Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
Weekend in Sperlonga (Lazio), Italy
Friday, September 20.
Overcast, some rain.
Up at 6:30am and on the road to the airport at 7am. From Vetralla it is an easy 1.5 hour drive to the Rome airport (including stopping for coffee). Take the road from Vetralla to the coast (direction Tarquinea and Cittavecchia), then get on the A12 Autostrada to the airport (two tolls, 1.50 euro each).
We got Paula to the airport 2 hours before her flight. The Rome airport parking is always challenging for us. First we tried to go into the employee parking, then had to back out onto the main road. Finally we got into the parking lots; they are in the same buildings that have the car rental agencies. This parking lot is hard to navigate because of the very tight turns to get to the different levels, the low ceilings which just make it creepy and the very, very narrow parking spaces. There are signs to tell you how to get to the airport terminal (go to the fourth floor and take the walkway) but we did not see them and ended up walking across to the airport at ground level.
Put Paula into her checkin line and then made our way back to the car. In the morning rush and tiredness we forgot where we parked - but no worry - they have these machines that you put your parking ticket into and they tell you where you parked. But, how would the ticket know? The secret is to put the ticket into the machine when you leave your car and it marks it - nothing happened when we put our tickets in to find out where we parked. So we had a good tour of the airport parking.
I took some notes and photos to update the Italy: Driving - Rome Airport - Car Rental Pickup/Drop Off page. Now we have a photo of the map of the parking terminals on that page. I am determined to know my way around Rome airport!
We found the car eventually and joined the outer Rome traffic scrum and went to Ostia Antica. We did as Jane from CA advised and walked to the end of the ruins, then made our way back to the entry point. Actually we only walked halfway back and saw the main sites - capitol, forum, theater, frescoed bar, some houses - then left. We don't know enough about Ancient Rome to merit a longer visit. We just walk around, see a few things then leave when we get tired. Ostia Antica was great - felt like Pompeii but with easier access (because it is close to Rome) and not as crowded (although we saw Pompeii a few days after 9/11 and it was not crowded). In Ostia Antica many buildings are in good shape. It is not as vast as Pompeii, but is it still pretty large and you get the same feeling of walking through a city of ghosts.
One thing we notice in the remains of ancient Roman cities, is how some of life then is similar to life now in Italy. The houses are close together, the main piazza is the shopping area, the bars are similar. We took a photo of Steve at an ancient bar putting his modern receipt weighed down with a coin on the counter. (That is just the kind of fun we are always having on these trips.)
The day was overcast and muggy and Ostia Antica was full of bugs. It has been much buggier on our "southern" portion of the trip. My ankles are itching as I write this. In Santa Fe we have very few bugs - hardly any mosquitoes. And no humidity. So the mugginess in Italy always hits me hard. My hair gets curly and unruly and I spend the whole day sweating. I grew up in this kind of weather (Toronto) and you would think I would be used to it, but I have adapted to Santa Fe dryness.
We drove into Lido di Ostia because people on the message board recommend spending your last night here before flying from Rome airport. The drive to Lido di Ostia was confusing - you seem to have to loop around the area to get there - and the town is too crowded and crazy for my taste. I say spend the last night(s) in Rome and take a taxi to the airport or drive to the airport straight from your vacation rental.
We kept driving south along the coast from Lido di Ostia through dreary and built-up beach areas. Flat land along the coast, all the coast filled with swimming establishments or restaurants, then towns with row after row of modern high-rises. We had to drive through a town to get to the main red road south and the town was crowded and dreary. This beach area south of Rome is not a particularly attractive area.
We drove to Sperlonga, checked into our hotel, went for a swim (not great swimming - the water is very shallow - you have to walk way out to find deep water), walked around the historic center of Sperlonga, had a nice dinner out.
Hotel Aurora in Sperlonga - not recommended
Hotel Aurora is a 3 star hotel, right on the water, just outside the historic center of Sperlonga. We had booked an ocean view room, but when we got to the room, I insisted we change. The room was very small with only one small window (great view). You could see that the rooms used to have two windows, but one was covered by an ugly built in shelving unit. All the ocean view rooms were like that. There are no balconies - just the small windows. They let us look at a few other rooms and we opted for a much larger room that looked out onto the parking lot and the busy street. It had a balcony. Not as nice a view, but we were comfortable.
