Tuesday 14 July 2015

When In Rome

Italy, 20th – 23rd May 2015

Happy Village and Camping, north Rome
Given that we are not completely suicidal, we decided that attempting to drive into Rome in a motorhome was a terrible idea, and so would rely on public transport.  For our Rome visit, there were three campsites in our ACSI book to the north of the city: Flaminio Village Camping, Happy Village & Camping, and Tiber.  The former has a bus and metro station just over the road from the campsite, and the latter two had shuttle buses to the nearest metro station.  Given that Flaminio wasn’t discounted during the time of our visit and Tiber’s shuttle bus was €1 per ticket, we opted for Happy Village & Camping (N42.00336 E12.45198, €18/night with ACSI discount + €2 pppn tourist tax), as their shuttle service was free of charge.   After getting set up on the site, we caught the 10am shuttle and were treated to some stereotypically Italian style driving, in a minibus with over
400000 km on the clock (as Matt spotted on the tachograph) and the driver’s sheer willpower to refuse to let anyone cut in front of us.

Prima Porta’s metro station is, to say the least, in a slight state of disrepair.  Next door, a brand new station appears to have been built and in the finishing stages, but already someone has managed to climb onto the roof and leave their graffiti.  We bought our train tickets (€7 for unlimited 24hr travel) and were off on our way to Rome.  On the way we noticed more graffiti, but this time it was on the trains themselves; a few of the trains we passed seemed to have not a square foot of space that hadn’t been covered in someone’s work.

The metro station is, erm, let's say 'dated'.A change from my experience with the Underground!

After a couple of transfers, we got off at the Colosseum station; once you take the exit from the station, right outside the door you can see the ruins standing before you.  We found our way into a queue, and after a good ten minutes in which we debated whether it was the correct queue, we then left the line and found our way into the correct queue for the ticket office.  Whereas Venice tourism seemed to be based around people coming from all over from our experience, it would appear in Rome, most of the tourists must be English speaking.  Tour guides swamped the queue like a flock of seagulls, crying out for anyone who spoke English to join their tour groups.


After half an hour of keeping my voice quiet to avoid being approached as a Brit, we finally made our way to the entrance and had a look around the Colosseum for an hour or so, before crossing over the road to also see the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  The Forum is a much vaster sight that it appears from a first glance, and by the time we’d finally seen all there was to see, it was around 3pm.


We hopped back on the Metro in pursuit of food, and got off at the station closest to the Centro Storico area, home to the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.  The Trevi fountain was something of a let-down, in that it was going through renovation works that left the fountain drained.  A couple of video monitors were in place to show how it would have looked had it been operational, and a small, water filled area at the front of the fountain was in place for the people who wanted to toss their change into the fountain.

The Trevi fountain under renovation
We made a lunch call at a café (Havana Café) on one of the side-streets near the Pantheon, where we got a starter, main and drink for €10 pp).  We investigated the Pantheon, and then loosely followed a suggested touring route of the nearby piazzas from the Lonely Planet guidebook.  Lookie Lookie men were in high abundance here; if the presence of Selfie Sticks in Venice was a 9/10, then Rome is a 10 all the way, to the point where we nearly considered buying a selfie stick for ourselves.  Don’t judge us too much.

The roof of the Pantheon
I have never felt so menaced by a duck in my life.
We started making our way back to Prima Porta, and got the shuttle bus back to the campsite.  By this point, we were tired out from walking and didn’t have the motivation to do much more in the evening other than make a quick snack for dinner that was quite possibly the poshest beans on toast I’ve had in a while, using Heinz Five Beanz and toasted baguette.

