Wanderung 27

Mediterranean Adventure

November - December 2012


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Sunday December 2nd, 2012: Across Italy by high-speed train!


As the Scottish poet Bobbie Burns put it, "The best laid plans 'o mice and men gang aft agley.", and Sunday morning we saw our carefully laid plans to use the People Mover to get over to Piazza Roma from the cruise ship terminal come a cropper. We wheeled our suitcases out of the terminal shortly after 7 a.m. and arrived at the People Mover shortly thereafter, but it was locked up tight and there was nary a sign of a train or an official person. Monika could not find any sign posting the hours of operation, so we decided not to take a chance on it opening in time for us to use it reach the train station before the scheduled departure time. Instead, we once again trudged from the port to Piazza Roma which entailed pulling our suitcases up and over a long bridge. Oh well.

The new bridge from Piazza Roma to the train station had not, inexplicably, been equipped with a ramp for wheelchairs or, in our case, people pulling their luggage. I started to hump two suitcases up, but my left knee started to hurt, so when a young man offered to help us, I let him do so, but I should have noticed that he looked more like a Gypsy than an Italian, which makes a critical difference! The problem is that many Italian folks we meet are genuinely friendly and spontaneously helpful, and expect nothing other than gratitude for their efforts on your behalf. We experienced that time and again during our visits to Italy.

Gypsies, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter. They may offer to help, but only as a ruse to either steal your goods or shake you down for money. They may offer to help take a picture of you with your camera, for example, but then either run off with the camera or hold it ransom for say 5 or 10 Euros. In this case, I was lucky the young man didn't run off with our luggage, which he jolly well could have because I was in no shape to chase and tackle him. But once we were across the bridge, he tried to shake us down for a fee of 10 Euros for helping us! We finally settled on 6 or 7 Euros in change as that was all the change we had on us, so it became a bitter but relatively inexpensive cautionary tale about accepting help from any enthusiastic Gypsy in Italy.


We were up, had breakfast, and were ready to go by 7AM. But when we got to the people mover station it was locked up tightly and no train was moving. There were, of course, no opening times posted. So we and another couple were left wondering whether we should wait or just hoof it to the Piazzala Roma. Since there was no living soul within view that would possibly open the station within the next 10 to 15 minutes, I thought hoofing it was the best, since it really was not all that far. And indeed the bridge from the port to the Piazzala had a nice pedestrian walk and no stairs. So within 10 minutes we were at the Piazzala - still no trains on the people mover.

From the Piazzala Roma to the train station we had to navigate the new bridge. It did have steps a lot of little one. A young man offered to carry our luggage up and down the stairs. Which saved us, but at the end he wanted 10 Euros. We had planned on 2 maybe 4, but finally gave him 7 saying that was all we had.

With all that we still arrived at the train station an hour before our train was due. To my surprise, there were two other trains to Rome. So I asked about ours, and was told which platform it would be on. When I walked over there I found some nice benches. So Bob and our luggage joined me. Our train was already standing there, and when I saw a conductor go into it, I showed him our tickets and asked whether we could come in too. He waived us in and we found our seats across from each other. We stowed our luggage in the luggage rack and now we could wait in comfort. I found a vending machine that had Latte for only 1.80 Euros, so we had a nice cup of Latte. After that I wandered over to a souvenir shop, where I found a bracelet of Murano glass that fit the necklace and earrings I had bought the day before. Luckily, soon it was time for the train to leave before I found more ways to spend money.


The train from Venice to Rome was a new, bullet-nosed, high-speed electric express train that at some points reached 210 kilometers an hour! It was modern, smooth, clean, and very fast in any of the inter-city stretches. It was also quite well used despite the fact that it was the third express train just that morning. I was surprised to experience a round of begging in the middle of the journey when a young, nondescript woman left a piece of paper on the table in front of you stating that she was "out of work", had "several young children" and that God would surely bless us if we gave her some money when she returned to pick up the piece of paper. Conveniently, she had the sob story printed in both Italian and English. That particular form of begging has, as far as I know, completely gone out of fashion in the U.S., but apparently it survives in Italy.


