1st time in Rome--advice, please!

Old Jan 14th, 2000, 11:56 AM
  #1  
Mary
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1st time in Rome--advice, please!

Hi Fodorites--we will be in Rome for the 1st time for 4 days in mid-March (we've been to Italy before, however); we are staying at the Carriage Hotel near the Spanish Steps; a couple of early questions come to mind:

1. Can someone recommend a good walking tour company; I went to Scala Reale's site and while it looked great, I was surprised they had a registration fee and I had to submit my name, etc. to be considered--if I'm accepted!--would appreciate some feedback on whether to go with them or alternatives;

2. Would appreciate advice/opinions on how to "do" the Vatican (for lack of a better phrase); are tours offered? what time do we need to get there? what is the best order to see the sites? I realize things will be a little wild due to Jubilee so we are trying to be smart about the holy sights;

3. How safe is Rome to walk around at night? I say this from the perspective of someone who lives in Washington, D.C. proper where things are a lot better, but one must still exercise caution. What the areas of Rome to avoid after dark? Is the Metro safe at night?

Thanks in advance; all Roman tidbits welcome!

Mary
 
Old Jan 14th, 2000, 02:55 PM
  #2  
howard
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Mary: Can't help with #1, but here's some feedback on the others:
#2. Do you mean the Vatican Musuem of St. Peter's or both? For the museum, get there early, before it opens. When we were there in mid-November, we got in line about 8-8:15 in the morning (it opened at 8:45). There were about 200 people in front of us (which is nothing for a Vatican Museum line). I would guess that it'll be more crowded in mid-March, so it's more important that you go early. As for a guide, definitely get the audio tape as you enter. It's great, perhaps the best we've ever had in any museum anywhere. You go at your own pace and punch in only what you want to hear about. We felt the audio tape gave better and more info than the tour guides we heard all around us! There are two additional advantages: You can go at your own pace and it's cheaper than a guide! And, the crowning experience occurs when you get to the Sistine Chapel, where the audio tape really gives you all the information you'd ever want! Also, get a copy of "Rick Steves' Mona Winks: Self-Guided Tours of Europe's Top Museums," which we found very helpful, especially in St. Peter's, of which the book includes an easy-to-follow self-guided tour. (If you want additional info, let me know.)
#3: In November, we felt very safe. We were staying near the Termini, which is not considered the safest part of the city, but we had no problems and never felt threatened. We took the Metro in the early evening and it was fine. Just be aware of your surroundings and leave most of you money, credit cards, etc., in your room safe. You're from D.C., I'm from New York--all I can say is I felt at least as safe in Rome as I am in either New York or D.C.
 
Old Jan 15th, 2000, 06:10 AM
  #3  
Cathy
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Hi Mary,
Regarding your first time to Rome - last March was my first trip to Rome and I have returned a few times since (I live in Europe), I found MArch to be the best time of the year to visit. The weateher is relatively warm and dry (by European standards). Here briefly are some of my tips. Feel free to post if you require any more infor.

One main point is to be very security aware in Rome - I know there has
been lots of discussion in recent weeks about pick pockets. Romanian
women and babies seem to be the main offenders
Money belts are not option but a necessary and be extra careful
on the metro and bus route 64. The city is generally safe but don't take any risks that you won't take at home and stay within the walls at night.

This site has had a lot of questions about transfers to & from the airport -
Termni is under construction at the moment so if you take the express
train/non-stop into the station be prepared for a long walk from the
platform to the concourse. The local train is faster and cheaper than the
express train. For a group of 4 on the express after waiting 30 minutes it
cost us 64,000 lira - on our return trip we used an airport shuttle service
which collected us at our hotel and dropped us off at the airport - the cost
for 4 and all the bags was 80,000 lira and no hassle or worry about
watching bags etc. at Termni. They do special rates for groups. It is more
expensive for 1 or 2 individuals - 50,000 lira. The service can contacted at
Rome 0338/4180979 or 0339/1530507. Be warned that they usually do a
series of hotels and so allow plenty of time for stop offs at other hotels we
were due for check-in at 16.00 and were collected at 15.00 and arrived on
time despite a few other stop-offs on the way. They have the lowest rates
in Rome and do not charge extra for luggage. They do not however take
credit cards but we were happy with the service and would use them
again.

OK transfers and pick pockets out of the way - Rome is a city for eating
out - but service and standards often ruin a good meal. We dined at L'Eau
Vive - a restaurant recommended to us by native Romans - OK a French
restaurant in an Italian city ? Well the religious order which runs it serves
excellent food - reasonably priced and worth a visit. The nuns and staff
perform for guests at the end of the evening - singing and dancing - a once
in a lifetime experience.

We stayed near Termni - on P.za Victor Emanuel - our hotel - Hotel
Napoleon was adequate but the staff all spoke English a consideration for
travelling companions. We would not recommend eating in the restaurant - poor quality. However
there are lots of good restaurants just off the square and they are
patronised by the locals and are reasonably priced. Try La Cavour - just
one of the ones we had good food at a reasonable price.

