Everyone loves a Top 10 list, right? What follows is a list of random thoughts compiled after our weeklong stay in Rome. While much of the list applies specifically to Rome, some tips may be useful for any travel destination. Hopefully, one or more will strike a chord, and you won’t repeat our mistakes.
Tip: RomeBuddy.com provides a good overview of the city and helpful information on a wide variety of topics related to everyday life in Rome, from pickpockets to bar etiquette.
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10. Don’t count on using the subway in Rome as you might in other large cities such as New York, London, Paris, or Barcelona. With only two lines that intersect at Termini, the city’s main train station (which is quite far from most of the major sites), Rome’s subway system is over-crowded, uncomfortable, and not very useful. Unless your accomodations are near one of the stops, it’s unlikely you’ll use it at all, except perhaps for your arrival and departure. Instead, rely on and your own two feet and, if necessary, buses and trams. Hiring a cab now and then can help you get the most out of your itinerary.
9. Once you find a couple of restaurants to your liking and within your budget, stick with them. The cuisine in the vast majority of Rome’s thousands of restaurants is, well, Italian. Sure, occassionally you’ll come across a Chinese restaurant or two as you explore the city, but it’s the exception rather than the norm. You’ll find virtually the same dishes on menu after menu. Knowing what I know now, I’d frequent two or three of our favorites from this trip and stay with them. And more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. I had a fabulous entrée for less than €10 that made all others on the trip pale in comparison.
8. Never allow someone in your dining party to tell a waiter, "Just bring us whatever." We’d just arrived in Rome, met up with our traveling companions, and gathered for our first meal in the Eternal City. Our waiter was raving about some seasonal mushrooms that had just arrived, fresh, and grilled to perfection. Sounded good! One of my cohorts ordered wine for the table and issued those four words. I sensed danger. The waiter took the phrase literally, bringing us plate after plate of appetizers and samplers with wild abandon. Don’t get me wrong, the food was fabulous. The bill was spectacular: over €340 for a lunch party of six.
7. Have an itinerary, but be flexible, and have a Plan B. We saved one day to make a day trip to Florence so we could rent a scooter, ride up to Piazzale Michelangelo and act like the hipsters we wish we were, and dine on enormous Tuscan bistecas. But an early morning stop at the Internet café told us that it was raining in Florence, while blue skies were overhead in Rome. We decided to abort the Florence mission, but then wasted time wandering aimlessly and fumbling through our guidebooks, trying to come up with something else to do.
6. More an observation than a tip, but Rome is home to the most expensive round of drinks ever. We had a great idea. We spotted a piano bar not far from our hotel, and thought The Better Half’s nonna would really enjoy hearing some of her favorite old Italian pop songs performed live (which she did). We nosed our way into the crowded bar, found a seat for Nonna, and ordered a round of drinks. The price for three beers and a Baileys (and what had to be a magnificent cover charge for five)? A staggering €85. Enjoy that beer. I mean, really enjoy that beer. Nonna had such a good time, though, it was worth it.
5. Keep plenty of Euro coins and small denomination bills on hand for small purchases such as bottled water and museum admissions. Apparently, there’s a shortage of euro coins in some quarters, and nowhere I’ve been is it more obvious than in Rome. It’s almost the rule rather than the exception to be asked for exact change, especially for museum admissions. And you may encounter difficulty trying to buy a bottle of water with say, a €20 bill. Be ready, and help keep the line moving.
4. Going to the Vatican Museums? Unless you’re there at the earliest hour in the morning, you’re going to be waiting in line. There’s no shortage of vendors on the sidewalk selling bottled water at €2 or €3 a pop to those waiting in line. But if you wind your way through the little rectangle of streets between Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican north of Via della Coniliazione on your way there, you can stock up in little shops that sell it for less than half the cost.
3. Try to visit extremely popular sites early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. This seems obvious, but is especially true not only for sites such as the Colosseum, but smaller piazzas such as Piazza di Trevi, which is incredibly congested.
2. Don’t forget to call your credit card companies before you leave and let them know you’ll be traveling overseas. This one’s a no-brainer, right? Well, for some reason we completely failed to engage our brains enough to knock this little item off of our to-do list prior to our trip. Everything was fine until TBH’s last day (she had stayed on in Rome to spend a couple of extra days with her nonna, while I headed back home). We’d been using our credit card for nearly two weeks, but at the crucial moment when the hotel bill needed to be paid, a fraud alert finally got tripped and the charge wouldn’t go through. By the time the mess was sorted out, she’d missed her flight back to the states.
1. Never, and I mean never, send your clothes to the laundry with the key to your hotel’s safe deposit box still in the pocket of a pair of your jeans. This was the dunderhead move of the year, executed by yours truly. One good thing about this little incident: I think I will remember the Italian words for key, pants, and pocket for some time.