Somehow, we managed to get ourselves to another major dead end. Coupled with Matts imminent cold, a train was in order. To reducepur own pain, we decided to train all the way to Naples. The road map did not show any joyous riding ahead.
Matt tells the tale of mounting the train:
Train shows up, no cycle sign on front of car, grab bike ride to rear, told by conductor to go in the front of the train. Turned around, not enough room, front tire dropped off the platform. I fell onto the tracks, gracefully I may add. Started walking to the far end, content on taking the next train, but it became clear the conductor was waiting for us. We jumped back on the bikes and raced for the far end.
Liz got to the door first, it was crammed full of people who wouldn't move. The conductor offered to hold my bike while I helped Liz. In what would have been hilariously funny any other time, the bike popped up the front wheel and started to haul the conductor down. At this point Liz was in the car but couldn't fit the bike through the door into the storage area and had to unload all her stuff to make it fit.
Once the way was cleared I hoisted the bike on my shoulder, fully loaded, and like the demigod Hercules carried it up onto the train. Jammed it through the doors and sat stunned holding it as the conductor cleared a spot for us to put our bikes.
Finally on our way to Naples, the train several minutes late, having made a complete fools of ourselves we found a spot to sit underneath an access box. Cramped, damped, bruised.
After sitting crouched for a bit, we noticed a young couple across from us with an Italy travel book. Liz asked to borrow it and soon became immersed in conversation with, what would eventually come out, two doctors from Tasmania.
Our doctor friends had been touring from Spain. We swapped travel stories, advised on what to see and not and talked of home. As we pulled into Naples station, we exchanged emails and headed on our separate ways.
At this point it was about 4 in the afternoon, neither of us had eaten since breakfast. Both in need of food and not wanting to whip the knives and food staples out, a quick lunch from a vending machine was in order.
With my cold fast turning me into a useless lump we made a quick plan to grab a train to Sorrento and head to the campsite located just on the outside of town.
Easy enough, right?
Liz gets back from the ticket office and tells me need to head downstairs to the other trains. Being a large train station we look for some elevators (none of whichactually work of course). Looks like we need to use the escalator. Not a big deal, we're getting that nailed down.
One obstacle down, the next was the automated entrance to the trains. Luckily there was a kind old man working the door and he let us pass through.
Obstacle 3 was 3 short steps down to a mid-platform. Liz tried to do it by herself, popped a wheelie and nearly took out a young mother and child, who were begging for sympathy and money. I tried my hand at the descent, and made it slightly more elegantly.
Obstacle 4 was a massive fligt of stairs down to platform 3. No problem, we're only in Naples, it's not like this place isn't know for thieves. Anywho, we locked my bike up at the top and carried Liz's down. I headed up, made a fool of myself trying to hoist the Vanmoof on my shoulder again to carry it down and was luckily offered a hand by a local. Between him, Liz and I we made it down to the bottom.
About 20 minutes to go for our train, another local told us to head to the front of the train, we'd be able to roll right on. Trusting to their knowledge we headed that way and waited.
We've all been in this position before, rush hour, everyone jockeying for position where they think the doors will be. Finally the moment comes. We guessed wrong, the train pulls up short by 10 feet. As the car begins to fill, hope fades that we'll be making this train. Soon comes the brushoff from the conductor, no room for us. The next train come is 30min.
We wait, find a bench and sit. The station starts to fill moments before each train leaves the platform and then is empty. The people who fill it are a combination of hawkers, tourists and locals. All seem to be smokers. The smell hangs in the air, added to my feeling of illness. Finally the next train pulls up. Right in front of us, Yes! What's this, the conductor won't let us on with our bikes? Several locals protest and insult her, still no is the verdict and we get lost in the sea of people rushing for the open doors.
Sick, tired and aggravated, I start heading for the escalator to get out of this hell hole, but am dragged back by the same locals who pled our case to the conductor. A few moments of broken language later we knew there is another train coming in 2 minutes to Sorrento and to head to the other end, there wont be a cretina conductor to stop us from getting on.
Sure enough the train arrives Liz just rolls right on, I attempt to follow but am blocked by a stranger. Fearing I won't get on I shout at him and hit him with the bicycle. He moves, we make it on and after a hour of moving the bikes from side to side, the ordeal is over. We exit the station in Sorrento, ride about a kilometer and are at the campsite.
The day finally over, Liz makes me dinner and I pass out.
