Went to Termini today to get train tickets for Umbria. My initial impression there was that the last thing they want to sell is a train ticket. The station is full of designer shops, restaurants and cafés, and even has a few supermarkets, including a Despar (= Spar). The multinational heavies are actually pushing the real function of the station into the background.
It took me quite a while to find Informazione and longer to find Assistenza Clienti,which is where they sell tickets face-to-face. There are, be it said, a large number of automatic dispensers of train tickets, but unauthorized people come in off the street to help you work these machines if you have difficulties (for a gratuity of course).
At Assistenza Clienti, you have to get a queuing ticket in order to buy a train ticket. I went up to some women standing outside the ticket offices and asked ‘É una fila?’ (‘Is it a queue?’) They looked at me expressionlessly, and I realized that they were oriental and didn’t understand me. Eventually a man pointed me to the dispenser for the tickets that put you in a numerical ‘queue’ for the train ticket desks. It took me a while to figure the whole business out, but I have to admit that for a huge station like Roma Termini, it is an excellent arrangement. You don’t have to form a physical queue, just stand around and wait for your number to come up on a screen, which also gives you the number of the sportello (desk) you should go to. You might even be able to go for a coffee and come back, having gauged approximately how long it could take for your number to come up.
My number was B416 and the last number in the B category to show on the screen was around 350. (The B category is for Inter City and Regional Trains). It was about an hour before my turn came, but I was able to go out for a smoke and keep my eye on the progress of my number. The process seemed to speed up when three or more people went to the same desk, but they usually took longer than a single person, so the quick advance of the numbers was a bit of an illusion.
I watched a ticket official chatting to a woman and fumbling to put two tickets into an envelope for her, and thought that this scene would be great if the hero of my new novel was on the run from his Eumenides to catch a train that was leaving in five minutes and was also bursting to go to the toilet!