Back in June of 2012, a friend recounted a trip he and his missus took to Rome, Florence, and Venice Italy. I read each post on his blog with earnest as I was planning my own trip to Rome to celebrate 20 years of bliss with my missus. The trip is now complete and I feel creative enough to share my story. I do so with a bit of trepidation, having no interest in boring people with a slide show of my trip as my parents did to others back in the 70's after our station-wagon journeys around the US. However, this is a friendly site, full of like-minded individuals who probably won't mind, as long as I add in the occasional Marriott reference! By the way, I have to mention several MR Insiders who have given me advice for my trip planning either directly or indirectly- Californian, GemPrincess, Tker, pluto77, communitymanager, jerrycoin, kharada46, profchiara, and probably more.
I had started planning this trip about 18 months early. Actually 3 years early if you count all the MR credit card points I'd been saving. You can find my posts on the general MRI pages when I either asked about using Marriott Rewards Travel Packages, and responding to another similar thread. I had used my Marriott Vacation Club Destinations Club points to book a 7-day Western Mediterranean cruise starting and finishing in Rome (Civitavecchia), followed by 5 days in the city itself, with a MR TP cashing in 300K points for 120K United Miles and 5 nights in the Gran Flora. All in all it was a 15 day trip. Leaving on a Monday morning, we arrived at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (SAN, ORD, FRA, FCO) on Tuesday morning, a day early since I've read far too many horror stories on MRI and other places, of missed flights and weather delays. And being a retired Navy man, I'm always concerned about missing ships movement. One can't easily get from FCO to the port without using a taxi or cruise ship charter bus. Despite it being my 20th Anniversary and pleas from my friends to not be cheap, I'm ever the frugal traveler, and wasn't interested in paying the exorbitant rates those forms of transportation demand. My time in the Navy ensured that I'm a fairly experienced traveler- I've been all over and am quite adventurous, willing to take the road less traveled, or at least the one that might be more complex, but easy if you know what you're doing. "When in Rome" as the saying goes. The trains and buses in Italy are great- on time, efficient, and inexpensive. While FCO is a bit less than mid-way between the port and Rome, one must travel into Rome to catch a train out to the port.
As luck would have it, we arrived into FCO at 8:30am, nearly 45 minutes early, and had zero problems on the flight over. Thus we really had no need to come in a day early, but better safe than sorry. My friend's lessons learned and my own past flights over the pond told me that long flights in coach can be less than comfortable to say the least. This is why I cashed in so many MRPs and United Mileage Plus miles (5 flights for work to Bahrain over a 14 month period) to go in style- business class on the way there and we lucked into first class back home. I said I was frugal, not cheap.
It turned out that arriving a day early was a very good plan. After the trip was booked, I found out that on Wednesdays when the Pope is in Rome, he holds a general audience in St. Peter's Square for all who wish to either pick up tickets the afternoon prior, or starting at 0830 the morning of. Being the son of a good Catholic, and my wife and I attempting to follow in that tradition, we couldn't pass up the opportunity. We stayed in the Rome Airport Courtyard (again on points), then made the trek back to the airport the next morning to catch the express train into Roma Termini Station. Hauling our luggage with us was a pain, but during my research, I discovered a baggage storage site in the station. We were pushing it as far as time goes- with it already being 8:30am when we arrived at the station, where we found a 10 person-deep line to check the bags, and friendly, yet less-than expedient service. Once that was taken care of we rushed to the metro to make it back across town to the Vatican. Unfortunately, I got off the Metro at the stop for the Vatican Museums, which is different than the stop for St. Peter's- a very rushed 20 minute walk to get where we needed to pick up the tickets. (To those of you wondering why we didn't just get back on the Metro to the other station- you should have texted me. I had international dialing and a data plan!)
Rome in late September is still fairly warm and the humidity isn't insignificant. I thought it appropriate to wear a sport coat to be in the Papal Audience so I was a sweaty mess quite warm by the time we reached the ticket office. We retrieved our tickets then set out in search of some open seats near the front. It seemed like you were corralled into certain sections on the square dependent on which gate you entered.
Not satisfied with the pen seating area we found ourselves in, one that required binoculars to see the Pope, we exited and found the route up front, or close as we could get without being kindly told to get back by the Police. It turns out it didn't really matter where you were seated, as the Pope made his way around the square between the seating areas before the ceremony began. There were also large screens set up to provide the audience with a closer look. We were close enough to the front that we could see him fine, and after ditching my jacket, I was able to move up a few rows to snap a decent picture:
It turned out that where one sits isn't all that important. The 2013 model of the Pope-Mobile drives him around the square so everyone gets a good view. The Papal Audience lasted about 90 minutes and consisted of the Pope's thoughts and prayers and blessings for the attendees, lengthy not for the number of prayers, but for the large number of languages his words were translated in from Spanish. At about noon, the event was over and we made our way out of St. Peter's Square, which took a while in itself. At this point I'm starting to check my watch often as I wasn't exactly sure how long it would take to transit to the port which required us to arrive by 5:30pm. Following a large slow crowd of people towards the metro, we headed back to Roma Termini to get our bags and train tickets to Civitavecchia.
At baggage claim, which is actually in the basement of the train/metro station, there was another long line, which only allowed us to pay for the time our bags were held, then stand in another line to finally get our bags. Long line number 637 for the day as we waited to purchase train tickets to the port. Once we were second in line, I could hear the conversation in English between the clerk and the customer ahead of us. She was asking a thousand questions about the best way to get from one place to another, the varied costs for the varied tickets, and the capper- which made me stress even more, reminding me of this scene from "Honeymoon in Vegas"- She wasn't even traveling that day! Once our own tickets were purchased, the clerk was very helpful in giving us directions to the specific track our train was on, telling us to take our time since our train wasn't leaving for about 15 minutes. I rushed anyway, pleading with my wife to hurry and we boarded the train. The doors immediately closed and we were off, which I thought was strange since we weren't supposed to leave for another 9 minutes or so.
I mentioned earlier that I was the adventurous type, but I instantly got a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach as I knew something was wrong; This adventure just didn't feel right. I immediately abandoned any attempt to use the Italian phrases I knew as I asked the passengers in our car if anyone spoke English. A British gent dryly said he speaks it fairly well and I asked in a panicked voice where the train was headed. "Why the airport of course, this is the Fiumicino Express" - a 37 minute non-stop express train. Right track- very wrong train. By the way, didn't I say that you can't get a train from FCO to the port?
Will our intrepid travelers make their ship? Will Tom have a coronary before reaching the airport? Will his wife kill him if the coronary doesn't?
Tune in next time for another exciting episode of Viaggi a Roma!