Getting out of Rome to its sea front port was miserable. First up and down through the towns, and all around. This far out, there was only one set of bridges over the Tiber. The first one involved hauling bikes up onto a grated 18" wide catwalk. We walked across, avoiding scary looking bolts and the gapped flooring. The second bridge at least was shorter, and we decided to gun it across. Made it alive and with all our requisite parts.
We almost stopped at Kilometer 20, at the first possible campsite. There was some misery that was making us falter. Instead, the cold of the day and the threatening future-possible weather made us press on. The duned coastal road finally made the riding easy, as the wind was blocked. Apparently, we put away 20 kms in 45 mins — which is great for our fat bums. We rode until we couldn't any further, as Matty was all snotty. Gross enough for us to hit a hotel in the drizzle, and deal with a bus load of french pre-teens.
We started the day a bit late, some days it's just hard to get out of the tent. We made coffee and "fruitcake pancakes" again, this time with eggs…they still were awful. Luckily the package is empty now.
After futzing about for what seemed like hours, we headed out to catch the shuttle bus to vatican city. After a quick word of advise from our tenting neighbours, we paid 4€ each for a day pass on the transit system, grabbed the bus, then the underground and finally legged it for Saint Peter's Basilica.
Well now, this was interesting. In all the places we've been thus far, I've never experienced the pushy sales tactics employed by the tour guides here. After saying no to about a dozen "guides" just on the walk to St. Peter's, we were finally suckered in by a british guy. Oh well, we were walked over to hear the companies guide talk about what we'd see on the tour. The girl leading the tour was pleasant and seemed to know here stuff, so we went along with it. The price wasn't too bad either.
We started by leaving the square and headed around the corner to wait in a line. Eventually the line leads to the entrance into the vatican museum. JEBUS, you could visit this place all day for a month and not see it all. There is something silly like 7 MILES of galleries in this place and it's extremely easy to get lost in. We proved this after the tour ended in the sistine chapel and tried our way back. More on that later though.
Back to the tour. After entering into the building, getting our audio gear and heading up to a courtyard, we entered into the building and proceeded to browse through the map room, the hall where Raphael's tapestries hang, Nero's bath (why is this here?), and many more nooks and crannies full of marble statues. What a place, everything, and I mean everything is either gilded with gold or painted. It seemed like every inch of any ceiling was covered in frescoes depicting one scene or another from the Bible.
Finally we were herded into the Sistine Chapel. I stealthy snuck my camera into my pocket and started video taping (very Bond, I know). Much to my amusement, as the guards dealt with the other tourists with a chorus of "NO FOTO!" and "SHHHH" followed by clapping. I happily looked around, awkwardly leaning so the camera would see the paintings. On the subject of the paintings, our guide was quite knowledgeable, she was able to jog my memory of things I apparently already knew. Funniest of which is the pants painted on Gods bottom after Michelangelo died. I guess something remains of the 4 years of art classes in high school. I'm still not sure on the paintings - yes they're nice, but I think it's overhyped. Too noisy, too busy, and a bit like the stained glass found in the cathedrals over here. You need something to see the distant parts with any detail.
After we said goodbye to our tourguide, we headed for St. Peters Cathedral (Basilica!!! says Liz). Asking guards along the way how to get there, we were forced to exit the museum, down a really neat double helix staircase and ended back out on the street. Making the best of the situation we headed back to the square and hopped as much of the que as we could. A few minutres later we were funneled into the crypt below the church (where Pope JP2 was "housed", he has since been exhumed to fulfil a beatification ritual...). It was filled with wacky people gawking and wailing, we rushed through the Empire-like area (btw Benny the 16th really does look like Palpatine) and up into the church. Our luck being what it is, it was time for evening mass and the more interesting things in the chuch were sealed off. So after a short visit we left and headed to the Vatican Post office to send some postcards home (apparently the Rome postal service is sh*t and it's advised to use the more expensive and reliable Vatican service).
It was getting late in the day and we were hungry, so we hunted down a small place, had a slice of pizza and headed down the street out of St. Peter's. Being just before Easter, there were statues displayed along the boulavard depicting Jesus's death... remind me again why it's called good friday? I'd be having a very bad day if that was me. Anyway, we walked down to the river, crossed, found a wine bar and enjoyed a bottle while the sun dipped to the horizon.
We arrived back at the campsite to find a family of French people and thier giant Tacoma camper truck parked next to us...Damn. Early the next morning (around 6am) the father would start up this monstrosity and let it idle for 20minutes. Who does that?
