Jul
27
Rome if You Want To

We did it! Rome in 10 hours (soon to be a major bestseller, no doubt) worked just about as planned.
Let me start with the Orient Lines briefing on Rome, which wasn’t very good. It seemed OK yesterday, but we saw today that much of the information given was plain wrong, such as museums being free on Sunday. Not too good considering that the ship must have docked here within the last month.
Anyway we got up early for a passable room service breakfast of dry, tasteless Muesli and excellent fresh fruit. (See how they cancel each other out to end up as passable?)
One of the bad things about being in steerage (never did upgrade from 3033) is that at 7:15 I stepped out of the shower and into the cabin where the taxi drivers, tour guides, and port officials were in prime position to get a good look at my Euro region through the open curtains. I got to the window pretty fast, hopefully fast enough that no one really saw me.
The good thing is that we were able to exit via the 3rd floor gangway 2 doors down from Ted and Joelle’s room instead of getting in line upstairs. This also allowed us to bypass the ship’s photographers a few times when we did not want a photo. We were off the ship at 8:15 and at the train station 5 minutes later. Now, we could have walked, but it would have been a pain, especially in the nicer clothes required to enter any church. I think we may have been in another part of the harbor that was farther away from the station than I’ve read in previous reviews. Anyway, the taxi ride was €15, or €5 a couple because we shared with T&J and another couple.
Here’s a tip for the train: forget the technology. I’m a gadget man, as my friends like to say, and I thought the automated ticket machine would be better than trying to speak “Italenglish” to the attendants–wrong! Luckily the machine wasn’t able to read my card and I was forced to go to the window. By the time I got there, Ted had already purchased a €6.80 return (round-trip) ticket as opposed to the €8 one-way ticket offered by the machine. The €6.80 ticket was also good for the Metro and busses in the city. Plus, the attendant was a very nice woman who spoke excellent English–grazie mille if you ever read this! On a side note, I’m not 100% sure we used the tickets correctly although we did stamp them in the yellow machines in Civitavecchia. If you live in Rome or just really <<know>> how to use these tickets the right way, please leave a comment or send me an email so I can ask you some questions like how do you use this ticket all over when every place wants to stamp it in the same place. Anyway, the nice lady at the station helped us get on the 8:40 train which was nearly 20 minutes late. We arrived at the Rome Termini Station at about 10:00 and immediately went for the B Metro line. We got off 3 stops down at the Circo Massimi stop and started our day at the Circus Maximus (as we generally call it in English, when we’re not calling it “the ditch”). It is not overly amazing, but it is cool to imagine that a 300,000 person stadium used to be there for the chariot races. It was fairly uninhabited there, and Ted #1 bought a €2 water, about the same price as the ship but a lot colder. As we walked a few blocks down the road, we quickly saw two things: the Colosseum and the hoards of people below it.
A brief interlude: did I mention that it was hot? Africa hot? I’ll give part of the ending away now and tell you that I didn’t go in a single church; I really wish I was smart like Ted #1 who wore shorts. No doubt he was cooking too, but not as much as pants boy.
Ok, back to the Colosseum. As we approached, we saw that the crowds weren’t quite so horrible at 11:00 as we had expected. Just before we made it to the entrance line, a native English speaker asked us if we wanted a guided tour for the low, low price of €17.50 including the €10 admission. We said ok, thinking that we’d be in a smallish sized group with this guy from the UK. Not so. He quickly passed us off to an Italian with ok English who took our € and then handed us off to a very young (for a tour guide) girl who led us past the tired, suffering masses and through the group entrance. At each handoff the group got a little larger. As we waited for the guide to pay our admission, the girl was replaced by an Englishman who I had seen talking outside the Colosseum. It was then we realized that we had missed the first half of the show where he explained the history of the Colosseum! After speaking for a short time, he handed our now 30-person group off to another woman who was to do the real tour inside. Unfortunately this woman did not carry a microphone and speaker like the Englishman, so it was very difficult to hear at times. Overall it was very interesting to hear what our guide had to say, but I think we got a little ripped off. I guess that’s part of the tourist experience too. The Colosseum was very impressive, especially considering that it was built about 2,000 years ago. We could have spent more time there if it weren’t so unbearably hot.
