The interesting - but not quite amazing - race to escape from Ponza to Rome
ROME - I spent a couple days visiting the island of Ponza with my daughter, who’s been backpacking around Europe like her Dad did 31 years ago. And it’s been great. But not always according to plan.
For instance, we had hoped the other day to take a boat tour to the famous grottoes of Ponza, an island about a 70 minute ferry ride from Anzio, which, in turn, is only an hour train ride from central Rome. It was too windy for the boat or for a tour of the island of Palmarola. So we rented an old jalopy instead – a bright yellow Fiat Panda – and toured the island by car. Some great sights, including a couple lovely bays from high on a hill in central Ponza, then managed to find a way to get a boat to the island’s main beach, where we got in a couple of hours of eating, swimming and sunning.
The next day we were slated to depart Ponza at 3:30 but I got my daughter out of bed early, hoping to escape the wind and get a 10:30 boat, or thereabouts.“No luck,” says the man. “Too much wind. My boat goes like this,” he said, making and up-and-down motion. Damn. Again.
I thought we could maybe catch an earlier boat ride. Our smaller line was sold out but we’d seen giant ships coming in and out of port. I thought we had to walk five minutes to the part of the port where our boat had come in but my daughter, Kathleen (sorry, make that Kate), spotted a ticket booth for the Caremar line. I asked what time the next boat left for Anzio and if there was room. Tons of room, it turned out, but the boat was slated to leave at 11 a.m. It was now, I believe, 10:46 a.m.
We luckily had packed, but our hotel was a five to ten minute walk up the hill. We didn’t know if we’d make it, but we managed to find a taxi in the port and made a dash up the hill. As we got out, I told the cab driver to wait. Some folks started walking toward our cab and I shouted to my daugthter, “Don’t let them have our taxi.”
I dashed past startled guests at the check-in counter of the hotel and grabbed her small bag, her large backpack and my two small suitcases and sprinted back to the car. The family hadn’t grabbed our cab, so we jumped in and drove hurriedly back to the dock.It all took MAYBE eight minutes but it seemed longer. We thought we had three or five minutes to spare, but of course, we lined up and paid our money – 24 euros each…and the boat arrived five minutes late and didn’t depart until probably 11:20 or so. We had tons of time, but it was still a fun rush. And the cab driver only had charged us 18 Euros for a six minute ride of perhaps two kilometers.
The boat was uneventful and thankfully huge and not at all bouncy like the small one we took over to Ponza a couple days earlier. A group of teenage girls slept on the backdeck, all coiled around each other and
using the boat's thick, orange rope as a very uncomfortable-looking pillow. We later spotted the girls at our train station and they had me take a group photo of them at a tiny "tavola calda/bar" next to the station.
The cabbie we found upon exiting the boat kindly volunteered to drive us an hour to Rome, which I laughed at and politely declined. He asked again as we approached the Anzio station, joking if I was sure I didn’t want to go straight to Rome, only about an hour by train. I could only imagine what my Ponza cabbie would've charged but either way there was no reason not to take an easy train ride.
There were no hassles on the train. In fact, they didn’t’ ask for our tickets on the way from Rome to Anzio or Anzio to Rome. I also noticed that on the train ride down they didn’t’ announce the train stops but on the way back they did. Weird.Nice trains, though; come a long way since the 1970’s when trains routinely stopped in the middle of empty fields for up to an hour, leaving everyone perplexed as to what was going on. But I have a lot of affection for Italian trains, having met my wife on one headed from Rome to Florence in 1979….
We got in to Rome no problem and grabbed a cab to the Hassler Hotel, a sumptuous spot at the top of the Spanish Steps that I’ll write about in a future edition of Star Travel.
We proceeded to clean up and do a little shopping – 22-year-olds get a little sick of their clothes after six weeks of backpacking. We had a magical dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, called Imago. It’s glassed in, but the views of the Spanish Steps and St. Peter’s Basilica are stunning, especially at sunset. Incredible Italian food with a modern twist, including veal, risotto and scallops with buffalo mozzarella. But also a wine list to die for, including a $7,500 dollar bottle of Bordeaux that I thought best not to try to sneak by the boss.More tomorrow on the Vatican (that's St. Peter's in the back of the photo at left; not bad!) and the Coliseum, properly known as the Ampitheatre Flavium.