ITALY CHEAT SHEET
- Visa: No for US / Canadian / Australian Citizens for tourist stays less than 90 days + no necessary vaccinations
- Best Time to Travel: Spring: April - May Fall: September - December. Peak Season is Summer: June-August
- Currency: 1 Euro (€) = $1.12USD / $1.49CAD / $1.59AUD
- Cost of Typical Meal - 13€ and up for a cheap, local breakfast or lunch. Expect to pay more in tourist areas and if you get called in by a pushy host.
- CC friendly: Yes
- Transportation Friendly. Buses / Trams are incredibly efficient, easy to understand and affordable, approx 1.50€ one way.
- Airports: Closest airports are Fiumicino aka Leonardo Da Vinci airport (FCO) and Ciampino (CIA) (Budget airlines fly to this one.) Airport Shuttles to Termini Station approx: 4€ to 6€
- Language: Italian, with some people speaking English within the touristy areas.
ONGOING RUMOR: The food is delicious.
MY EXPERIENCE: Delicious food is hard to find in the super touristy areas of Rome, you'll need to do your research to find great food. Pizza is also sold by weight not by slice!
"I FOUND ROME A CITY OF BRICKS AND LEFT IT A CITY OF MARBLE"
As the plane pulled into Ciampino Airport in Rome, Italy I couldn't help but notice how picturesque the sky looked. The sun shone from behind the clouds, it's rays of light illuminating the sky in hues of soft yellow and pink turning my window into a real, live Renaissance painting before my eyes. I was excited to explore Italy on my own. In fact, this would be my first city completely alone. I had no cell phone, no friends, and on a scale from 1 to 10, my command of the Italian language was a monstrous 0. This was all right with me though, I was looking for an adventure.
As I got to the bus terminal, the clerk looked at me and asked, "Solo?"
"Yea!" I replied eagerly.
"Surely, you are meeting with friends here?"
"Nope. Just me!"
He shook his head brusquely.
"In Roma, you need to have a guide show you around. It will not be good for you. Good luck." He bid me farewell and tsked to himself.
"Thanks." I walked away, jilted by his odd choice of words. Little did I know, he would be entirely right.
THE TRUTH ABOUT ROME
Rome is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been to. There's something jarring about a city who's history still lives and breathes steps away from your hotel doorstep. Within every corner is an old crumbled ruin that serves as a memory of a once world powerful civilization. Beyond the glory and magnificence of these ruins today however, are streets cluttered with tourist stores and selfie stick selling mongrels. If you are expecting beauty, Rome is the place to see it, just be wary that you'll have to fight thousands of other people to get to it.
Explore Rome by foot and you could get lost in the ruins for days. Take a walk through Italy's version of Central Park, The Villa Borghese to go for a boat ride in the pond. Guests can even rent bikes, trikes and four seater bike rides to explore the park. One of the oldest, still working water clocks stands here, as well as a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Exit through the Piazza del Popolo to get a gorgeous view of the city, or another famous spot is to grab a seat on the Spanish Steps to muster up your courage to enter the massive crowds of Rome.
In the center, plenty of the ruins are within walking distance of each other. Leave your phone at home, bring a map and get lost in the city. Every turn of the cobble stone street leads to a a new discovery, whether it be The Pantheon, Campo de' Fiori or Piazza Navona.
Vatican City is famous for it's holy connotations, serving as the home of the Pope. For me, Vatican City was made famous when a boy in my 10th grade Biology Class declared "The DaVinci Code" as the best book ever written. Ten years after Mr. Miller's Science class I found myself booking a trip to Vatican City to see the infamous Sistine Chapel and The Basilica and reliving my own Dan Brown novel. Getting to Vatican City is easy, take the above ground tram line to the last stop you get a view of the entire city for 1.50€. Once you arrive at the last stop, Vatican City is a brisk 5-7 minute walk. There are plenty of city guides wearing neon vests to help you with directions to get you on your way.
BOOK YOUR VATICAN CITY TICKETS ONLINE AHEAD OF TIME. THIS TICKET ALSO INCLUDES A VISIT TO THE SISTINE CHAPEL.
Make sure you PRINT YOUR TICKET and arrive during the assigned time. If you don't get your ticket online beforehand, then go to Vatican city in the late afternoon around 3-4pm. By this time, most of the crowds have disappeared. In my experience, visiting sites in Rome from mid to late afternoon tend to be less crowded. I don't recommend joining a tour group/getting a tour guide. These groups get to be obnoxiously large. Your tour guide will be mounds of feet ahead of you, and you'll get stuck fighting through the hallways with other large groups of tourists. It'll be difficult to catch up, and even to hear what they are saying, even if you've got headphones.
I recommend getting an audio tour to wander on your own and easily bypass the large groups.
Though the Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous sites in the world, people tend to forget that it is after all, a holy place. Visitors must be dressed conservatively, have their arms covered and wear closed shoes as a symbol of respect. Guests are NOT allowed to take any pictures, nor are they supposed to speak aloud with one another. As you make your way through the crowded Sistine Chapel, a voice over the speakerphones will constantly be reminding guests to be quiet. "Silencio Por Favor" might become the most common Italian phrase you'll hear.
