September 20th: Day Five
Restless night’s sleep this time, the torrential rain and thunder woke me up a few times. This wasn’t much of an issue because I knew very well that I would end up sleeping on the train to Rome, It’s an odd condition I have where I fall asleep in cars/trains/planes otherwise I end up having motion sickness. Maybe that itself is a form of motion sickness? If it is I’ll live with it, it beats the alternative of being violently ill.
We didn’t waste any time packing up and getting on our way to Santa Lucia Station. We ran into our first problem of the day on the bus from the Mestre to Venezia: A bus that was far too crowded. We were packed in like sardines, with so many people on board that I found myself being crushed. To make this worse I ended up standing next to a woman spluttering like there was no tomorrow, pretty sure I caught something then and there… It was so bad that the bus doors could not close properly. We got to Santa Lucia with almost an hour to spare so we found another alleyway cafe for a morning coffee and to get lunch for the train. Taking some of our last photo opportunities in this city we did a final lap of the streets surrounding the station.
Time just flew by and soon enough we were on the train from Venezia to Roma, stopping by Firenze (Florence) on the way. Dad made a slightly cynical parting shot at the city as the train pulled away “Goodbye to the Italian Disneyland”, and really… that’s not too far from reality. It actually highlights the biggest problem I had with the city myself; There’s simply too many people there. I imagine it was not always so crowded but in the last 10-20 years (maybe?) it has become the penultimate honeypot site for tourism. I wrote about my thoughts on this yesterday but it was good to see it was not just me that made the observations over the past few days. I wasn’t expecting it to be so bad in Rome simply because of the capital’s sheer size so I’m glad Venezia was the first city we went to on this trip.
The train was spacious and comfy, for two people who just spent the last few days feeling claustrophobic this was great! We had four hours to spend in luxury like this (economy class… honest), four long hours but I was content to watch the Italian countryside zoom by. The first leg of the ride to Florence was uneventful, I just stuck my Mp3 on and kicked back. However as we set off from Florence’s station we were joined by an Asian man who looked around the same age as myself. When I heard him apologize to another passenger for something in English a chance to break the ice presented itself… he was speaking English but had a very odd accent I thought I recognized but hadn’t heard for years.
“That’s an interesting accent you have there, where are you from?” I said to him.
“Osaka, but I’m traveling around Europe studying languages” came the reply.
The conversation kicked off from there, really interesting one too… one that lasted all the way to Rome. As it turned out the man was called Kalven Lei, a 25-year old languages graduate studying for his master’s at Tokyo University. This was his ‘Experience Year’ which he was spending visiting European countries staying in hostels as he went and keeping record of his experiences.
“Being on the road for so long must be hard” I said.
“It is from time to time, I miss my family back home but I feel they know this is what I want to do so I’d like to think they don’t worry about me much” He said with a small smile.
At this point I could not help but think of the time I was away in New Zealand with Arran, both of us a good 16,000+ miles away from our family. I ended up sharing this story with my Kalven as I felt I could really emphasize with him. From here the conversation dipped into all sorts of topics: Our thoughts on current events, our different experiences away from our homes and stories about the different cultures we’d encountered. While all this was happening Dad had his IPod on and was busy writing some notes so it was just Kalven and myself endlessly talking and attracting occasional looks from other passengers (not sure if they understood us, I’m pretty sure some of them did because their heads turned at certain topics).
This brings me to a point I should have brought up during my slating of Venezia’s honeypot culture, it’s a point I’m sure other seasoned travelers agree on too. You rarely see lone tourists/travelers being assholes when in other people’s countries. Maybe it’s a strength-in-numbers sort of deal? I’ve only seen tourists being obnoxious when in groups (tour groups or otherwise) but almost never when they only have 1-2 people in their party.
For the second time today time just sped by and we soon heard over the intercom that we were approaching Roma Termini, our destination. As we pulled into the station I could not help but notice the graffiti on the walls, except… It didn’t offend me. This is something else I have noticed on my journeys to Europe’s cities: Graffiti seems to be more of an art-form here than it is in the UK, I know that sounds pretentious but I feel it’s a fair observation. I probably notice it now more than ever because I’ve just gone from London, to Paris, to Venice, and now to Rome in the space of five days but still… I really notice it. It’s had to put it in words, you’ll just have to ask me about it the next time you see me and hope I have more to say.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” (Isn’t that a fitting phrase for my Venezia rant?)
Unfortunately we didn’t understand what the Romans were doing so we felt lost as soon as we stepped out of Roma Termini. We needed to head towards a smaller station called Flaminio which would in-turn take us to Grotta Rossa which is where our hotel would be. Out of nowhere came a down-on-his-luck beggar who miraculously spoke fluent English who showed us how to use the Roma Metro and who gave us pinpoint directions to get to where we needed to be. Suddenly, like a magical helper in some movie he was gone – Making me feel like a git for not tipping him in time.
The Romans must have one of the best travel systems I’ve seen for some time. For the mere price of 1 euro you get a “Bigiletto Intergrato a Tempo” (Intergrated Time Ticket) which acts like the world’s cheapest Oyster Card and more. It gives you an hour and a half’s access to all of Rome’s trains, trams, metro, and buses – time on the ticket can be extended on purchase and new ones can be gotten at most terminals. Compared to the 40 euros I would have spent on a 72-hour water-bus pass for Venezia this was really good quality for cash.
We made it to our hotel nearby Grotta Rossa within an hour of us leaving Roma Termini rather than a repeat of our epic 3 hour Sahara-like trek around Venezia’s Mestre. We checked ourselves in, gratefully put our rucksacks to one side and headed out for some food. We didn’t have to go far, next to the hotel was a family-owned restaurant where we had a stellar dinner with a good bottle of wine to celebrate a successful journey. Good food, good drink, and good atmosphere had a ‘buzzing’ effect on us and we ended up talking about things I’d never spoken to my Dad about and heard things from him I’ll not forget in a hurry.
Sleep claimed us both quickly when we got back to our hotel room, we’d need all the rest we could get because tomorrow we visit the capital city of Italy in earnest.