Go Thou To Rome

at once the Paradise, the grave, the city, and the wilderness

Month: August, 2017

Where to swim in (or near) Rome

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I’m at a loose end. It’s too hot to do anything during the day. My boyfriend is at work, and most of my friends are out of Rome. I should be grateful I’m not working, but instead I’m spending hours feeling bored and hot and restless, filling the hours with Netflix and subpar Jackie Collins novels until there’s enough shade on the terrace to sit outside.

August in Rome becomes much more manageable if you’ve got a holiday planned. The next best thing is to treat yourself with occasional trips to the beach or pool, which is what I’ve been doing. A couple of times a week I go to the Piscina delle Rose in EUR, balk at the price of getting a lettino and ombrellone and do it anyway, or go to one of the beaches near Rome.

My usual beach of choice is Santa Marinella, but the general consensus is that nearby Santa Severa is superior, so I decided to spend the day there for a change. It’s just 3.60 and an hour from Ostiense, and when you arrive at Santa Severa there’s a little shuttle bus that will take you to the spiaggia libera (free beach) near the castle or one of the private beaches further up the coast.

I was planning to stay on the bus until we reached the private beach, but as we stopped at the castle a lady nudged me and advised me to get off there instead. “E’ bello,” she said simply. So I got off the bus and walked past the 14th century castle of Santa Severa, across the ground that was once the Etruscan port town of Pyrgi, until I reached the beach.

Historical setting aside, the beach of Santa Severa didn’t strike me as being obviously superior to other Roman beaches. The beach was pretty crowded and – the inevitable downside of being a spiaggia libera – not the cleanest. But I was there now, and I thought I might as well give it a try. Apart from anything else, it was too hot to consider traipsing up to the private beaches.

I paid 12 for a lettino and ombrellone and approached the group of young men who ostensibly worked there. They were lounging in deckchairs and paid no attention to me as I stood there with my receipt. When I asked for my lettino they shrugged and looked at each other.

“I think they’re finished,” said one of them.

“But I’ve already paid.”

“Ah.”

Silence.

“Are those lemons on your bag?” said another one.

“…yes.”

Silence.

The first guy finally dragged himself out of his deckchair and went to look for a lettino. Far from being finished, there were actually about 200 of them stacked up just metres away from where they were sitting.

Good customer service is hard enough to find at the best of times, and I probably shouldn’t have expected it from a half-asleep 19 year old on an August afternoon. But to his credit, he did actually carry the lettino and ombrellone instead of getting me to do it myself, and set them up a few feet away from a noisy family.

In my experience, when on a beach in Italy you’re never more than a few feet away from a noisy family (the adults making more noise than the children), or an amorous couple (the woman plucking her boyfriend’s eyebrows), or a group playing Neapolitan card games and tossing their cigarette butts in the sand.

The sand was not particularly clean. Neither was the sea. I spent most of the afternoon reading and listening to music on my lettino, enjoying the breeze. Because while Santa Severa may not be the most spectacular of beaches – it’s certainly no Sardinia – it’s without a doubt meglio di niente. Given the choice between a so-so beach and another afternoon of boredom in my stuffy bedroom, I’ll take the beach every now and again.

Here’s a brief guide to pools and beaches near Rome, all accessible by public transport. I can’t drive – learning is next on my to-do list – so I have to make do with the metro and regionale trains instead.

POOLS

Swimming pools in Rome are not cheap. Unless you’re a member of a gym, expect to pay anywhere from 10 to 80(!!) euros for the privilege of using a pool. The nicest pools are the ones belonging to hotels, but unsurprisingly they also tend to be the most expensive.

I go the Olympic swimming pool in EUR known as Piscina delle Rose. It’s a 5 minute walk from the metro (EUR Palasport) and there’s a lovely big pool with decent facilities. If you just want to swim it’ll cost you 10, and if you want to include a lettino and ombrellone it’s around 20.

A more in-depth outdoor pool guide at Romeing

BEACHES

Ostia – The closest beach to Rome. It’s about 30 minutes on the train from Porta San Paolo (next to Piramide) with a 1.50 metro ticket. There’s a range of private and free beaches, including the Cancelli (a short bus ride from the station). It’s the most convenient option, but downsides include water quality and crowds. As Cosmopolitan notes, the water hasn’t been crystalline since the time of Romulus and Remus, and the beach resembles the Grande Raccordo Annuale (ring road) at rush hour.