After being woken early by the aforementioned neighbour, we headed into the city again. Direction forum. Still not having mastered the public transit system, we got off at the wrong stop on the bus and had to walk a bit to the metro. Eventually finding it, we exited near the forum. Feeling peckish we walked towards neo-classical "typewriter" building and found a place for a coffee and a bite to eat. That over with, we started to explore the ruins of the forum. Luckily for us, it was Rome week and all the public attractions were free! The free part being great for us...and everybody else.
It was busy. The forum and the area around it is massive. We spent hours walking through the ruins on either side of the road that lead to the coliseum. Liz being the fantastic and knowledgable tourguide she is, walked me through the entire site and was able to tell me interesting things about most of the area. What surprised me was the use of brick and cement (SERIOUSLY HOW DID WE FORGET HOW TO MAKE THE STUFF!!!) When you see the exposed inner walls of the buildings, it's no wonder that many of these are still standing today. Anyway, the forum is vast; so vastly vast that if you were to stand at one end and see a sign that says "you are here", it would literally blow your mind. So instead of describing it, I'll refer you to wiki. Go there now....and then come back, we need your viewership to pay the bills.
After a few hours, we decided to head down to the coliseum. It was besieged by preteens and their keepers, so we opted to sit and have lunch and look at it instead (we've seen quite a few of the arenas in our travels and decided it would be ok to give the insides of this one a miss). What a silly idea to sit and eat near there, overpriced and under ripe. Oh well, we live and learn. After a nice break we headed back into the forum, to see the upper parts that we had missed. Again, struck speechless with the scale of the place, it still hits me now just trying to describe it, so I won't. Go read wiki. And wait for the pictures.
Having seen the forum and the surrounding areas, we legged it for the city itself. On the agenda was the pantheon, Trevi fountain, and the spanish steps. Now, i think that we've been a little spoiled with our adventure so far. Most attractions we've seen have been empty or nearly empty of tourists at the time we've been there. Not these three; preteens, handlers, hawkers and the all too common fat slack jawed tourist with some part of skin hanging out that shouldn't be. At the pantheon (btw, i'm ridiculously annoyed that it's a church inside) there was hardly room to move around the street, we entered, saw that it was a church, took a look around and left. The spanish steps are well, steps, for climbing they serve there purpose well. I'm not sure the attraction to them by tourists. OK I get that they are a huge set of steps, and the sun hits them nicely for sunbathing, other than that, I mean the view from above them is much nicer. Any way, fed up with the tourists we moved on and wandered to the Trevi Fountain. Along the way we passed a million obelisks, some left in there original state, some placed with crosses on top by the church (kind of a conflict of religions going on there).The Trevi Fountain is astonishing, even through the sea of tourists that crowd the area, it slaps you in the face with it's baroque design. All the rage when the fountain was commissioned. It was built between 1732 and 1762, with the original architect dieing half way through construction. The backdrop for the fountain is the neo classical Palazzo Poli, it was given it's facade specifically for the fountain, after it ha the central portion demolished to make way for it. Nice.
We finished the day with a walk through the shopping district in search of some summer wear, shorts and t-shirts in hand we headed back to the campsite for the night.
We spent day 3 like day 2, wondering around the ruins of old rome and then exploring the cities small streets. Our first stop this time was the baths, another huge complex, unfortunately for us, much of it was fenced off, owing to restoration work and threat of collapse The sections we were able to get into were constructed of brick and concrete, and mostly still intact. Although the roofs had cave in, in some. Being spring, the grounds were bright green and the smell of oranges ripening was in the air. The area was littered with fruit trees and signs saying do not pick the fruit.
After the baths area, we headed in search of a small bag to use as a day carry bag, this led us to an amazing outdoor market. It was a covered, endless maze of hawkers and real vendors selling anything from used clothing to rip-off sunglasses and bags (the best quality ripoffs to boot!). After browsing every stall in the market, with liz getting annoyed at my indecision, I found a small army surplus unit...little did i know it's th exact same bag i have at home.
The bag job done, we finished the day off with a walk up the spanish steps as the sun set. As we came down we found a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition and couldn't pass it up. It was a neat place, full of models of Leonardo's creations that the public could tinker with. It was fun, like being at the science center on a smaller scale.
The day over, we grabbed some food and headed back to camp. Rome had been fun, but it was time to move on.
Don't ride along the Via Aurelia here. The map and all signs say that bikes are allowed; they shouldnt be. We did see groups of roadies, who clearly had no standards. Find a better road, one that is not populated by 120km/hr cars.
