I was lucky enough to spend a week in Rome courtesy of my mother. She thought I needed a break and took me away for a week. I haven’t traveled in Europe for over four years. In fact, I haven’t really traveled to a popular Western tourist destination in quite a while and I was in for a bit of a surprise when I flew into Rome in June.
The weather was fairly decent. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. If you love temperature over 30 degrees then you would be in for a treat. One great thing about travelling in Rome is that it is okay to drink tap water. There are also about 2500 public fountains around the city that stream the same tap water so there is no need to spend money on bottled water.
If you actually happen to get hungry walking around hot and humid weather the food, of course, is very delicious, although quite pricey after travelling through Southeast Asia. Gelaterias also serve as a great place to cool off with delicious ice cream. I tended to seek out the ones with longer line ups as I knew that the quality would be much better. Lining up for anything in Rome brings us to the Bad.
The queue mentality does not really exist in Rome. Everything has to be a fight. I don’t know if it is due to Italian or Roman character of people or because there are so many different nationalities at every turn who had the same idea as you and came to gawk at the sights. So yes, line ups are awful but just keep your place and don’t be afraid to just walk in front of the intruder or shove back.
It was circumstance that brought me to Rome in June, it wasn’t necessarily my choice. My advice to you is do not visit Rome in the summer. I haven’t seen these many people in Paris in July around Bastille Day. After travelling in Asia for a couple of years I forgot about the evil of the tourist groups that walk around in matching baseball caps following their tour guide like he is Moses. They exist in Asia too, of course, but not nearly to the same extent. I also forgot about the tour buses, about the hop off hop on buses that park in the best viewing areas and unload people like cattle on a meter wide sidewalk forcing you to pass them in busy Roman traffic. People, people, people are everywhere you look. The worst spots for crowds are the Vatican, Coliseum and the Roman Forum but walk anywhere in the city and at any moment from any side you can be lost in the stampede of tourists.
Walking is the best the way to see and experience the city however you will probably require the metro at some point. I will say that the layout of the metro is just okay. For all the complaining we do about the subway in Toronto, I think I have found the one system that may actually be worse. It may not entirely be the fault of the city planners. Building a metro in a city that is thousands of years old must be incredibly difficult. I felt that it was poorly laid out, but in the city of only 2.7 million people maybe two lines is all that you need. Apparently there are plans to build two more lines in the city, but this is Italy. We will see if the Line C will actually open in fall of 2013 as it is currently scheduled (I doubt it).
The trains are covered in graffiti, it is worse than I have seen anywhere else. Honestly, I thought I was in a 1980s movie set in New York City. It was the graffiti, the massive crowd and the heat that made me leave a train heading to Ostia Antica. Sitting on that dirty train filled with people, I decided that it wasn’t worth the 30 minute trip to see ancient Roman toilets. There is also graffiti everywhere in the city, I have not seen this much even in Moscow. Even if the dirt in the city is due to the heavy inflow of tourism, such a state is an embarrassment. Romantic strolls will soon turn into a desire to run to the hotel and wash off all of the city grime.
The traffic. Jonathan loves a little chaotic traffic and scooter shenanigans but in Rome it is as if every driver has a death wish and is on their way to an emergency room. A one lane road ends up being a 2 or 3 lane road the way people drive it. Scooters pass cars on the left side even if there’s plenty of room on the right. I saw one car make a sudden left turn and hit a scooter that was passing him on the left. Nobody slows down at an intersection. As a matter of fact I don’t think I even saw a car make a full stop except for a red light in heavy traffic. If you are crossing the street a car will honk you to get out of the way. I’ve never been so afraid crossing the street at a blind corner on a green light. It is no wonder Rome has the highest accident and road fatality rate of all the major cities in Europe. The driving is a little worse than I saw in Russia, but there the streets are so congested that nobody can go over 20 kph unless they are on the sidewalk. The only way to safely cross the street is to cross with a nun – apparently they are the only ones deserving of brake pedals.
Street vendors are quite pushy at this time of year. Some of them sell such crap that it just made me wonder what kind of person would buy it. Examples of quality products include paper umbrellas, splat pigs, dollar store tripods and of course, lots and lots of counterfeit purses. The vendors quickly pack up and run as soon as one sees a policeman. They return just as quickly when the policeman walks the other way.
If you walk anywhere you are asked if you speak English or Russian or whatever language because “have they got a tour of the Vatican for you!” I wouldn’t approach these “tour companies” no matter how appealing their offer may sound. There is a reason why they are out advertising to you on the street.
Scams are really annoying. The basic rule is do not interact with anyone who is approaching with a weird request. There is always someone trying to give you roses near the Spanish Steps. If you accept, he will then ask for a donation. These rose men are quite persistent and will not take a no for answer. I saw one “rose guy” kick a girl’s boyfriend after he shut out the “rose guy” who tried oh so hard to make a girl happy.
I was really confused when a guy approached me with, “Sign against the drugs!”. I made the mistake of looking at his face and he jumped at the opportunity with “Where are you from?” I was lost at the point and I blurted out “umm…Canad..” and my mother pushed me away into a church. I thought about this for a quite some time. Was this actually a petition? Should I have signed? We were approached by another guy in another part of town and we walked past him with no confusion this time. As it turns out, the scam is as you sign they either nick your wallet or most likely ask for a hefty donation. That makes no sense to me, they asked you to do something for them and then ask for money.
Anyway, there you have it. My rant about travel to Rome. I won’t visit this part of Europe in the summer again and I will not hold high expectations of clean streets in Rome. Regardless of what I told you, you should go see Rome. It is an amazing city filled with so much history, culture and art. Even if you get hit by a car, get scammed or never see the end of that queue it would be all worth it when you are admiring the Colosseum or pounding down a Frutti di Bosco gelato on Spanish Steps.