The sun is shining; both the Mediterranean and the sky are so blue it’s hard to tell where the horizon is, and restaurants are setting up for breakfast in the Piazza. Buongiorno Roma!
Well, Ostia to be exact. Where is Ostia? It’s about 20 kilometres south of Rome and is also known as Lido di Ostia—meaning Ostia beach. It’s our first day and from our little shuttered balcony we look out over the esplanade to the ocean, and shading our eyes from the glare of the sun, we count the little yachts bobbing up and down in the marina.
It’s late September and hotter than we expect for the time of year. The white and terracotta houses facing the ocean all have their shutters drawn to keep the them cool, and the gardens and window boxes are a blaze of colour and fragrance with deep purple bougainvillea, red and white geranium, lavender, and bright yellow jasmine and honeysuckle. We decide to explore the town and surrounding area and make our way past the cafés and towards the CBD.
Lots of little boutique shops, but more expensive than we thought. Walking along the back streets is an obstacle course of trestles, racks and boxes displaying shoes, bags, clothing and accessories. You pull a jacket off a rack and check the label—made in China—mmm, that’s a bit disappointing. Perhaps we’ll hold off on the purchases until we get to Rome.
For lunch we settle on a little place tucked away down a cobbled street and opt to share a traditional pizza napoletana, a taste sensation smothered in fresh tomatoes and sprinkled with oregano. Later we saunter back along the esplanade for a closer look at the yachts in the marina. Dinner is a selection of antipasto in the little bar below our hotel, accompanied by a glass of chilled rosé, and later in the evening we enjoy a second glass while sitting on our balcony before closing our shutters for the night.
The following day finds us on Lido di Ostia station about to board the train for Rome. You want to go to the Vatican but after some debate we settle on the Colosseum. The train takes about 35 minutes and is obviously the commuter train to Rome—it’s packed with businessmen and very chic Italian ladies who manage to look stunning in their camel coats, leather bags, and perfect make-up. In our jeans, sneakers and back-packs we look quite the poor cousins.
The Colosseum is jam packed. Is it always like this? There are groups of centurions who will take your photo—and your camera if you refuse to pay them 50 Euro for the photo. We climb the hill behind the monument and look down on the town. There are olive trees on the hill and we wonder how old they are. Olive trees can live for hundreds of years—in fact the oldest trees are in Lebanon and said to be around 1,500 years old. What tales they would tell.
In the evening we take a walk along the esplanade before dinner. It’s cooler now with a slight breeze coming off the ocean, and the cafés are preparing for the evening rush. The sound of live music drifts on the breeze—it’s coming from a large marquee and we wander over to take a look. It’s a wedding expo and the place is packed. We arrive to a catwalk parade of white puffy organza creations and tuxedos. Most of the (paying) guests seem to be mama and papa who are about to fork out thousands of euros for this one day in their daughter’s life. Champagne flows and the opera singer is in full voice. We return to our hotel to the distant strains of Ave Maria.
Today is our last day and you are determined to see the Vatican, but this time we take a local bus that takes us on a sight-seeing tour of Ostia and crosses a narrow waterway. “That’s the Tiber” you say. No it isn’t. “Yes it is” and you point on the map. So it is. Somehow I expected it to be, well, bigger.
Finding the Vatican is easy—it’s just a matter of following everyone else. There is a sign at the end of the closest queue that tells us the waiting time is two hours. “Two hours” you say, “I’ve waited less than that for a Disney ride”. So instead we wander around the side streets and are quite enjoying our own sight-seeing tour until a Caribineri crosses our path and tells us we can go no further. He seems quite a nice young man. What a pity he’s dressed like a paratrooper and carrying a rather large gun. He does however move us on ever so politely with rather bored smile—he probably does this all day, every day.
Back on the main street we finally hit the shops and it takes us three times as long to walk back to the station. There is a rather nice pair of grey suede boots in the window of a shoe shop. I’m tempted but doubt I have space for them in the luggage. Instead I buy a cute little leather purse in the shape of a cat with a diamante collar, for one of my girls.
After dinner we spend our last evening on the balcony absorbing the sights and sounds—the building blocks of memory. We have an early flight tomorrow.