travel postcards, practical advice, images and snippets of randomness

You only get one chance at first impressions; Rome Fiumicino, you blew it… Half an hour after landing still no stairs to get off the plane, then a bus trip to an aged terminal with huge immigration queues. Fortunately some sense prevailed and EU citizens were waved though, the others are probably still there.

Options to get into town: bus, train or taxi, in ascending price order. Buses advertise €4 euro fee, but all seem to charge €5, train is €14, taxi from about €50.

Italian Flag

Italian Flag

I got the Terravision bus to Termini, which took 40 minutes on a Sunday evening. It can get packed and you are not guaranteed to get on the next available service, no matter what the woman on the ticket booth says… Also note: cash only for the buses.
Service was OK but it was incredibly hot and stuffy before they switched the engine on – most uncomfortable – and this was November.
For the return journey I went by train from Termini. There are 2 trains per hour and the journey takes about 30 minutes. Termini is a huge station and you would be well advised to get your ticket in advance. There is a very long underground corridor signed ‘Trains for airport’, DO NOT FOLLOW THIS… Rather get up to platform level as soon as possible and look for your train there (airport express trends to be around platform 25). The reason you should not follow the underground signage is that it will take you to the far end of the platform, if its a short train you will have to walk/ run back down 200m of platform against an oncoming crowd.
Assuming you make the return journey in one piece, fresh hell awaits at Fiumicino. You had better know your terminal, as there are 5 to choose from. Your boarding card may not tell you which, and the departure board at the railway entrance to the airport seems to not list all flights, handy… Your next task will be to locate the checkin desk and then departure gate – this may involve a train shuttle. Fiumicino is big and a mess, allow plenty of time. Better still fly to the other airport: Ciampino.
One final piece of airport chaos: none of the web checkins recognised by the computer at the departure gate on my flight – one hour delay whilst they retyped everyone’s details.

Victor Emannuel Monument

Victor Emannuel Monument

Anyway, on to Rome…

Compared to some other European capitals Rome is not that big, and the main sights in the city center are quite walkable. A good tactic is to taxi or metro to your furthest point for the day and then wander back. Stay as central as you can, the area around Cavour (half way between Termini and the Colosseum) is handy and has a laid back feel, with some good bars and restaurants.

For the purpose of this postcard I’m going to divide it into 5 sections:

  • Colosseo & Forum
  • Spagna & Trevi
  • Pantheon & Navona
  • Trastevere
  • Vatican

The first 3 are close together, as are the last 2, but if you really want to ‘do’ the Vatican you should allow a full day for the museum and a half day for St Peter’s. This is not only to allow time to view, but to cope with the crowds and the queuing; I remember when it was possible to simply turn up and walk in; a long time ago…

Colosseum & Forum

You don’t have to go into either of these to see them; the Colosseum can hardly be avoided and good views of the Forum can be had from the back of the Victor Emmanuel monument; but if you don’t go in you won’t get the full immersion… A handy tip is that buying a ticket to Palatine Hill (next to the Forum) has less queues and gets you in to all 3 places for 2 days, its also 50c cheaper for some reason.


Don’t miss Campidoglio Sq next to the Victor Emmanuel monument; designed by Michael Angelo and offering great views over Rome. The Capitaline wolf statue is at the back of the square on the left – this is a copy, the original is in a museum close by.
There are few food options in this area, but the streets behind the Colosseum (San Giovanni en Laterano and parallel streets) have some options, otherwise try Cavour – the road half way down the Imperial Way, opposite the Forum.

Spagna & Trevi

Tourist central, part one… These two attractions are almost always crowded, go early if you want a reasonably clear view.
This is also shopping central, with Via Condotti at the foot of the Spanish Steps being home to Gucci, Prada etc.

Another notable site in this area is the Cappuchin church, at the bottom of Via Veneto, where they have found a novel use for their dead; decoration… Really… Go see…

Pantheon & Navona

Tourist central, part two…
Both of these will be on your list and the Pantheon is well worth a visit. Built in about 126 AD the proportions of the dome are perfect – same height as width – and it’s still the largest brick built dome in the world. Its stunning now, imagine how it would have looked to a Roman 2000 years ago.
Piazza Navona is a short stroll further on and features the Four Rivers statue as its centre piece. The shape of the piazza gives a clue as to its original use – chariot racing.
If you leave Navona to the south end, keep going until you reach the main road, just on the other side is Campo de Fiore with flowers and fruit and vegetables, at night this becomes drinks area with a young crowd.


Food and drink options in this area can be pricey, but check for specials, competition is fierce too.
A cheap coffee option near Pantheon is the Tazza d’Oro coffee bar, as you exit the Pantheon take the street going off to the right, straight ahead across the square its only a few meters around the corner. They operate the standard Italian bar system, where you have to pay and get a receipt first then take the receipt to the bar to get your drink; how’s your Italian???

Trastevere

Everyone’s idea of a Roman neighbourhood  thanks to the film Roman Holiday. It lives up to expectations, with lovely twisty streets and vine clad alleyways. Santa Maria de Trastevre is the oldest church in Rome.
Lots if restaurants in this area, many of which are very well priced. The whole area is especially lovely on summer evenings.

Vatican

I didn’t even attempt it on this latest trip. The size of the Vatican museum and the crowds that visit are just daunting. You can end up racing past priceless treasures just to get ahead of the crowd, or to the next famous sight, exhausting… The highlight is of course the Sistine Chapel, which will be heaving, no cameras allowed. They used to have huge mirrored tables in the Sistine, to allow you to view the ceiling without craning your neck; they are long gone. The entrance to the Vatican museum is round the back, not from St Peter’s Sq.
St Peter’s cathedral is of course round the front, and again the queues will be huge, usually snaking to the front of the square. One tip is to go on Sunday morning just before the pope gives his address; the queues drop as people wait for that.

As you approach the Vatican you will be assailed by folk flogging tours, special passes etc… Caveat emptor. A common tale is that the Sistine Chapel is to close early, but they can get you in… I have no idea if there is any truth in this, but I doubt they have special privileges.

With all the money the Vatican rakes in from entrance fees alone you would think they could stop the old dears begging at the front of churches, but apparently its traditional… as poverty often is…

The Vatican is dead at night; as far as regular folk are concerned anyway. If you are in Piazza San Pietro after 10pm you will have the place to yourself; I did, long story…

Vatican - St Peter's at night

Vatican – St Peter’s at night

So, there we are, a quick postcard. Rome in a nutshell. This is of course ridiculously short, but hopefully enough to get you started.

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