Day 83: Mindful Rome Travel

Castello and Ponte Angelli

Castel Sant’Angello is made absolutely breathtaking by Drew’s photography.

In keeping with yesterday’s blog, I’d like to illustrate my main points for Rome travel.  Many of you may have read Drew’s Rome in A Day blog and so you know his main strategy, which would be to see the outside of the entire city on a walking tour.  Now I’d like to make you aware of my main musings.  You can scour the internet and find top 10 lists, do’s, don’ts, and many other Rome travel lists.  Mine is not necessarily any of those because it will include pros and cons, both do’s and don’ts.  If you are mindful of these things, you may have a more enlightened and easier trip to Rome then you otherwise would have.

  1. Stay in a reputable hotel, preferably a recognizable hotel chain.  We’ve had our share of amazing financial finds on both airbnb.com and booking.com.  If it’s too good to be true, it generally is.  Our apartment rental that was a stone’s throw from the Pantheon was the most amazing location possible, but there was a huge mold problem that messed with my allergies all weekend.   The hotel room for 3 single girls went abysmally awry when we were told one location, but it ended up being a different one next to the train station, and our room ended up being a sliding pocket door.  Yes, it was the cheapest accommodation we could find, but in that case, we definitely got what we paid for!
  2. Decide what you’re most looking for in a hotel before booking.  Are you looking for a Rome walking vacation?  If yes, you’ll want to plan on staying in the city center near the Pantheon or the Trastevere neighborhood.  Are you looking to use public transportation to get to your destinations quicker?  Try to stay near the train station or look for a hotel farther away from the city center, yet near a metro stop.  Whatever it is you want, decide before you look for a hotel.  There are thousands of little b&bs, boutique hotels, apartments, hostels, you name it, to stay in.  Once you know what you’re looking for, you can narrow your lodging search by location.
  3. Do your research and make your plan.  Going to Rome is like going to New York or London in magnitude, so plan accordingly.  While visiting most places in Italy, you can have a leisurely vacation.  PashbyMaul leisurely vacations mean that we plan the travel itinerary, book the hotel and transportation, but pretty much decide what we’re going to do when we get there, and then we’ll do maybe 1-3 attractions per day.  Rome is not the city do have a leisurely vacation in!  If you want to see everything on your list, then you’re going to need to plan ahead so that you’ll first get to everything you want to see, and second, actually see it.
  4. IMG_1027

    Look at that crowd hoping to view the Pope!

    Figure out when the Pope is making his rounds.  It was Cousin Lindsay’s birthday and we decided to do the Vatican museums.  We had a little bus snafu and lost an hour, which put us in line for an extra hour.  See #7 for my big take-away from that experience… By the time we were done with the museums, we were ready to have lunch and planned on going into St. Peter’s Basilica after lunch.  Unfortunately that plan got thrown out the window as we began seeing the hoards and masses arrive in the thousands to see the Pope, who was making an appearance.  They say that Disney World gets the most tourist per year, but if you’ve been to The Vatican when the Pope comes out, you’d seriously doubt that!  This also meant that we didn’t get into St. Peter’s Basilica that day.  When you plan to do the Vatican, you should plan to do everything there while you can, because making a second trip to the Vatican eats in to your other plans because of its location.  On the plus-side, we “saw” the Pope, no matter how far away we were.  There was an amazing ambience and energy to the entire experience, so if you’re looking for the Catholic Disney effect, you may want to plan to see the Pope.  Everyone else, avoid Pope-going-out-days.

  5. Don’t be lured in by the people with the clipboards at The Vatican Museum.  These people are trying to get you to buy a €35-50 tour of the Vatican museums, including the Sistine Chapel, plus a “skip the line” pass into St. Peter’s.  Even if you can get them to lower their price because you look like a young college student, it still won’t be worth it. What they don’t tell you is that they will lead you on a wild-goose-chase from St. Peter’s square, to their corporate office so you can pay, then back to the square for a pointless amount of information so that their colleagues can drum up more people for your tour.  Then, you ALL have to walk all the way back to their office, and then back to the museums for the beginning of the tour.  All of a sudden, the tour with only 10 people at the beginning has 40 people, and you’ve walked around for 1.5 hours without actually seeing anything.  Tourist-Von-Trapp at its’ worst.
  6. If the Vatican Museums aren’t your thing, climb the duomo at St. Peter’s Basilica.  Maybe you don’t feel like navigating through the hoards and masses to look through the galleries and see the Sistine Chapel, all while hearing a blaring voice say “silenzio!”  If that’s not your thing, pay to climb up the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.  When you reach the top, you’ll be able to see out over the entire city, one of the best views you’ll manage to find!
  7. IMG_1270

    Yes, there is a line here for everything.

