Italy is one of those countries that reminds me of India. Both are hot and humid, the people are kind and colorful and they are passionate about their food. Both has a splendid past and prides in it. So, when I landed in Rome, it was like home. Collect your luggage and head towards the city.But before everything else you need to get your Roma Pass.
Roma pass – If you want to see the sights and avoid the queues, buy this pass. If you use it wisely, you will land up saving money in the entrance fees, as well as get 3 days of travel free in bus, train and metro. The card costs 30 euros for a validity of 72 hours per person. The entry to the first 2 sites are free and the transportation is free too !! I bought my pass online and collected it at the Roma termini station, since we were arriving early in the morning. There is a counter at the airport and that opens at 8:30 am. It will be a better option to buy it there and get it activated so that you can enjoy a free train ride to the city. For more information on Roma pass click on the link below:
Reaching Rome city from the Airport-
The airport is pretty far away from the city and there are 3 ways to reach it. The pricey option is to take a cab. The next best option is to take the train. The Leonardo express takes you right from the airport to the Roma termini station. The train ride costs 14 euros each way and is completely free for Roma pass users. So, there you retrieve 28 euros of the 30 euro pass that you got!!! Depending on the distance of your hotel from the station you can take a bus or a cab or just walk down. The cheapest option, the one we took, since our Roma pass was not activated was to take a Terravision bus for 4 euros per person one way.The counter is in the airport, buses are pretty frequent and the cleanliness inside the bus is like any travel coach in India. The bus takes you to the termini station. You enter the station and walk across to the other side to reach the city bus terminus. Finally, you are in the city that has history in every step.
While making your Rome itinerary keep in mind that Vatican is closed on Sunday and Colosseum, Galleria Borghese on Mondays. The churches are closed from 12/1pm till 3/4 pm. So , plan accordingly.
Day 1 : First 2 free entries of Roma pass
Morning : Drop your bags at the hotel. Grab a light breakfast. Pour a lot of sunscreen on yourself. Take your sunglasses and hat and find your way to the Colosseum. If you have got the pass then you can take a bus or metro for free. We took the metro from termini station and metro station is bang opposite the Colosseum. You come out and there it is, with millions of people queuing in front for a ticket and hundreds of Bangladeshi and Italian hawkers selling all possible tourist trinkets. Flash your Roma pass at the entrance and skip the long ticket queue to enter into the Colosseum. There you retrieve 12 euros of your Roma pass and the cost of not waiting in the queue on a hot and humid day – priceless!! Pay 5 euros and take an audio guide, or take a tour with one of their trained guides or just roam around the Colosseum on your own with Rick Steves audio guide playing on your phone and relive the movie Gladiator.
Visit the Forum and Palatine Hill after this. Unless you are a history buff the ruins are not going to take too long. Colosseum, Forum and Palatine hill are all included in one ticket so ALL that together forms the first site of your Roma pass and all are free for you!!!
Afternoon : Grab a bite at one of the nearby shops for your lunch and take a bus to the Villa Borghese. Please make a reservation for the visit IN ADVANCE. I made mine on the telephone.They will give you an alphanumeric reservation number which you have to note down and present at the counter. The entry fee here is 9 euros (more if there is any exhibition going on, exhibitions are frequent) and this is the second free entrance for the Roma pass. So, even if you miss making your money on the Leonardo express you retrieve it here on the entry fees in Day 1, plus you get all your bus and metro travel for 3 days at just 9 euros!!! Villa Borghese has a beautiful garden surrounding it. Spend some time in the garden, deposit your bags (be in advance as this takes time), buy an audio guide for 5 euros and go through your tour of the most amazing Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio canvases. Galleria Borghese phone number :- +39-0632810. They have 2 hour slots and admit 360 people in each slot. Afternoon slots are 1-3 pm, 3-5 pm and 5-7 pm.
