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Rome, the Eternal City

Author: BJC
Email: BJC49@telstra
Date of Trip: June 2006

This report is on the five days we spent in Rome and one in Florence pre and post an Eastern Mediterranean Cruise we have just completed.

It’s late May, early June and the tourists have just started the summer invasion of Rome. As such, the first tip we can provide is to get up early and start your sightseeing no later than 7:30 am, or you will be overwhelmed by the tide of humanity that invades the popular tourist sites from about 9 am onwards.

A prime example, having arrived at our hotel in Rome early evening, we decided to walk to the Trevi Fountain, which was just one block away. There were, what seemed like, 10 thousand people trying to get a glimpse of and throw their coins into the Trevi, and most were finding it quite a struggle.

Yet at 7:30 am the next morning, there were six of us, and it was truly a personal and magical experience, and one I can highly recommend.

We stayed both prior to and post cruise at the Hotel Regno, at 330 Via Del Corso, chosen for being right in the middle of the Old City, and just two to seven minutes walk from the Trevi, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Pizza Navona, Campo de Fiori, Forum and Colosseum, and a 10 minute and 1 Euro bus ride from St. Peter’s, like they say “location, location.”

There are a number of hotels in this part of Rome, the buildings of which can be many hundred of years old. And while they are mostly modern and clean inside, the rooms are small and the bathrooms are tiny, so be prepared for this as a trade off for being so close to most of what you want to visit while in Rome.

Let me say I did a lot of searching the Internet for reviews and recommendations for restaurants to eat at, and we arrived armed with a long list.

Don’t waste your time, there are thousands of very good and reasonably priced Cafe’s down each side of every street and lane in the old city, we tried a new one every night, and never had a bad or overpriced meal.

Most display their priced menu outside so just wander along until you find one that looks good. A reasonably full house normally indicates a good place to eat, and while you’re there, don’t be frightened to order the House Wine, red or white. If there are a few of you, get the one litre jugs for about 5 – 6 Euro or the 500 ml half pot for 3 – 4 Euro. It’s very, very drinkable.

For lunch, there are heaps of pizza shops where large trays of all different types of steaming hot pizzas come out of the ovens every couple of minutes, and all you do is point to the one you want they will position the knife over it and you tell them how big a slice, and you pay by weight.

A big slice, which they fold in half and serve in a napkin — that as a big person I could only just eat — cost about two Euros, and if that’s not your style the Deli’s sell big crusty bread rolls full of Palma Ham and Cheese for about three Euros. It’s the only way to go. And if you’re still hungry, there is a Galatia ice-cream shop on just about every corner. And let me say without fear of contradiction, Italian ice-cream is to die for.

Don’t be afraid to buy your postcards, sunglasses, handbags, scarfs and anything else that takes your fancy from the many stalls that pop up all over the place. If the prices are marked and look reasonable, then that’s what you will probably have to pay. If they are not marked, and when asked the price is more than expected and/or at other stalls, then you should bargain with them. Don’t buy unless you’re happy. Just thank them and walk away.

Without going into lengthy detail, as there are many other areas where this information can be found, we visited the following places of interest in Rome and would summarise our experiences as such:

Trevi Fountain — A stunningly beautiful piece of artwork, unfortunately located in the wrong spot. Go early, but go.

Pantheon — Stunning in every aspect, spiritually moving once inside, a must see

Spanish Steps — When we were there, there were thousands of tourists sitting on the three levels of the steps, which is apparently what people go there to do, why, because there is nothing else, I wouldn’t waste my time, sorry.

Piazza Navona — Stunning statues, fountains and beautiful buildings. By day it’s full of little stalls where artists display their paintings, postcard to A4 size, mostly water colours of every aspect of Rome, absolutely beautiful and for about 10 Euro. At night restaurants abound.

Campo de’ Fiori — A small square that from about 7 to 8 am fills with flowers, fruit, vegetable and produce stalls, including meat and fish. If you want to know what the locals eat and what it costs, then this is a must visit. Also in the buildings that form the square there are Delicatessen’s that are stocked to overflowing with hams, sausages, cheeses, pasta, olive oils, balsamic vinegar, truffles, cakes, biscuits and wines. I was convinced that I had died and gone to Heaven!

