In my last blog I explained that we managed to end up in Grosetto and that there were no roads south except the autoroute, that’ll explain why were now on a train heading south to Porto Ecole.
We had not trouble getting our bikes on or of the trains and very soon we were heading away from the train station, over a causeway and finally to the campsite at Porto Ecole.
Now I don’t know how this place managed to get away with charging so much money, 64 euros for us plus extra for warm showers, but they do. And it wouldn’t be so bad if they were just a little bit friendly, but when we got there the reception guy told us it was lunch time which in Italy means they’re shut for 4 hours !!
Come back later he told us, hmm, off for cold beer then, two hours later we were finally allowed to check into this extremely expensive site. The space for tents was very cramped and noisy but at least it was shaded. We quickly put up our tents before heading to the beach for a swim, no point paying to be on the beach if you don’t use it 😉
The following morning saw us cycle back over the causeway to the train station and hop on a train for Tarquinia, a complete lack of roads really screwed up this part of the trip !! Thankfully we should now be back on track as there are good roads going south from here towards Rome. As we were cycling away from the station following signs for the campsite we were handed a leaflet from a passing car. The leaflet was for a B&B complete with a map and directions, we discussed the idea and it was unanimous, we’d go for it, I think we were all a bit miffed about our last campsite !
We turned up at the house which was at the top of a fairly steep hill just before the owner, a Chilean lady, now living in Italy. She was great, very friendly and slightly mad….we could barely get a word in but we did manage to persuade her to cook an evening meal for us. We quickly made ourselves at home before heading out to look at the Etruscan tombs which were about 400 metres from her house, fascinating as they were we were hot and hungry so we went in search of food.
Italy and its ability to shut for four hours between midday and four pm is really frustrating when you’re looking for food, even the pizza places were closed, as was the supermarket. We did find a place that did sandwiches and ice creams, not what we wanted but it would have to do. As luck would have it the supermarket was open on our way back up the hill so we stocked up on dried goods and bought some beer and wine to go with dinner.
Managed another hour or so on the Internet before dinner was ready and boy oh boy, what a feast ! I’m not sure how many she actually cooked for but even three hungry cyclists barely made a dent in what was on the table and it tasted fantastic. She’d also put out a local wine for us to try which was also really good. We went to bed feeling very content, slept very well and were soon being spoilt with a great breakfast. She then asked if she could take our photos for her website before we headed off in the direction of Rome.
The route was close to the coast and gave us some tantalising views of the sea and occasionally it ran right along next to it, there’s something about being close to the sea that makes me feel good. There were a few places of interest along the way but to be honest we were really only interested in getting to our campsite and being in Rome !!
The campsite was huge and as expected we were miles away from the bar and restaurant, not to much of a problem as there were good showers and drinking water close by although the Wi Fi only worked at the bar. There was also good laundry facilities which we made immediate use of and they had a free shuttle to and from the local train station. We’d be making use of the shuttle on all three of our days at Porta Prima, our camp ! The station is twelve stops out of Rome and goes straight into Flaminio train station, almost opposite Piazza del Popolo. From there it’s a short metro ride to Termini station where you change lines for the short journey to the Colosseum !
We crossed the road to get a closer look and take photos, when we were approached by a company offering a guided tour. Now I’m not one for guided tours normally but the benefit here is that they jump the queue, given that Rome was sweltering and queuing is tedious at the best of times we accepted 😉 we spent the next couple of hours being shown and told all about the Colosseum, not that I remember much now but I do have loads of photos 😉
As part of our tour package we also had a tour of the original city centre, Palantine Hill, this was the home of the senate and also where the emperors and senate had their villas and mansions.
This part of the tour was conducted by an English guy who’s was a student guide and about to take his exams. He was brilliant – a voice that didn’t need a megaphone, a sense of humour and an obvious love of the subject. We actually found this part of the tour more interesting than the Colosseum yet according to our guide only about 5% of tourists to Rome ever bother to see Palantine Hill.