On one of visits with older family members we decided to take one general bus tour
of Rome to see the sights and then later return to the major sites - we did
the Carrani tour of Rome by night with hotel pickup. It was a rip off and the
guide was too busy talking in 4 different languages to be good. His
language skills were excellent but if you are taking one of these tours
insist on taking an English only tour - you are all lumped together and it is
an exercise in how much German, French and Spanish you can learn
rather than a tour of Rome. On our first visit we took Enjoy Rome
walking tour - run by the people fro Faulty Towers youth hostel. The
walking tours were excellent and relatively inexpensive at about 30,000 lira
per person. The ancient Rome tour lasted about 4 hours & was excellent.
The Vatican tour was also very good. However do not pay for tours of St. Peters.
Free tours of St. Peters are available from the Vatican Tourist Office. The quality is very good. We took these tours on visits to Rome in the past 18 months. The walking tour we used for Ancient Rome was enjoy rome and they can
be contacted at www.enjoyrome.com - 0644.51.843 or fax 0644.50734 the
cost is 25,000 lira for students under 26 or 30,000 lira for non students.
The tours last 3-4 hrs and are excellent (prices are as of March 1999). We
took the Ancient Rome incl. the Colosseum, the Roman Forum,
Capitoline Hill, Trevi Foundation, Pantheon and Piazza Navona.You don't
have to stay at the Youth Hostel just e-mail them - they are cheaper than
most other walking tours and use native speakers which I found helpful
rather than trying to exclude the native accent before understanding what
the guide was talking about. Another tour recommended by people on this site is scale reale - web site www.scalareale.org

In addition we climbed to the top of St.
Peters - be warned these tours are closed during the Papal Audience as
is St. Peters. The entry to the Cupola (Dome) is at the right hand side of
St. Peters. Expect long queues. The main problem facing travellers will be
accessing the Vatican Museums - at the moment early closing means
that you have to line up early in the morning and the lines are very long.
Do remember it is free on the last Sunday of every month but there are
thousands of Romans and the tourists who also are aware of this fact.
Most major sites in Rome are returning to normal after years of scaffolding
etc. - except for the Trevi Fontana which is waterless at the moment.
There is also a small unique museum in St. John Lateran's - it is only
open on weekends and explains the court of Pope Pius IX. We took the
Scavi tour underneath St. Peters - it is very good but the guide was very
proper and correct and slightly clinical but the tour was very good. I faxed
their office before leaving home and gave them my preferred days for the
tour & the contact number for my hotel in Rome and of course the
language - hassle free. It was about 16,000 lira per person and worth it.
Free maps abound all over the place. Pop into McDonalds just to get one
of their maps - they are excellent. One small church worth popping into to
see is San Silvestro on Pz San Silvestro - a hidden treasure. Try the
following web sites for additional information www.romeguide.it,
www.scalareale.org, www.twenji.com, www.enjoyrome.com for
information on the churches and religious services try www.paulist.org. So
hope this helps.
 
Old Jan 15th, 2000, 07:59 AM
  #4  
Ed
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ScalaReale is top notch, and excellent value for money. Trust me ... they'll accept your application. (The 'corporate structure' of an 'association' has as much to do with Italy's tax laws as anything else.)

'Do' the Vatican Musuems on your own. There are usually cassette or CD tours you can rent which can be quite useful for a first time visitor. Best to get there about 1/2 hour before opening time. There will be people in line by then but you'll find much less of a crowd in the Sistine Chapel by the time you get there than if you went later.

St. Peter's is quite doable by one's self. There are other things to see in the Vatican that take a little planning including the Gardens tour (seasonal operation ... don't know if it runs in mid-March) and the tour of the excavations under St. Peter's. Info on these at www.twenj.com/romevatican.htm

We find Rome quite safe by and large, day or evening. More so than a good many parts of large US cities. It is a tourist mecca, though, and like any other focal point for tourists there are more than a fair share of pickpockets and scam artists. You'll find some notes on safety in Rome at www.twenj.com/romesafe.htm

Rome.Switzerland.Bavaria
www.twenj.com

St. Peter's you can also do on your own.
 
Old Jan 17th, 2000, 11:34 AM
  #5  
Beth
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We used Scala Reale, and took two tours. I thought they were fantastic. The "application fee" does include the orientation tour which we didn't go on, but other folks who took it said it was great. Their tour guides are extremelt knowledgeable. We went on the Roma Antica tour, and the Vatican. I liked seeing the Vatican that way because a lot of stuff is unlabeled, and I don't care for tape tours. But I have heard the audio tour at the museum is good, for me its just personal preference, its so hard to discuss things with one's spouse when you have a headset on.
 
