The major upside to not going directly to the airport or having to make any other travel connection after a cruise is that you get the luxury of disembarking last. We got to sleep til 8:30 and take a shower while listening to all the other groups of people being called to disembark. The ship was really empty by the last timeslot at 9:45, and the crew had mostly taken over for cleaning duties already. They stopped by at least three times to drop things off in the cabin, so we felt like we were being rushed to breakfast.
There were a few people left up there, but they still had all the food out. It was amazing that they would have to turn that all over in the next hour, since people could start boarding as early as 11am. While we were finishing, they called for everyone left onboard to head to the exit, so we did so. Sadly.
We got off the boat and found our suitcases waiting right inside the port building door. We rolled them to the shuttle bus and rode to the port entrance. Dale Earnhardt and Leonardo DiCaprio, two people we’d seen everywhere on the cruise and named according to their lookalikes, were on our bus, too.
We rolled our bags across Civitavecchia, and it seemed like we were just there even though it had been a week. Near the train station, we ran into the Madison couple again, so we said goodbye to them and rolled on to the train station. The line for tickets was crazy, but we got to an automated kiosk easily and bought second class tickets there. We then hauled our bags to the platform, clunking up and down stairs in a very uncomfortable way.
There were a ton of people on the platform by the time the train arrived, which is always kind of harrying. We piled on with everyone else, and that was a big challenge with our huge bags. Matt found us some seats and threw the suitcases up overhead. We didn’t realize until the train was packed and we were about to leave that we were actually in a first class car. There was no evidence of shady bag handlers or train staff around, so we just crossed our fingers and hoped we didn’t get kicked out to go stand in between cars for the hour-long trip.
We got lucky and arrived in Rome with no issues. The train pulled into a different terminal behind the main one, so it took a while to get our bearings. We headed off in the direction of the hotel, which this time was the opposite direction from Termini. We had to consult the map about five times, but we finally found it about eight blocks away, just past the Opera. Again, we had to haul our bags up stairs, this time a flight and a half. But the man at the counter was very nice, and our room was already prepared even though we were early for check-in, so we were thrilled. We headed up in the elevator, and the porter came up behind us with the bags. The elevator was barely big enough for them.
We cranked the air conditioning and flopped on the bed for a while, then got onto the hotel’s wifi and checked in with people back home for the first time since Barcelona. We looked at our maps and made plans for what we wanted to see, then went to find lunch. We stopped at a place at the end of the street called Strega and got an outdoor table. The place was a combination sit-down, carry-out, and coffeeshop, and it was packed.
Matt was beyond thrilled with his lunch, prosciutto and cacio e pepe (which was simple and delicious). I ordered a quattro formaggi pizza. A cat hung out on a table next to us, completely uninterested in what was going on around him.
After lunch, we went to wander. We were headed toward the Colosseum, which we had pre-bought tickets for at home. I had an idea that if we just walked in that general direction, we’d obviously run right into it.
Getting around Rome is NOT THAT EASY. We’d pass a landmark that we saw on the map and head the right direction, then suddenly be in the wrong place again.
Finally we got our bearings, and saw that we were on the opposite side of a very large park from the Colosseum. It was also very hot, and we were sweating and thirsty. It took us a while to get there, but we made it!
One thing we were reminded of yet again: the ancient buildings in Rome aren’t just interesting because of the history; they really are that impressive. I was thrilled to be in the Colosseum.
We got to jump to the front of the line with our tickets, too! Definitely do that if you’re going to visit, because as far I we could tell, there are always a billion people there.
We toured the building, halfway following the signs pointing the way. There were people sitting on pillars all over the place, so we had to do that, too. We visited the museum upstairs and stopped at the gift shop. Then we headed back out onto the plaza.
There was a cart right outside the Colosseum selling beverages, so Matt got Powerade and a water for me. The place was making a killing, and my water was gone way too quickly. (I was also carrying a bottle that I’d emptied long ago.) We traded picture-taking opportunities with a couple in front of the Arch of Constantine, then went over to the entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, which were included in our Colosseum tickets as well.
I hadn’t really done much research on the sights we’d be seeing in Rome, focusing instead on our cruise stops and later stays. I figured I would just see a bunch of famous things and know all about them. But I really had no idea that there was this gigantic area in the center of Rome where the Forum and Palatine Hill were. It was pretty amazing.
To my vast delight, one of Rome’s many public fountains was there waiting for us at the Forum. We filled up both water bottles, and I instantly felt much better.
While we were wandering around, we met a guy from Georgia. He complained about the heat, and said that their plans had changed abruptly because there was a bus strike going on. We’d seen a crowd picketing outside the metro station, but didn’t know what it was about. He said it was due to be over at 5pm, though, so that wasn’t a big problem for us.
