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Trip Report Rome Tips

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Just spent four days in Rome, and am still trying to update my blog. Here are some tips/tricks I learned on our trip that I wanted to pass along.

I will also paste them here, but the blog has links, and I will add photos soon.

The Practical Stuff:

1. Get the Roma Pass if you'll be in town for a few days, and you plan to use public transportation. You can buy it at the train station from a newsstand. It costs 30E and you get free entry to the first two participating museums (NOT the vatican). Use it for the colosseum/forum (counts as one) and the Borghese Gallery. Skipping the line at the colosseum makes it all worth it. For more details, see this great site.

2. Figure out which buses stop near your hotel/apartment - the name of the stop and the bus lines. That makes it easier when you're wandering around somewhere and you see the sign at the bus stop and you want to know if you can get home. If you've got multiple lines near you, look for an express bus, they are much quicker. For example, we could take the 40 bus or the 62 from the train station to a stop right near campo di fiori, but the 40 was express. You can use the Rome transit planner site too, but if you don't have internet on your phone, it wont' help you when you're out. Also, if you don't have a Roma pass, buy a bus ticket at a news stand, because you often can't buy on the bus, or only can with exact change. (I'm not saying much about the subway here, because we didn't ride it.)

3. If you're in town in the high season as we were, the Vatican museum allows entry in the evening on Fridays only. If you're there on a Friday, DO THIS. You can book individual tickets, you don't have to do this with a tour. But you do have to book in advance for the evening entry, so don't forget to do that, and bring a printout of your tickets. This was a highlight for me. Having previously been to the Vatican museum/Sistine Chapel in August in the daytime, to see it without the crowds was wonderful, especially the Sistine Chapel. Here's hoping this secret doesn't get out to too many people.....

4. If you don't want to spend a lot of money, but you want to learn something and understand what you're looking at (especially at the Colosseum, Forum, Sistine Chapel...), then I would recommend Rick Steves audioguides. We tried them for the first time on this trip and we were hooked. I don't use his guidebooks really, but I downloaded the app on my phone and, and then before we left we downloaded the audio tours for the Colosseum, Forum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's, and walking tours of the Jewish ghetto and Trastevere. We ended up listening to all of them, much to my surprise! For us, they are just the right amount and type of information (a little corny maybe, but didn't bother us). I realize they won't be to everyone's taste but they saved us money on guided tours, and they were much more enjoyable than staring at a guidebook. We didn't even have the corresponding maps but found them relatively easy to follow most of the time.

5. If you go to Galleria Borghese, which I do recommend (and the audio guide, although it's a bit too detailed - I was wishing for Rick Steves), be aware that a)you have to reserve a two hour slot in advance online (and they sell out) b) you're supposed to show up a half hour before your time slot and c) it can be a schlep to get there, so leave time. As for showing up early, I'm not really sure what happens if you don't, but if you want to make the most of your two hour slot, you need that time before to stand online to get your tickets, stand online to check your bags/purse (mandatory), and stand on line to get the audio guide. The Borghese Gallery is in the middle of Villa Borghese park, which is beautiful, and I recommend leaving some time to explore the park before or after. It is a 30 minute walk with some uphill from Piazza Popolo/spanish steps, which I didn't quite realize until we did it. I saw people riding around on these rented bicycles for two, but I don't know where they got them. I wish we'd done that instead of walking because then my feet were very tired when I was standing looking at art in the museum. (*Note: If you buy the Roma Pass and want to use it here, you call this number on the website, instead of pre-paying online.)

6. St. Peters has long long lines. After our successful no waiting at the Vatican and Colosseum, karma caught up to us and made us wait almost two hours to see St. Peters. I'm guessing if you show up early or later in the afternoon (not 11 am like us), it won't be nearly that bad. The line is actually just for security, to go through metal detectors, there is no limited entry or anything like that. People were getting very cranky on the line, especially when others tried to cut in! I saw two people actually come to blows over it, and the police (or swiss vatican guards) were nowhere to be seen. That being said, and I'm not even Catholic or anything close to it, it was well worth the wait.

7. Make sure to walk along the river/over the bridges at twilight (which comes late by U.S. standars) - and bring your camera.

8. If you want to save money and eat at nice restaurants, eat your big meal of the day at lunch. This isn't always easy to do while touring, but restaurants often have cheap lunch deals.

9. Make sure to go to the Trastevere area (other side of the Tiber river from most stuff) at night. It's a very fun and live neighborhood for dinner or drinks or just people watching.

10. Rent an apartment if you can, instead of staying at a hotel. That way you can sort of feel like you are really living in Rome, and you can buy breakfast stuff or snacks to eat there and save a little money. We used airbnb, but there are other Rome-specific rental agencies out there I'm sure.

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