St. Peter's Basilica, as seen from the middle of St. Peter's Square
We caught the earlier 8:30 shuttle bus to give us more time in the city and so that our 24hr passes from yesterday would still be valid to get in, then buy single trips for the rest of the day. We didn’t quite use the day passes enough for them to be cost effective when singles are €1.50 each and Rome’s metro network isn’t that extensive, although it was convenient rather than buying tickets multiple times in the day. In our second day in Rome, our first point of call was the Vatican to see St Peter’s Basilica.  After we finally found our way too the Vatican, we found the queue to the Basilica, which stretched around at least ¾ of St. Peter’s Square, and so opted to come back later in the day.  Our next attempt at sightseeing was attempting to find some of the Roman catacombs, which was mentioned in our Lonely Planet guidebook but the location wasn’t clearly stated other than vague clue that they were somewhere around Appia Antica.  We caught the metro to the nearest station and walked in the direction of Appia Antica, until we reached a large park-type area.  At this point we realised just how far the tombs were from the metro line, and by the time we crossed the park and found the catacombs, we would have been arriving right in the middle of the hours that the guidebook said they were closed.

After sitting on a bench in the park for a bit and kind of wishing we’d bothered to research more into bus transport around Rome, we got back on the metro and got off at the station near Trevi fountain for a spot of lunch.  In Piazza Campo di Fiori, we came across one restaurant (called the Roma Beer Company) where the prices seemed reasonable with no service/cover charge, the display pizza looked appealing, and the man drawing in customers offered us a free glass of spumante.  Well, there’s nothing like a free glass of sparkling to get a girl’s attention, and so we decided we would give it a go, enjoying a nice meal there.  We weren’t the only ones who enjoyed a spot of pizza though; halfway through our meal, a flock of pigeons descended upon the display pizza, tearing at the mozzarella in the centre that had been carefully placed to represent the white mid-section of the Italian flag until the pizza was a mess and the floor decorated with a healthy covering of cheese.

In the afternoon we sought out gelato, looking for a place in the Lonely Planet book that promised more than 40 flavours of organic ice cream.  We found no sign of the place, and so we instead went to one of the many gelato places just outside the Trevi fountain.  It was stracciatella and mint for me, and a double scoop of strawberry cheesecake for Matt.

Back at the Vatican, the queue for the Basilica was still pretty hefty, but given that it was after 4pm by this point, we bit the bullet and joined the queue.  Half an hour and a security checkpoint later and we were inside.  St Peter’s Basilica is huge, and rather impressive.  Much like the other religious monuments we’ve seen across Italy, it appears that money was never in short supply when it came to the construction and decoration of their churches.  We left the Basilica to find an almost non-existent queue; apparently we had once more picked just the wrong time of day for our visit.  We returned to the campsite and enjoyed what was rest of the evening by getting the Cadac fired up and popping open a bottle of Prosecco.

A member of the Swiss Guard in official dress uniform
Inside the basilica

The next day, we travelled south from Rome towards Naples and Pompeii, stopping midway for a trip to Lidl.  We followed a coastal road, and if you get your information from Matt, he will inform you that during this time I was having a nap.  I would like to make a point of the fact that I simply had my eyes closed, and the sound of us pulling off the road and the engine turning off came as no surprise to me whatsoever.  The reason for the turn-off was because Matt had seen some kites in the air just over the ridge behind an Esso car park; we walked over the sand dune, and found the sky and sea amass with windsurfers and kitesurfers.  A local chatted to us as he was suiting up in his wet gear, and said that it was one of the best spots for windsurfing along the coast, with current conditions best for a 5-5.5m sail (or possibly less for someone of Matt’s build).  Given that the smallest Matt currently had was a 6m sail that would probably be overpowered in the current wind he unfortunately couldn’t go out, and we watched for a bit before carrying on.

On our approach to Naples, it almost felt like driving into a completely different country.  We started to spot a couple of places where rubbish and wrecked tyres had been dumped in lay-bys at the side of the road, but didn’t think much of it at the time.  Then, it decidedly got much worse; the rubbish was everywhere, and in some lay-bys there was no room left to park as the whole area was one huge landfill-esque rubbish site.  We struggled in the towns as there were cars parked on either side of the narrow roads and a constant stream of traffic coming the other way that made paying for the toll-road suddenly look very appealing.  Thankfully, we finally got through unscathed, and parked up in a Sosta at the town of Cava de Tirreni, 25km from Pompeii.  As the next day was rather rainy, we stayed here for a couple of nights and caught up on some logbook writing as well as watching a little TV rather than facing the all outdoor archaeological site at Pompeii in the rain.


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