    Make your Vatican plan!!  Don’t show up and wait in line.  Here are all your alternatives:  Find a private guide online and pay him/her the outrageous fee to have only your group going through the museum with him/her; Decide on a self-guided approach but purchase a “front of the line” pass online (yes, unfortunately, they do exist); Find a tour group worth going on through internet research.  Do NOT wait until you show up to find a tour; you will be disappointed.  My personal favorite: go with the self-guided approach but take an art student with you to explain everything.  Cousin Jordan was just as good as having a tour guide!

  8. Eat cacio e pepe (dialect for cheese and pepper) at least once.  This is a traditional Roman pasta dish that is absolutely to die for.  The calories won’t count because you’ve been walking all day!  It traditionally uses pecorino (sheep) cheese and pepper.  Missing cacio e pepe while in Rome is missing a flavorful glance into Roman cuisine.
  9. IMG_1262

    Outside the Villa Borghese, one of my favorite Rome attractions that is often overlooked.

    Visit the Villa Borghese.  This art museum is not in the same area as the city center, nor is it near the Colosseum or Roman Forum.  As a result, I’ve found the Villa Borghese to be breathtakingly refreshing.  You must make an appointment, and you should generally book it months in advance.  Appointments last for 2 hours and they only admit a certain amount of people at a time, due to the size of the villa.  If you’re someone who got overwhelmed at the Vatican Museums, then this is the museum for you.  Because of the size, it is easy to see everything inside your 2 hour time-limit.  When finished viewing the museum, you can stroll around the gorgeous park as long as your heart desires, and you can even glimpse real-live locals, something of a rarity in Rome!

  10. Wear comfortable walking shoes.  You may feel that this is a no-brainer, but think again.  If you’re a fashionista who can’t fathom giving up fashion for function, your feet will kill you.  And you’re going to have to wake up and do it all over again the next day, for potentially 3 more days, or however long your trip is!  Most of us who like fashionable footwear like it because we want to look more European.  The only way to find a happy medium is to stick with brands like Clarks, Merrell, Timberland or many other brands that seem to understand the fashionista’s travel plight.  Otherwise, Nikes are all the rage here in Italy this season, so you could probably get away with wearing Nikes with everything, even casual dresses.
  11. Early risers have the advantage.  Jordan, Lindsay and I timed our Colosseum day to get out of our hotel by 8:30am, take the metro, and arrive at the Colosseum before the 9am opening to begin standing in line.  We were greatly rewarded by actually being let in before the official opening time, and not being crowded with people.  We actually felt like we could breathe there.  Although it is your vacation, think about waking up early to get to a few main attractions early in order to beat the insanity.
  12. Don’t forget to be cheesy.  Most of us only have one trip to Rome.  Are you really going to waste your photo ops because you’re worried about being perceived as silly?  No!  Make those Roman Holiday/Three Coins and a Fountain/Lizzie McGuire poses, along with all the statue poses you want!  They’re YOUR memories!

I hope you’ll be able to take my tips into consideration when you’re on your next trip to Rome.  I do write with some experience as I’ve been there 4 times.  A lot of my plunders can be avoided by applying the advice I’ve just left you all.  Buona vacanza!

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2 Responses to Day 83: Mindful Rome Travel

  1. Brad Copas says:

    Agree with all but 6 and 10 are a must!

  2. Matt says:

    The best tip I ever got for the Vatican was to go on your own, then “join” a group in the Sistine Chapel just as they were exiting through the “tour only” exit. You get to skip all of the lines and go straight to the top of St Peter’s.

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