Inside the Colosseum I decided to stop worrying so much about getting ripped off and to worry more about not passing out from dehydration, so on the way out I bought a €3 bottle of water (50% increase over the Circus Maximus water) which I finished in about 30 seconds. We bypassed most of the people selling hats, purses, watches, etc., and joined the throngs heading for the Roman Forum. I’ve often seen it described as “just a bunch of rocks,” but it seemed more impressive than that to us. The “bunch of rocks” were at one time the Roman Senate, the marketplace, and an important gathering point for the people. We exited the forum up a long staircase and right away saw one of the many fountains in Rome with cold water that is clean enough to drink. We filled up our bottles and each took a swig right from the ice cold flow before moving on. Right around the corner from the fountain were the Capitoline Museums, something that was going to be free according to the Orient Lines briefing. After entering an apparently unguarded gate we were stopped by a security guard and told to buy tickets. The supposedly free admission turned out to be €8 a piece so we decided to skip the museums. Don’t get me wrong–we’re not cheap and I’m sure the museum is worth the price. We just didn’t have long enough to spend €32 worth of time there. We walked down the large stair at the front and found another fountain where we could fill our water bottles again. As we made our way towards the Pantheon, we saw the National Monument (aka: the Wedding Cake) from the side. We made a left at the end of the street onto Via Plebecito and ran into the Largo di Torre Argentina, a collection of temples dating back over a thousand years. From there we headed north to the Pantheon, passing along the way the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, so named because it was built over a Minervan temple when Rome converted to Christianity. The church was recommended by the Orient Lines guy as having some impressive artwork inside, but it was closed.
Next we “did” the Pantheon, once dedicated to 12 important Roman gods but now a Catholic Chapel. From there we followed the signs and walked a short way to Trevi Fountain, which was worth the trip. The fountain is much bigger and more impressive (have I used that word enough today?) than it is in pictures. After tossing in our coins (but not dipping our feet in the water–at least 3 of us didn’t) we decided to finish our whirlwind tour at the Spanish Steps. By this time we were much too hot and tired for climbing the steps, so we just filled our water again at the fountain in front of them and then hopped on the Metro. This time we took the orange “A” line, and 3 stops later we were back at the Termini Station. I’ll cut to the chase and give you the next tip: if you come in on the Metro, go upstairs to the main entrance where you’ll see the full schedule listing. For example, to take the 15:46 train to Civitavecchia, we actually had to look for the “Torino P.N.” We wasted more than 20 minutes worrying if we were waiting on the right train until some other cruise passengers showed us the schedule.
By the time we figured out which train was ours it was about 5 minutes until departure time, but <sarcasm>lucky for us</sarcasm> the train was showing a 15 minute delay, which later turned into 30. Incidentally, contrary to what I’ve seen on several message boards, trains *do* occasionally show SOPPRESSA, which looks close to the word for surprise but must mean something different. I’ll have to look it up when I get home. (I looked it up on Google and it shows “press,” which doesn’t seem to relate to trains but must somehow.) Our train finally came in, and we boarded with several thousand other people bound for Torino with lots of luggage. We stood for a while until things finally settled enough for us to find some seats. The ride back was hot because the car was notionally air conditioned and therefore the conductor kept closing the windows. After several short catnaps we arrived in Civitavecchia, where the best-spent €10 of the day got us a taxi to the boat. We were quickly greeted with our favorite thing about the cruise ship: the blast of cold air as we entered the gangway. We finished up sweaty, dog-tired, and a little sunburned, but WE DID IT! We’ll call the cruise an unqualified success thanks to today. Now for a shower and some sleep!