Europe's train systems make it possible to reclaim a sense of adventure--and still be back in time for dinner.
ROME TO OSTIA
To sunbathe Italian-style, a teensy swimsuit is required: A few years ago, the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, made a big push to redo the beaches outside the city. The result has been amazing--as if New York City's Jones Beach had been transformed into Miami Beach's South Beach. From the Ostia train station, head straight for the water. The boardwalk is full of local teenagers, young families walking with their dogs and kids, and tan people in small bathing suits. Turn right and head to one of the dozen small public beaches. For a less-crowded scene, pay around $13 to rent a chair and towel at Il Capanno, or splurge $40 for your own beachside cabana for the day at Il Delfino. Another option is a mile down the beach: Kursaal Village, a beach resort that opened in 1950. For $13, you get entrance to the beach, a lounge chair, and a locker; for an additional $4, you get access to the pool (Olympic-size, notable for its 20-foot depth and marvelous circle of diving boards). After a few hours of sunbathing, stroll down the boardwalk to Rosario Ristorante. Don't let the fancy decor scare you. The sleek bistro offers a great $20 prix fixe lunch, with a salad, a bowl of spaghetti alle vongole, and dessert. Or keep going along the beach for tapas, paella, and margaritas at Don Pepe. Linger on the outdoor patio and indulge in some last minute people-watching before heading home.
A mozzarella-and-tomato panini from a café in town.
Il Capanno: Piazzale Magellano 41, 011-39/06-560-1008. Il Delfino: Piazzale Magellano 33, 011-39/06-560-1457, ildelfino.com. Kursaal Village: Lungomare Lutazio Catulo 36-40, 011-39/06-564-70171, kursaalvillage.com. Rosario Ristorante: Lungomare Paolo Toscanelli 119, 011-39/06-561-2727. Don Pepe: Lungomare Paolo Toscanelli 123-125, 011-39/06-567-2408, paella $20.
30 minutes each way. Round-trip ticket: $2.60. To reach Ostia, pick up the regional Roma-Lido metro line (part of the city's subway system) at Rome's Porta San Paolo station and head in the direction of Cristoforo Colombo. Get off at Stella Polare, 30 minutes away. Trains run about every five minutes from 5:18 A.M. until 11:30 P.M. Each way counts as a single metro ride and costs $1.30; tickets can be purchased from machines at metro stations and at newsstands. If you need advice, look for attendants in blue uniforms--they're on hand at major subway stations. Schedules at metroroma.it.