The train from Venice to Rome was a high speed bullet train that reached speeds of up to 220km - I knew that because every now and then they would post the speed on an overhead information sign. There were only a few stops. Mestre, of course, after that Florence and Bologna. I was surprised how full the train got. After all, this was a Sunday morning and there had been another train just an hour earlier. Going through the mountains there were a lot of tunnels, but also enough time outside for both of us to try for some pictures. The countryside shifted from mountains to fields, forests, and small cities; very picturesque!


We arrived in Rome two minutes early (!), and were approached by two more beggars within one minute of walking into the terminal. We did find a place to order prosciutto and cheese sandwiches on baguettes and a Coke for lunch, soon after which we both boarded the next express train out to Civitavecchia to board the Pacific Princess.

Right as we wheeled our luggage onto our carriage, an innocent-looking, waiflike young woman squirmed past me, and suddenly all hell broke loose. I heared an Italian Mama giving a piercingly loud, full-voiced scolding right ahead of me where Monika and the young woman were standing. A middle-aged Italian couple had caught the young woman rifling through Monika's purse while she distracted Monika by trying to tell her where to put her luggage. The husband apparently also called the Carabinieri, who came within 3 minutes but the young women had squirmed back past me to the exit and disappeared. Unfortunately, she went ahead a couple cars in our train and managed to steal an attaché case from another American couple taking the train out to meet the Crown Princess, but I didn't learn that until we chatted with some folks getting ready to board the ship.


We arrived in Rome two minutes early, so we had a little over an hour before we had to catch the train to Civitavecchia. The train station was crowded and we were very aware of all the people around us. When I spotted a ledge that was almost a seat next to an escalator, we went there and Bob bought a couple of Paninis and coke while I watched our luggage, a very good repast.

But finally the platform for our train was announced. It was an express train to Pisa with Civitavecchia its first stop. We hustled over and boarded the train. When I tried to store my suitcase, I thought a young woman was showing me where. At this time all hell broke loose, with a couple yelling and screaming in Italian at the young woman and me. It seems, she had started to open my large travel purse trying to find something worthwhile. Now I do not keep my wallet in there, only books, pills, sunglasses, etc. However, when the ruckus started, she must have quietly disappeared and I was still trying to figure out why I was getting yelled at in Italian. When I finally understood, I checked my purse - nothing was missing. The Italian couple meanwhile had called the Carabineri but the Gypsy had long since left.


Our previous train ride from Rome to Civitavecchia had been on a "local" commuter train that made all the intermediate stops and took about 1.5 to 2 hours. But the express train to Genoa, whose first stop was Civitavecchia, omitted all those stops and may have taken a more direct route as well, so we arrived at our destination after only 40 minutes en route. There we had to once again haul our suitcases down 50 steps or so from the station to street level, where we headed directly to the port.

This time we knew were the unmarked shuttle bus stop was, so we didn't have to fumble around asking questions. After being shuttled over to the Pacific Princess, we dropped off our luggage outside the terminal and then signed onto the ship. Although we were favorably impressed by the efficiency of the Italian railway system, our trip had been more stressful than we had anticipated. As a result, we were happy to just unpack, have dinner with David, Pat, Owen, Vickie, Chris, and Tina (the other three couples assigned to Table 34), and then view the evening program and head to bed.


The trip to Civitavecchia took about half the time, the local train had taken, since we did not make any stops. Once there we had plenty of time to schlepp our luggage down the stairs - a NICE Italian helped me without asking for money. The walk to the harbor was not very long and very pleasant and at the harbour, we knew where to wait for the shuttle bus.

The Pacific Princess is a "Small Ship" only 600 passengers and 300 crew. It was beautiful in an old fashioned ocean liner sense, lots of wood and brass. It has only 10 decks. The library on deck 10 is larger than the libraries on many a larger ship. The Internet Cafe had been created by dividing the old card room in two. So now there were fewer tables for card games, but 10 computer terminals situated in beautiful wooden carrels. At dinner we met our tablemates at a table for 8. They seemed to be very nice and we were looking forward to the rest of the cruise.

Copyright 2013 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt


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