One of the roadies, an old guy who was either leading or trailing behind a pack of other riders gave us warning of the route ahead. "Quatro duro!" he yelled at us a few times, waving his arm to indicate the road ahead. There were other Italian words in there, but none recognizable to me. I fibbed a bit to Matt, saying that there was only one hard bit ahead. Of course, the message was about the four hard climbs to Rome. But why bring the mood down?
After hill #3, my tire she blew. That meant removal of panniers, bag, rack, skirt guard, fender, wheel, tire, tube. Not all of those items made it back onto the bike. After fussing with the tire change for two hours, we finished riding the last 5 kms to the campsite. Spent the remainder reading and sunning.
We discovered a bit of an ant problem in the BnB. Stupidly, we had left open the food bag, and even though all was encased in plastic bags, the ants ferociously inhabited the pannier. A quick swipe and dump seemed to get rid of them all.
Saying goodbye to the BnBs garden turtles (so old and cute!), we hauled our asses up the hill, out of medieval Tarquinia to the Etruscan necropolis of the ancient and destroyed city. I questioned my feeling of deja vue, but didn't think that I could have forgotten an entire city in the span of five years. Later on, asking Dad, I was informed I had forgotten my first visit with family.
The place Matt and I were at now was a huge necropolis site, used from the fifth century BC to the second century CE. Similar to some of the necropolis in Populonia, these graves were set deeply underground in man made chambers. The Tarquinian Etruscans, and later Roman inhabitants, carved beds and pillows for the dead; but also created a space reminiscent of the rooms of the living. The ceilings was peaked and decorated with colourful and intricate patterns. The walls were painted with scenes of the daily lives. For the hunting man, painted sacrificial animals were chased about by the scantily clad. The rich dame was given a feast with nubile dancers and exaggerated pugilists. The chambers became family crypts, with the old and the young and the in betweens placed together... Forever... What A Nightmare!
The necropolis stretches over hectares of land, of which only a small percentage is open to the public. Of the opened tombs, some were undergoing restoration and were also closed. That's the way it is though. Ancient artefacts need care and attention. And that attention must be done by trusted professionals in a controlled and uninterrupted environment. I get it. I don't like it, but I get it.
The visual pillaging of the tombs left us hungry, and so there was a hunt for bread and nibbles. The bread was found eventually in the town, and nibbles were got from the food bag. The food bag that earlier was cleaned of ants. Except the steaming heat of the day had brought the ants out from all the crevasses inside. Hundreds swarmed out of the bag. Matt did his anti-critter dance while I, being the pragmatic non-lily-livered one, removed the little buggers, shoving cleaned cans into Matt's hands.
Of course, we're still finding bloody ants in the cookware occasionally. And there's a large amount of food bag paranoia.
Leaving the tomb site gave us the opportunity to rush madly along the steep hills of modern Tarquinia, which is actually a medieval town by the name of Corneto. The city was renamed in an attempt to bolster Italian heritage pride. Unlike the attempt in Populonia in the middle ages, this was done in 1922 CE. A slightly ridiculous move by the Fascist government. We got to the coast and followed it by zona militare. Signs outside threatened to snipe trespassers. We finally reached a more hospitable area of kiddy parks and fairgrounds. Once reaching the city, we picked a campsite address from an Italian iPhone app. The address given ended up being a single parking spot for a camper van. At the next attempt, the campground was only for camper vehicles.
We said a big "pppffllltttt" to camping, and got a nice and cheap hotel. We are the worst campers ever.
Grosseto ended up being a poor decision. There was no way back to the coast, and the only road out went up. Tuscany was wrecking her rewenge! for us ignoring her inner landscape. At the first easy hill - barely an incline from the horizontal - I was done. I had a bit of a moment of hating the bike and the road and the heat and the everything. Maybe because it was noon, and the land here is parched. The midday Tuscan sun drains energy. Riding felt the same as when trying walk with a child attached to your legs. After a quick break, which let me straighten my very bent rear wheel, we continued up. There were hilltop towns, olive groves, sheep filled fields and walled cities. At the walls of Magliano in Toscano, our path turned downwards, nearly back to the coast. We ended in Albinia (not Albania!), which is an entry point to this weird outcrop of land called Orbetello. It's weird because it's basically an island, except it has three perfectly oriented land bridges. The thinking was that we could get from Albinia down the coast to a place two days' ride from Rome.
Nope. The only road we could take was the one we'd been on. And we'd have to backtrack 15 kilometres uphill, with another three days of hills to follow. Every other road out of this twee town was a highway.
Fine, crazy Italian road planners! You won! We took a train to Tarquinia. Found a cheap and excellent B&B for the same price as a campsite. Hot water? Comfy bed? Balcony? Yes, please!