Tourists tend to arrive at Rome's Fiumicino international airport after long haul flights. Most of them tow and lug their bags straight onto the Leonardo Express, the dedicated rail service taking them into the city. We bucked the trend and walked instead from the baggage collection area to the Hilton Airport Hotel along a covered walkway. No trains and city hassle for us; grumpy, smelly and tired as we were after our 25 hour journey from Australia.
The hotel is fine. Reasonably priced, clean and offers most services, including a free shuttle bus into the city (more about that soon). Check-in was slow though and seemed to be more complicated than it needed to be. Maybe it was just us. As I've said, we were a bit grumpy and tired. It's interesting how even the most good natured, easy going person can grow claws and snarl at times like these; not a pretty sight, but why does it take several hundred key strokes by the check-in clerk to assign a room? As for other travellers, equally tired and grumpy, pushing in front? There were a few of those too. One couple decided it would be an appropriate time to begin a full blown hissy argument between themselves. Ah the joys of a late night, crowded hotel reception area.
But I should stick to the topic.
Ostia Antica is an archeological site about 10 km south of the airport. We thought it might be fun to have a look at it, instead of rushing in to Rome the next morning to see stuff we had seen several times before. We're so glad we took the time to do that. Even though it's close to the airport, public transport to it is problematic. The hotel reception suggested a taxi (€30 each way) and we took one.
The taxi dropped us at an empty parking lot, in the corner of which was a small ticket office which was closed. “Open soon”, the driver said as he sped away. We looked around and there was just us. The morning was beautiful though and we entertained ourselves until opening time spotting feral cats that looked too well fed to be feral. Someone had even left some bowls of water out for them.
The site is huge; maybe two or three square kilometers, and has loads of impressive ancient buildings. We had the site pretty much to ourselves and spent three hours walking from one archeological splendour to the next.
There is a very well preserved theatre complex. You can sit on the seats and it is easy to imagine the actors playing to the crowd. Nearby there is an ancient forum, at least one christian church with its rounded sacristy, temple complexes and hundreds of private houses. The streets still have their original paving stones!
This place is well worth a morning or afternoon of your time while you are in Rome and feel like doing something a little different from the usual tourist must-does.
We had to ask the ticket office at the ruins to call a taxi for us but we did not have to wait long. Walking the eight or so kilometers back to the airport is not really an option.
After lunch we hopped on the hotel shuttle bus which dropped us in the city centre. Services are two-hourly so we spent the next two hours walking through the thongs of tourists between the Victor Emmanuel Monument and the Via Cavour. It's surprising what you can fit into two hours. Central Rome is not large. You can walk from one side of it to the other in less than an hour.
Really though, why would you push through crowds in central Rome (especially if you have been there before) when you can have an entire ancient Roman town to wander through virtually by yourselves? We were lucky to be at Ostia Antica in the morning before many people arrived, but I can't imagine it would ever be anywhere near as crowded as modern Rome itself.
Ostia Antica: a recommended alternative to anyone who likes Roman history and has already visited Rome.