Day 419: Roman Holiday

23.02.10:

At some disastrously early hour, I was roused from my slumber by our rather impertinent arrival in Milan, which necessitated a change of buses. Didn’t get to see too much of the place, but there’s something about just the name of these places – Verona, Genoa, Venice, Napoli that gets my pulse racing… old school, you know? It’s the same thing that affects me exhausted, bladdered and half-awake watching the sun rise after the last night of Glastonbury – a sense of history, that damned feeling of belonging to a world that’s gone that’s nagged me for years now.

All these countries I visit, most of them are shiny and new (comparatively), they don’t have the weight of millennia baring down on them, there are no layers to dig down through. Yes, I find the Kingdom of Benin interesting, Manchu Picchu is sweet-as, and you could keep me happy for weeks teaching me the ways of a tribe of Aussie Aboriginals or Native Americans, but compared with the achievements of Athens and Rome, the mysteries of ancient India and the technological prowess of Confucius-era China, I can’t help but see them as a bunch of Johnny-Come-Latelies.

Yes yes, I’m sure you have some interesting bits of broken pottery and maybe a beady necklace or two, but you’re really not going to drag me away from playing Bioshock 2 to look at them. Yes, you new-worlders will see this as old-Europe snobbery, but I can’t help it, I like the old stuff. It will outlive us all.

After a few hours I had arrived in Florence. There wasn’t much of a chance to grab something to eat (and for some reason, once in Italy the bus driver decided not to stop at any service stations) before the bus pressed on towards Rome. However, by now there were just three people on the bus, which kind of negated the point of, you know, us being in a bus. We would have fitted in a mini. The driver must have noticed this as he proceeded to drive us to a depot somewhere in the middle of nowhere and make us wait for an hour while they decided what to do with us. In the end, we were put on another bus and taken to Rome. It was all a little odd, but don’t ask me, I only work here.

Arriving at Rome at sunset, I headed over to the hostel where I stayed last May when all of this Odyssey stuff was relatively still shiny and new, the Pop Inn by the station. I checked in for a whopping €21 (bit pricey for a dorm bed, but when in Rome, bring a tent) and set off to find internet and cheap food. I was directed to a restaurant that had ‘good, cheap pizza’ only to find (once I had sat down and ordered a beer) that it had no pizza, good nor cheap. So I (reluctantly) ordered a lasagne (big Garfield fan as a kid) only to be given the measliest portion since Oliver asked Scrooge for more pudding.

Damnit. I headed back to the station and got a decent slice of pizza for a couple of Euro and headed back to the hostel. The last time I was in Rome, I was awestruck and spent most of the night wandering around. This time a black cloak of tiredness overcame me like a tidal wave and I found myself crashing out early.

Day 420: Lie To Me

24.02.10:

I thought I would have a few hours to mooch around Rome in the morning, but I found myself unable to prise my worthless body from my bed until after 10am. By the time I had breakfast and tried (and failed) to find a free wi-fi zone, it was time for me to take the train to Civitavecchia, Rome’s port and the place where the boat to Tunisia left from.

Urk.

The boat to and from Tunisia was horrifically horrific last time, and this time it was no better. Same boat, same company, same unholy rip-off. For a start, the boat was two hours late boarding, which meant that I was left standing in the car-park like an unsuccessful prostitute for longer than would otherwise be sensible. Once (finally) on board, the horribly familiar interior of the Sorrento loomed into view.

I had a ‘deck’ ticket, which basically means you sleep in the restaurant. If you know of a comfortable way to sleep in a restaurant chair, I’d love to hear it. Luckily for me, I was one of the first on board (I ran) so I snagged one of the exclusive couch seats that run along the parameter of the room.

There are only three toilets between all the men on board (usually 100+) and none of them are urinals. Oh, and for some reason, the crew don’t clean them for the full length of the ‘cruise’. Which means within an hour, they are disgusting, within a day they are capable of making a grown man vomit at 50 paces. Nice.

The food is an utter rip-off (just a can of coke will set you back €2.50) and the company on board was less than illuminating. I couldn’t find anyone who spoke a word of English and so spent my time watching the entire first season of Lie To Me rather than do anything, you know, sociable. Ya boo.

Day 429: Come, Armageddon, Come

05.03.10:

And so I found myself lashed to the mast on the grim grimness that is the Grimaldi ferry. And you thought going to the Aldi Supermarket on a wet Wednesday afternoon was pretty grim… my word, you ain’t seen nothing. On board the ‘Sorrento’ for the forth AND UTTERLY FINAL time, I found myself without a bench seat to lay on and therefore had to make do with two cafeteria chairs pushed together.

