An Amateur’s Guide to Rome
Ciao and benvenuto to another instalment in my amateur’s guide series where I, an amateur, give you an insight into my travels where I’m not really sure what I’m doing! 2017 is the year of visiting countries I’ve never been to before, and this time it’s Italy; probably one of the most romanticised countries ever. Cute cafes on each corner, mopeds speeding along beautiful tree-lined roads with beautiful villas on hilltops.
I knew I wouldn’t be going to this idyllic scene. I was going to the capital, Roma. A place filled with rich history and ruins.
In & Around
Rome is definitely a lot bigger than I thought, but it’s still super easy to get around. The metro, while not like the underground with its many lines and routes, is still super helpful and inexpensive.
The main station of Rome is Termini station, this great big thing slap bag in the middle of the city with a shopping centre inside. Coming from Fumicino airport, The Leonardo Express is your best bet right into the city with no fuss. But taxis and buses are also readily available.
There are two lines on the metro; red line and blue line. I didn’t even set foot on the blue line, but I assume it operates in the same way as red but only going a different route. The metro is perfectly safe, and I often saw armed soldiers roaming near ticket booths and information points which – seemed a little excessive. But, considering there was a terrorist attack on the London underground while we were away, I can’t say that it didn’t make us all feel a little bit better.
I think the main sites of Rome, the ones in all the guide books, are The Vatican and The Colosseum. These were, without even opening up a website about Rome, places I knew for a fact would be huge, busy and need a good portion of a day to do.
For both, without a pre-booked ticket, you’re going to be queuing a lot. I saw lines so long they stressed around the walls of The Vatican and I’d heard from previous holiday goers that they had regrettably not bought a ticket and queued for as long as 4 hours. FOUR HOURS OF YOUR HOLIDAY. STANDING AROUND DOING NOTHING. So buy a ticket if you want to get in and spend that time actually sight seeing.
The Vatican and The Vatican museum was by far the most boring part of my trip. As a non-religious family, we were hoping to at least be enamoured by architecture and paintings and the history behind Catholicism but instead there was just a lot of shuffling around hot corridors and being pushed through The Sistine Chapel. It was very disappointing, and the crowds made my anxiety flair.
St Peter’s Square was a little different; it’s free, more spacious, and much more impressive. We sat there taking pictures, eating ice creams, and ignored the men selling roses.
I feel like they need a whole paragraph. Throughout Rome, there are people selling crap you don’t need. They do not respect your personal space and will shove a rose or fidget spinner or anything into your face even if you’re sat down, speaking to someone, or taking a picture. There are also people hired by tour companies around major sites that make it seem like they’re just offering friendly, free advice, but will eventually coax you into purchasing expensive tours that you don’t necessarily need, especially if you already have a tour prepared and paid for. The whole walk to The Vatican we were accosted by people standing a few feet from one another, attempting to sell stuff. It’s fine to be polite at first, but eventually you’ll want to punch one of them in the face. Just ignore them, just keep walking, and even if you have to stop for some reason, keep ignoring them when they come up to you. Some got angry when we did that, calling us rude, but trust me, they are being much ruder.
The Colosseum was better.
The queues were the same, the annoying people selling things were there, but the history, the sites, the ruins were so much more interesting. There’s the Colosseum and Palatine Hill (which I accidentally called Palpatine Hill and then just continued to say that for the rest of the trip) and the Roman Forum, and it’s honestly beautiful. So much history and culture and quiet in the middle of a bustling and cramped city. If you’re thinking the Vatican isn’t your thing, then definitely keep the Colosseum on your list.
I found while walking through Rome, that Rome is not exactly what I expected. Despite being in the cultural centre of Italy, it didn’t feel very…Italian. However, that wasn’t the case when we visited the stunning and the quintessentially Italian district of Trastevere.
Trastevere is filled with narrow, cobbled streets filled with music, food, drinks and lights. Sometimes you feel like you’re getting lost, but it’s the fun part of a holiday; getting lost in a beautiful city. It felt like a world within a world with it’s own culture and life. It had small cafes with people spilling out of them, fountains, entertainers and small museums. I would recommend coming here for something to eat and peace and quiet from the horrific traffic and graffiti of the rest of the city.
The best place to go for views, without a doubt, is Villa Borghese Park, above the Spanish Steps and overlooking Rome. The best time to go is at dusk, with all the buildings looking orange and the city itself looking so peaceful, while it’s always busy wherever you go, people are chill and quiet, taking nice photos and enjoying the cool breeze up there. I found that it’s popular with couples too so if you’re a couple in Rome then you’ll feel right at home making out on a bench in a park. Seriously, it was like heterosexuality was being shoved in my face but the view was worth it.
There are also other places with spectacular views, including the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, Castel Sant’Angelo and Palatine Hill.
Safety and Expectations
So at this part of the guide, I usually go into sleeping arrangements, my hostel/hotel experiences, but as we just stayed in an apartment outside of Rome, I thought to use this space to talk about safety, and the realities of Rome which I found out during the planning and researching of my trip.
Unlike my trip to Copenhagen, I did TONS of research about Rome. I am always mindful that, as a tourist, I am automatically a vulnerable target; I don’t know the language, I’m carrying lots of bags, and I’m in unfamiliar surroundings. Rome is a very popular place to get pickpocketed or robbed. I watched countless footage of it on Youtube actually happening, and of people talking about their experiences. The most popular places to get pickpocketed are as follows; train/metro stations, crowded tourist areas, just after you’ve been to an ATM. But, you should always be vigilant. I wore a money belt which, to be honest, wasn’t really necessary when my mum had a backpack that she defended with her life, but it reassured me that to get to my phone and card, pickpocketers would literally have to feel me up to get to them – which is quite common on public transport. We also avoided Termini station altogether, which is known to be a hot spot for theft.
Like I said, Rome is easy to get around on foot and the only time you should have to go through Termini is getting on and off The Leonardo Express.
There are also a lot of street sellers. These aren’t beggars or buskers, they’re just guys trying to sell you stuff and do not care about your personal space. They are mainly in large tourist areas, and are similar to the commissioned fake tour advisors. They’re pushy, relentless, and will trick you into buying things. At one point I was on the Spanish Steps when an American couple asked me to take a picture of them. Right as I was taking the picture, some guy shoved a fake rose into my face saying “1 Euro? I Euro?” and would not stop until I physically pushed him (gently) and yelled “No!” in his face.
And that is my second amateur’s guide of the year! Let me know where you’ve been recently and recommend any places I should visit next!