Alongside the Cruise Ships – April 2007
Our Tirrenia ferry from Arbatax in Sardinia arrived at Civitavecchia.
As the ferry gets close to land you see oil terminals. Maybe not oil terminals, buildings that look mysterious with red-and-white horizontally painted chimneys. And we thought, Civitavecchia looks like a place you’d want to escape from.
The pilot boat bounced through the wake at the harbour entrance and somehow a man gets off the pilot boat and in through a door at the side of the ferry as the little pilot boat rocks and bounces in the waves. Having deposited the pilot the little boat was able to arc away back to his mooring.
Italy is still highly unionised, not least at the docks. The Tirrenia ferry captains do this trip hundreds of times. They don’t need a pilot to help them. But jobs have to be maintained. The pilot will know that his job is just to be there, because the rules say he has to be there. Chances are the captain won’t even allow him on the bridge.
And a tug came alongside, on the opposite side of the ferry from the pilot boat.
The cruise ships
On our left we passed the P&O cruise ship, Aurora, with personal balconies for those folk who can afford it. It costs upwards of €3,000 per person for a cabin for two with a balcony overlooking the oil terminals for a two-week cruise, and these things get sold out, and personally I’m not too sure, it’d be a big risk, but one day in the unlikely event I ever get some money I might give it a try, though I have a definite suspicion I’d be in a state of cringe. There’s a sheltered swimming pool on the top deck, protected from the wind by a wall of glass or plastic panels, but the ship was moored right by the oil terminal, and we thought: that’ll be nice, to sit on the balcony all day with a view of smoke and concrete. But coaches were driving away, taking the people on day trips, to Rome presumably, about one or two hours drive away.
Further into the harbour, on our right, were more modest cruise ships, one marked ‘Pullmantur’, extremely modest, with little more evident outside facilities than on our ferry, from what we could see (Pullmantur is a Spanish cruise ship company). And another from somewhere in Germany, seeming to be very sparsely equipped, and indeed from the top deck of the ferry, where we were standing, we were looking down on these ships. Why didn’t I write down the names of these ships so I could look them up on the web later? Remember to do that next time, dumbo!
How to park a ferry when you’re facing the wrong way
Our ferry drove right to the end of the harbour, and clearly had somehow to get in backwards to an adjoining dock, to put its vehicle ramp down in the right place. The way it did this was by being pulled round from the rear by the tug, so the ferry turned clockwise on its centre point, and then when it was facing out to sea again the tug pulled it in backwards, at the last minute disengaging the tow rope and throwing it to men standing on the quay – or more precisely throwing its guide rope to men on the quay, as to throw the rope itself would have been too heavy. The men who caught the rope attached it to a bollard so that the ferry could pull itself in on its winches.
Free shuttle bus – but not for me
We could see on the dock buses saying Free Shuttle Bus and we wondered whether one of these might take us to the railway station, but no, these were shuttle buses to bring the cruise ships’ passengers from their ship into town, dropping them off pretty much where we were now standing. A free shuttle bus for the return trip to the cruise ship was being boarded by grey-haired women in pale-wash clothes, wearing white linen sun-hats.
A man in articulated sunglasses
We asked the man in charge of the shuttle buses where the station was, and he said 300 metres on the left, so we set off to walk to it, and found that the older part of Civitavecchia looked quite a pleasant seaside resort. People were drinking coffees at sea-front cafés, including, it appeared, some people off the cruise ships. A fat man standing there in Bermuda shorts and articulated sunglasses looked at us rather intently, intrigued no doubt by two grey-haired folk with rucksacks marching along so determinedly, and had we not been so unsure how long it would take us to get to Rome, we should have stopped and said, Hi, had a good trip? Since we had time to spare in Rome as it turned out, I now wish we had done. We might have found out something about life as a passenger of a cruise ship.
The wind talks to me
There were lots of double-deck suburban trains from Civitavecchia to Rome and we got on the first, leaving at 11.40 am. We sat upstairs by an open window – some of the windows would not close, as we discovered because Italians were trying to close them – the wind noise was too great for them to hear what their friends were saying through the mobile phone – and the window just kept falling open again, so they moved seat, for to be unable to hear one’s friends on the telefonino, how can one live like that?
We sat and watched through the windows as the train rattled on by the fields of just-ready broad beans and artichokes, and I listened to the wind talking Italian to me through the open window that wouldn’t close: oova — itta — eyvey — eeno. And at length, we and the train got to Rome.

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