I woke up with the worst backpain I’ve ever had. They still hadn’t cleaned the toilets (I don’t think they every do) and the three flushing toilets (no urinals, that would be extravagant) were covered, utterly covered in poorly-aimed Arab piss. I had to hitch up my jeans and kick the seat up with my foot. Nice.

At £2.50 for a can of Coke, you can probably guess that I elected to eat and drink as little as possible on this infernal ferry. There was no shop on board, only a terrible joke of a duty-free thing that only sold massive bottles of whiskey and cigarettes at extortionate process (negating the whole point of duty-free, but doesn’t it always?). What’s more, they wouldn’t except (or change) Tunisian Dinars. Quite why is anyone’s guess – surely they could turn a buck or two trading Euros for Dinars and visa-versa? Obstinately not. Idiots. We stopped off in Sicily along the way and I was actually rather tempted to make a break for it, but considering I had spent over eighty quid on the damn ticket (that’s ONE WAY folks!) I thought it best to stick with it through to the end. Incidentally, the price for a ticket on the overnight ferry from Italy to Greece? FIFTEEN EURO. Sorry GRIMaldi Lines, but I hate being ripped off. You’ve made it onto my list of things that SUCK!

Transport that SUCKS:

    Greyhound Buses
    Grimaldi Ferries
    Virgin Trains
    Small Dirty Cargo Boats

Transport that ROCKS:

    Container Ships
    Latin American Buses
    Turkish Buses
    Tunisian Trains

I wrote up my blog and read The Odessa File by Fredrick Forsyth (donated by Dja, thanks!) and prayed that we arrived early in Salerno, the port for Naples. Ha! No chance – we were four hours late! Arriving at midnight to find there were no taxis whatsoever waiting, I hung around in the FREEZING COLD for about an hour after one of the guys who worked in the port rang a taxi, or something, I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t seem to be ringing a taxi. Then another guy from the port who spoke a bit of English actually rang a taxi and within five minutes it had arrived.

My gratitude for the warmth of the taxi soon evaporated into fury at the cost of the damn thing. At €17 for a ten-minute ride I felt more than a little ripped off. What a rotten day. What a rotten world. May a plague of locusts bite off their rotten faces.

Day 430: The Italian Job

06.03.10:

I stayed the night in the Koine Hostel, a decent enough place, but with that cold puritan edge that sucks all warmth, happiness and laughter out of most European Hostels. The shared showers didn’t make me too happy, especially as one of the guys I was sharing my dorm with was as weird as they come – I pushed the bench up against the door lest I was forced to share my nudie space with some half-deranged Johnny Foreigner. A bit excessive having five showers to myself, but sod it, I’m not in jail any more.

The train for Bari, the port from whence would depart my ferry for Greece, left at 2pm, so I had myself a lovely little mooch around the rather spanking town of Salerno. With hills cascading down to the sea, tons of old buildings and a tree-lined promenade along the bay, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the place, damn it – why can’t Liverpool be this beautiful?

Ack!

So soon enough I was on the train to Bari. Well, actually it was two trains. The first cost me a respectable €4, but the second (it was a Eurostar) is presumably owned by a British company, since they seem to have no concept of what the ‘public’ in the term ‘public transportation’ is referring to and therefore cost me €40. Not quite the gobsmacking no-wonder-these-trains-are-empty fleeceathon that typifies Virgin Trains (upon which the British public are expected to subsidise Richard Branson’s Spaceships for the über-rich), but bad enough.

And then (stay on your toes Odyssey-boy!) on arrival in Bari I jumped in a taxi only to be shown a piece of paper and be told that it was a fixed charge to the port of €20. I considered getting the bus, but given the boat was due to depart in an hour, and the port must be a long long way away in order to qualify for this extortionate rate. But no – it was around the FRICKIN’ corner, wasn’t it??

I HATE taxi-drivers. From East to West, North to South they are only one rung up on the pond-life index above politicians and wife-beaters.

The boat was good, though. I had an airline-style seat all to myself, a plug socket by my feet to charge up my stuff and the beer was only a couple of Euro for a bottle. There was a party atmosphere on board (in contrast to the Sorrento which was like a floating morgue) and, best of all, the trip to Greece cost me just €15. Superfast Ferries, you ROCK MY WORLD!

Nighty night.