Galleria Borghese Garden
Evening : End your day with Pantheon and Trevi fountain. Pantheon has free entry so listen to your audio guide downloaded from Rick Steves. There are a lot of upscale restaurants around Pantheon and famous gelato places.The most famous gelato places being Giolitti and San Crispino. Both are a short walk from Pantheon. So locate them on google map and head there for a gelato break, try both and decide your favorite. Head to Trevi fountain, drop a coin in it and sit there for a moment and observe the fellow tourists clicking photos and dropping coins. Click a photo there, call it a day and head back to your hotel for tomorrow will be an early day.
Day 2 : The Vatican Day
Things to remember :
1. Dress conservatively. They have a dress code and it is followed. Shoulders should be covered, knees should be covered, no shorts and no tanks.
2. Do not carry a big backpack or anything like it. Carry a small sidebag or a small purse. Else, they will ask you to deposit the backpack/bag and it will be a big hassle to come back for it.
3. Carry some food and drink. You can have your breakfast in the queue unless it is included in your stay. Be there before 8:30am.
Leave early for the Vatican. Your Roma pass will not work here and you will have to stand in a very long queue. The Vatican museum opens at 9 am, all days except sunday and the ticket price is 16 euros. Be there before 8:30 am and stand in the queue. You will be harassed by a lot of guided tour operatives into skipping the queue and take a guided tour if you want. We stood in queue and entered by 10 am.You can avoid all this hassle by booking your tickets online. Tickets can be purchased 60 days before your visit at the link below.
Take your time in the museum. Once you reach the Sistine Chapel and are done with it do not exit by the gate from which everyone is exiting. Take a short cut to St. Peter’s basilica. St. Peter’s basilica has free admission so you need not buy any further tickets. Stand facing the altar at sistine chapel, at the very end at to your left there will be another door which has a entry restricted sign, exit through that. You will see that the guided tour ones are exiting from there. So, follow one of the tours and exit.If you have any luggage deposited then you cannot take the shortcut.Go back, collect your luggage, walk to St. Peter’s square and queue up. By taking the shortcut you will come to a courtyard where a lot of people are queuing up for climbing up the Vatican’s dome for the view of Rome. Do it if it’s in your list, else, walk towards the St. Peter’s Basilica sign. Finish the basilica with Rick Steves audio guide and exit into St. Peter’s square.
St. Peter’s Square
It took us 4-5 hours to do the Vatican and it will upset with your lunch. Carry some snack items to munch on till you get time for lunch. This you can do while in the queue or in the patch of green inside Vatican museum. Do not start munching inside a church/chapel.
Head towards the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Opening hours :Fri-Wed 10am-12:30pm and 4-7pm; Thurs 10am-12:30pm. Entrance is free and if you are short of time then head towards the Contarelli Chapel to view the Caravaggio’s.You need to carry some change. There is a box beside the chapel and you have to put change there for the lights to lit up for you to see the paintings. End your day with a gelato at the Pantheon and stroll to the Spanish steps. Post dinner head towards the Colosseum. You have to see the Colosseum at night when all the lights are lit.
Carvaggio at San Luigi dei Francesi
Day 3 : Tour of the churches
There are more than 900 churches in Rome and unless you want to visit all of them. Shortlist the ones you want to visit. I wanted to do 4 churches and that would have been a rush as all of them close for lunch and open late and I also had a flight to catch. So, decided to do 2 – San Giovanni Laterano and the San Clemente. Start with San Clemente which is close to the Colosseum. The church has layers of archaeological excavations underneath it.The entry fee is 5 euros and the Roma pass does not help there. Next is San Giovanni Laterano. The church has a beautiful golden ceiling and huge statues of apostles along the nave.Walk across the church to see the Scala sancta or the holy steps on which Jesus tread during his Passion.
Church of San Giovanni Laterano
Head towards the airport or spend your Roman evening just lazing around. My best spot in Rome was in front of the Pantheon, with a gelato in hand, my husband by my side and the Italian musicians of the restaurants in front playing some melodious romantic tune. My final goodbye to Rome was a 6 scoop gelato dinner at Giolitti!! For all the Kuwait residents Giolitti is in Grand Avenues now !! A slice of Rome at home !!