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We came, we saw but we definitely didn’t conquer…

August 1, 2010

Regular readers of our blog will know that we are now in a marina near Civitavecchia north of Rome, having arrived here on Wednesday and successfully negotiated to leave Rampage here until our return from the UK.

Thursday was largely spent on admin of various sorts, not least the completing and publishing of the last exciting blog installment.  In between times we noticed the wind and that evening we cycled to the far end of the marina, to admire the breakers and give thanks that we had not, after all, delayed our arrival by 24 hours.  We had been sorely tempted to prolong our stay on Elba but wisdom had prevailed and obviously Neptune had rewarded us but seeing us safely (if rather boringly) down the coast of mainland Italy in a flat calm. 

The Colosium - ancient Rome at it's most impressive.

There are two dive operations here at Riva di Traiano marina and the prices they are asking are reasonable (ie less than in Spain.) Competition is a wonderful thing!   On Wednesday evening when we discovered this we toyed with the idea of going for a dive on one of the days before we fly back to UK.  However when we looked at the sea on Thursday we reckoned no-one in their right mind, not even an Italian, would be taking a dive boat out in those seas, and besides, even if they were mad enough and managed to retrieve all their divers out of the water safely afterwards, the dive would not be up to much as the visibility would be fairly lousy. 

“If it’s windy again tomorrow,” said my lord and master, “we could go and visit Rome.” 

“But we made a solemn vow not to visit any more cities in the height of summer,” I challenged.  

“True,” he acknowledged, “but it shouldn’t be too bad if it’s like this, and you have never been to Rome and it really is worth visiting and there is a good train connection from Civitavecchia.”

J looks out over the arena, clutching her audioguide (which worked this time, unlike GIbraltar)

And so it was that by just after 9am on Friday morning, showered and breakfasted, we made our way to the bus stop just outside the marina.  We were encouraged to see three other people waiting for the bus and joined them.  Twenty five minutes later nothing had appeared although there had been two in the opposite direction.  In fact we were a bit slow on the uptake as the second was going all the way to Rome but was very full.  The other people who had been waiting with us, rushed across the road and piled on but there was no room for us too.  We consoled ourselves that it would take 2 hours or so by bus and it would have been a nightmare to have to stand all the way, even if we’d been permitted to do so. 

“We might as well walk to the station,” I said.

Duncan agreed but did just point out that it was a fair walk.  I thought he meant a mile or so but no, after 6 bus stops & having been passed, inevitably, by two buses as we walked between them, we eventually reached the station.  En route however, D was nearly run over.  We were trying to cross the road at a zebra crossing.  This is a scary undertaking in Italy as the drivers only stop when there is absolutely no alternative, so you just have to step out and hope for the best.  It is, as D had pointed out earlier, a bit like playing Chicken with the cars.  However, the cars did stop and we started to cross, D a couple of yards in front of me, when a lunatic came roaring up the outside of the queue of traffic, obviously impatient with the delay.  He just managed to come to a stop with a tremendous squealing of brakes and smell of burning rubber, just inches from my beloved.  We were both quite shaken and even the other drivers quite obviously felt badly about it – one guy rolled down his window to apologise on behalf of his countryman.  It made me distinctly nervous every time we had to cross a road in Rome, later in the day.

The triumphal arch of Severin - or some such Roman chap.

It was now about 10.45am and the station was very busy.  We split up and Duncan queued for the ticket office while I stood in line at the self-service ticket machine.  I won by a short head and we duly pressed all the buttons and fed it lots of money.  It was only after it had spat out the tickets that we realised we had bought ones, not for the next train to Rome, but for the high speed one later, which was already announced as running 25 minutes late!  High speed?  Not only that but Duncan had an allocated seat in coach 8 whereas mine was in coach 4.

As we had nearly an hour to kill, we decided to find the café and buy a drink.  I queued for some considerable time at the wrong counter to try and pay for our drinks.  Clearly this was not our day and I wondered if perhaps the gods were trying to tell us something.  Maybe we should just retreat quietly back to the boat?  But we’d bought the tickets now so it seemed a pity to waste them and besides I have never visited Rome…

Looking down on to the remains of the Forum area

The train, when it arrived, was fine and deposited us at the terminal in about 40 minutes.  I found myself sitting next to an English guy who was holidaying with his family on one of the cruise ships currently berthed in Civitavecchia.  He was extremely chatty, came from the Wirral and we passed a pleasant journey comparing notes on our chosen forms of sea travel.

