I’d say Rome was the highlight city for me on our recent tour. I think I like Paris better to hang out in, but I’d never been to Italy before and Rome is simply amazing when it comes to sightseeing. I use the word ‘sightseeing’ deliberately here. My parents will back me up on this one; this didn’t end up being a vacation. There wasn’t much relaxing happening over the course of the 2+ weeks. Of course, both my parents are retired so it isn’t like they were looking to get away from tough days at the office.
This post is mostly just my account of the trip. We got some good pictures, but I’m going to post the bulk of them in photoblogs. For example, the post right before this one shows some sights to be found in and around Vatican City.
Chiz and I hadn’t experienced a single instance of theft, fraud, shady characters, or any other ‘American tourist’ incident before we got to Rome. I think we were becoming a bit lax in that department. Every travel book is going to have that section to scare you into being prepared, so having read several to gear up for the trip my parents were better prepared for something to happen. However, it still wasn’t enough to prevent us from being taken for 40 Euro within an hour of landing in the city.
Taxis are infamous for their shady ways so the very first thing we wanted to do was to find out how much a cab ride to our hotel would be from the airport so we knew what to expect. Some books say to negotiate that price with the driver but that didn’t make any sense to us because we didn’t know the distance, the rate, or the route. So our idea was to make a quick stop at the airport information desk and ask. I never made it to the information desk. A dude saw me approaching it and intercepted me a couple steps away from the woman behind the counter, “What can I do for you”?
“I’m looking for the information desk”.
“It’s all the same information”.
“Umm.. ok. How much for a taxi ride to a hotel near Piazza Navona”?
Conferring in Italian with an associate (also not behind any desk), “70 Euro”.
“OK. Thanks…”, as I started walking away knowing this guy was not on the up and up.
“But if you return to the airport with us when your trip is over, it will be only 30 Euro…” blah blah blah.
So, at least we knew it wouldn’t be more than 70 Euro to catch a cab and should probably be a lot less. This guy did put us on our toes… we thought. So we find a cab sitting in line with all the others and decide to go with him. We ask the price, but he just dismisses the question by telling us he has a meter. This is really all we wanted to hear. He gave us a thrilling ride through Rome to rival any of the French craziness we had seen before. The meter read 48 Euro when he pulled up to the hotel. My dad and I both reached for our wallets while the girls were helping with the bags. My dad beat me to it and handed the driver a bill while none of us were really looking. Upon immediate receipt of the bill the driver apologized for his poor English skills as he held the 10 Euro bill in his hand explaining again that the fare was 48 Euros. He continued to apologize as he went into his car to get a receipt for us so we could better understand what he was saying (he spoke perfect English). My dad seemed a bit confused thinking he had given him a 50, but I was too quick to give the good performance credibility and ended up swapping the 10 from the cabbie with another 50 from my wallet. The taxi drove off. We had just been to the cash machine at the airport and this was the first purchase, so it took my dad all of about 10 seconds when he actually counted his money that the dude, did in fact, pull the old switcharoo and ripped us off for 40 Euro. We declared if that was the worst thing that happen, we’d be happy about it and figured it was kind of a blessing it happen very first thing because now we knew, after the shady dude at the ‘information counter’ and this cabbie, Rome was for real. That, indeed, was the last incident of our trip and I do partially credit our behavior for having no more run-ins (it certainly wasn’t the chameleon-like way we blended in). Later in the trip, Chiz and I were both very aware of the two guys that marked us as we entered Piazza del Popolo and started to trail us. We both pretty much stopped and stared them down while they pretended to be viewing the sights and wandered off into the crowd. Oh yeah, check out the receipt the cab driver ended up giving us. Good punch line, we thought.
By the way, this is the door (the brown one) to our hotel room. Actually, it was an apartment that the hotel lets. The hotel itself was around the corner from this. Seeing this immediately after being ripped off by the taxi was a bit unnerving but the apartments were very nice and we had two adjoining rooms with no access for other guests.
It was already getting dark out by this time, but we still wanted to try to see some sights since we would only have a couple more days and we knew we were right next to some well-known landmarks. Namely, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. I will confess Dan Brown did a lot to peak my interest in Rome. Angels and Demons is set primarily in Rome and the massive fountain in Piazza Navona is the location of a good scene in the book. (If you can get over the stupid anti-matter in a jar plot line the story is better than Da Vinci Code, in my opinion). Actually, Dan Brown is credited a fair amount for the rise in tourism to Paris and Rome. Anyway, Piazza Navona is pretty dang cool even if it tourist central. The long oval was once the site of a stadium and now hosts three fountains, numerous outdoor restaurants, street vendors, and street performers. It was a good first sight, I thought. The next one though is what Chizzy will remember best. We rounded a far corner that overlooked the square to the Pantheon and went into sufficient awe. I have been meaning to look up how people built such amazing structures in the 13th century, but Rome is loaded with stuff that was built BC and a few hundred years after. It’s a bit unclear, but I think people have settled that the Pantheon was built sometime around 80 AD. The columns are amazing and I’m not sure this picture we took the next day in the sunlight does them justice.
We did a fantastic job of eating meals on Italian time. Every dinner we had was after 8 and one night we even pulled of a 9:30 dinner. The one thing we didn’t attempt was the massive 4 or 5 course affairs that take several hours. The last night we tried a three course but were still only able to draw it out to a little over two hours. It sounds dumb, but every restaurant was an Italian restaurant in the heart of Rome. I mean, it would have been difficult to find a Mexican meal or a Chinese meal if we wanted one. Not that we did, of course! You’d have to be crazy to not eat Italian food while traveling in Italy. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t go wrong eating there. We had a couple pretty awful pizzas in places where we should have known better to begin with. On a side note, I’m jumping off the whole ‘food location’ bandwagon. You can find good and bad food in any city. Sure, you may come across a region or city that is known for a particular specialty, but that doesn’t mean everybody does it well. I’ll use this little sidetrack to mention that I pretty much hate French food. I’m waiting for something to prove me wrong, but it is way overblown in my opinion.
Almost the entire second day was spent at Vatican City. None of us are religious, but you don’t have to be to appreciate the power, wealth, and appeal of the place. Our trip through the Vatican Museums was made infinitely more interesting by our luck of the draw in the tour guide department. This girl’s passion in life was Italian history, the Vatican, and the art contained within. Our 3+ hour tour of the grounds and museum (including the Sistine Chapel) was simply amazing. I saved the best photos for the post on the Vatican, but here is a view down into St. Peter’s Square from the Basilica dome.
The next day we traveled around on one of those hop-on-hop-off tour buses and spent a lot of the hop-off time at the Forum, the Colosseum, and Palatine. We are talking real Julius Caesar stuff here. Old stuff. Some of which has been amazingly well preserved and a lot of stuff where you had to use your imagination a bit. I am going to save this stuff for a different photoblog post in the not to distant future, but this is pretty much how we all felt about it.
There was lots more. The Spanish Steps, St. Peter in Chains, Trevi Fountain, Circus Maximus, Castel San’t Angelo… I think we all felt we took in a lot of what tourist Rome had to offer. It was a great weekend and I don’t feel bad about recommending it to anybody who enjoys a good sightseeing vacation (as opposed to a beach or outdoor vacation). Just watch out for the cab drivers.