Old Jan 17th, 2000, 01:55 PM
  #6  
cherie
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We stayed in Rome near the Pza. Navonna and Cancelleria. The finest pictures of the entire trip were taken by my husband and son at about 3am! They walked all over town with a night filter photographing marvelous sites, obelisks, etc. with no tourists in the background! It was quite safe (My husband went to Georgetown & UCLA...so he is street-smart, I think). Be sure and go to the Vatican Treasury...you'll be wowed. The overall Vatican tour is crowded and yuo move along within a great wave of people and almost forget to stop when you get to rooms you've read about all your life. Its almost surreal. When we were there, there was a giant Folon Mural near the entrance to the Vatican. (We're Jean-Michel Folon fans.) Another way to tour is literally from fountain-to-fountain. It'll take you from one end of town to the other. Be sure and put your hand in the Veritas and take a picture....and don't forget to throw a coin into Trevi! Just be tougher than pickpockets....we just barked them out of our way....along with gypsie-types at restaurants. They can be quite a nag.
 
Old Jan 18th, 2000, 08:30 AM
  #7  
Carol
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Hi Mary:

Great advice from all above. I think you'll also find lots of helpful information on the Past Hosted Forums here. There was one on Rome about a month ago.
 
Old Jan 18th, 2000, 09:25 AM
  #8  
the turnip
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Cherie, You didn't leave an e-mail address so I hope you check this thread again.

I love the idea of taking photos at night without a million other tourisits in the way. Can you please give me some additional info. on what type of filters and film speed you used?

Many thanks!
 
Old Jan 19th, 2000, 05:10 AM
  #9  
Mary
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Thanks everybody for all the helpful advice! Others, please feel free to weigh in.

Grazie!

Mary
 
Old Jan 19th, 2000, 06:23 AM
  #10  
howard
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Reponse to Beth and anyone else considering the audio CD at the Vatican Museum: It in no ways is a hindrance in communicating with your spouse/compansion while walking around. My wife and I freely exchanged observations, etc., and still got full use of the CD. After all, you control what you want to hear and when you want to hear it, and the machine is easy to turn off and on and/or repeat a commentary! So, don't let that discourage you from renting a wonderful audio tour and really enhancing your visit to the Vatican Museum.
 
Old Jan 19th, 2000, 11:09 AM
  #11  
cherie
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My husband didn't bother with a filter, he says, (I thought he used one because we bought one recently). The pictures are sharp because he used his little ole' Contax G2. He suggests using a high speed film and with slides, use a tungsten-based film to get the orange out or use a blue filter. I actually thought he used a filter because of the depth and sharpness of the orangy-beige columns, for example, against the blue-black sky. The night filming session was one of those "I love ya, man" bonding experiences between my teenage son and is larger-than-life (think Mozart) dad. And the pictures weren't bad, either. -Cher
 
Old Jan 20th, 2000, 05:36 AM
  #12  
turnip
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Thanks Cher!

Please thank Mozart and son as well.
 
Old Jan 20th, 2000, 10:40 AM
  #13  
Catalana
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Regarding the Vatican Museums -- I also have to vote for the cd headset - I thought it was wonderful (and I was opposed to the idea to start).

If you plan to spend more than a few hours at the V.M. here is what I suggest - assuming you are in reasonably good shape. What a lot of people don't realize on their first trip is that to get to the Sistine Chapel you have to follow the Museum's pre-mapped route - you can only go one way and the S.C. is at the very end. So, go to the VM early and get in line. Once you are in, get your headset and go directly to the Sistine Chapel, do not pass go, do not look at the Raphael rooms, go straight to the chapel and spend as much time as you like before the crowds hit. Now head back out to the main entry/exit part of the Museum -- have an espresso. Now go back through the Museum at your own pace, looking at whatever you like (Greek, Egyptian, and of course the Raphael rooms). Eventually (because of these pre-mapped routes) you will end up back in the Sistine Chapel. There are now 10 times as many people in there as there were your first time. Congratulate yourself that you were there first thing in the morning and smarter than everyone else. Leave, have a huge lunch to replace all the calories you spent walking around (don't eat right by the Museum entrance, most of the rest. there aren't a good value for the quality) and you are off for another Roman Adventure.

Yes, it is a lot of walking. In my book, it is worth it for the chance to spend time in the SC without a million people there. I've done it 3 times and I've never failed to be amazed at how many more people are there at the second loop. Everyone I've recommended this to also has loved it. Do not try this if you aren't in good shape however. Cat
 
Old Jan 21st, 2000, 09:29 AM
  #14  
gwen
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My sister and I stayed near the Spanish Steps a couple of years ago and felt very safe walking about at night. Be sure to go into the lovely church at the top of the steps! I can't remember if I read this tip in Fodor's or got it from a friend, but it was great and we were the envy of many: BRING A SMALL MIRROR when you go to the Sistine Chapel! The details which you can see are phenominal, and you can give your neck a bit of a break.
 
Old Jan 23rd, 2000, 12:45 PM
  #15  
Jone Osborn
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We visited Rome for a week in May. We immediately went to the Vatican offices in St. Peters Square and signed up for an English speaking tour of the Vatican gardens. You generally must make a reservation at least a couple days before the tour. It was really worthwhile. You may also be able to reserve a spot in advance by fax (I cannot locate the fax number.)
Have fun.
 
Old Jan 23rd, 2000, 01:10 PM
  #16  
clay
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Mary:
Scala Reale is great! See if you can get on a walking tour with Tom (Rankin,owner) if you can.
 

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