Good Eats at Rome Train Station

Roma Stazione Termini has always been a drudge for me. Drag the suitcases, muscle through the crowds, strain to see what track we needed and if we were hungry, tired and waiting a while, going a bit outside the station to a steak house. (There is a wooden cow that invites you in and the beef is actually good.) Plus there are chairs! Now Roma Termini has a new place to sit, people watch and eat –Il Mercato Centrale Roma.  

No Kids With Markers – Actual Signage

Schlepping our suitcases down the right side of the station – through the department stores and shops – we found the entrance to Il Mercato.
Actually, having to wade through cramped shops isn’t the most comfortable approach to Il Mercato. Leaving the station and walking outside around the block would have been easier. When we saw the funky sign, we knew we were in for a treat. Giggles bubbled up and we entered the hall.

WOW! Being there at an off peak eating time, we were able to see the space in all of its utilitarian grandeur. There is a lot to see – seventeen food stalls, one restaurant, one pizzeria, one beer vendor and one large coffee bar. The restaurant, La Tavola, is designed for those who don’t want to wander around. It can be found one level up from the ground floor. Also, there is additional seating on the third level. (Note – what we would call the first floor is Piano Terra, second – Primo Piano, – third – Second Piano.) It was fun strolling past the stalls tempting us with interesting things to eat, cook with or grab for gifts. Even better was sniffing all of the great scents of Italian home style cooking. We grabbed two seats ordered drinks from the friendly cameriere, Jack sat with the luggage and I zapped from stall to stall taking it all in.

Love the scribble logo that is everywhere.

I roamed trying to decide what to eat first – we had three hours. Yup, it is one giant food court. Yup, it looks like a food court in a high end mall or in Grand Central Station NYC. Yup, everything we tried tasted pretty good. Unlike the tourist restaurants in places like Florence or Rome or Venice – the quality wasn’t dumbed down for out of towners.

Being ace detectives we uncovered an amazing truth as to why it didn’t seem dumbed down for tourists – Italians seemed to be the principal patrons! We saw folks coming in off the street for a quick lunch. Folks opening briefcases, grabbing food and having impromptu meetings. And yes, we did see people like us with suitcases. Even though we had been warned by Pontelandolfese that the place was for tourists only, our observation led us to disagree. First of all, they didn’t try to gouge us with super inflated prices. It is Rome so prices were higher than our village, however, the prices were better than we have found in Manhattan. Since we had a few hours to kill we each started with an obscenely large cappuccino – the four cup cappuccissimo cost €7 and took us about 45 minutes to drink. It was a ridiculous huge accompaniment for our €1.20 cream filled brioche. After walking that off, we rallied for lunch. I jotted down some prices. A filling plate of Pasta Carbonara €8, glass of white wine €5, and a small bottle of water €1.50. Have I mentioned they also had Free wifi for everyone? Have I mentioned gelato?

During the lunch crush, it was a really a crush, we didn’t feel comfortable hogging the seats. Too many folks needed a place to plop and eat. Having hoarded seats for about two hours, we felt guilty. When our lunch plates were empty, we gave up our chairs and ventured back to the main part of the station. This September when we head back home from studying Italian in Sardegna, we will drag our sand filled suitcases through the station and return!

Ci vediamo! Perhaps we will see you soon in Sardegna!

PS – Message me at info@nonnasmulberrytree.com and check out the cool opportunity to study Italian in Alghero, Sardegna! €1500 for two full weeks of classes, cultural activities, social events and HOUSING! Cheap and wonderful. September 28 – October 12 at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.

Train to Venezia

The adventure was just starting  out and I discovered a great spot.  Our train trip to Rome on Trenitalia’s Frecciargento 9350 began in Benevento. My first stop – the ladies room. It was wonderful and I encourage all who end or begin their journeys in Benevento not to worry about using the bathroom. There were only two stalls but they were as big as horse stalls. That means you can take your suitcases in with you and not be squished. At New York’s Penn Station I shudder at how terrible it feels to have those bags pressing my knees. The other station  amenity that appealed to Jack was the bar. Due cappuccini per favore – cost 1.50 each – double what they cost in Pontelandolfo – but hey this is the city.

We decided to splurge and booked first class train tickets all the way to Venezia. Two tickets round trip cost us a total of €300. The first leg was Benevento to Roma with a quick change. The train arrived a wee bit early and we plopped ourselves in the commodious seats. It was a 4 top table just right for a game of bridge – which of course I don’t play. Oops, I’m sorry, Jack hasn’t quite plopped yet. His suitcase was too big to fit overhead and they don’t have a luggage rack at the front. Hmmm – put it on an empty seat! Good plan. (We lucked out and no one ever took that seat). The host came through with newspapers, snacks, water, sodas. Ahhhh.

The guy next to us had set up an office. Each seat has electric outlets so phone, lap tops – even wee portable printers can be set up. Commuting with style. Or is that working under pressure?

Out the windows, the hills of Sannio passed us by complete with sheep and shepherds. Jack read. I wrote. It was lovely. Than the other shoe dropped – what is that announcement about Caserta? There was a problem on the track after Caserta and we could sit there for 40 minutes. Beh! That puts a big damper in our travel plans – we have a connecting train in Rome. Our seat mate said I should talk to the Capo di Treno – who or what the hell is that? Lets go find out.