Once we arrived in Rome, Duncan’s forethought in bringing the tom-tom was proved to be worthwhile and with its assistance we made our way towards the Coliseum.  As the day was getting on by now, and breakfast just a faint memory, we decided to fortify ourselves before launching into an overdose of culture.  I decided to have pizza Gladiatore – it seemed only appropriate – and turned out to be very tasty.  Perhaps things were starting to look up?

An amazing half a bascilica not sure if it's ancient or just old Roman. Looks good though.

There were the inevitable queues at the Coliseum, (D remembered afterwards that it is better to go to the Forum first and buy tickets there because for some reason the queues are never as bad.)  Anyway we dodged the touts outside trying to sell us guided tours and managed to resist having our photograph taken with the gentlemen dressed as Roman Centurions and went to stand in line for tickets.  After a time, Duncan said we could move across to an almost empty aisle if we paid a bit more and bought a guided or audio tour.  Thinking this was a good idea, I ducked under the barrier but was almost immediately hailed and humiliated by an official demanding to know if I had tickets. 

“No,” I replied, “I want to buy some.”  I was immediately ordered back into the line we’d just come from which meant going back to the back of the queue with our tails between our legs.  D nearly abandoned the whole thing at this point but I persuaded him that we had come all that way.  Five minutes later another official came along and announced that anyone wanting to buy a guided or audio tour should move into the aisle out of which I had just been unceremoniously turfed.  I do so love the Italian approach to things – he who shouts loudest and last wins!

Yet another triumphal arch, comemorating yet another bit of barbarian trampling.

After a moment’s debate we decided to try again but by the time we got to the ticket office we had just missed the 3pm guided tour.  Not wanting to wait ½ hour for the next, we opted instead for audio guides.  Thankfully they actually worked, unlike the ones we’d had when we visited the Rock of Gibraltar.  I very much enjoyed my visit to the Coliseum and afterwards our tickets took us into the Forum.  Unfortunately we did not have audio guides there, and frankly we could have done with something, either a good guide book or a guide or some sort of explanation of the various artifacts.  It was quite difficult to actually make out what was what a lot of the time but I was enormously impressed by the whole scale of it all; I’d had no idea there was quite so much of Ancient Rome still in evidence.  We took lots of photos of which those included are but a small selection.  We then walked up round the ‘Altar of the Fatherland,’ or Victor Emmanuel as it is better known and decided we had earned an ice-cream.  They were, predictably, delicious.  They were also outrageously expensive – two cokes and two ice-creams cost us €22!!

Eat your heart out Nelson, this is a MEMORIAL! Victor Emanuel united Italy in the 19th Century and this is his memorial.

We then set off to walk to St Peter’s Square.  By the time we reached there it was nearly 7pm and too late to get in anywhere but it was good to have a small glimpse of the Vatican City.  We debated stopping for supper but dark clouds and flashes of lightening encouraged us to head back for the train and Civitavecchia.  We’d not long set off when the heavens opened and water ran in sheets down the windows before the train came to a halt and all the lights went out.  D reckons a lightning strike had taken out all the electronics for a while.  In due course we set off again but this was not the high speed train so it was a little while before we alighted at our destination, thankful that the worst of the rain was over, but grateful for our rain jackets nonetheless.

St Peter's Square, the heart of the Vatican

We’d promised ourselves a taxi but there was none in evidence and we could not ring for one as my mobile had no signal so instead we walked to the bus stop, only to find that the last bus of the day had been and gone.  D, I think, was all for walking but I was not keen.  I was tired, (we’d already done a lot of walking,) and my flip-flops were slippery on the wet pavements making walking more difficult and more tiring.  OK – I know I was silly to wear flip-flops but they had been fine while we were walking around Rome, albeit that I probably had the filthiest feet in the city!

Doesn't matter where you go these days, there's always some bloke standing round like a statue dressed in weird kit. Swiss guards at the Vatican - no problems getting a sharp crease in that kit then.

Anyway I persuaded him that we should return to the station and try once again to get a taxi.  Thankfully one appeared about ten minutes later, while I was gloomily resigning myself to the prospect of walking for a further hour.  6 minutes later we were back at the marina; I could have hugged that taxi driver. 

We were too tired to face cooking or even going for a meal at one of the restaurants in the marina but D suddenly remembered some packets of instant pasta in a cup that I’d bought for our very first trip in Rampage when we brought her round from the Hamble to the Menai Straits at Easter 2009.  They were not nearly as awful as I feared though the Italians would have been horrified.  Maybe they just tasted ok because we were both so shattered.  We had two each and then fell into bed, – though not, you will be relieved to hear, before I had washed my feet.

NB. He was right about the weather, it wasn’t too unbearably hot!

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