Saturday 26 March 2011

Rome, Italy

There had been a great deal of scare-mungering about getting to Rome from our port of arrival, Civitavecchia. The tour desk had been pushing their own transfer because it was deemed that the train from the port to Rome was unreliable and prone to delays, as is typical of Italian public transport. But it didn't appear to deter a great many people, including ourselves who chose to pay the 9 Euros return instead of GBP39.

We took it easy this morning and took a leisurely stroll through Civitavecchia towards the train station. In total there were 5 other cruise ships in port today, this is not something we've been used to so far. Normally we are lucky if we see any others at all. As a result, the queue for tickets was overwhelming the poor cashier who looked like he was more familiar receiving one customer every half an hour. The total cost of our return tickets came to 18 Euros, and in a display of true Italian flare, he threw his hands in the air and nearly fell over the back in his chair as I presented him with a 50 Euro note. I didn't think that was too unreasonable, but he reacted like I'd insulted his mother. I used a credit card instead, which held the queue up a little longer.

Katie had heard Czech voices in the queue and knowing they were not from our ship, struck up a conversation. They had arrived on the really big beast of a ship that had berthed behind us shortly after our own arrival. I'd noticed it (not difficult given its size) and had been cursing that ship earlier because it rocked up late and blocked the WiFi signal I had managed to pick up from the shore. It was an added insult to find out that it was of German origin! It transpired that it carried 4000 passengers and had been sailing the Mediterranean for 2 weeks. Our queue buddies thought it was too big which helps support my earlier thoughts that bigger ships are not always better.

Anyway, tickets acquired and stamped to validate them, we made our way to the equally busy platform for the next train to Rome. By the time it arrived 10 minutes later, we'd started talking ourselves out of going because the chances of getting a seat for the 1.5 hour journey looked. Instead we skipped platforms and got onto the waiting train that departed 10 minutes after the first. It was virtually empty and very comfortable. We knew we wouldn't get much time in Rome itself but at least we were going and on the positive side, we'd get to see all the little Italian stations en route!

Our bargain tickets also allowed us access to the metro all day, so when we got off the train at Roma Termini, we made our way to the closest metro station, took it 2 stops and got out at the Colosseum. Predictably it was busy with fellow tourists, and interspersed with random guides dressed as gladiators and Roman soldiers. There's nothing like milking the unwary tourist. There were also plenty of people selling the usual assorted Chinese made tat, and unusually a disproportionate number also selling tripods for cameras too. A good idea if not a little random. We already have one, so I didn't partake but it didn't stop them trying. It reminded me of the enterprising chap who tried to sell me sun glasses on Pattaya beach as I looked at him through my pair of Oakleys. I just pointed at them and shrugged.

With a tick in the box alongside “Colosseum” and a little less memory card space, we walked up the busy road vaguely heading in the direction of the Pantheon. We passed several other photo-worthy attractions and read up on their significance in the guide book but in all honesty, none of them bought about more than a mildly interested raising of the eyebrows. It was just nice to be walking around in the sunshine. The only annoyance today was the perpetual need to watch ones pockets and bag, for Rome is notorious for pick-pockets and bag snatchers. The crowds afforded them the ideal hunting ground, although we were not victims.

The streets got narrower and the tarmac turned to cobbles as we made our way towards the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Katie had found a nice cafe that we had marked for lunch and we found it without a problem on the opposite side of the Piazza. It is guide-book famous for its desserts, particularly the ice-cream, so we had Pizza! Apart from the waiter smashing a wine glass on the floor next to our table, we enjoyed an hour just sitting, eating and watching the world go by in the typical Italian way. We watched and listened as tourists stopped to regard the cafe's menu and were serenaded by a multi-lingual owner who told the same story for each new potential patron. It was pleasantly busy but not crowded or rushed. In fact it was a little too laid back at times for we had a train to catch and we wanted to leave plenty of time for it. The restaurant waiter was much happier to accept the 50 Euro note I still possessed and we left our prime piazza-side table to start the hike back to the closest metro station. We passed more photo-worthy attractions on the way and saw many Carabinari and Polizia cars parked up in the narrow streets. At first sight, the police presence in Rome, seemed to be higher than that of Egypt, but on closer inspection it appeared to be just an abundance of their cars. The police themselves were nowhere to be seen!

We arrived back at Roma Termini with 5 minutes to spare before our chosen train departed. It was not essential that we caught this particular one, but we wanted to leave ourselves some room for Italian inefficiency. It transpires that we need not have worried, but as always it felt good to be back within running distance of the ship. We had some time to look around Civitavecchia and found it to be a pleasant port town with a nice promenade along the sea-front and some very browsable shops. I realise that I'm starting to sound like some of the older passengers on our ship whose enjoyment of a town is measured purely on its expanse of flat ground and number of cafe's selling tea. Sorry about that.

After getting back on board with 15 minutes to spare before they started calling our names out, we readied ourselves for dinner. We'd been invited for drinks with Captain (again) but alas, we'd already booked a table in the Rhodes restaurant at the same time. I was quite disappointed that we couldn't go, but the invite had only materialised in our postbox the previous evening, not really giving us sufficient time to re-arrange things. Instead we had invited Rhea, one of the waitresses with whom we've become friendly, to join us to say “Thank you” and “Goodbye”. It was a nice end to the day, and to the last of our ports. The next and last port of call will be Southampton, where it all started, I doubt we'll have much time for sight-seeing there!


  1. Are you sad that it's coming to an end? I feel sad for you, as I have enjoyed reading every word, and seeing every image that you've posted. I can tell that the whole experience has had an effect of you from what you have written. I can't wait to catch up with you on your return to the UK.

  2. Thanks Mike, glad you enjoyed it as it makes writing it more enjoyable for us. We're back now and are indeed a little sad. I could write a whole post on the experience of readjusting to real life! Once we're back in the game I'll be in touch!