I walked through the first class cars towards the bar – how civilized – searching for Il Capo near the bar. Even though it is only 9:30 AM I am tempted to have a caffè corretto – toss that shot of grappa in that coffee please. Yes, he must be  Il Capo – I’m guessing head conductor. There, in a uniform that looked an awful lot like Captain Kagaroo’s, was the charming and robust Il Capo. He glanced at my ticket and said it would be easy to change the connection at Rome Termini – just go to the info kiosk between tracks 3 and 4. There is a train to Venezia every hour. Whoops – the train moved, I guess the wait wasn’t the predicted 40 minutes. We didn’t sit for 40 minutes, they put us on a different track. The sloooooo mo track from Campobasso to Roma. The same track the 12€ ticket from Boiano takes. The seats may be first class but we are poking along.

Looking at the bright side – it is a clear and sunny day – the wifi works! I jumped to an empty seat, set up my iPad and keyboard, put on my classy shades, watched the world go by and sighed. Oops, I sat up straight, sucked in my gut and smiled. Here comes the cute host boy again with more drinks and snacks. I’m being good and just looking not touching. AT the snacks – the snacks.

We pass Cassino. It’s laundry is fluttering from terra cotta and sun kissed yellow high rises. Smaller towns are bleeps as the train chugs on. Then countryside with plowed fields and neat small homes surrounded by goats and sheep enclosed in make shift fences. I expect to see barefooted children with their dogs standing near the tracks waving. Factories – 1950s style boxes – break up the green. I turn my head – a field of solar panels out one window and untouched hills out the other.
Staring is great fun and really relaxing until my inner “equal justice girl” roars out and and dons her cape. I realized that all of the beautiful verdant hills are unencumbered with freakin’ ugly wind mills. I’ve written about the windmill blight on the Southern Italy landscape. I just need to say it again. How come they don’t put any on the hills outside of ROME! Take a cleansing breath and get over it. Questa è italia.

That reminds me – no one ever checked our tickets. Does that mean you can scope out first class and ride for free?????

Any minute the view I find unbelievable will appear. Waiting for it – yes, yes, – I poke Jack awake – there they are – the wonderful Roman ruins.

Roma Termini is always a ZOO! Lots of folks getting off trains, getting on trains – New Yorkers, you can understand this. Le Frecce, the fast cool train, department of Trenitalia has quick fix booths between tracks 3 & 4. This is important to know. We did have to wait about 10 minutes to get our tickets to Venezia changed. Instead of being on the 11:50 that we missed by 40 minutes, we were on the 1:50.

Since we had time to kill, we looked for a restaurant with seats. Close to the tracks is an American Style joint called “Roadhouse Grill.” We knew it was American style because there was a life size cow statue by each door – like the ones that artists paint in cute American towns. I rolled my eyes and looked at Jack. “It has seats,” he said. We went in and what a pleasant surprise. Clean, well managed and if you like beef a great place. The steaks coming past us were rare and gorgeous. Jack had a cheeseburger and said it was good. I opted for Caesar Salad with grilled chicken breast. The chicken was a real breast – not pressed goop. It was again, surprisingly, good. Lunch with one beer and one bottle of mineral water cost us €31.60. Not bad for lunch in a major city.

We are finally on the way to Venezia! Train 9430 was waiting for us on track 3. Only problem was our seats weren’t together. Beh! I fixed that in a smile and a wink. Ahhhhh my own wide reclining chair with foot rests. Nice leather seats, wifi, big windows and have I mentioned foot rests?

The scenery changes. The mountains are off in the distance. This valley of small rolling hills must have caused invading armies sporting armor and spears to grunt and groan. We race through tunnels and zip by fairly modern houses painted in those terra-cotta and sunny colors. I long for purple or red or green.

We had our snack and the requisite glass of wine and acqua minerale then stared some more.

Filling my huge window are fortresses, lakes, and beautiful villas set back and surrounded by tall, skinny evergreens. Toscana I shout. Next stop Firenze. Che Bella. An Italian portrait right out my window. Know what else was beautiful? This train had a wheel chair, easily accessible, huge circular bathroom. Complete with toilet paper! Traveling with a handicapped student, I remember an Amtrack trip to Washington and it was the train trip of hell. This ain’t Amtrack.

The view keeps changing as we go. I am mesmerized by the shifting landscapes – mountains to rolling valleys to the plains of the north to the long bridge over the water to the station “Venezia Santa Lucia.”

We got off the train, dragged our bags out the front door and gasped. This is what greets the weary traveler.


PS – toilest at this train station costs €1 and are just OK.

Train Facts:

Great App for your phone – Info Treno

You can purchase Trenitalia tickets on line at www.Trenitalia.com. They have deals all the time.

Overhead space doesn’t hold big suitcases – airline carry on size works.

You may be sharing a 4 person table with strangers. There is no extra space on the floor for that giant Murano lamp.

Use the Train Number not where you are going when you are trying to find the right track. You may not know the last stop on the train and that is the town that will be posted.

Ci Vediamo.