First Time in Rome

 

Everyone has their list of places they would like to visit at least once in their lifetime. In my case, Rome has always been at the top of mine. The history, architecture and art have always fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and now I can finally say, “I’ve been there!” Rome’s famous ancient buildings, archeological relics, museums and art definitely surpassed my expectations in spite of the mass of tourists within the city. And, as with all trips abroad, the motto is “learning by doing.” Or is it, “when in Rome do as the Romans do?”

Transportation

We flew into the Fiumicino International Airport and followed the signs to the train Station. We purchased tickets for the Leonardo Express train which is a great alternative when it comes to airport transfers. It takes you directly into the city’s main Termini Station and it is definitely worth the few extra bucks. It also gets you back to the airport during rush hour traffic without the stress of riding the bumpy crowded streets in an expensive taxi or airport shuttle that may not be able to get you to your destination on time. Don’t forget to validate your ticket at one of their validation machines at the station before boarding the train at Termini!

If you’re planning on seeing the sights on your own, then purchase the Roma City Pass. This ticket is valid for unlimited travel within Rome on all public transportation (not the Leonardo Express) for a specified number of days and allows you to visit some tourist sights or museums free of charge and also entitles you to reduced price admission. It also serves as a fast pass and allows you to bypass the very long waiting lines at popular attractions. You must remember, however, to obtain a free fast pass ticket at the admission ticket window since there is no entry without a ticket. It really saved us lots of time! We purchased our tickets at one of the tobacco shops just outside the station. Unfortunately, Rome’s public transportation services went on strike on the last day in the city and we lost one whole day of transportation on our four-day Roma City Pass ticket! We received no compensation or refund in spite of our complaints. The city was in traffic chaos that day and it was a real challenge getting a taxi to Termini so that we could catch the Leonardo Express back to the airport in time to catch our flight. I had read numerous warnings about thieves and pick-pockets in Rome and it was all I could do to keep street vendors and strangers at a distance. Beware of the street vendors at the station and near and around the tourist attractions. They can be extremely pushy and annoying. If it’s raining and you’re not carrying an umbrella then expect to be bombarded by street vendors pushing umbrellas in your face. We ended up buying one just so they’d leave us alone.

There are also at least a hundred automated multilingual ticket machines at Termini station and most of them are occupied at rush hour. It takes a few minutes to understand how they work the first time, but after a few tries it becomes second nature. The mass of people at the main station can also be a bit overwhelming. We decided to take a local bus to our hotel from Termini. The bus dated back to the “Middle Ages” and bumped and chugged along the damaged asphalt streets. The electronic display wasn’t working so we had no idea where we had stopped or when to exit the bus. The driver spoke no English and when we asked him a question, he just shrugged and pointed to the door. Great help! He had “exceptional” driving skills often maneuvering between the lanes, cars and hundreds of scooters, bicycles and pedestrians. He accelerated quickly and braked hard, shaking everyone like ice cubes in a shaker. The people standing in the bus had a difficult time keeping their balance and not flying through the bus or falling onto other passengers. We eventually did get off at the right place, thanks to a friendly Italian woman who spoke a few words of English.   I regretted having stepped on her foot at one of those sudden stops. Oops!

Accommodation

I thought it best to book a hotel outside of the city center and away from the crowds of tourists and heavy traffic. We stayed in a standard double room for four nights at the Hotel Regent which is situated on the outskirts of the city. The subway station was just down the street and just a few underground stops from the Piazza del Popolo. It is listed as a four star hotel based on Italian standards , however, three stars is more realistic. Our room was small with dark wood panelled walls and floors and dark bed covers. I wouldn’t give them brownie points for interior decor but it was clean enough and the hotel staff was friendly and spoke English. They were also very helpful arranging taxi and shuttle transportation for all their hotel guests on the day of the public transportation strike. Breakfast at the hotel was a typical European continental self-serve buffet. The breakfast dining room was in the cellar which meant that the large room had no windows. The biggest disappointment here was the coffee. There were a two automated coffee machines from which you could get a variety of coffee specialties which were made from powdered coffee mix. It wasn’t exactly real Italian coffee and I was really expecting a real Italian cappuccino. We didn’t eat dinner at the hotel because it was rather expensive and after the breakfast experience we really didn’t want to try. The greatest advantage of staying here was that there was a take-out pizzeria right across the street. We chose a variety of pizza slices and took it back to our room for a “pizza pig-out then pass out” dinner. By the time we left, we had eaten enough pizza to last us a few months! I’m still trying to shed the pounds.

In my opinion, if you’re satisfied having a clean bed to sleep in after an exhausting day of walking and sightseeing, then this hotel would be sufficient and affordable. If you require a bit more luxury and quality, then I’d recommend you book at least a five-star hotel where you’d feel more comfortable and hope that it lives up to your expectations.

 

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