By Lynn and Rob Belles
Independent Vacation Specialists
In the fall of 2008 our family took a cruise that departed from Rome (Civitavecchia) Italy.
On this trip, Suzee’s leg was in a boot from a dance injury so we were being cautious not to walk too much. Our hotel shuttle dropped us at the Mouth of Truth in the basicila of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, approximately one-half mile from the Old City. From there we wanted to take the bus into the city where we planned to go to a bank and exchange dollars for euros.
When the first bus stopped, we got on, and, as we have done in so many other countries, held out a handful of dollars and change. The bus driver shook his head side-to-side while snapping instructions to us in Italian. Confused, we stepped back off the bus. A helpful bystander was able to convey to us that we needed a bus pass and that the driver could not take any currency, euros or dollars. Rob then set off on foot to find a bank and a place that sold bus passes while Suz and I waited.
After a short 15 minute walk, and little help from some locals that spoke a bit of English, Rob told us, “I found a bank and entered a dim lobby that had mail boxes to the right of two revolving doors thru which I could see the tellers. As I entered the revolving door a man entered the lobby with me. Inside the turnstile a voice in Italian commanded me to do something and the doors did not spin and open. In my peripheral vision I noticed the other man had put something in the mail boxes and then easily passed thru the revolving door next to me. I backed up and noticed each mail box had a large plastic key, like we give toddlers for play, sticking out of it. I then realized the revolving doors were metal detectors and the man had removed his belt, and put it in one of the boxes. So I removed my belt, put it in the box, and successfully entered the bank. The tellers spoke impeccable English and were able to exchange money and provide me directions to a lottery store where bus tickets are sold.”
A quick walk across the Piazza Venezia and Rob was able to purchase bus passes for our family. At the lottery store he was told we did not need tickets as bus travel was done on the honor system. We could have ridden the bus to the store to purchase our tickets. Upon leaving the store with our bus tickets in hand, Rob noticed an American couple at the ATM machine using their bank card to get euros, without removing their belts. We now carry a Capital One card (with no foreign transaction fee and a fair exchange rate) that we can use at foreign ATMs to get local currency more easily, and they all have an English option.