We consider ourselves lucky to have made the effort as it was a true highlight and one we would certainly recommend 😉 After thanking Rory, our guide, we made our way on foot towards another spectacular building, nicknamed the wedding cake, it’s actually the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel and is a museum complex. It’s a very over the top building and is extremely white, apparently most Romans don’t like it but I’m not sure why, makes a great photo though…
Found a quiet side street to chill in the shade, eat pizza for lunch and watch the world go by over a great cup of coffee, Rome, love it !! Oh well, lunch over its time to brave the infernal heat and see some more of the city, the Trevi Fountain was next, another spectacularly over the top creation. Hundreds if not thousands of people were crammed into the space surrounding the fountain making it very hard to get a decent photo. We did however persevere…..
Next stop the The Spanish Steps and yet another fountain, apparently there are over 4000 of them in Rome !! More photos and onward through the heat to the Pantheum, more photos and yet more Africans trying to flog you all manner of useless junk, I just wish they’d get out of the way so you could take a decent photo !!
A little more wandering about, more photos, I could have stayed for a month and taken hundreds of photos everyday, and then finally the train back to camp to chill out and relax. It was a blessing to get out of the heat for a while.
Day two in Rome, we didn’t leave for the centre until much later hoping for it to be a bit cooler and also to go out for dinner. We decided to head for an area of Rome called Trastevere, it’s over the river and is full of quaint little streets with lots of cafes and restaurants all vying for business. We settled on a restaurant that offered a tourist menu, after all we are on a budget !
The food was excellent as was the service and wine, the bill as expected was reasonable, all in all a very good meal. We then walked in the direction of the Colosseum, taking in the sights and sounds of this wonderful city as we walked. The Colosseum at night looks entirely different, all lit up it somehow looks even more impenetrable than in daylight, it also makes for great photos !!
Day three, The Vatican Tour, we were lucky here as we didn’t need to queue to get in. Naomi’s mum just happens to be looking after a young Italian boy while he studies in England, his name is Leo and his father just happened to be head of security at the Vatican, small world isn’t it ?
Anyhow Leo and his father met us at the head of the queue and took us straight to the ticket office whereby we were given our tickets and photos of the Pope before they wished us well and left us to it. We spent the next four hours transfixed by the sheer wealth and beauty of the treasures that the Vatican museum houses, art in all it’s various forms by most if not all of the best artists the world has ever known and to cap it off, The Sistine Chapel, simply breathtaking !! I won’t go into to much detail about the Vatican, I’ll let the photos tell the story but I will say this about it, it’s huge, very well organised and has more tourist shops than I’ve ever seen in one place than anywhere else I’ve ever been ! You could easily spend days if not weeks here exploring everything and seeing everything but we had had enough after four hours, we were tired, hot and hungry. We ate at the Vatican pizza restaurant and it was great and it didn’t rip you off on the prices either, one up for the Vatican !
After the Vatican museum we wandered round to The Saint Peters Basilica and square, the Basilica is stunning and the square is huge, together they make an incredible sight and fantastic photo. Thijs still had energy at this point and went off to join the queue to go into the Basilica, Naomi and myself content with photos from outside went for beer instead, the idea of more queuing in the sweltering heat didn’t impress !!Thijs queued for about 20 mins to get in and even made it up to the top of the dome, his photos were amazing. Meanwhile Naomi and myself were in an air conditioned restaurant / bar with a couple of beers…
After cooling off we headed back to the station, we decided to walk along the river, partly because the bike path down by the river would be our route through Rome the following day and partly because it was a part of Rome we’d not really seen much of yet. It was a lovely walk and eventually brought us back to Piazza del Popolo and the train station.
We met up with Thijs at camp and discussed the following days route while cooking dinner, an early night followed as we wanted an early start the next day.
As I said earlier the route through Rome would be along the Tiber river and was very easy to follow, however the route just ends with no directions for any onward journey, we got lucky here.
As we were looking around somewhat confused a cyclist who was taking a rest asked where we were going, we told him and the next second he was on his bike shouting follow me ! We did follow him and after a couple of dodgy moments where we were going the wrong way down a busy road we did a u turn onto another road that then took us all the way to the coast, when he finally stopped we thanked him before continuing on our way south.
That’ll be in the next blog though 😉