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Leaving the lovely anchorage at Porto Ercole, we made a straight shot down to Ostia, which is an ancient port on the coast near Rome.  For about 12 hours we had headwinds of up to 20 knots and choppy seas and dropped anchor tucked in behind a point where the Tiber River runs into the Mediterranean.  The following morning we checked into the Porto Turistico di Roma and immediately trekked into the city of Rome.

Since Rome is not on the coast, we had to walk to the bus stop (10 minutes), take the bus to the train station (30 minutes), the train into the south of Rome (45 minutes) and the metro into the center of Rome (15 minutes).

The first day we took this commute, unbeknownst to us there was a partial transportation strike.  After a day of touring Rome, we had dinner and then started to make our commute back to the port.  As we arrived at the metro station to take us to the train station, it wasn’t open.  We walked to the next stop on the line and found it wasn’t running because in the evening they do maintenance on it and we had missed the last metro train by 30 minutes.  So we walked to a different metro line to take us to the train station – success!  We thought we were home free.

However, as we arrived at the light rail train station to go back to Ostia, we discovered there were no trains running.  As we mentally computed the cost of a taxi, a cheerfully inebriated young man carrying a large beer bottle asked us if we wanted to go to a party with him.  We thanked him but politely declined, and we explained we were heading home to the marina at Ostia.  He then informed us that we could take the night bus #3 and pointed to the stop.  We politely thanked him but mostly dismissed his information considering his state, but walked over to where he pointed nonetheless.  The guy may have been drunk but he knew his buses!  The night buses start running at 12:30am, so we waited the hour and a half for the bus to arrive.  Seems all the other Ostians were in the same predicament as us, and the bus stop became increasingly crowded.  We looked around us and wondered how on earth one bus would accommodate the number of people waiting for it.

Meanwhile, Dante had slumped into a seemingly incredibly uncomfortable sleeping position on the sidewalk, with his head just inches from touching the ground.  We looked down at him, as his lips were almost touching spent cigarette butts, but didn’t move him because he seemed to be sleeping so soundly.  So many people were walking around the bus stop, we had to guard over him to ensure no one would walk on him.  We got into a conversation with a Roman woman who said that when the bus arrived that there would be room enough for anyone who could squeeze on board and still have the doors close.  “A la Romana!” she said.  As the bus turned the corner into the bus stop, we pulled Dante into a standing position by the armpits and the woman looked at us incredulously and said, “I thought that was your baggage on the ground!”

We peered into the bus and realized it was already standing room only, yet there were another 50 people waiting to board.  Dante was still asleep as we dragged him toward the bus; his legs were like overcooked spaghetti.  We squeezed into the bus with all the other lemmings and a nice man saw half sleeping Dante and let him take his seat on the wheel well between two seats, where he promptly fell back into his slumber.  Meanwhile, Darold and I were standing pressed up against all the other passengers.  Darold turns to me and said, “Look!  I don’t even need to hold on we’re so tightly packed in!”  The women we’d been talking to turned around and nodded her agreement as the bus lurched forward. The bus ride took about an hour and the best part was seeing the looks on everyone’s faces at the bus stopped to let more people on.  The people waiting for the bus had expressions that turned from surprise to resignation to determination and then they would proceed to squeeeeeeze on board while the doors shut behind them.  No one else on the bus complained as they tried to get on board; their attitude was that if they could make it on board, they deserved the spot.  Occasionally the doors would not close, the passenger would jump back out with a look on his face as if to say, “Well, I tried!”

Arriving in Ostia, there were no buses running to the port, so we walked for 45 minutes back to the boat, arriving back to the port only to find all the gates closed.  We walked around to look for an open entrance, and not finding one, jumped the fence to make it back to Benevento.  It was 2:30 am when we finally got into bed.

Back to our first day in Rome…they say that “a lifetime is not enough” to see all there is in Rome.  If that’s true, then our five days don’t even cover the Cliff Notes.  Our first metro stop in Rome was the “Coloseo” stop, and when you walk out of this metro station you are immediately confronted – almost accosted – with the grandeur of the Coliseum.  THE Coliseum.  Dante had just put the finishing touches on his Ancient Rome research report and then got to go on the field trip of a lifetime.  It was fun to see the look on his face as we walked out of the metro station.  (Someday he will realize how lucky he is.  Someday.)  We spent the day exploring the city and over the next five days we hit a number of highlights including the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (currently under restoration), the Vatican (hello Pope Francesco!), the Pantheon, the ruins of the Caracalla baths, the Appia Antica, Capitoline Hill, Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum and Trajan’s Column.  We also made time to visit the cool neighborhood of Trastavere, where we found an Italian brewhouse and threw back a few cold ones with some local Romans.

I won’t bore you with details of every single place we visited, but I will list the highlights and historical tidbits we discovered during our stay in Rome:

  • Everyone knows the story of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who were abandoned by their uncle. However, this was a story that was made up after the city was founded. Rome was actually named after the Etruscan name of the Tiber River.
  • The Pantheon – aside from being an engineering marvel – used to be covered in marble, which was “reclaimed” by popes of the Catholic Church after the fall of Western Rome. Originally, the Pantheon was a temple to one of the Roman Gods, and the only reason that it was not torn down (like many other temples), was because it was converted into a church. Inside the Pantheon, the first King of united Italy is interred (Vitorio Emmanuele), along with his son and his son’s wife. His son’s wife – Margherita – had taken a trip to Naples during her reign and the people made a pizza named after her that represented the colors of the Italian flag: tomato sauce (red), mozzarella cheese (white) and basil (green). They called it Pizza Margherita.
  • (Speaking of pizza, it was invented in Naples and was not available in other parts of Italy. When many Italians left Italy for the United States in the late 1800s, they brought their pizza recipe with them. Up until about 1970, the two places in the world you could get pizza were Naples and New York! It wasn’t until after the 1970s that pizza became available and popular in the rest of Italy (and the world). Just think: New Yorkers have been making pizza longer than most of Italy!)
  • The Coliseum could hold 50,000 people, but more amazingly, it could be emptied within 15 minutes.
  • One of the youngest tourist attractions in Rome, the Spanish Steps, was built in the 1700’s. That goes to show how old Ancient Rome is.
  • Rome’s metro system is not extensive due to the fact that they keep uncovering ruins every time they try to dig a tunnel.
  • The Sistine Chapel is a series of frescoes painted by various artists. The ceiling and a giant fresco called “Judgment” were painted by Michelangelo. When Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel, he was hesitant because he considered himself a sculptor. However, he was paid a lot of money and didn’t refuse. When he finished, it was scandalous because most of the figures in the fresco were stark naked. Later on, Pope Pius had many of the naked tidbits painted over and he was thereafter called the “Pantaloon Pope.”
  • When confronted with a 12-foot head of a statue of the Emperor Constantine, you can’t help but notice that he looks startlingly like the rapper Eminem.

Definitely check out the pictures that Darold took of the city on our Flickr site.

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