Interrailing across Europe – Part 4
After our quick stopover in the capital of Austria, it was time to head south through the beautiful countryside of Italy towards Rome. A 13-and-a-half-hour train journey awaited us and we patiently waited in the lobby of Wien Hauptbahnhof for about an hour before our train departed. The train was what is known as a sleeper train and they are very common on long distance journeys that run overnight through Europe, carriages are; 1st, 2nd and 3rd class. Classes one and two have beds and class three is a carriage with reclining chairs, been a student on a low income we plumped for class three!
Our carriage was set up into smaller rooms which accommodated six people, the seating was designed so that passengers sit face to face. We were joined by an Italian man who was middle aged and rather pleasant, along with a Czech girl who was heading to Treviso, a city to the North of Venice. The journey started well with myself and Haribo having the customary double jaeger bomb when the refreshments were brought round, I mean we are on holiday of course. The exit through Austria towards the Italian border was nothing short of magical, after stopping in Graz and Wolfsberg there was just miles after mile of forest high up in the hills. I managed to take a sneaky photo out of the back of the train while we were moving and it although it looks amazing, it still does it an injustice in comparison to the naked eye.
Around 5 hours into our journey we had crossed the Italian border where another two passengers joined us in our cabin. Don’t get me wrong, they seemed very nice people but having people enter your cabin at 2am when you’re trying to sleep builds up some resentment. The rest of the journey was a bit of a nightmare, having six people on six reclining chairs in with legs everywhere isn’t my idea of comfort, if you do take a sleeper train make sure you get a proper cabin because you won’t sleep very well with 6 fully grown people in your cabin.
At around 5:15am we stopped off at another station to change drivers and staff working on the train. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the station as we were half asleep, however, we woke up to see armed police with guns pointing in our direction come into the cabin. The police were checking passports to see if we were citizens of the EU and to see if we were travelling legally. It’s not exactly what you want at 5:15am, however, the checks had worked as a group of four young men travelling were doing so illegally, we were told the group were travelling from war torn Syria, through Europe to Italy. In all honesty, the situation is sad, to see people fleeing their country to get to safety. The looks on their faces when they were taken off the train will stick with me for a lifetime.
We arrived in Rome at around 10:15am, both tired and hungry. Upon our exit from the train, the heat that hit your face and body was stifling. Fortunately for us, our hostel was only a ten-minute walk from the station, we grabbed some food and then made our way to the hostel. As hostel’s go, this wasn’t really a hostel, it was basically a flat with a few bunk beds and mattresses on the floor, however, everything was clean and tidy so it was the perfect place to bed down for a couple of hours before we went to explore the city. After rejuvenating ourselves with a siesta, we took a walk to the nearest tube station (Manzoni) and jumped on a tube towards Vatican City. For those who don’t know, the Vatican is the holy place for Catholic’s and is home to the pope, upon our arrival, it was absolutely heaving with tourists and Catholic’s on pilgrimage. I would highly advise not to visit this place midweek (unless you’re religious) because the queues to enter are outrageous and the carriages on the metro are rammed.
Haribo and Will outside the Vatican!
The sheer size of the Vatican is something you can’t really grasp until you’ve been there and seen it. All the buildings are built from white stone with huge pillars rising up to 100 feet high, the detail of the carvings of saints on the roofs of the buildings are magnificent. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the patience to stand and queue for a couple of hours for tours of the buildings and therefore I would highly recommend visiting on any other day bar Sunday. Personally, I’m not a religious person, however, you get a sense that there may be a ‘greater good’ when you visit a spiritual place like this. It’s as if there is an energy and a buzz in the air from the people that are there.
After our swift visit to the home of the Pope, we jumped on a tube back to Rome Termini and to a nice little restaurant that was on one of the side streets, after a hard night travelling the day before it made sense to have a quiet one with some good food before heading back to the hostel for some well-earned rest.