Given these formalities, the artwork within The Sistine Chapel is some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Frescos on opposite sides of the chapel unfold the life of Christ on one side, and Moses in the other. Above, the infamous Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel hovers above your head like a scene happening in Heaven. On the back wall stands my favorite piece, Michelangelo's "Last Judgement". It is said that with this final piece, the church came into full power, as the mural was the first of it's kind to depict the direct consequence of living in sin versus living in grace.
Don't forget to send a postcard from the Vatican City Postcard! Typical touristy fun move, but super exciting when you send your friends a postcard signed from the Pope.
ST PETERS BASILICA
Right beside the Vatican is St Peter's Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world. The line during the day is looong, though the line moves much faster when you skip it. You'll have to go through a metal detector so be sure not to wear too much jewelry or carry spare change. The church itself is stunningly ornate and detailed. There is an option to climb up to the top of the Dome for 5 Euros by stairs / 7 Euros by elevator. The most interesting thing to me was downstairs, where you could see tombs of all the former Popes.
If you happen to be around on a Sunday, be sure to catch the Pope give Mass here at 12pm.
Get there early for a good spot, it gets crowded.
NIGHTTIME IN ROME
Perhaps the best time to see Rome is at nighttime. The streets are empty, the crowds are gone and the buildings are lit up in rays of light that bring the ruins back to life. One of the best sights is the dome of ST PETER'S BASILICA from Via Della Conciliazione. It's a massive street that during the day is a bustling, crammed street, but at nighttime; a serene pathway pointing directly to a holy, lit up Dome. Just a few minutes away is the Castel Sant' Angelo, an old castle suspended by yellow lights at the nighttime. The bridge directly next to this, the Ponte San' Angelo is decorated on both sides by ornate sculptures that come alive at night, illuminated by white lights reflecting off their pale, marble skin.
One of my favorite nights in Rome, I went exploring with a new friend from my hostel. We sat next to the Flume Tevere (Tevere River), listening to the river and gazing at the couples walk by over us on the bridges. From there we made our way to the Area Sacra and watched the ruins lit up at night. One of the greatest sights at night is to watch the Imperial Fora directly adjacent to the Roman Forum lit up at night. The lighting was designed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, famous for "Apocalypse Now".
Streets are also relatively safe as there are plenty of Carabinieri or Italian Police cars patrolling the streets. The only exception I would make to walking around at night is to see the city of Rome at night. I have also heard that dawn in Rome is life changing as well.
Across the Tiber river from the Campo de' Fiori is the quaint neighborhood of Trastevere. Locals come here to hang out on weekends and after work, so there'll be a healthy mix of people socializing over bottles of wine and food. Restaurants have plenty of outdoor seating for people watching, and many bars here offer a free buffet to go with drinks during happy hour.
RISTORANTE, TRATTORIA and OSTERIA
The purpose of any tourist visiting Rome is to try the food. In Rome, there are many differences in prices that you can gauge by the type of restaurant you are going to. Adele, my gracious host taught me the levels are as follows:
RISTORANTE: $$$ The highest level of restaurant with servers and fancy tablecloths. You might want to take off the baseball cap and iron your shirt before coming in here.
TRATTORIA: $$ Generally speaking, less expensive/fancy than a ristorante. Well, I guess your shirt isn't that wrinkly, just tuck it in and throw some gel in your hair.
OSTERIA: $ In the past, osterias served as inns where guests could eat and sleep. Today, Osterias serve as more casual place serving wine and cheeses. Bah, who cares. Wear those socks and sandals, no one to impress here.
WHERE I STAYED:
Il Bed and Breakfast Che Vorrei - Best Place to stay, an absolutely beautiful bed and breakfast in a gorgeous Italian building. Hearty breakfast and Adele the owner is the warmest, friendly woman. She also has a friendly dog named Ouendj (Wendy) that will come welcome you into the house when you come! Hearty breakfast, private bathrooms and television in each room. The home is beautiful, though you will need to take the bus to get anywhere. The home is about 20 minutes away from Termini Station.
Funny Palace Hostel - Very underwhelming at first. The lobby is nonexistent, instead the "reception" checks you in the laundromat of the building. The hostel is inside an apartment building, and the rooms are actually very large and spacious, this is the first hostel I was in that didn't have bunk beds. The bathrooms were fine. I had great roommates, and it is located right by Termini Station.
Hostel - Clean, neat and large rooms. Located not too far from Termini Station and affordable. The only downfall was that they were severely understaffed so it took forever to check in. You need to buzz in to be entered as well. They have electronic lockers that quickly fill up so you have to leave your things in an open room with the lockers.
WANT SOME INSPIRATION?
If you are unable to take a visit to the Sistine Chapel, the vatican actually has a very impressive 3D tour of the chapel you can look at from your computer. Take a look at it
Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita
William Wyler's Roman Holiday
Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thief