After two years of living in the COVID-19 pandemic, during which I worked at a grocery store and came into contact with countless people who had tested positive, I caught the virus at the worst time possible: right before the end of my time here in Rome.
The seven-day quarantine took a lot out of me after dealing with both my awful physical state and the anxiety of being kept in my apartment for so long while other students on the program happily explored the city. By the time I tested negative, I had pretty much gone stir crazy. So, the day after I got out of quarantine, I decided to finally go to the beach and look out at the Italian waters.
At the suggestion of Temple Rome staff, I went with some friends to a beach called Santa Marinella. Although a beach called Ostia was closer to where we were staying, Santa Marinella had a much fresher, natural look in the pictures that we saw. The train ride was only forty-five minutes, too, which wasn’t bad at all! A short walk from the station later, we got to the beach. My friends brought out some snacks and soda that we had, but I immediately kicked my shoes off and began to walk around in the sand.
I hadn’t been to the beach since I was a kid, even though I don’t live too far from it in Maryland. It was so surreal to be able to hear the waves crashing, to see the place where the water and the sand met, and to walk into the water itself. I was so used to the smell of chlorine from public pools that it was almost strange to be chest deep in water and not smell it.
My friends and I splashed around for a while (and I unsuccessfully tried to learn how to swim on the fly), and as the sun set, we moved to some partially-submerged rocks and sat while the tide came in. The waves got a lot stronger as the hour grew later, to the point where it moved me all on its own! Again, I kept thinking about being at pools and swimming in relatively still water. The little ripples in the water of a pool didn’t compare to the waves of the sea. My friend and I were talking while the waves came at us, and we both agreed that it almost felt like the sea was alive.
It got dark, so we tidied up and went off to find some food. There were a lot of restaurants by the seaside, but we ended up eating a little closer to the station at your typical pizza-and-pasta restaurant. Everything was going great—I was out of quarantine, I had had a great time at a beautiful beach, and I was having some good food.
And then, I checked my phone, and realized that we had missed the last train.
It wasn’t even something that we’d considered. After all, if we had been taking a train in Philadelphia, for example, worrying about missing the last train at only eleven o’clock at night would be the farthest thing from our minds.
But, we weren’t in Philadelphia, and we had definitely missed the train, and the next one wasn’t coming until four-thirty in the morning. We tried to look for a taxi or an Uber, but the taxi was going to cost us two-hundred euros, and we couldn’t even find an Uber. After a brief panic and getting in contact with Temple’s emergency line, we realized we really only had one option: we had to wait for the four-thirty train.
Unsure of what to do, we headed back towards the station. The platform was very well-lit, there were vending machines in the waiting area, and to our pleasant surprise, there were also a few cats roaming around that occasionally watched us from afar.
It certainly wasn’t ideal, but I was glad I’d gotten stuck with people that were able to stay positive. We laid our beach towels out and sat on the platform, drank some of the soda that we had left from the beach and had snacks, told stories, played 20 Questions…we all got to know each other a lot better, and even though we were all pretty bummed about the situation, it quickly became a source of comedic relief. Occasionally, a train that was heading in the opposite direction would pass by, and we’d happily wave “hello” to it even though nobody really saw us.
We kept the energy going all the way until the train came, just a few minutes past four-thirty. We were all giggling and smiling with glee when it pulled up! The minute we got on the train, two of my friends fell asleep, while my other friend and I listened to music. The forty-minute train ride was nothing compared to the hours we waited, and we were back home in a flash.
I felt guilty about the whole thing. It had been my idea for us to go to the beach, but I hadn’t been responsible enough to check the time of the last train. I apologized again and again for my oversight, but my friends insisted it was okay, and by the end of the night (or, the beginning of the next day), we could all agree that even though we would never, ever do it again, it was fun in its own way.
That day is probably going to be the biggest highlight of my trip, oddly enough. Of course, I had a wonderful time at the beach, and I’m probably going to go to one back home now that I have a greater appreciation for the water. But I can’t ignore the second half of the day where we got stranded, either. The me from a few months ago, or even a few weeks ago, might have started crying if she’d gotten stranded somewhere in a foreign country. And yet I made it through, both with the company of my friends and with my own growing perseverance…
Most importantly, I learned to check the train schedule before I go anywhere!