Everybody knows Rome, but only the people who ever went on a Mediterranean cruise will know Civitavecchia. Rome doesn´t have a port, so, Civitavecchia is the gateway to this magnificent former capital of the Roman Empire, and present capital of Italy.
Because I used to do cruises departing from Rome, I would normally stay at the comfortable Hilton Rome Airport hotel, which can be conveniently accessed through a tunnel directly from the Fiumicino airport.
I have been to Civitavecchia many times, and most of those times I was unable to escape the lure of Rome. To get to Rome from Civitavecchia you can take a train, departing from the railway station located ten minutes away from the cruise ship terminal. The regular trains will take about 40 minutes to get into Rome, and the new express trains take only 20 minutes.
Once in Rome there will always be so much to do, and the time will never be enough, especially if you want to see favorite highlights like the Sixtine Chapel or the Colosseum. As far as Michelangelo´s masterpiece is concerned, I can´t say that I have seen it yet, but I did once make the mistake of enduring a visit to the inside of the Colosseum. Truth be told, I had been around the Colosseum many times before, even striking a friendship with one of the gladiators that populate the surroundings, but, unless it has been your life-long dream to see the Colosseum, there is not much to those ruins that will change your life, especially in the murderous heat of the Roman summer. On the other hand, if you do have a pre-booked excursion, the Vatican Museum, which houses the Sixtine Chapel is totally worth it, but, if you DON´T have a pre-arranged visit, the eternal queuing up will put you off any kind of chapel, take my word for it.
Inside Vatican City, what I have seen is St. Peter´s Basilica, and the paintings and sculptures in there alone would take a full day to observe. Even if you are not a believer, the architecture and the light inside that cathedral might bring tears to your eyes. Other than that, there is not much else to do in the Vatican, which is only a small area in the city of Rome, although it is an independent state, just wondering around the Piazza and looking at beautiful buildings. The line-up to go inside St. Peter´s Basilica is always manageable, even in the summer, and there is no entrance fee, but the dress code is very strict, as in any Italian church: no bare shoulders or skirts above the knee.
One place I will never tire of seeing in Rome is the iconic, if anything was ever iconic, Trevi Fountain. Eversince Anita Ekberg dipped her feet in the fountain´s green waters in Fellini´s “La Dolce Vita”, everyone who comes to Rome wants to see the place. Trevi is very hard to describe; the massive stone sculptures, the perpetual tourists throwing coins inside it, in the hope of returning to the “eternal city” someday, there is a lot I could say, but nothing would equal the sheer beauty and splendor of Rome´s most famous fountain.
If you have the chance, you should also try to reach one of the panoramic spots on top of one of the seven hills of Rome. If you choose well, you might be able to see the imposing Roman ruins from a unique perspective. If you still haven´t had enough of Rome, you might wanna head towards the Spanish Steps, location of one of the world´s most renowned fashion shows; after all, Armani, Valentino, Gianfranco Ferré and the like are all Italian for a reason…
One curious thing about Rome is how many people who were ever someone lived there at some point in their lives. For example, by the side of the Spanish steps, you can find the last dwelling of the Romantic poet par excellence, John Keats.
But, if you are more into XXIst century celebrities rather than ones from the 1800´s, like Keats, forget about Rome, and drive out to Bracciano lake, with a stop at its magnificent castle. It was only by accident that I ended up visiting the castle, and by sheer chance that I ever found out that this was the place chosen by Tom Cruise to celebrate his wedding to Katie Holmes.
Bracciano lake is one of those huge lakes that look more like the sea, and the medieval castle´s scarce windows have breath-taking views of it. The inside of the castle is preserved in a way that it feels like Isabella de Medici will come in any minute; nothing has been embellished, the rooms are small and dark, and the structure is labyrinthine. It was in this castle that Isabella was murdered by her husband with a silk scarf; not a very good omen for those renting the castle for their wedding…
There are lots of little towns in the area that you can visit, several beaches on the way from Civitavecchia to Rome, but nothing will ever top the grandeur of Rome, its fountains and parks and cathedrals, the restaurants at the bottom of the Spanish steps, the museums packed with masterpieces and the busy nightlife; and don´t get me started on the shopping, designer stores and summer sales, topped with the delicious pasta and pizza, the wine and the Prosecco, a favorite champagne-like drink.
After centuries and milleniums, Rome has managed to remain a center of culture, high cuisine, fashion and the arts. If you want to find out why, all explanations will fall short; you will just have to see it for yourself.