Santa Marinella: a cautionary tale
Beaches are still something of a novelty to me. I grew up in a country which has – according to my standards – mostly crap beaches. I never went on beach holidays as a child, and when I was old enough to make my own travel plans, I continued to avoid beaches.
Last year, living in a country with decent beaches, and having finally overcome my body issues, I started to go to the beach. My beach of choice was Santa Marinella – a pleasant sandy beach about 45 minutes from Rome. Those with more beach experience might be dismissive, but I loved it. “This is great,” I thought. “There’s actual SAND. I get to SWIM in the SEA. The sea is cold but not too cold. The beach is hot but not too hot. I’m in beach heaven.”
Because I was on holiday at the time, my trips to Santa Marinella took place on weekdays in June. This summer, I’m – shock horror – working. That means weekday trips to the beach are not really an option. Nonetheless, I was determined to get my beach fix, and after several weeks of daydreaming about beaches and getting jealous whenever I looked at Facebook or Instagram, I planned a Sunday trip to Santa Marinella.
Valeriano was against it. “Not on a Sunday,” he said. “Too many people”. I didn’t care how many people there were, as long as I had my patch of sand and sea. A few friends expressed interest but were non-committal, so I decided to go on my own.
I was fully prepared on Sunday morning – bikini, beach towel, beach book (Tender is the Night), pizzette in a paper bag, sun cream sun cream don’t forget the sun cream. I set off in an optimistic frame of mind.
The journey got off to a slightly stressful start at Ostiense, queuing for the ticket machine. There’s always a problem – the machines don’t work, or the tourists don’t understand the machines, or both. I thought I was going to miss my train, but thankfully made it on time, and was lucky enough to get a seat. Lots of people were standing. One man sat, picking his nose, before giving up his seat for his broken-armed son and starting an argument with a woman who had her bags on the seat (I’m with the nose-picker on that one).
Catching glimpses of the blue sea from the train window, I started to get excited. The train arrived shortly after 11am, and I rushed off to the beach to get my lettino and ombrellone.
A word of explanation, for those unfamiliar with Italian beaches – for the nicest beaches, you generally have to pay. If you see a beautiful beach lined with umbrellas, don’t make the mistake of setting up your own towel and umbrella on the sand. You have to pay for the privilege of using these beaches. It’s something that seems outrageous to some non-Italians, including my Canadian ex-flatmate. Personally, I don’t mind it, as long as it’s not too expensive. You’re paying for the lettino, the ombrellone, the access to the toilets and showers, the lifeguards…Va bene.
I arrived at Santa Marinella prepared to pay anything, just as long as they gave me my bit of sand and sea. But no. “Niente,” said the man. I was incredulous. Fully booked, all day? “Si.” And if I came back in an hour or two, in the hope that someone had left? He shrugged.
The impossible had happened. All the beds and umbrellas on the entire beach were occupied, and there was no chance of one becoming free. The man suggested I head back to the train station and try the beach at Santa Severa instead.
I trudged back to the station. The heat was becoming increasingly oppressive, and I still hadn’t put on my sun cream (sun cream, don’t forget the sun cream!). I was planning to do it as soon as I had my lettino, but the lettino was starting to seem like an impossible dream.
At the train station, my pessimism turned to despair. There was a train to Santa Severa, and the journey only lasted 6 minutes. But I would have to wait 2 hours for the next train.
After pacing back and forth for a while, I went back to the beach and explained the situation to the staff.”Due ore?” The man was even more incredulous than I had been when he told me there was no space on the beach. “E’ domenica“, said another man, and everyone nodded and agreed that yes, it was Sunday. That explained it. “Puoi prendere un taxi,” the man suggested. “Alla stazione.”
I returned to the station in search of a taxi. There were no taxis. The number for the taxi was constantly occupied. I retreated to the air-conditioned station bar and called Valeriano, who laughed at my suffering. “I told you so,” he said. “No, no, you didn’t! You said it would be bad. You didn’t say it would be THIS bad.”
After I’d finished whining at Valeriano, I called the taxi company again. When I finally got through, they said that there were no taxis available. “C’e’ tanta gente. Mi dispiace tantissimo.”
Valeriano had suggested drinking a Fanta in the shade, which was what I did. Angrily. I resolved to wait for the train to Santa Severa and hope for the best, until Valeriano sent me a message pointing out that the situation might well be the same at Santa Severa – no space.
It was 36 degrees, it was Sunday, it was July. Everyone was at the beach. Everyone except me. Well, I was technically at the beach. I just wasn’t allowed to sit on it or go in the sea. At this point, the only thought in my feverish, heat-deranged brain was “I want to be in the sea, I want to be in the sea”. If I couldn’t have a lettino, so be it. They owned the beach. But they didn’t own the sea.
I went back to the beach. “Look,” I said. “I can’t get to Santa Severa. There are no trains, no taxis. I just want to go in the sea. Please can I leave my bag here?” They agreed. I whipped off my dress and started frantically putting on sun cream – which spilled all over my bag – and then ran across the burning sand to the cold blue sea.
The sea was heaven. Lunch (a Napoli pizza with a beer) was heaven. The journey back to Rome was less heavenly. A creaky regionale train with broken air conditioning, a constantly swinging door, an incessant beepbeepbeep noise and a thoroughly depressed looking man (who resembled a drug-addled version of a famous Italian actor) lurking by the toilets.
The moral of the story: don’t go to Santa Marinella on a Sunday.