Venice & Rome, May 2006: Day 5
> Previous day: Venetian glass, art and shopping; Murano and Dorsoduro
I had worked out that it would be probably be quicker to walk to the railway station in Venice than to take a vaporetto along the winding Grand Canal. But the thought of pulling my suitcase down narrow lanes and over bridges didn't really appeal, so I set off early and enjoyed one final boat journey.
I arrived at Venice's station - Stazione Santa Lucia – in plenty of time for my Italian Eurostar train. As a solo traveller it can often be difficult stowing your luggage away and finding your seat number when everyone is piling onboard, so I prepared myself as best I could. The timetables displayed inside the station gave me an indication of the normal platform for this service. Then train plans on noticeboards on the platform depicted the normal formation of the carriages, so I positioned myself and my suitcase and waited.
When the large train arrived I was glad of my forethought. Luggage space was surprisingly limited, and I had to compete with porters loading on large piles of cases (I wondered if this service was open to independent travellers or just to lucky tour groups). I discovered a convenient storage space between seatbacks for my suitcase, and relaxed. I found my seat (all seats on Eurostar trains are numbered and reserved) and had made myself comfortable by the time my fellow-passengers arrived, competed for their seats and panicked over their luggage disposal.
The direct Eurostar train takes about four and half hours to travel between Venice and Rome, so I was pleased to find that my neighbours were a quiet and pleasant group: a Canadian couple and an Australian quartet, all middle-aged. We were able to chat about Tuscany (the destination of the Australian couples) and about the relative merits of ice hockey, cricket and Aussie Rules, or to read peacefully.
> Trains in Italy
I had booked my seat online a few days earlier for €39 (saving a few euros with one of the special offers; if I had booked earlier I could maybe have saved more). I had chosen a window-seat, albeit facing backwards, so I was able to enjoy the view as I travelled south. I had selected Trenitalia's 'ticketless' option, which, as the English name suggests, means you can travel with only a printout of your confirmation, or a reference number. The ticket inspector (capotreno) has a look at this and then prints a ticket for you when they arrive. I used to be nervous of this system, but it's always worked fine for me (admittedly a couple of times on previous journeys the inspectors' computers weren't working and they couldn't check my ticket, but my information was accepted regardless. Oh, and once a young male inspector felt the need to usher me into an empty compartment to note down my reference number, but I wouldn't read anything into that.)
The journey was smooth and reasonably uneventful. My Australian neighbours alighted in Florence and a young Italian took the seat next to me. He spent most of the journey to Rome on his mobile phone, having an affectionate conversation with his uncle and aunt and detailing all his career prospects.
For no apparent reason, the train was delayed 55 minutes along the way. An announcement in Italian and in English advised us to claim a 50% refund on arrival in Rome. Lacking time, I had to leave this to the following day, when I returned to Stazione Termini and queued for an uninterested clerk, who gave me a badly photo-copied form in Italian. I dutifully filled this in, rather optimistically appending my UK address. I wasn't particularly hopeful, and as I have heard no more nearly two months later, I think I can assume this is one area where the Italian railway system is not so efficient. (Just don't get me started on the UK rail network where operators do reply to such claims, but only to deny any responsibility for the frequent massive delays).
Anyway, when I arrived in Rome from Venice I had no time to recover from the long journey. I had to race across town to the Fiocca Bed & Breakfast, where I had booked a room. The helpful owner, Andrea, met me, carried my case, and showed me around. Then I had about 10 minutes to freshen up and dash out to the theatre.
This had been the hottest, sunniest day of my holiday so far, but I had no time to appreciate the weather. In Rome, weekend theatre performances start early (a 6pm start on Saturday), and I was soon collapsing into my seat in the Teatro dell'Opera. I watched the ballet Faust, which was interesting if not wildly enjoyable. The cast is usually only announced at short notice on posters in Rome, so I had booked without knowing which dancers I would see – and I was rather disappointed to miss a Kirov star, Andrian Fadeyev, who was having an evening off.
After many Italian negotiations ('We're waiting to hear from a friend,' 'I'm the other side of town,' 'Let's speak again after 9,' 'We're running late, can we meet after dinner?') I managed to meet up with friends at around 11:30 for drinks. I'd forgotten how late things happen in Rome.
First I had to brave the replacement bus service, which is replacing Metro line A in the evenings for the next couple of years. This was crowded and unpleasantly sweaty ... next time I'll try to avoid the service.
We walked to San Lorenzo, a popular and scuzzy student area where young drinkers, much scruffier than your average Italian youth, line the pavements outside bars and 'Irish pubs'. After drinks - introducing both 'pints' and cider (sidro, I believe) to the Italians - we set off again for a very Roman experience. The Circolo degli Artisti is a kind of young person's social club – or maybe a free nightclub – almost impossible to define in English. Down unlikely streets crammed with parked cars and scooters, this complex of buildings and gardens offers a couple of dance-floors, live gigs, a rose garden where groups of young Italians drink, chat and smoke things they shouldn't. The evening we visited, admission was free, and I was left to wonder both what the noisy venue's legal status was, and how on earth it made any money (or maybe that's not the point). There were actually a few drunk people there, but as normal in Italy, the majority were drinking little or nothing.
We caught a circular nightbus by the white Roman marble of Porta Maggiore, and I returned to my B&B after a long and somewhat varied day.