Barcelona, and barely retrieving it in time to board our ship—the visits to southern France and Florence and Pisa in Italy were magical. We especially enjoyed climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa and getting a different slant on the outside world.
Next, it was off to Rome. My husband Andrew and I had travelled to Rome three years prior via a cruise ship as well. Instead of taking a cruise tour, we had travelled the roughly two-hour trip into the city ourselves from the cruise port, via the regional train and subway systems. So, when Emma and I planned our visit to the Eternal City, I recommended the same procedure, since I had done it before and we had managed just fine. What could possibly go wrong?
The early part of the day was wonderful. The transportation plan worked well getting into the city and we visited the Colosseum, Forum and Pantheon as well as the Trevi Fountain. The problems began on our way back to the cruise ship.
For those not familiar with cruising, cruise ships don’t wait for passengers if they have ventured out on their own for the day, so being back on time was vital. The ship was due to depart at 6:30 p.m., so we needed to leave ample time to travel from the city back to the ship. We were quite comfortable with our “drop dead” time to begin our journey back to the port, so we headed for the subway. The journey entailed taking two segments of the subway system and then joining the regional line to travel back to the port.
It was a Friday afternoon and the subway system was teeming with people travelling home from work. I had never seen such crowds in a subway in my life! We jostled through the crowds to board
the train, but as I stepped onto the train, I didn’t realize Emma was not right behind me. I got on, but she didn’t! With no time to think, I instinctively stuck my hand out the door to stop it from closing so I could get out again, but the door closed tightly on my fingers and didn’t open. It was sealed shut. Emma gazed at me in shock from the platform and before I could do anything, the train was moving! My fingers went numb quickly on the way to the next stop and the other passengers were concerned. There was no emergency stop button in sight, so I had to cope with my fingers trapped in the doors until the next stop. Of course, Emma and I were not able to communicate about what she should do: take the next train to meet me or would I go back and get her? When I arrived at the next stop, and my fingers were freed, adrenaline and instinct kicked in and I immediately jumped on a train going in the other direction to rejoin her. Unfortunately, she had decided not to wait and took the next train to follow me. To make matters much worse, I was carrying her money and I had no cellphone with me—lesson learned, believe me. The net result was that we couldn’t communicate at all. We were separated in the Roman subway system at rush hour, with our cruise ship sailing at 6:30 p.m. with or without us.
Assuming that Emma would continue on the subway to the regional station, I did the same and hoped that we would meet on the platform for the train heading to the port. My hopes were dashed, though, when I arrived and she wasn’t waiting for me. I had expected her to already be there since she was ahead of me on the subway. Now, what to do? I knew she had her cellphone, so I asked another passenger waiting at the platform, who was also returning to the cruise ship, if I could borrow his phone to call and text her. By this time, panic was setting in. I didn’t want to miss this train since the next one would get us to the port with only minutes to spare.
Eventually, I reached Emma and she told me she was in the regional station but had no idea how to find me on the correct platform: she couldn’t ask anyone, as no one spoke English. The train to the port was leaving shortly, but I had to find Emma. When I finally found her, we’d missed the train. I knew from the schedule that there was one more we could catch, but the stress continued when we checked the monitors and could see no more trains going to the port that day. After more frustrating attempts to communicate with staff, we finally solved this problem just in time and boarded that final train. Of course the ordeal was not over yet, we still had to get to the cruise ship before 6:30 p.m. and this train was scheduled to arrive at 6:20 p.m. From the train station, a 20-minute walk to the dock turned into a five-minute run since—of course—no taxis were around. Once at the port we still had to take a shuttle bus to the actual ship, and hopped on the one remaining bus. We didn’t realize that this bus serviced another cruise ship, not ours! So just when I’d begun to think we might make it in time, the bus driver headed for the other ship and then turned around and headed back to the depot with us still on the bus! I was in disbelief.
Thankfully, I was able to coax the driver to take us to our ship. I could see that our gangway was still down, despite the time being 6:45 p.m. We leaped off the bus and dashed up the plank, completely exhausted.
The next day, we found out that the only reason the ship did not leave on time from Rome was that the winds were too strong for the huge ship to leave safely. Everything that could go wrong did that day—except for those helpful winds. ■