Thursday, May 05, 2005

Election Day

Having just returned from a blissful 6 days in Rome, it is time to take stock.
Firstly, how does the Rome Metro compare to London Underground? It is way cheaper (standard fare anywhere is €1 and that gets you unlimited bus rides as well within a 75 minute time span). The system seems fairly dated, with just two lines covering only a small part of Rome, although there is a huge building program underway with two new tube lines. The trains are designed for short hauls - few seats, wide carriages to pack in people standing. Not comfortable for a typical London journey of 30 minutes plus. It is infested with thieves - I nearly had my camera stolen whilst I was paying attention to my money belt. And just like LT, it has its unavoidable delays. We aimed to go to the Spanish Steps one morning, taking Line B from our hotel and changing to Line A. There is only one junction between the two tube lines, at the main Terminus overground station (think Victoria meets Kings Cross), so it is very busy. And the platform leading to Line A was shut. A huge crowd built up, the exits became blocked, some incomprehensible announcements were made and of course no railway staff were anywhere in sight. We abandoned the train and took a taxi (at €5, a bargain).

But we took the train the next day and the day after without incident, so I shouldn't be too harsh. The trains came promptly enough and on the journey to the Vatican there was a bonus when we emerged from the tunnel to cross the Tiber by bridge, before dropping back into darkness.

One of the oddities is that the tickets are sold by newsagents or machine. There don't seem to be any ticket offices in the LU mould. Full marks for the multi-lingual machines and the sheer simplicity of the pricing system.

Second, how goes the campaign? Hard to tell, really. Commentators seem to think it's a dull election. Perhaps Prescott has been too subdued. The parties have so much in common that it is hard to support one of them unconditionally. Opinion in the Italian papers was that Blair would win fairly comfortably and there seems to be a mood of complacency and fatality, not the real excitement from 1997, 1992, 1979 and 1974, years in which a change of Government seemed likely but the polls were either too close to call or not believed.
And to tie the two themes together, the LibDem candidate for Ruislip-Northwood was there to greet me at Ruislip tube station this morning as I returned with my holiday memories fading to be overtaken by the reality of a back-to-work situation scenario.

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