Just split Rome and headed north to visit famiglia near Lugano, Switzerland so time for the requisite highlight reel of my three days in the Eternal City!
Get lost – Not literally, but take to the streets with no particular agenda and wander about. Central Rome is smaller than you think, very walkable (Seven Hills? What Seven Hills!) and one great open air museum. There is something magnificent to gaze upon at nearly every turn. iPhone users, be sure to download a great app call Rome2Go, which has a built in tour guide, street and Metro maps and works through GPS so you can essentially use it off line (and save your upgraded international data roaming plan for all that blogging you will do!)
Take the Metro – The Metro doesn’t traverse central Rome, so it’s easy to avoid. However, after two plus days, I managed to figure out how to string together an itinerary that helped me access sites directly on the two main lines. I was able to hit the Colosseum, Termini Station, the Vatican, Prati and Villa Borghese via the Metro in a few short hours. And four euro buys you unlimited rides in a 24 hour period, quite the bargain in an otherwise ridiculously expensive city.
People watch and eat panini at Termini Station – Seriously, I can’s say this enough. I had read about the food court on a couple of blogs but almost blew it off – after all, it’s a train station. However, since you transfer the Metro there, I decided to hop off and see what the hype was all about. And gosh darn, it’s absolutely stunning!
It’s brand new, has some fairly swank shopping and an amazing cafeteria – Cafe Autogrille – where you can enjoy some surprisingly fresh food, relax and watch the show from the mezzanine level. Unfortunately the weirdo factor was moderately low – this is no Penn Station! – but it still delivers quite the hustling, bustling spectacle.
Rent a bike in Villa Borghese – I wanted to see the Central Park of Rome, but it’s difficult to navigate on foot given the size. Additionally, all the museums were closed when I went there, so I didn’t really have much to do. But it’s really easy to check out all the monuments on two wheels and a great way to work off all that street meat. Be sure to cruise past Largo del Marcello Mastroianni and say “Ciao bello!”
Wedding crash – Not literally, but if you should stumble upon a wedding in one of the many churches you will likely visit, then by all means grab a seat and say a little prayer for the happy couple. I was fortunate enough to bear witness to a nuptial Mass at San Luigi dei Francesi, the official church of the French congregation in Rome and also home to a Caravaggio triptych considered to be an unsung masterpiece. I missed the Caravaggio, but saw a very theatrical priest put on quite a show for the wedding guests, and in French!
Research! – I didn’t do much advance work in the way of sightseeing, but of course I sought out restaurant recommendations and food blogs to ensure my culinary experience was optimal. Just because it’s Italy doesn’t mean it’s always gonna be good. Rome caters primarily to a tourist clientele, so most restaurants offer basic Italian fare to suit all tastes. However, it pays to do your homework, find out where the locals like to dine, and pound the pavement in search of cibo matto because you are going to have to work off those extra calories somehow!
I hate to be hating, but there are some things you can avoid and still get the most out of your visit, like…
Wait in line! – The most popular sites have lines to rival Disneyworld in peak season. If you absolutely must see the inside of the Colosseum, then rent “Gladiator”. You will spend your day shoulder to shoulder with your new German and English besties when you could be discovering lesser known delights, like the view from the Palatine Hill.
The Vatican – Sorry Pope Benendict, I know you are having enough trouble tending your flock without me telling folks to skip the Holy See, but to put it gently, it’s a bit of a Charlie Foxtrot. You need zombie strength to fend off the surging masses of your faithful just to give St. Peter a foot massage, not to mention the patience of a saint to withstand that line, while there are so many other worthy basilicas and churches to investigate. And Benny, while I got ya, may I also suggest a groovy new revenue stream? Given your status as a sovereign state, consider offering a stamp of the ol’ passport to visitors who set foot on Vatican City soil. I’d gladly pay one euro for that memento!
Stay at the Spanish Steps or other high traffic tourist destination – Unless you enjoy tour buses and groups obstructing that view you paid 500 euros a night to enjoy. Sure, you have easy access to all the sites, if you can make your way through the crowds to get to them! Why not try something residential or off the beaten path, like Leon’s Place (it’s a nice place to stay!)
Be timid about taxis – You practically have to throw yourself in front of a cab to hail one on the street. And if you see three older Italian men heading toward that unloading taxi with a quickened pace, you better run because they WILL upstream you. And forget about “ladies first” – that rule apparently does not apply in Italy. Remember, you’re younger, fitter and given your American provenance, a bigger jerk, so use it to your advantage! Make Larry David proud!
Sacrifice comfort for style – Now normally I would not advocate this under any circumstance, but if you’re really gonna do all that truckin’, your snakeskin flats will quickly transform into tiny torture chambers. By day two I was yet another tourist in a pair of running shoes – THE HORROR – but my barking dogs forced me to go over to the dark side. Also, if you are going to lug a sweater around with you, try to tie it around something it will actually stay on, like shoulders or a waist, and not your purse. Some lucky Roman is now the proud owner of a Comme Des Garcons Play cardi!
Beat yourself up if you don’t see everything – So you miss a few crucial sites, big deal. This is why God invented Wikipedia. Plus it was more important at the time to watch the Lazio-Palermo match from the comfort of your hotel room than from a pub in Trastevere.
So that is all she wrote on Rome. I hope you are as exhausted as I am! Missives from Ticino and northern Italy are coming soon so stay tuned. And don’t forget to review the final Rome meal tally, now up at StreetMeat!