Santa Marinella – about 45 minutes on the train from Termini/Ostiense/Trastevere. The great advantage of Santa Marinella is that when you step off the train it’s just a 5 minute walk to the private beach. The beach is clean, the water variable. Expect to pay around 20 for a lettino and ombrellone, and don’t make the fatal mistake of arriving at midday on a Sunday in summer.

Santa Severa – about an hour on the train from Termini/Ostiense/Trastevere. The beach is technically walking distance from the station, but it’s not a particularly pleasant walk (no shade, no pavements), so I’d recommend taking the shuttle bus. Santa Severa is a good option if you don’t want to pay for a private beach, and you can still get a reasonably priced lettino and ombrellone if you want. Facilities are pretty basic but okay.

Anzio/Nettuno – about an hour on the train from Termini. There’s a range of private and free beaches, all of which are pretty average. Anzio’s selling point is that it’s a nice little town in itself, with some decent restaurants and interesting history.

These beaches are the ones I consider to be the closest to Rome, or the easiest to access using public transport. If travel time or transport isn’t an issue, beaches such as Sabaudia, Sperlonga and Gaeta are generally considered to be much nicer.

A final word of advice – if at all possible, avoid pools and beaches on weekends in July and August. The crowds can be horrific. Not quite as bad as the generic overcrowded-pool-in-China picture that does the rounds in the media every summer, but still. Not pleasant.

Some more links:

The best beaches within easy reach of Rome

Rome’s 8 best beaches easily accessible by public transport

Top 10 beaches near Rome

A day from Rome: 4 beaches in Lazio worth visiting

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Reverse reverse culture shock

After four years Rome has become home, so when I return to my other home – England – I experience the occasional moment of reverse culture shock. Expecting to hear Italian, my brain shuts down when the man at the till in M&S speaks to me in rapid English. Used to the anarchy of driving and road-crossing in Rome, I dither on the side of the pavement in London. Forgetting just how cold the English summer can be, I shiver despite my multiple layers of clothes and tights, and wonder where I can buy an umbrella (no useful umbrella-men pop up in the street when it rains England).

I’ve just spent five weeks in England, mainly working at a summer school in Cambridge. I overcame my initial reverse culture shock and adjusted to a routine of canteen meals, long coach journeys, and shepherding large groups of teenagers through national treasures such as Warwick Castle, King’s College Chapel and Westfield.

I was ready to return to Rome. I’m always ready to return to Rome, craving sunshine and pasta after just a couple of days away. But I wasn’t prepared for the reverse reverse culture shock.

Culture shock was when I came to Rome for the very first time as a tourist and was overwhelmed by the heat, the traffic and the language barrier. Reverse culture shock was when I returned to England after a year of living in Rome and felt like a foreigner. Reverse reverse culture shock happened for the first time after four years of living in Rome when I stepped out of the plane and into an oven.

I’d spent the past month reading about heatwaves and droughts, listening to Valeriano complain about the heat during every Skype conversation, and seeing this kind of content on Facebook:

roma sole

Yet somehow, sitting in my spider-filled room in Cambridge and watching the rain slide down the window, it just didn’t feel real to me.

I spent my first evening in Rome in a state of shock, opening up all the windows and shutters in my flat and wondering where all the air had gone. We have no air-conditioning, only fans that have little effect when the temperature hits 40 degrees. “Potremmo comprare un pinguino,” said Valeriano. Buy a penguin? Had the heat caused him to lose his mind already? But then I understood that he was referring to a Pinguino with a capital “P” – a kind of portable air-conditioning unit. Not an actual penguin.

The following morning a monstrous insect flew into our kitchen – a nightmarish cross between a dragonfly and a wasp – and we discovered a gecko living under the cooker. For a moment it felt like Rome had become another planet – a burning rock with no air, alien creatures emerging from the cracks.

I’m starting to adjust. The heat is intense, but it’s a little less humid today and I’m finding cheap solutions. The Pinguino is too expensive, but I can hang out in air-conditioned bars, supermarkets and restaurants, and plan emergency trips to the swimming pool or beach.

As much as possible, we avoid going out during the day, and live for the evening. Late at night we sit on the terrace, watching the stars, the planes, the shadow of a woman doing her ironing on a neighbouring terrace. Last night we waited for the full moon to cross a TV antennae and savoured the last tiny breath of wind before returning to the furnace of our bedroom to watch Pranzo di Ferragosto, the ultimate August-in-Rome film.

If you’re in Rome this summer, I hope you manage to stay cool. If you’re not in Rome and you’re thinking of visiting, I recommend waiting a bit. Here, we’re all dreaming of October, or – quite unexpectedly – missing the wind and rain on Southport Pier.