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johngerard Aug 14th, 2009 12:29 AM

Rome without a guided tour
We flew out Ryanair Liverpool to Rome. The flight was early – 4.30 – and very smooth. Liverpool must have the smoothest runway in the world as the plane barely bounced.

It took 30 minutes for the baggage to be unloaded at Ciampino which seemed excessive. We were approached by a taxi agent promising 65 euros to Rome centre but we chose the normal taxi which cost 65 anyway. The taxi got us to the apartment but what a ride. We slipstreamed an ambulance & then overtook it on a slip road. The driver needed 2 lanes on the bends as he was going so fast & he nearly rammed numerous scooters.
We were staying on via Governo Vecchio & the setting was marvellous. After throwing in the suitcases we set off to Piazza Navona. It is a wonderful piazza. We strolled around & headed out at the side of St Agnes’ church & up to via dei Coronari before heading back to the apartment. I thought there were not as many plants on show as I had expected. In Liverpool anywhere touristy has planters & troughs scattered around but in Rome they go for fountains & water fonts.

After a brief rest & a snack – Roman bread is soo crusty & hard – we went back to the Piazza Navona & down the corso del Rinascimento for some window shopping. I note the police love their uniforms & badges, even the plain clothes police have their Armani's - you can almost see them thinking do I catch a criminal or keep my uniform neat?

Saturday we set off to the campo de Fiori meandering the side streets to the market. It was not as big as I expected & after an hour we were in the via Arenula. We found ourselves in the Jewish quarter & had lunch by the forum Boarium. After lunch we walked through the forum ruins & headed round to the colosseum. The heat was overpowering & we sat in the shade to recover a little. How grateful we were that we did not book any tours. The tour guides were driving on their groups relentlessly & the stragglers trying to catch up looked about fit to drop. We walked around the colosseum & had to wonder why people pay for tours that have them rushed around or queue in the baking the sun for hours to tick a few boxes off the list of must sees. I saw the colosseum, I marvelled at its size, I appreciated its history – I did not need to go in.

My maps now came in handy. I had printed off enlarged sections of the bus routes. I had the colosseum section & where we were staying section, looked for bus numbers that appear on both & checked that it was not a one way street route, picked the buses we wanted & went to the stop. I had got some tickets from a newsstand. On the bus a woman was saying I didn’t need to put my tickets in the machine – for 4 euros I did not want to risk falling foul of the inspectors. I then got my satnav out & was then able to work out what stop to get off at when we got close to our apartment.

Arriving back in the apartment we realised how exhausted we were. We decided in future to have afternoon siestas during the hottest part of the day. It was Saturday; we were on our holiday so after a rest we were out again. I took us towards the Pantheon which was now shut & headed on to the Trevi fountain. We arrived just on sunset & managed to get some daylight photos & then had to opt for the sunset setting. Crowds were up to 3 deep but it was not that bad – everyone was taking photos for each other so they could appear on their pictures. It was fun. 4 coins in the fountain & we headed back.

Sunday – the day before I had asked a priest if the pope was back in the Vatican after his fall & was advised only a televised appearance from the summer residence would be given in the square. No need to rush back from Trastevere markets then to get to the square. We set off later than planned & after 25 minutes arrived at Santa Maria church where a service was on. Some beggars were in the entrance way but because they were smoking within the church grounds I would not consider any donation. Rule of thumb for donations – I do not contribute to anyone with a dog – if they can afford a dog they don’t need to beg & 2 dogs they definitely don’t, if they are drinking, eating & smoking in a place of worship I would ignore them – they should at least observe some respect for where they are & if the beggars are holding up printed photos of the same family I would consider that a bogus scam too.
Further meandering brought us to the famed Sunday market. It reminded me of Gt Homers Street market in Liverpool but with less variety. It was an interesting collection of goods but after 2 hours of seeing the same types of stalls we had seen enough. Whilst wandering around 4 women in arab dress came up to me & started stroking my arms & asking for money, then 3 kids joined in but I quickly realised before they got to my pockets that I was being targeted by pickpockets & managed to chase them away. We got the tram back to Argentina stop & went for a lovely lunch by Piazza Navona. A short walk back to the apartment & siesta time.

