I must admit that from the first time I saw a video of a Segway I have been intrigued by the technology. There is something about seeing someone cruising along on what looks like an early model push mower that seems to defy the basic laws of physics. And yet it is brilliant use of physics that makes the segway such an amazing machine. A couple of weeks ago I was searching on the Internet for ideas of how to spend our free time in Rome and came across a company that was offering a three and a half hour Segway tour for around $90 AUD. To me this seemed like a pretty good deal as other operators charge similar amounts for about an hour. In fact I would have happily paid that amount just for the experience of riding the machine, the tour would be an added bonus.
When I mentioned the option to the rest of our team, five others also decided to follow me into the unknown, None of them had ever ridden a Segway before and I thought it best not to tell them that Jimi Heselden actually died of injuries sustained when he accidentally rode his Segway over a cliff. That would be tragic enough, but it takes on extra meaning when you point out that Mr Heselden was actually the owner of the company that manufactures Segways !
The company providing the tour was not too far from the Colosseum and we decided to take the Metro from Termini to the Colosseum. Although the Metro works extremely work and gives unlimited travel for 100 minutes for only 1.5 Euro, it was disappointing to see the graffiti covered carriages. Both the insides and outsides of every carriage were completely plastered with graffiti. This served to remind us that actually our trains in Melbourne are clean by comparison.
When we made it to the Segway office, Lionel discovered that he had accidentally booked his tour with another company and no amount of discussion would allow the two companies to transfer his booking. Thus our group was down to 4 Ghostrollers plus an English couple who were across in Italy for a couple of days. The Segways were lined up and we were then informed just how easy it is to crash on these contraptions. That was not a great way to instill confidence in an already apprehensive team.
The first 30 minutes were spent on a training session and, after a few initial abrupt stops and starts, I started to get the hang of the thing. When none of us managed to fall off we followed our guide out into the hustle and bustle of Rome. Much of the roads we were riding on were constructed of uneven cobblestones but the Segway handled the surface quite well.
After we had climbed up and over the first of Rome’s seven hills, I no longer felt anxious and really started to feel exhilerated. We started to dodge and weave and test out our new prowess, ,but an ominous noise behind me indicated that someone had come to grief. I looked back and saw Mary lying on the footpath while her Segway took off without her. I could not help but feel a sinking feeling in my stomach, however Mary immediately got back to her feet and assured us that she was fine. In fact that was the only incident we had all day.
The next stop was the huge Circus Maximus, site of the famous chariot races of Ben Hur, and the ideal location to really let the Segways stretch their wheels. We thundered down the main straight but I soon discovered that the harder I pushed forward the more the control handle pushed back into my stomach. At the end of the main straight our guide explained that was because the machine has an automatic speed limiter. He asked whether we would like the speed limiter disabled ? Stupid Question !!! Does a duck like to swim ? A few minutes later all our limiters were disabled and we were charging up and down the arena like crazed hoons. What an absolute blast.
The next three hours were spent riding from place to place all over Rome. It was a fantastic way to explore the city without walking behind some flag toting guide. I could really become addicted to this contraption but I had to admit that, by 1 pm the hot sun was taking its toll and I was glad to step down and look for a shady place to sit down.
Unfortunately the place we chose to sit down turned out to be a restaurant owned by Rome’s surliest restaurateur. It was the classic case of service WITHOUT a smile and was a huge contrast to the friendly service we had enjoyed everywhere else in the city. I had ordered pasta and when it was served I made the mistake of asking for some Parmesan cheese. You might have thought I had asked to marry his daughter – he was so disgusted. There was no way he was going to bring any cheese so I just had to give up. The pizza that had been ordered by Gonny and Mary seemed to have left the kitchen minus the topping, and the rest of the dinner would have scored about 2 out of 100 on any dining scale.
I then asked for the bill. This led to another unfortunate confrontation when he refused to give it to me. I was only allowed to see the total, apparently the bill was his property and he did not have to give it to us. Any chance he had of getting a tip immediately went out the window and down the Appian Way. Since his total was 37Euro we gave him 40 Euro and asked for our change. When he reluctantly returned with our 3 Euro we told him to give it to the wandering piano accordion player who had been playing nearby. There’s one restaurant I will never go back to again.
By mid afternoon I was back at my hotel and glad to escape the burning heat outside. This was our final full day in Rome and tomorrow morning we will be catching the train to Venice which will be starting place for our cycling adventure. I think we are all hoping that it will be a few degrees cooler there.