Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rome made easy

I remember my first trip to Rome and Italy, I was scared to death, I've heard so many stories. I have just returned from another trip to Rome and Italy and this time time felt really at home. I was still very cautious as one should be but not scared and paranoid. The sights in Rome are always packed with people but with a little strategy, Rome can be simplified and made much more enjoyable. These clear shots taken at the Trevi fountain would not be possible if we had not gotten there early before everyone. Later in the day there's standing room only.
If one flies in and out of Fumucino airport, compared with Paris Charles de Gaulle or London Heathrow, it is not that big to be totally intimidating. There are 3 terminals, A, B and C. A and B are usually where most people fly in and out of and terminal C is where British Airways uses. There's a tram that connects C to A and B.
So much for Rome Fumucino, the next big thing to get familiar with is Roma Termini, the train station in Rome. It is always so crowded that one feels lost in it. It is very easy to navigate really. To the east and southeast of it on Via Marsala, some may consider this area seedy but it is not really. Tour groups from all the world uses this area a lot, there are hotels of all price range in this area. One wanders if a reservation is really necessary. There don't seem to be a shortage of rooms. We were there over the Easter weekend, the place seems pretty sedate. Definitely it was kind of difficult finding an American among the crowds, there are a sprinkling, maybe the Americans are staying home because of the unfavorable exchange rate. There were a few intrepid souls there like myself. Make the train station your best friend,
- most likely you'll be taking day trips out of Rome on the train.
- you'll be going to other parts of Italy on the train.
- you'll be coming from or going to Fumucino on the Leonardo Express.
At the airport, ask where the train station is, the Leonardo Express zips you to Roma Termini in 30 minutes and costs 11 euros each way. You can get a ticket from any of the numerous newsagents nearby. At Roma Termini, the official ticket counter will sell you a Leonardo Express ticket or again you can get them from the numerous newsagents. Remember to validate the ticket. The Leonardo Express leaves from and arrives at Binaro 24.
I usually purchase my train ticket the day before travel. This way I know exactly what time to be at the station on the day of travel. Look at the board that says 'Partenze" or departure. Find your train either by matching the number indicated if there's one or match the time of departure. Go to the binaro indicated, find an official train person, show him the ticket to make sure you're on the right train. Don't forget to validate your ticket by having it stamped at the yellow metal boxes. Some trains have assigned seating, make sure to find your 'carrozza' or coach number. Some sectors of travel are packed and to secure a seat, you can request an assigned seat for a few euros more and if someone is occupying your seat, just ask them to move.
There's a supermarket at the basement of Roma Termini at the Via Marsala exit, this exit will feature prominently in the train station. There'll be a sea of humanity at all time of the day. It's a crazy place. Hang on to your things but you don't have to be scared and paranoid. It is so important to pack light, wear comfortable shoes, secure everything and enjoy travel, watch the young backpackers, there are all kinds of travelers, people coming and going. It's a lot of fun!
Lines, lines, and more lines- the lines at all the major sights are long, there are a few ways to beat it.
- go early in the morning, some places like the Spanish steps and the Trevi fountain are always opened. We were at these 2 places at 8.30am and I've never seen the Trevi fountain so empty before.
- the other is to go with a walking tour, they can get you in ahead of the 3 mile line outside the Vatican museum or else go early again. That was how I saw the Vatican museum, by going early. A lot of these walking tours can be booked online before even leaving home.
- learn to use the metro and the bus and be ready to squeeze as sardines. I've become pretty used to it, at least, this trip I didn't get fondled like I was in Palermo. It was on a bus from Palermo to Monreale, it was crowded. This guy behind me had his hand in his pants pocket and had his finger in my butt crack for most of the trip. Or take a cab or just hoof it.
Bus 64 from Roma Termini takes you to St Peter Basilica and the Vatican museum. It is very crowded, just get use to it. When in Rome, do what the Romans do. Tickets for the metro and the bus can be purchased at any newsagent.
Most of all, enjoy Rome, enjoy Italy, head South to the heel or to Sicily. I love Southern Italy and Sicily more than the North.

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