August is here and the European cruise season is in full force! Despite the heat and summer crowds, the Mediterranean itineraries are my favorite. From Barcelona to Istanbul, the countries adorning Mediterranean Tyrrhenian and Adriatic Seas are a treasure trove of architectural masterworks, history, cultural diversity, and spellbinding natural beauty. There are numerous Mediterranean itineraries – Eastern Mediterranean cruises will usually travel to the Croatia, Greece and Turkey, or some version thereof – western itineraries usually focus on Spain (Barcelona, Alicante, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Gibralter), France (Corsica, Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer), Monaco, and Italy/Sicily. Both Eastern and Western itineraries often use the port of Civitavecchia as their turnaround port. Civitavecchia (tʃivitaˈvɛkkja) has been the gateway to Rome for thousands of years. Rome – the Eternal City – holds a very special place in my heart, because it was the first European city I visited.
Long before I lived in Germany and before I began working on ships, my (then) husband decided we should see Italy and arranged the whole trip, for which I will always be grateful! A whirlwind vacation American style, our trip included 4 days in Rome, 3 days Venice, and Florence, respectively. We flew in and out of the Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport– what a fabulous introduction to Western Europe!
The landscape of international travel has changed dramatically since my first visit in the mid-90’s; the cruise industry in particular has made this type of travel easier and far less daunting. All of my subsequent visits to Rome have been by cruise ship. As a Destination Specialist, my never-ending task in any port of call is to explore my surroundings and gather as much information as possible. Using the port of Civitavecchia as a springboard, I have been able to manage day trips to the Roman Catacombs, Ostia Antica, the Tourist Port of Riva di Traiano, and Etruscan ruins of Tarquinia. One of my fondest memories, however, would have to be my very first jaunt into Rome after my inaugural visit some 15-years prior.
I took one of the ship’s excursion coach buses into the city and planned on taking the regional train back. The bus dropped me off at Piazza del Popolo, not far from the historical thoroughfare of Via Del Corso, and several popular attractions. The first time I visited Rome I was living in New York City and I remember thinking that Rome was big and dirty and dangerous. Funny, that was not my impression at all this time around, knowing full well that the only thing that has changed here is me. Rome is magnificent!
I spent the better part of the day on foot, seeing as much as I could with limited time: The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, past the Pantheon and Piazza del Campidoglio en route to the Colosseum. I love how all the jaw dropping architecture and ruins simply weave into the fabric of everyday life in Italy. Taxis, Vespas, and double-decker Hop-On-Hop-Off buses meander through six lanes of traffic along Via dei Fori Imperiali. Best of all was the city bus touting an advert for the Italian production of Mamma Mia that stopped directly in front of the Colosseum!
Time constraints and long lines prohibited a visit inside the Colosseum this time (I was able to do so when I came here ’96 with my Ex. We befriended a feral black cat with a raspy voice and an Italian accent – seriously, he said, “MEOW-A”). I continued my walk through the Arch of Constantine, and followed Circo Massimo east and crossed the Tiber River at Ponte Palatino. This took me to the trendy Trastevere district. Historically speaking, the Trastevere is sort of the Delancy Street of Rome – former ground zero for immigrants, now it’s all artsy/groovy. I really liked the Trastevere and wanted to hang out longer but I had to press on in order to reach my final destination for the day: St. Peter’s Square and The Vatican.
I had an appointment in the neighborhood with a local Merchant: SAVELLI – purveyor of fine religious books, artifact reproductions, rosaries, mosaics, papal memorabilia and more!!! Two stores conveniently located at St. Peter’s Square smack dab in front of the Vatican! As Port Lecturer, I was also responsible for the ship’s Onboard Shopping Program for the European itineraries, my least favorite aspect of my job. With 29 cities on this itinerary, I had more than enough on my plate thank you, but…it seemed ungrateful to walk down the street in The Eternal City whining to myself about work, so I stopped…
I pay my respects to Savelli’s owner, Franco, and continue on my way, past the Papal apartments and back over the Tiber River. I stopped at Piazza Navona for a wee siesta and a bit of shade. What a wondrous place is this – the succession of outdoors cafes, gelato stands, artisan stalls and performance artists, all centered around the Fountain of Four Rivers. So much beauty – and for its own intrinsic value – this is how we were meant live. The old adage is true: Americans live to work, Europeans work to live.
The final leg of my all too short walking tour of Rome was from Piazza Navona to Rome’s main train station, where I planned to take the regional train back to Civitavecchia. At this point, I succumbed to a taxi and arrived early at Roma Termini. Once again, I’m checking my work, confirming the departure/arrival information that I’d given the guests is accurate. It is, of course, crucial to be mindful of the ship’s departure times. Am I early or is my train delayed? I’m early AND my train is delayed. Finally, my train arrived so I boarded…and nothing happened…for several minutes. 20 minutes pass…1/2 hour…just sitting there in the station. It is crucial to be mindful of the ship’s departure times.
By now people are nattering with one another, some have gotten off the train to escape the oppressive heat of the un-air-conditioned compartments. I can’t understand a thing. With no working cell phone I start to feel panic rising. Am I squelching tears? So much for cosmopolitan bravado. I finally ask a man who claims to speak ‘a little’ English what’s going on, to which he responds, “We-a are…STUCK…”
Just then and really just then, the train starts to move and actually pulls out of the station, bound for Civitavecchia. If we don’t get ‘STUCK’ again along the way I will make it make to the ship with ½ hour to spare. Thank God, that’s what came to pass. Viva Italia!
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