I didn’t enjoy Rome so much this time. For all sorts of reasons it wasn’t flowing. I was jet-lagged, overheated and irritated. Instead of enjoying the places that in the past have given me the most profound sense of joy, I felt not much. I was noticing details I didn’t want to notice. The poor sleeping rough, the addicts, the overwhelming crowds, the young girls in their cut offs with their arses hanging out.
I had choices, I didn’t have to be there. One option was a quick trip to Sabaudia. And as soon as I hear it, I want to go like I want to breathe.
So I jumped on a train at Termini heading for Naples; (this is a lie, I had a way too heavy suitcase and I couldn’t have jumped anywhere. I clambered up the steps hauling that damned bag that had quickly became an impediment and caused me to cancel a leg of this trip further on. I needed the help of a man to get that bag properly on board and stowed I’m ashamed to say). Anyway, the train was packed, there was standing room only and a bit of a wait with the temperature rising. Finally the trained jerked and away we went.
When the train attendant came through the fun and games began. Several guys without tickets were caught, but in Italy, like I’ve never experienced before, the arguments began. The bad boys quickly became the victims with prolonged debates and onlookers wading in. An older woman started pulling out her purse offering to pay. More attendants made their way to the carriage to offer back up with quite a crowd forming on this already crowded carriage. Voices are raised, everyone has an opinion..finally the woman is told to put away her purse, the young blokes sent to the doors ready to disembark at the next stop and the attendants move on. (When we got to that next stop, I watched one of those guys casually stroll into the next carriage and nobody noticed a thing).
With each stop, the train emptied a little and I got a seat. I sat opposite the lady with the purse and with my un po Italiano and her little bit of English we chat. She was depressed. Her husband had recently died following a prolonged debilitating illness which flattened her spirit. Her outing on the train today was special for her, a rare outing from home. She had once lived a vibrant life she told me, working in another country in Europe, maybe Paris?Maybe for a publishing company? I forget now.People are listening all around us. A man getting up in preparation for his stop smiles at me and says, “all blacks!”, then again, “all blacks!” He can’t speak English but wants me to know he knows his rugby.
Finally we rolled into Priverno-Fossanova, which is the stop for Sabaudia. I hauled that blooming heavy bag over to and up the steps of the bus tripping and making a general scene only to find out I needed a bus ticket from back over at the station. Damn. The bag stayed where it was and they held the bus for me.
And so the little bus made it’s way along quiet flat long roads lined with trees and fields. I was starting to feel the pent up frustrations of Rome ebb away. Once in Sabaudia I realised I had learnt about the town before. Francesco da Mosto in his BBC series Francesco’s Italy:Top to Toe goes to Sabaudia.
(From 4′ to 8.40″ in this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6E0-gz8VVs).
It is a town built by Mussolini in 1933 in 253 days. Apart from this history it is an unremarkable grid town that is easy to get around with big wide flat streets and a tower that Mussolini himself once gave a speech from. It is the beach that draws the summer crowds. A girl with much cleavage; her top open down to her naval in the visitor’s center gave a list of accommodation options. After finding a hotel, €70 for 2 nights including a buffet breakfast, I collapsed only venturing out again briefly to eat. It was like going on holiday with my only companion being an oversized, unwieldy, exhausting bag.
The next day looked perfect for a day at the beach. I collected up a bathing suit, towel, and sunglasses and walked the 10 or 15 minute stroll along the via Principe di Piemonte out to the sea.
It was glorious and fresh and clear and warm and the beach was long; really long and inviting.But once you hit the sand things become Italian very fast. Unlike New Zealand you are not looking for a stretch of sand to lay out your towel; it’s all about finding the best commercial operation offering the following kinds of hire services:
-ombrellone (sun umbrella)
One sign advertised €18 for a day for uno ombrellone e due lettini. It seems the hotel you are staying with will have an operator they are associated with, or people will have one they use every year, paying for the same lettini position well in advance of their holiday. Or, like me, browse, which I saw no one else do. Not sure about the first beach club, I tromped along in the hot sand to the second, then another hike along to the third, and the forth, about 1 and a 1/2 kms along the beach only to decide the first had been the best. I looked back to where I had come from and couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t walk all the way back. I just threw my towel down on the sand kiwi style near the fence line between operators. I went for a swim. Oh my gosh, it was gorgeous. Refreshing and just enough wave, I bobbed around for ages cooling off. I was in my happiest place of all, anywhere in the world; the sea. And just like that the jet lag and drudge of the hot frantic city were gone.
An Italian man on the beach kept catching my eye. I tried to look away but he was sooo entertaining I couldn’t help but secretly observe from time to time. He changed from his beach attire which was a nylon sleeveless sports top and matching shorts with adidas slides on his feet into his itsy bitsy bikini bottoms. He then proceeded to spend possibly 1/2 an hour carefully applying sunscreen, there wasn’t a stone left unturned. I won’t say more. I just splashed around in my modest one piece bathing suit, floating and drifting and jumping the odd bigger wave trying to look busy. Finally after a great deal of time he relaxed down on his lounger and enjoyed sunning himself. Occasionally he would stand and posture himself for a few minutes in different poses presumably to catch the best sun angle and then he would relax down again.
By now I’m on my towel on the sand drying off and warming up. After a bit, I got hungry. I went for a bit of a gander at the food options. I tried the two nearest options, the first a full restaurant on the sand that offers nothing in the way of takeaways. The second is a roofless caravan arrangement with reggae music blaring selling soft drinks, beer, crisps, and packaged ice-cream. I got the beer and crisps.
A couple a little further along the beach from me were another rich source of entertainment. The man big bellied, gold watch and tiny togs and his woman; big hair, svelte and full make up in her tiny togs. They swung from romantic snuggling on a single lettini to shouting at each other in a stand up confrontation then back to kissy kissy loved up snuggles again in the space of a beer. In the hours I was there the woman never went in the water.
I realised as I finished my snack that I have been here about 3 hours and I need to get out of the sun now. I went in for one last dip. I noticed my Italian walk down to the edge of the water where he looked in thoughtfully. He delicately put a couple of toes in the water then pulled away. He hovered a little bit looking into the water, then turned and went back to his lounger. I wonder what it was, …not warm enough, not clean enough, the waves too big…maybe he cannot swim? I have heard not all Italians can.
That evening after a delicious nap, I got dressed and I realised I was sunburnt. I really could have done with an Ombrellone and some sunscreen.I strolled into the town to find a drink and a meal. There was only 2 or 3 options still open right in town as it was September and the season was winding down. I was sipping on a glass of white wine and some yummy nibbles when I heard the rumble of thunder far away coming from out at sea. I continued to sip and eat and more thunder rumbled getting louder and closer. After a sunny clear day it was unthinkable that there could be a weather change but within minutes the wind whipped up and we all ran inside the bar as the rain came down.
I had to tipsily jog back to my hotel, picking my way through the puddles and by the time I got to my room I felt quite chilled. I snuggled down in bed and fell asleep in seconds. I had the best sleep I had since arriving in Italy 4 days before.
In the morning after my hotel buffet breakfast of 5 varieties of fruit tart and 3 different sweet pastries, weak tea and juice I packed up my weighty bag and headed for the bus station. Retracing the bus ride back to the train station and then the train back to Rome I was in a way healthier frame of mind. Content and rejuvenated and ready to set off for Marche.
And why was it a secret? I told no one I went to Sabaudia. Everyone thought I was still in Rome. It was my delicious secret journey. All of us need a little secret of our own sometimes.