The Colosseum at night
Following our much needed rest the night before, it was time for some more sightseeing in Rome. There was one main attraction that I’d wanted to see for years and that was the Colosseum, with my favourite film being gladiator I had the images in my head of what it may be like. The temperature was around 37 degrees that day which is extremely hot, and with this being one of the main tourist attractions in Rome that meant there would be a fair amount of queuing in the sun. Fortunately, there were people on the streets selling bottles of ice water for one Euro which is a good deal when you’re dying for a drink.
During our time queueing to enter the Colosseum, it’s astounding how a building of this magnitude could have been constructed by humans in around 80-70AD. Amazingly, the structure has stood the test of time, although some of the original parts have been lost due to robberies and erosion. To put it into modern day context, the colosseum could hold between 55,000 to 80,000 people which is the same size as Old Trafford football stadium. Massive is an understatement. This attraction is a place I would recommend to anyone, the sheer history of the place that has stood for over a thousand years is mesmerizing. Upon our entry, we climbed the stairs towards the centre of the amphitheatre and we set out eyes on some of the artefacts that have stood the test of time up until now. Technology has developed from the days of man fighting with spear and shield, and what took me a back is that gladiators lost their lives in this theatre for the enjoyment of others. To be perfectly honest, my words don’t do this place any justice and I’m not going to even try to, you really must see this wonder of the world to believe it.
Following our day at the Colosseum, we took in some of the other sites round Rome such as the Treve Fountain, as well as taking in a few premium Italian lagers. We decided that we would be heading to Rome’s ultimate bar crawl after we had been given leaflets by some lovely young ladies upon our exit from the Colosseum. After a quick nap, shower, and rehydration; myself, Haribo and The Raz Man jumped on a metro to Manzoni towards the centre of Rome and from there we walked to the Highlander pub where the bar crawl started. It was 25euro but for the bar in the Highlander was free for an hour and boy did we get our money’s worth, I was slightly sceptical that this would be a cheesy bar crawl with limited numbers but, the turnout was respectable (40-50) with people from all over the world. The alcohol continued to flow until the early hours and we had a fantastic evening (well apart from me and Haribo having a tiff like a married couple) but I don’t need to go into too much detail about that. All I can say is that it was a brilliant night and I woke up with an extremely sore head in the morning!
Rome to Santa Marinella
On our final day in Rome, we were a little stumped about what to do due to taking in all the sites throughout the previous days. We’d been on the road for two weeks now and to be honest, the long journeys, numerous alcoholic beverages and weather had really began to take it out of us. We conferred with our host at the hostel who informed us that there was a nice beach resort a mile away from Rome by train named Santa Marinella. The cost of the train was not part of our interrail fair and the added cost was ten euros, however, the journey was on a state of the art train that ran along the west coast of Italy. Upon our arrival, we stopped in a fantastic pizzeria that was a five-minute walk from the train station. The pizza was the most delicious delicacies that I have tasted throughout my 23 years on this planet, the taste of fresh prawns caught in the Tyrannian Sea burst in my mouth and the fresh lettuce gave added flavour. This was the first pizza I’d ever eaten that didn’t actually have any cheese as a topping and it was beautiful.
After binging on the wonderful food, our next stop was the beach. Again, this was a five-minute walk from where we had eaten. The beach was man made with a break in the water to ensure that the sea was not too choppy, we reserved two sunbeds for a total cost of 15 euros, and then we stripped off and got into the ocean. The sea was turquoise, clear and the refreshment it had on my skin after 14 days travelling is something I will be eternally grateful for, there is nothing like having the sand in your toes and your body in the sea when the sun is beaming down on you.
For a small resort, Santa Marinella was thriving and it seemed that this location was popular with Rome locals who had made a similar journey to us. There were multiple restaurants, bars and shops along the seafront which made for a great place to bring a family if you were to ever visit Rome. The time passed super quickly and the next thing we knew is that the sun was setting in the background, it had been a brilliant day and I felt refreshed for the final part of our journey.
The next day, we said our goodbyes to Rasmus and other friends we had met during our stay in Italy’s capital before heading to Rome Termini to our final stop, Milan.