Refreshed we headed for a jewellery shop on corso del Rinascimento but they had sold the amber pendant my daughter wanted. We then went to their other shop by the Pantheon but it was closed. As it was still early we returned to the Trevi fountain. It was on the way back that we got our first hot chocolate densa. The waiters explained it was too hot & they didn’t make them at this time of year but the manager came out & after a bit of persuasion he agreed to make them himself. We ate them off a spoon they were that thick. On the walk back we picked up some fruit crates that had been left out for the bin men. They had Italian labels printed on them & will make fantastic window boxes or planters in the garden – cost = nothing. I am surprised that no one has picked up on this enterprise – in Ireland they sell carved turf, in Wales they sell shaped coal figures.

Monday we were off to cash in my euro cheques & head for the Spanish steps. The Pantheon was open so we went inside. From reading my guide books I was expecting it to be more like a roman temple. The insides have been revamped into a church & spoilt with tombs to 18th century kings with big egos. Ignoring the changes made in the last 500 years it stands as a marvel well worth a visit.

Arriving at the Spanish steps I was first struck by the lack of flowers that appear in every magazine or postcard. We had our lunch & climbed the steps. The view from the top reminded me of Mont Martre in Paris. As it was very hot that day we took the cooler shaded road along to piazza del Popoli. The roof top gardens looked marvellous with their potted red geraniums. Further to my list of when not to donate to beggars add people with walking sticks who appear unable to walk but have climbed half way up a stairway & lie in the baking sun. My trusty bus map gave me 2 buses that would get us back & both were at the stop. The first was an environmentally friendly electric minibus but it only took 3 passengers & a wheel chair – no good to us. The other bus was soon full but with the engine off there was no air-conditioning. After 10 minutes it was off & we were soon back at the apartment for a late afternoon nap.

Our evening walk was to the castel sant Angelo. It was such a nice night we pressed on to the Vatican. Considering all the other open churches in Rome I was surprised to find that the centre for the whole catholic religion was shut & is only open during business hours. With only around 30 people in the square it was as if we had it to ourselves. We jumped a taxi back for 7 euros.

Tuesday – the only way to get to see the Sistine chapel is to book a guided tour or self guided tour. We had a 9.00am self guided tour booked & we up early as a result. The basilica was open but the queues were building & we only had 30 minutes to get to the museum. We went straight in without any problems & made our way through the museum to the Sistine chapel. The tapestry & art work were impressive apart from the modern stuff – it looked really out of place & I wonder why it was there. The Sistine chapel ceiling is incredible but the place itself was disappointing – it reminded me of my school dining hall – it should have had benches, an altar, rails, candles & side altars. I thought the other churches in Rome were more impressive & they were free to enter. Glad I went but will not go again.

On the way out through the various shops I noticed a cement truck delivery. I joked to my son that it was today’s delivery of tomorrow’s fake statues that are made by nuns doing penance for their sins. The cement is actually used to make fake sections of the Sistine chapel ceilings that sell for over 65 euros for a piece the size of A4 paper. Leaving the museum the queues did not seem to be too big – 12.30 so maybe the credit crunch is starting to manifest itself in less tourists.

We had a reasonable lunch on via Candia & then walked down the street for a wander. An old fellow wearing a Brazil football shirt started bouncing a ball on his head. He then asked for money I think based on the number of times he could bounce it on his head. I was thinking of giving him a euro or two but when he spat at us that was it. He then spat at my daughter & my wife started shouting for the police – not one anywhere. We calmed down after getting some bargains in the shops there & got a taxi back to the apartment – 15 euros even though it had been 7 euros to the door the night before.

Siesta time again while I got the groceries in.

Our evening walk took us to campo de Fiori, more handbag sellers – my daughter haggled them down to 15 euros & then back to piazza Navona.