After touring the Forum, we went over to the other side of the park to see Palatine Hill, another piece of history I knew very little about. It was amazingly serene for being on a hill in the middle of Rome.
Please note that the trees look EXACTLY like you expect them to look in Rome. There were more palm trees than I expected, though.
We walked back down the hill and left the area right before closing time. We headed to the metro station nearby and got a ticket. Matt bravely used the train station bathroom… I was too scared to venture in.
Rome only had two train lines, so navigating is very easy. They cross at Termini station (like every other transit there), so we rode there and switched to the other line. Having been in the subway portion of Termini, I can understand why people might hate that train station. (I loved everything about it otherwise!)
We boarded the other train and rode across the river to the stop nearest the Vatican. It was still a several block walk from there, but at least we got to rest a little on the train.
My biggest excitement in visiting Vatican City was having the opportunity to walk into another country. I’m not religious, so it wasn’t a huge deal to me. The buildings are impressive, though, and they had just had some sort of mass there, so it was packed. Apparently cars can drive right in and park in the huge square, and they do so in typical Italian fashion… it was like one of those board games where you have to shift all the cars in the parking lot to get one out.
As we walked around taking photos, the plaza emptied. I was really amused at the number of nuns and priests just hanging around. We looked to see if the Pope was looking out the window or anything, but he must’ve gone to bed already.
We headed off to find the Pizzarium, a pizza-by-the-slice place we’d seen on one of Bourdain’s shows. It was a long walk, but we figured it would probably be just as far back to the metro to take the train there. So we walked around the Vatican wall, and finally found our way to the Cipro metro stop. The pizza place was thankfully just across the street from it.
We went in and quickly realized we didn’t know what to order. The pizza looked amazing, but we had no idea what was on it, or how to verify that it was vegetarian. We decided that it was a little too confusing, and went to look for a place with a menu instead. A block away, we found a very similar place that had little signs by all the pizzas, making it way easier to make choices. We pointed and ordered, telling them what size to cut with a hand gesture. We got two giant bottles of Peroni, too, and went to sit on the patio to eat. It was really, really nice to sit down, and we were conveniently only a block from the train station where we could easily ride back to somewhere not a million walking miles from our hotel.
We only finished one of the beers, so we put the other one in a bag and took it with us. We got to the entrance of the train station, but there were gates over the doors. It was maybe 9pm, so that seemed strange. We crossed the street to the main entrance, and found that blocked off as well. We weren’t quite sure, but it definitely seemed like the transit strike was back in effect. We saw a security guard walking away as if he’d just locked the doors.
There was no way we could walk from the Vatican back to our hotel, so we decided to hail a cab. The neighborhood we were in was really quiet, so we headed back the way we’d come, to more major streets. We walked eight blocks or so, stopping at each corner to watch for cabs going by. We saw a couple of them that were full. Finally, we stopped again and a cab pulled over. I asked the driver what was going on with the train, and he tried to explain in the little English he knew. It was clear it was related to the strike, though.
Riding in a Roman cab was fantastic. He tore through the city, and we saw a lot of the sights we had passed a week ago on the bus. We were at our hotel within 15 minutes.
We decided to go find a place where we could have Negronis and sit around. Rome didn’t seem to really have traditional bars, though, except for the single Irish pub we’d seen that looked less than appealing. They had a million restaurants that all seemed to serve cocktails, and the little shops where you could get a sandwich, gelato, coffee, and drinks. We walked around the area by the hotel looking into places, and finally decided on a restaurant that wasn’t very busy. We got a table and explained that we just wanted Negronis, not food.
We got our drinks quickly, but the server was in no hurry to come back again later when we were done. (We saw this a few times, and Matt’s theory was that since they’re not a tipping-based service economy, they’re going to pay less attention to lower-cost tables.) It felt kind of weird being in a restaurant to drink, even though we weren’t taking away space from anyone else… there were only a few other people there. Also, it was a million degrees in there. We decided to move on and see if we could find something else.
We stopped into one of those gelato places, because they had a whole rack of amari up on the wall. But they didn’t know what a Negroni even was, so we moved on.
At that point I was really tired of walking, and just wanted to hang out. We decided to swing by the liquor store right by our hotel, and pick up some beers. We’d noticed it before because of their awesome kama sutra grappa collection in the window:
There was an old guy behind the counter who pointed us to the beer cooler. We picked out a few things, and then I was laughing at the collection of wine bottles named after fascist dictators. He showed me the huge collection of miniatures you could buy, which was pretty amazing. The guy who ran the place was adorable, too. We took the stuff back to our hotel, and propped ourselves up on the bed with our beers. We turned on Sky Sports Italia and translated the sportscast to each other, to our massive amusement.