The next day we got the early shuttle bus to town so we could get to Termini station in time to make an early train out of town on a day trip. Once at termini, we quickly chose tickets to Viterbo, about 2 hours north of Rome, from the self service machines. We only had 15 minutes to get down to the departure area and find the right platform. Of course the ticket was in Italian and had no platform number on it so we asked one of the customer service people floating around where to catch our train. He had no idea, good customer service ah. Three minutes to go and we still didn't know what train to catch. I managed to find the information desk where the woman behind the desk punched in our details on the computer. One minute to go "platform 1" she said. As fortune would have it platform 1 was right behind us. Sprinting to the train, along with a few other passengers, we made it just in time.
The train was pretty full with some people standing in the aisles. It was a direct train to Florence so we had to change at Orte half an hour into the journey. The train to Viterbo from Orte was almost empty and we had the pick of the seats. An hour later and we arrived in Viterbo. It didn't look like much from the train station, but that was only because the station was outside the town's ancient walls.
It was only a short walk from the station, through the walls, into the town. We followed the signs to the tourist information office so we could get a town map, but once inside the walls all signage stopped and we were basically on our own. the only guide we had was a board at the gate with a small map of the town. Not really knowing what to see, we decide just to explore. The Rough Guide wasn't much help in navigating because there are so many tiny streets that it would be impossible to give coherent directions anywhere. We basically wandered around stumbling across things of interest then looking them up in the book.
What an awesome place Viterbo is. The hilly, winding streets, steeped in medieval history pervade every part of the town. You can turn a corner without some sort of photo opportunity. Viterbo, to me, is the archetypal Italian town with a laid back lifestyle, worn but sound buildings, cobbled narrow streets and the ever-present contented family cats. We met a few cats around the town, some friendly, smoe not-so-friendly, but all of them contented in their laid back existence.
We came across a number of old churches dotted among the alleyways, none of them as grand as the ones in Rome. Most were dark and almost sinister looking with one in particular sticking in my mind. It had one stained glass window at the rear that sheds its light on a small crucified Jesus statuette suspended in mid-air before the altar. Scary shit!
Being a public holiday, the town seemed almost deserted. The only people in the street were tourists, and almost all of them were Italian. Getting a little hungry, as usual, we went looking for a restaurant to luch in. Most places were closed, but we managed to find a nice looking family-run restaurant down a small street. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but I do know it had a picture of the real godfather on the wall. The girl who served us didn't speak english so I got to practice what I'd leant of italiano. A game of charades ensued with the outcome being that lamb means "agnello" and "piccolo birra" means small beer. (Piccolo is very piccolo - 150ml.) The girl departed with our order of pasta and pizza only to return shortly after with a "no pizza". What? No pizza in an italian restaurant? What next? No cappuccino? It wasn't until after our pasta and agnello and we'd ordered coffee that I saw the cappuccino machine literally blow up right before my eyes. The chef came running out of the kitchen to help as a cloud of steam and coffee billowed up to the ceiling of the restaurant in afrenzy of hissing and bubbling. The waitress skulked over shortly after and said "no cappuccino". No shit Sherlock! So I ordered two "normale" coffees. What I hadn't realised was that in italian normale coffee is an espresso shot of the strongest coffee the universe can possibly provide. Over came two tiny cups with a thick black liquid in the bottom. Needless to say, all lingering lethargy we had upon entering the restaurant had disappeared once we'd finished our coffee.
When the bill (il conto) arrived, it read a mindboggling 51 euros - twice what we'd spent on the most expensive previous meal. So much for things being cheaper out of Rome. When we'd entered the restaurant an hour earlier and sat down at the front window table, the place was empty. Now I don't know whether it was us being in the window or not, but by the time we left, the restaurant was full to the brim. You'd have thought they'd give us a little discount for our free advertising wouldn't you? I guess they didn't see it that way.
With very full stomachs and caffeine injection we headed off to explore the rest of the town. At the northern end of town we finally stumbled across the tourist office ... and ... it was closed ... of course. Not far from the tourist office we came across the 12th century home of the catholic church. San Lorenzo cathedral stands as a testament to faith. It has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times over the last 900 years I lost count. The popes resided in Viterbo for centuries and rivalled Rome in its power and influence at one time. The museum that stands alongside the church is a small affair that has been decorated quite well given its obvious lack of funds. The guy at the desk obviously doesn't have many english speaking patrons as he struggled to recall his english and apologised for not having any english translations for ... well ... anything. He gave us a euro discount on the entry fee as no-one could show us around. The exhibits were quite disappointing considering this was once the capital of the catholic church. Most of the special items had obviously departed for Rome when the church was reinstated there. There were, however, some interesting busts of deceased cardinals on display with macabre recesses covered in glass containing, what looked like, body parts of the deceased. Weird shit.
The rest of the afternoon we spent wandering around the fantastic little alleyways dreaming of owning one of the little places we passed by. We knew that the train we wanted left at 4:58 p.m. so Justine's phone said we had an hour to kill so we decided to have a drink in one of the bars. I grabbed a local brew (Peroni) and Justine had a fruit juice. This was one instance where the prices were a lot cheaper than Rome. (1.50 euro each for both birra and juice.) As we sat outside the bar finishing our drinks I asked Justine for the time. "It's ok we've still got 30 minutes before the train ... oh shit ... I forgot to change the clock from London to Italy time". We were actually 30 minutes late. The next train didn't go until 6:58 p.m. As you can imagine, this caused a cascading effect to all our connecting transport. After waiting the extra 2 hours for the train, it took another 1.5 hours to get to Rome meaning we arrived just after the Metro had stopped for the day. At this point we decided to wait for the 892 bus just up the road. After 40 minutes of waiting we realised that the 892 bus was the only one that didn't run on public holidays (because we couldn't read italian). The replacement bus service for the metro took another half an hour to get to Barberini where we just missed the 9:45 p.m. shuttle. The next one wouldn't leave until 11:45 p.m. We had a pizza and a slice of tiramisu at a cafe nearby and had to leave when they closed at 11:00 p.m. To top it off we waited the last 45 minutes in the rain. So all-in-all we lost 4 hours because of one little timing mistake. I guess that is just what happens when you travel. Theres no escaping unforseen circumstances.
The day had been great despite the journey back. Viterbo is a wonderful little town that would have probably been even more magical had the sun been shining. I would definitely recommend Viterbo as a day trip destination from Rome to anyone interested in small town Italy. I give it a Russell rating of ... "sweet!". Back at the hotel I pinched a couple of apples from the front desk for breakfast and we headed to our room for a well earned snore.
The next morning we had a bit of a sleep in before we needed to check out and catch the 9:30 a.m. shuttle bus to Ottaviano. We checked out and I reluctantly handed over the money for our expensive breakfast from the other morning. That was it and we were off on the bus. Our little friend Pricipessa wasn't anywhere to be seen and Justine was a little sad that she didn't get to say goodbye to her.
With bags in tow, once again we were navigating our way to Termini station for the Leonardo Express to the airport. We only just made it onto the train in time. If anyone reading this ever goes to Rome don't bother with the Leonardo Express. It is far from express and costs 3 times more than a regular train ticket does. It took us 40 minutes at snails pace to get to the airport. What a rip off.
It was time to say goodbye to Rome. Both Justine and I really enjoyed it and we were sorry to be leaving even though it had been quite tiring. Rome gets a Russell rating of ... "wicked!"