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The Journey to Rome – Day 64
Saturday 3rd October 2009 – Rome
Today I’m off to Rome to see some of the most important sights in Italy, sights that people travel for miles from all around to see. I have been before but this time I was on my own, and able to see it all at my own pace.
I have really enjoyed Venice, and remembered it differently to how I rediscovered it this time around. Somehow it seems smaller now, more manageable. Maybe because I am older, or maybe its the amount of walking I have done this time, eventually beginning to create a mental map in my head, recognising streets, buildings, and even people. I feel a little bit a part of Venice now, as I have done with all the places I’ve been to so far.
Walking is the best way to get around and see everything, and experience it all to the maximum. I love the different way of life here. Its essentially the same as it is the world over, people going about their daily business, workers commuting, people travelling to and from place to place, yet it is totally unique. The water changes everything. Boats are so much more fun than cars, and everyone knows it, everyone brandishing a huge smile and tanned face knows it, as they bounce down the river.
I wondered, as I do from time to time, how it would be in the other half of the year, when the weather is not so great, and the tourists numbers drop. Would it be as fun? Would the boats even run on certain days? Is it just a little too far away from the rest of Italy, and therefore a nuisance if you need anything that Venice doesn’t have? These were the questions also brought up at breakfast time with an Australian student I sat with.
We discussed all this and raised good points and bad points about the place. I guess you could say the same for anywhere really. The houses and living areas are not great, and the big shops are a little too few and far between. In the winter months it would be extremely cold with no shelter from the wind, and maybe the river would freeze, preventing boats from operating. We concluded Venice is a good summer place, but with far too many tourists. Just negotiating around the people is hard enough. If I lived here I would get very annoyed about that after a while.
Discussion over and belly full, I readied my gear, stripped my bed and made for the exit after checking out. I sat on the bench outside the Hostel Venezia and took in the sights and sounds for a little while longer. The wind was brisk this morning, and I felt the chill a little, plus it was early morning and the sun was not yet upon us, although the brightness could be seen creeping across the river.
I jumped into the water taxi to take me to the other side where I could reach the brightness of the sun, and grab some food for the journey ahead. Another Italian snack and a coconut cake was all I bought in the end, the former being devoured there and then. Onto the taxi I headed for one last time, which would take me all the way to the train station, picking up dozens of like minded tourists along the way, making us feel like sardines on the packed deck of the boat.
I had an hour to spare at the station, yet my train was already here, so I jumped on. Well, stepped on. Its not east to jump with these bags on. I was surprised to see how nice the train looked. There were monitors like you would have on a budget airline, sockets for headphones on the seats, and power outlets at every seat, it was better than I have had so far.
My seat was pre-booked, compulsory it Italy I gather, and I had a window and table seat. In some ways its good to have a table seat, but as I found today, you get no leg room if someone sits opposite you. The seats recline, bringing the base forward which is useless in these seats unless you have spaghetti for legs. If you and the person opposite both recline your seats, then the seat bases meet in the middle under the small table, leaving no room for any legs whatsoever, so I sat upright for the 4 and a half hour journey.
I rode from the first to last stop, and every seat was taken at every point. When someone left, some else took the seat, etc. So it was the best train so far, but the worst trip so far I think, excluding the night trip to Venice with the drunken fool.
I was last to leave the train, having been among the first to enter it, not wanting to join the solid line of bodies heaving towards the nearest doors, everyone squabbling for a piece of floor space. I just sat and let them fight amongst themselves. After which I was free to walk off at my own pace and grab my bag in plenty of unmanned floor space. It turns out the busy train station of Rome was not too dissimilar. This would be fun I thought to myself in a sarcastic tone.
I followed the signs to the ticket office and joined a queue some miles long, obtaining my Roma to Firenze (Rome to Florence) ticket at the end of it. I now had to find the information place. And so began at least 20 minutes of walking aimlessly around the station, retracing my steps on numerous occasions, following signs that lead me in a merry dance until I accidentally found it, hidden away down the side of the last/first platform. It was here that I was given a map, and information as to what bus to take and where it would leave me.
Walking back from the info place, I was flagged down by another equally puzzled tourist looking for the info place, and I was happy to lead him in the right direction.
I grabbed some lunch before walking the wrong way around the train station entrance looking for the bus stop. This place is very dodgy and I didn’t feel safe one bit. I had entered the ghetto area it seemed, many eyes watching me. Having then backtracked and walked in the opposite direction, I found the bus stop meters from the station entrance, doh!
It was a big station as well with around 10 – 20 platforms in which to catch a bus. I got the bus I needed, purchased my ticket and boarded, not a single seat unoccupied though. So I stood for the journey entire, getting off at the last stop that I was told to do by the info place. By now I ached, and the sweat poured from every pore in my body.
Presumably I was in the area marked on my map as being the bus stop, but the road names didn’t tally. I asked a couple of bus drivers taking a quick cigarette before their next shift on the buses. One grunted at me, the other told me I had to get another bus to get where I wanted, but there were no more today. I didn’t trust him if I’m being honest. He maybe didn’t understand me, but I wasn’t going to mess around with any more buses. The info girl seemed sure of herself, so I must be in the right place.
I wandered around, map in hand, the look of puzzlement strewn across my face, sticking out like a sore thumb in a park occupied by many local people, predominantly scruffy-looking, if it is OK to say this. My only saving grace was remembering spotting a football stadium as the bus drew near to it’s final stop.
On my map was the Stadio Olimpico, which was very near to the hostel, so I aimed for that, hoping this was the same stadium that I could see in the distance. As I got near, the road names began to tally and I knew where I was, which was nowhere near where the info girl had told me, so their information is wrong, and not for the first time this trip, either. Walking further I also passed a bus that the bus driver told me I needed to take, so he was telling the truth. I didn’t know who to believe any more, but at least I was on the right track.
The hostel was situated in a rough area, and wasn’t the best I’ve been to on first impressions. I had to wait a while for the reception guy to finish his personal phone call, but he was helpful and friendly enough. It was a long walk down hospital-like corridors before finding my room, and I was on a top bunk again in a hospital-like room. The facilities were good and fairly ample when I checked them out shortly after depositing my things in the room.
I used up much of the evening on the laptop, and talking football with a guy from another part of Italy. There is a game on at the stadium tomorrow apparently. Roma v Napoli. It would be great to see, and because of all the trouble with violence here, they don’t allow Napoli fans to the game, so I could easily get a ticket. It would mean missing out on the whole tourist thing though which is what I came here for, so maybe I should give it a miss. It is very tempting though. The evening drew in and I opted for sleep at this point.
Written by Daniel Stevens,
Founder of Roundtheworldtrip.org.
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