Forum and Colosseum — A tip, I bracket these together as we walked through the Forum to get to the Colosseum, and purchased an entry ticket at the Forum that gives you entry into both sites so as to avoid the mile long queue at the Colosseum. Once past security, take your ticket and follow along the section for guided tours while the others wait to get their tickets.

Colosseum — It is undoubtedly a magnificent structure and just full of history. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the roar of the crowds. Make the effort and go.

Forum — This place dates back over two and a half thousand years and represents nearly a thousand years of history, when Rome was literally the centre of the known world. Walk on the same cobblestones that the likes of Julius Caesar once trod. Stand by the rostrum by the Arco di Settimio Severo where Mark Anthony delivered his oration at the funeral of Caesar. Close your eyes and simply soak up the history.

St. Peter’s and Vatican City — Unfortunately, we missed the Sistine Chapel, as when we arrived just after 8 am the queue was already three blocks long. It didn’t open for another 45 minutes, so we gave up on that idea.

St. Peter’s Basilica — There are simply no words that I can think of to describe the awesome grandeur of this Basilica. It simply took our breath away.

Speaking of taking one’s breath away, we climbed up to the observation deck atop the dome. We had opted to pay the seven Euros to take the lift up and down. What we did not understand when reading the warning signs, was that after the lift there are a further 320 steps up to the top, and 320 back down, and not just ordinary steps. Instead they are just one person wide and they wind around inside the shell of the dome. Once you start, you cannot go back. However, let me say that the view from the top was well worth the effort, especially in that you get to see all of Vatican City, including the most stunning gardens. The other bonus is that there are toilets and a coffee shop/souvenir shop run by the nuns on the roof of the Basilica, and only a few hardy soles to share it with. Also the lift down drops you off right into the Basilica so you avoid the queue waiting to get in.

While we thought that this had to be the highlight of our visit to Rome, and we were truly awed by the beauty and majesty of the Basilica, and while we are Christians but not Catholics, for some reason I was not moved spiritually. However, I expect it would be different for everyone.

Please beware, there is a downside to Rome. Big tourists crowds attract beggars, gypsies, pickpockets and strolling accordion players, all of whom are out to get your money. Unfortunately for us on the way down from the Forum, in a big crowd in the middle of the afternoon, when we were tired and had dropped our guard, my wife had her purse neatly lifted from her backpack.

Luckily, it only contained money, about 70 Euro, which was more than she would normally carry, as she had intended to do some shopping on the way back to our hotel. I had our Credit Cards in a money belt strapped to my body under my shirt and tucked into my trousers.

Just a warning, don’t carry anything about in Rome that you cannot afford to lose, unless it is all but impossible to get at without some form of physical effort, and don’t use your credit card unless at a reputable store, hotel or service provider.

ATM’s are plentiful and easily accessible. Only draw out what you need, and only carry with you what you expect to spend at that time. Keep everything else in the safe at your hotel.

And don’t look wealthy. By that I mean don’t adorn yourself with lots of jewelry. Bright and shiny baubles attract attention. Avoid crowds or crowded places, and if unavoidable keep turning around and looking at the people near you. If you are carrying important things in a backpack wear it on your front until you can get some space around yourself.

So on to Florence, we did a guided bus tour from Rome, which can also be done on the train, and for a lot less. However a tip for you, in Florence, as in Rome, Athens, Pompeii, Istanbul and just about anywhere where tourists are in the Mediterranean, if you are in a tour group, you get priority access to places where the individual tourist has to queue up for.

In Florence there was a queue a mile long to get to in see “David.” Our group simply strolled up to the section for tour groups and went straight in, much to the consternation of those individuals waiting in the queue. So there is some value to be had from an organised tour.

What can one say about Florence, such a beautiful city you need longer than a day to do it justice. Unfortunately it was all the time we had. In hindsight, we should have gone up in the morning, stayed overnight, and gone back to Rome the following afternoon.

Then all too quickly it was over and we boarded the long flight back to Australia. Beautiful Italy, sadly just Rome and Florence this time. Mind you we had already visited Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, magical Istanbul, Kusadasi and stunning Ephesus, Athens, Naples and Pompeii, but that’s another cruise story.

We’ll be back, as there are three sets of our coins in the Trevi, to be sure!

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