We head to Rome on another scorching hot day but this time we are on our own.
Today is a bit different than yesterday as far as the excursion goes in two ways. First is that we will explore Rome ‘on our own.’ This basically means we booked a bus ticket to Rome and we get to figure our way through the city. Secondly, the trip is being done outside the cruise line with a secondary provider. Which has two benefits. First is that it is about half the price of the cruise line excursion and daddy likes half price. And second is that it drops us off close to the coliseum. Why is that important? I have reserved an audio tour of the coliseum at 10:30 and hope we make it in time. The port for Rome is a smooth 90 minute bus ride from the port. The downside? The cruise may wait for an excursion that is delayed getting back to the boat if that excursion is booked through the line, but not for a secondary provider.
When we got back to the boat from Naples, we had a note on our bed which warned us that there were transportation strikes in Rome. No public transportation would be available. A quick email to our tour company and they told us ‘no problem…we are private transportation company.’ Sounds good. Maybe the lack of public transportation will keep the number of tourists down! Our meeting time was 0730. But that was at the entrance to the port which was at the end of a 10-15 minute shuttle bus ride from our ship. We did some backwards planning and the alarm started clanging at 0600. We are doing something wrong. We poke the mound of blankets by the door, determine that AJ made it back last night and roust him from bed. He is cranky from lack of sleep, but if you are going to party all night, you have to be able to run all day! No mercy.
We grab breakfast and head out the ship, to the bus and to our meeting point. By 0730 all the duckies are lined up and we meet Francis 1 our tour guide. He is easy to identify; he is wearing a jaunty straw hat and sporting a respectable man bun. I dig this guy. We walk out the gate, onto a waiting bus and are heading to Rome. Francis entertains us with stories of the history of the region and of Rome while we make our way through traffic. We stop (briefly) at a rest area; Francis has all of us in and out quickly, and we make it to Rome within spitting distance of the Colosseum by 0930, depart from our tour guide with the understanding that we will meet him at 1430 at St. Peters basilica and we are standing outside the old building by 0945.
And it is just a bit crowded. Our hopes of the public transportation strike reducing the number of people who were in Rome were either dashed or else it would have been crazy busy. There was a mob outside. Signage for what to do or where to go is not good. Or not existent. We wandered around a bit, found a tiny little sign that said ‘reserved tickets’ and asked the bearded dude if we were in the right place and he gives us the thumbs up; we are good. But too early. Come back at 1020. We have 30 minutes to kill. We pull up a (historic and ancient) rock in the shade and watch the people. And slowly wilt. It is above 30 degrees on the way to 40 for the day.
At 1015 we meander back to the ‘reserved ticket’ line, are waved through and in a surprisingly efficient manner we go from entering the coliseum to getting tickets to then audio guides and finally on the tour. 18 total minutes from the time Fabio let us through to standing on the first level looking out over the coliseum.
Two things about the tour. First was that it was totally worth the time and effort; you can read about the history but seeing it is pretty awesome. Second was that was really, really, really crowded. High tourist season is probably not the best time to go. Nor at 11am. Best would be to stay in town and get there early, or go in October.
After an hour we departed the area and headed towards the Pantheon. It is close to (but not yet) noon, the temperature, according to a nice pharmacy, is 39 degrees (if you convert it to Fahrenheit it is ‘stupid hot’) and we decide to find some food. We stop at a restaurant; they can serve us drinks in the shade but lunch doesn’t start until noon. We decide to press on closer to the Pantheon. After 15 minutes of stumbling through gorgeous hot streets, AJ looks like he is going to stroke out on us. We find a small pizza place that has air conditioning, we guzzle bottles of water, ram pizzas into our mouths and head back out, now refreshed.
To the pantheon. Which is my favorite place in Rome and one of the to 10 in the world. It is serene and peaceful. Or would be except for the 15,000 people crammed under the rotunda. Quick look around (think the Grand Canyon scene from “Vacation”) and then we head back into the world. And our historical tour takes a detour. AJ has one pair of tennis shoes on the trip and he has blown out of not one but both of his shoes and we need a replacement. So we google search and find store relatively close to our location and do some quick shopping. Then back out into the street for our march to St. Peter’s square our linkup and our bus ride back to the boat. Good day in Rome and great experience with a cruise excursion company that doesn’t work for the cruise line.
1 Not his real name, but it is very close and since we already had a Francis, from hereon out I’m calling all Italian tour guides Francis (male) or Franscesca (female). All bus drivers are Frank and as far as I can tell there are no women bus drivers in Italy.