This hotel (Hotel Aurora) was recommended on the message board, but I would not recommend it. There were a couple of cute looking hotels right in the historic part of Sperlonga - I would try them. Or find a better quality hotel in the modern area where we were.
Sperlonga - like a town in Greece
Or how I think a town in Greece would look. The historic part is very small, perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the water, all the buildings are white, it is very steep and full of fun little walkways up through the buildings. There are a couple of caffes on the main piazza, a few restaurants throughout the town.
The modern sprawl is to the north of the town along the water. This area was nice too and had lots of stores and restaurants.
The swimming is not the kind I like. Beautiful big sandy beaches, but the water is very shallow. You have to walk way out to get to the deep part. It was muggy and buggy when we were there.
The driving in this area is typical beach town driving. Crazy. The cars don't so much drive in a line as in a scrum. The main road is wide and they constantly make a third lane. Motorcycles zoom by on the center line. Fast cars almost push slow cars to the side to make a third lane for passing. Slow cars cringe off to the right to allow the fast cars to pass easily. A slow car is one doing the speed limit.
Saturday, September 21
Hot and sunny, overcast in the afternoon, rain in the evening.
We should have gone swimming in the morning, but thought the weather would last. (It didn't.) Instead we set out to walk to Villa Tiberius (Imperial Villa of Tiberius when he ruled Rome; he lived her until 26 AD when he moved to Capri).
We walked on the pathway around the historic part of town, to the beach area to the south. From there we figured we could walk along the beach to Villa Tiberius which we could see in the distance. We stopped at the tourist office for information and a map. We asked our question, got a vague answer and a brochure with no map. Typical of our experiences in Italian tourist offices. They seem to be places where young people get paid to talk on the phone to their friends.
We walked and walked along the beach, but there was no path and you had to walk through the paid beach areas. We got tired of walking on the sand, so headed up to the road. We had to cut through someone's yard because we could not find an access path. Then there were no roads, so we had to go up to the very busy highway. We realized this was going to be horrible walking, so took the shorter walk on the highway back to town.
We got our car and drove. Still could not find it. We knew exactly where it was - in the last bay you could see looking down the beach - but could not find the parking area. We tried a few places, walked around, asked people, and finally found it. There was a sign, but you had to look at just the right time as you passed the building - the sign was parallel to the road.
There went the morning. By noon we were there - thank goodness the museum does not close midday. There was a great museum with statues from the Roman villa. Then you walk down to the villa grounds and see the remains and grotto.
We went back to the hotel for a rest in the afternoon. Today was the day I topped out on Italy - everything drove me crazy about Italy that day. The impossible to find main tourist attraction, the impossible to get information from tourist office, the really busy highways, the crazy and fast driving in this area, the huge beauty show going on all afternoon and evening beside our hotel. We definitely picked the wrong weekend for Sperlonga. The town was packed and Saturday night the streets were blocked off and you could barely walk around because of the crowds attending the show (with scantily dressed beauty queens and loud rock music).
I shopped for vegetables for tomorrow, because the stores would be closed in Vetralla on Sunday. We wanted to explore this area a bit, so in the late afternoon we drove to Gaeta. This is a large town, which was interesting to explore, but seemed somewhat rundown. Most of this area felt like that - crowded with cars, towns sort of run down. We did not stay there for dinner, but drove back to Sperlonga because a storm was threatening.
The streets were all blocked off because of the beauty pageant - so it took us an extra 30 minutes driving around and explain to police that we were at the hotel, before they let us through. But we did get through and then had a lovely dinner at the restaurant across the street. There are two restaurants side by side - we ate in one the first night and the other the second night. We looked at other menus around town, but these seemed the best.
Sunday, September 22
Overcast with rain, brightening in the afternoon, then overcast again in the evening
We didn't sleep well last night because the beauty pageant started at 10pm and kept going for hours. The noise of the music and voices filled our room. Then, in the middle of the night, there was a huge storm - thunder, lightening and rain - that woke us up.
We left the hotel at 10:40am and headed south past Gaeta and Formia, to the red road to Cassino and the A1 autostrada. We reached the A1 in an hour. The coast drive was beautiful, but the area all along the coast is very developed. Caravan parks, swimming places, rows of green houses. When we headed inland, it got more green, more hilly. We passed through a number of towns with abandoned half-finished buildings. Just the shell left standing in an overgrown field.
This day continues in Lazio, in the next section.
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