Off to Rome? Don’t bother with Gallienus Chain

They won’t bother with you.

Even a little bit of bothering would have helped at 11.45pm a couple of Saturdays ago.

It had been quite a day. The first delayed-departure announcement from the cockpit sent a shiver of ‘oh no’ through my fellow traveller. I was more optimistic. The airline knew we were hoping to make a connection. About an hour on the tarmac was do-able. We needed to wait but also take on more fuel for the expected circling (another hour) over London.  A chemical fire on an industrial estate bordering Heathrow had caused runway closures. All flights in and out were late. It was all about queues and English people do that well.

Our onward flight to Rome was delayed to gather people from other northern airports, so we were all relieved to take off eventually. Also on the plane was a large group of Italian teenagers. They must have numbered 20 (sounded like 40). Even turbulence didn’t sit them down or shut them up. (I tried to say “silenced” there). My offsider is a seasoned teacher so the yelling and parading in the aisles didn’t bother him. I was seconds away from standing up and delivering a terse message.

[Forum Boario, Rome, Italy] (LOC)
[Forum Boario, Rome, Italy] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)
The youngsters applauded and cheered when we landed in Rome. Their youthful exuberance really left me cold, but it was good to have arrived, even if about 3 hours late. We were in Rome so I could paint for the week with my colleague, plein-air artist Kelly Medford. We had been carting my art materials and equipment through Europe and the UK and even adding to the supplies, chiefly for this concentrated week of outdoor painting. It added about 5 kg to the total weight, mostly in linen panels and the wooden paint box.

Non-arrival of baggage was a common problem that evening. We joined the very slow queue at the baggage counter. Many people were advised to wait ‘only’ another hour or so for the next flight in from LHR. Luckily our bags turned up on another carousel. As it was about 9.30pm by then, the baggage assistant agreed to phone our accommodation to let them know of our late arrival. She reported that no-one answered – just as it had been when we phoned and emailed from the UK, but she assured us that the custom was for reception desks to be open in Rome until midnight.

On through customs or whatever it is you have to do when you are on your last legs, and then out to find the bus into Rome.

On arrival in the city sometime after 11pm we headed through the railway station towards Gallienus, more in hope than certainty. It was a hot night and the end of a very long day. Visualise two “older” people (last photo on my previous post), who’d had nothing to eat or drink since about 4pm. We were dragging two cases each (63kg between us) across the 20cm rough stone cubes that make up the cobblestones of Roman streets. I am sure the gaps were wheel size.

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia
Three of the four cases, early Saturday am on English paving; 53 kg here.

Gallienus Chain might as well not have existed. There was no-one to answer the door or the bell. Despite all the unlocking and roaming, our phones were not friendly. Thankfully a young local resident made a couple of phone calls in Italian on our behalf. The telephone number listed on the bell directed him to a second number which directed him back to the first. After a lot of head-shaking, he eventually spoke to someone. That person had closed up shop and was now two hours away from Rome. He had no knowledge of our booking. Suggestion: we could wait two hours for him to return or phone him in the morning!

Fhhrrrzzz… The sound of deflated hope and creeping despair.

We headed out to find a bed for the night. We passed homeless people and people who wanted unnamed things from us. Not named in English anyway. Spruikers and con-men seemed to emerge in the yellowish light. It was clearly a bad part of town. Our fear must have been palpable, our exhaustion obvious. We were vulnerable.

We were homeless.

Our choice of accommodation was based on a few things. Budget was primary. Secondly, because we were on the last leg of a three month holiday we were pulling all our baggage (63kg). Proximity to the railway station seemed sensible and also for easy transport to painting locations. Thirdly, Gallienus Chain was on the recommended list of our credit card provider’s travel page. Hmm.

Do you have a feeling this didn’t end well? It didn’t. We left Rome about 14 hours later.

Home safely and two weeks later it is settling into the status of a bad dream.

Just don’t bother with Gallienus Chain, that’s all.

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia