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Tips on visiting Rome


I have been to Rome twice and just got back from my second time, so while it is all still fresh in my mind, here are some tips on visiting the Eternal City:

  1. Make sure to see the Vatican Museum and St Peter’s. Some will try to talk you out of it because of their feelings about the Catholic Church. Do not listen to them. The Vatican Museum is one of the best in Europe – it is where Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is as well as Raphael’s “School of Athens”. St Peter’s is huge, like a big train station, but it does have Michelangelo’s “Pieta”, the one where Mary is holding Jesus after he died on the cross. Knowing and loving Western art matters more than knowing and loving Catholicism. The Renaissance popes were not holy monks, but rich princes with good taste in art.
  2. Know some Italian. It seems most Italians study English in school, but only one in four or five will know enough English to be able to help you.
  3. Buy a Roma Pass and a good bus map. A Roma Pass will give you unlimited public transport in Rome for three days and free or discounted entrance to two museums. Most people seem to jump on and off buses without a ticket, but you will certainly need it for the Metro, the underground train.
  4. Bus stops are at signs that say “Fermata” or which have bus numbers with lists of their stops.
  5. The main sights to see (divided into three separate walking tours):
    • Day One: Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Forum
    • Day Two: Vatican Museum, St Peter’s
    • Day Three: Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona. Leave time to just hang out at the Steps and the Piazza.
  6. Wear good walking shoes. Many of the good sights are within walking distance of each other.
  7. When waiters ask you “Would you like so-and-so?” make sure you know how much so-and-so will cost before you say yes.
  8. Tips: Waiters do not live on their tips, but you can leave two or three euros if you like.
  9. Try the pizza and ice cream.
  10. If you can get up early enough in the day, consider visiting:
    • Florence and Pisa (three hours to the north)
    • Naples, Pompei, the Amalfi Coast (two and a half hours to the south)
    • Take the bus to one of the outlying towns.
  11. The “Rough Guide to Rome” is generally good except that it is hard to find points of interest on the maps. Read as much of it beforehand as you can, following your interests.
  12. It is best to go with just one other person. Having more than two people in your party will tend to limit your experience of Italy and its people.
  13. Racism: black males seem to make at least some shopkeepers uneasy.
  14. Like the attractions at Disney World, the best time to visit museums is in the morning and late afternoon.

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