Monday, 13 September 2004 – Rome, Civitavecchia, Cruise

My research the day before had told me the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel would open at 8:45 this day. It also said reservations were not necessary. We got up at 7:00, ate breakfast at the hotel, then headed toward the Vatican. We took the Metro from Piazza della Republica to Ottaviano station. From there, it was a short walk to St. Peterís Square. We followed the signs toward the Museo Vaticani, and we quickly found ourselves at the end of a very long line. It was 8:30am, so the place wouldnít open for another 15 minutes.

A tour guide pitched her 2-hour tour for €42 each (whoa!). When we said we didnít have 2 hours, she offered a shorter tour, then offered to just get us to the front of the line "for a tip." We thought that would be a little too dishonest, so we declined. We didnít want to wait in line, though. We felt that by the time we got into the museum, it would be time to head back to the hotel, pack, and check out.

Instead, we walked back to St. Peters Square, where we took a few snapshots, refilled our water bottle, and then started back. We wanted to get a picture of the queue of people. By this time – about 8:50 – the line was another 100 yards long, and stretched to the entrance to St. Peters itself. As we watched, more and more people got into the line.

I couldnít resist getting pictures to document the length of the line, so we crossed the street and walked along the other side, taking pictures. After that, we made our way back to the Metro station, bought return tickets, and returned to our hotel.

We composed a couple of e-mails, and I went out to connect to the internet while Chris packed. I tried the internet point next door. There was a different attendant who spoke English well, but we couldnít get my computer on their network. I executed plan B: back to the Metropole Starhotel to buy another hourís worth of wireless connection.

When I was done with the internet, I went back to the room, where Chris was just finishing the packing. It was still only 11:00, so we relaxed for 45 minutes: Chris reading and me updating the journal. At 11:45, we checked out and pulled our bags to the train station. We were early again, and had to wait for the 12:35 train. The train was listed on the departures board, but was not assigned a track number yet. At 12:25, it still did not have a track number, but was listed as being on time.

While we waited to find out which track our train would depart on, Chris poked me in the ribs, pointed across the station, and said, "Is that a man or a woman in the leather pants over there?" Twenty feet away was a couple loading bags onto a cart. The one in leather pants had her back turned toward me, but I could definitely make out feminine hips and the outline of a bra strap under her shirt. She also had long hair and feminine biceps.

"Definitely a woman," I said. Chris didnít look convinced, and she said I should check again when she turned around. When she turned so I could see the front of her, I could make out medium-small breasts in the bra, but then looked up at her face. She had 5:00 shadow! There was no doubt that the person I was looking at was a transvestite. If he/she had had a chance to shave, we wouldnít have even noticed him/her.

Finally, just after 12:25, the track number appeared. It was the closest track to us, so we were quickly situated on the train. This time there were no assigned seats. In fact, our ticket was good for any train from Rome to Civitavecchia between 12 September and 11 November 2004. No ticket master ever appeared to punch our ticket, so I suppose we could use it again. That is, if we were going from Rome to Civitavecchia again.

A very chatty Asian man took the seat across the aisle from me. When he saw me pull out the laptop to work on this journal, he said "I have one just like that. I take digital pictures and use it to store them. Iíve taken 500 pictures already today." I wonder what he does with them all other than store them on is Sony Vaio laptop. I chatted back just enough to learn that he lives in Vancouver, BC and he travels a lot. He told us about the great deal he got on a 12-day cruise on Holland America line. He asked how much we paid for our cruise. Unwilling to discuss it with him, I simply told him I couldnít remember. Thatís mostly true. We had prepaid in two chunks months before and I really couldnít remember what the total was.

We arrived in Civitavecchia around 1:45pm. We shared a taxi with two women from Tennessee who were on a different cruise. The short taxi ride cost us €20. It was worth it, since we didnít know where to go, and it would have been a long way to pull our bags even if we had known.

When we arrived at the ship, it was only about 2:00. Our cruise materials had said boarding would start at 3:00, but we were able to get on right away, after our bags were tagged with our stateroom number and the official photographer had taken our boarding picture. We ascended the gangway and were quickly ushered from one station to another: through a metal detector where our cruise documents were examined; into a lobby where we were offered champagne (but accepted orange juice); to a station where we handed over our passports for the duration of the trip and received ID cards in exchange; to another camera that took our ID photos; to the reception desk where I gave a credit card for shipboard charges; and finally up to deck 10 where we could sit at a table and sip our orange juice.

What a whirlwind! There was a lunch buffet on deck 10, but we had bought sandwiches in Rome and eaten them on the train.

At 2:35, an announcement on the P.A. system told us that staterooms were now ready. We went down to deck 7 to check out our room. It was prepared, but our luggage was not yet in it. We went back to deck 10 where I got a beer and Chris drank tea.

By 4:00, the bags were in our room. We unpacked and settled in a bit. At 5:30, there was a "muster drill" where we had to find our way to our emergency meeting spot (Muster #2) and practice putting on life vests. At 6:00, the boat cast off, and the entertainment crew were introduced. A band started playing the Love Boat Theme and we were off. The music didnít get much better after that. We reserved a spot at Don Vitos – the alternative to the main dining room – for that night. We would try it out. If it was any good, we would come back later in the week.

Next I signed us up for the Mount Vesuvius hike the next day. Then I filled out a room service order for breakfast the next morning. There was no extra charge for room service on this cruise. We were ready to be pampered. In that vein, we both signed up for massages on Friday, the day we would be at sea.

The Radisson Diamond

Back at the stateroom, we finished settling in. We put the smaller suitcases into the biggest one so they would take up less space in storage. I had screwed up the in-room safe somehow, and we couldnít get it open. A technician came and opened it for us, made sure I could successfully operate it, then was on his way. We just had time to shower and dress for our 7:00 dinner reservation. On our way out the door, I called reception and asked them to store our empty bags. The woman on the other end assured me the housekeeping crew would take care of that during turn-down.

The first part of the dinner was a wine tasting with hors díoeuvres. Dinner started at 7:30 and we sat at a table for two. The meal was a set menu with three appetizers, a salad, two pastas, and a main course. I passed on a couple of the appetizers, but succumbed to the shrimp.

Between courses we had entertainment in the form of jokes and songs from a couple of Italian men. On some of the songs, members of the wait staff joined in. On others, audience participation was encouraged, or enforced. Between the salad and the pasta, the main singer said he would teach us all how to sing an instrumental. All we had to learn was [falsetto] "bee-you", sounding like an electric guitar slide. After a couple of trial runs with the audience singing back to him, he took up his microphone and walked among the tables. After a couple of "bee-youís" from nearby tables, he eyed me and walked over. He put the mike to his lips and sang "bee-you" in his falsetto, and pushed the mike toward me. No one in the room was more surprised than me when the "bee-you" that came out of my mouth sounded exactly like his. I even got applause. Well, everyone who sang it got applause, but mine was sincere.

We were full and skipped the main course. When we got back to the room, there was a note for us saying the Vesuvius hike had been cancelled. Not enough people had signed up for it. Thatís too bad, because Chris and I were hoping to meet the young, fit passengers on this ship. We guessed there must not be many of them. Our suitcase was still in the room. When I moved it to the side, I realized the crew must have thought we hadnít unpacked yet. It was pretty heavy because of the other bags inside it.

As the boat sailed on, we sat on our balcony, just soaking up the fact that we were voyaging through the Mediterranean Sea. About 10:30, we headed to bed.

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