Wednesday & our last day in Rome. Back to campo de Fiori to get some bargains we had seen earlier in the week – I took the glassware back to the apartment & caught up with the family in the square. Took a bus to santa Maria Maggiore. This is a beautiful church built following a vision by pope Liberius to build a church where it had snowed that night (August 5th). Whilst we were in there one of the religious tour guides with a caterpillar trailof followers marched in singing hymns, they proceeded down to the crypt, sang some more & left singing more hymns – very bizarre. We had lunch nearby & then we went to santa Prassede church. There was a funeral taking place so we nearly didn’t go in. Walking around the church there is a small chapel with part of a pillar. On looking in my guide book it explains the pillar was part of the pillar where Christ was flogged before the crucifixion. As the church dates from 200ad I would not be surprised if it was true. The pillar looked to be about 3ft high & it was not clear if it was from the top or bottom section. I was really moved to see this relic so openly on display.

We got a taxi back to the apartment, did some packing & had a quick nap.
Our final night was spent around piazza Navona & we popped into a church that may have been santa Maria Anima where you can leave a written prayer which is offered up at mass the next day.

Thursday we were up early to finish packing. We walked to the main road where taxi’s park & got one to termini station. I had pre booked our tickets to Florence following the method detailed on this site. A man at the station looked at my ticket & walked us to the cabin we wanted & when I offered 5 euros for his assistance he demanded 10. He hadn’t even helped with the suitcases but we had to pay him – I would not fall for that one again lesson learned.

My lasting memories of Rome will be the wonderful buildings, the churches, piazza Navona & all the fountains, the food, gelato, how easy to walk to everywhere is and I will not forget the heat.

Maudie Aug 14th, 2009 01:21 AM

Thanks for taking the time to write your report,well done on getting the hot chocolate. Would you please share the details of your apartment? Sounds like it was in a good position.


johngerard Aug 14th, 2009 02:06 AM

I haven't reported the apartment as it detracts from the holiday - we used Romesweethome for Rome, Florence & Venice & will never use them again - I have attached my views on them to a previous article & hopefully anyone researching them will call it up rather than trawl through a trip report.
Piazza Navona area is so central for everywhere we would definitely book in that area next time.

Maudie Aug 14th, 2009 02:44 AM

Hi John, I checked out your other thread, sounds awful. I will make sure we stay away from romesweethome, certainly sounds like they don't like up to their name.

kybourbon Aug 14th, 2009 06:42 AM

An official Rome taxi from Ciampino airport is a set price of 30€ for four people including baggage. You must have taken an unofficial taxi.

johngerard Aug 17th, 2009 12:48 AM

I was in the official white taxi - the meter was running & it was on 65 when it stopped. Tyhe taxi fare from the Vatican to Governo Vecchio was 7.50 one night but 15 euro in the daytime for the same route. I saw it on the meter & was in the official white cab. I was also charged various rates in Florence for the same trip - 6.50 euros train station to Duomo, where we were staying was the cheapest but I was charged 7.50, 10 & for a booked taxi 20 euros for the same route. It is hard to object when you don't speak the language & you don't know your rights.

TDudette Aug 17th, 2009 04:01 AM

Nice report, thanks for bringing back memories:

"I note the police love their uniforms & badges, even the plain clothes police have their Armani's - you can almost see them thinking do I catch a criminal or keep my uniform neat?" We noticed that also. DH says he thinks there's an Italian gene needed to wear one's jacket over the shoulders so successfully!

"Arriving at the Spanish steps I was first struck by the lack of flowers that appear in every magazine or postcard." Same here, plus it's so much smaller than many of the pictures, eh?

Regarding beggars: A woman with no hand was found to have sprouted one while counting her loot at the end of the day. Next day, she had lost her hand once again!

"A man at the station looked at my ticket & walked us to the cabin we wanted & when I offered 5 euros for his assistance he demanded 10." We had something similar getting a taxi-the guy kept us in his sights. He too was unhappy with the 5 DH handed him but accepted defeat.

Looking forward to Florence.

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