Finding our way in Rome
We arrived in Rome late Tuesday night (maybe more like early Wednesday morning) and took a free shuttle to our hotel near the airport for the night. We struggled a bit to find the right shuttle because they just happened to be replacing the sign indicating where the shuttle would stop at the exact moment we needed to locate it. But we asked a few people and got things sorted out without too much trouble. We had a nice sleep in the next day and after our first Italian breakfast featuring pastries, cheese, and freshly squeezed orange juice we ordered an uber to the hotel to transfer us and our bags to a hotel closer to the sights that we had booked for the rest of our stay in Rome.
We thought about taking public transportation, but that would include a shuttle back to the airport, train or bus into the city centre, and then a city bus to the hotel, all with multiple suitcases (my parents didn't quite stick to the cary-on backpack lifestyle I try to abide by). Adding up the fair and multiplying it by 3, it didn't seem worth the extra time and struggle of navigating a new transit system with luggage just to save a couple of dollars. Plus, this gave us a preview of what the roads would be like when we picked up our rental car a few days later to head to the countryside.
We dropped off our bags at the hotel and took a city bus into the main train station to exchange our vouchers where the tour we had booked for the day started. I like to use public transportation as much as possible when I’m travelling. I think a lot of tourists shy away from it because they don’t know the routes, but with apps like Google Maps and CityMapper, it has become quite simple. It was helpful that my dad had an international data plan, but even without you can download maps to use when you’re away from wifi. We used CityMapper the most for the busses and trolley’s in Rome as it would follow you using GPS and give you a notification when it was time to get off. It also knew when busses were late and had a very accurate arrival time estimate. Another cool feature is that it tells you which car to get onto for trains so you are on the best end of the platform for exiting or getting to your transfer. After a close call of almost getting on a bus going in the wrong direction, we learnt to double check with Google Maps to make sure we were on the right side of the street and weren’t turned around. Google Maps was also my go-to for walking directions.
The bus system was pretty good in Rome, though I was quite unimpressed with the metro set-up (the network wasn’t very comprehensive – I’m not even sure we rode it at all). Transportation in the city was a very reasonable price – a euro fifty for 100 minutes of travel on any bus, tram, or metro line – and we could purchase them at the front desk of our hotel, in any metro station, or at convenience stores. They had day passes as well for 7 euros but as we preferred to walk as much as possible the single tickets were more cost efficient for us.
We did have one interesting experience getting on an over-crowded bus that was so full the back doors wouldn’t close. People, including the driver, were yelling at one another in Italian and it was so hot you weren’t sure whose sweat was dripping down your leg. At one point it seemed like he was cutting service and kicking everyone off, but after a few handfuls of people left and some more words were exchanged, he closed the door and continued on the route.
Though I like to save money with walking and public transit, I am all for a single day hop-on hop-off bus tour when you're in a new city that has a large number of tourist sites. It gives you a good overview of what there is to see, a little background information on the audioguide, nice photo opportunities from the open roof on the second deck, and lays everything out to help you find your bearings in a new city. It gives you quick and easy access to all of the main sights and then you can use your additional days to further explore what you're most interested in. You also have a better idea of the distance between places and how to efficiently plan your route.
Our tour lead us to the Castle of St Angelo, Alter of the Fatherland (the monument that looks like a wedding cake), the Roman Forum, Circus Maximus (ancient chariot racing track), Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps as well as pointed out other sights and interesting facts along the way. The bus couldn't get too close to some of the landmarks because of road restrictions, but that only gave us more reason to wander the streets. We got rained on a little bit throughout the day but each time managed to take cover either on the main floor of the bus, under storefront overhangs while window shopping high-end watches, in an itty bitty gelato shop (a perfect afternoon snack on a humid day), or in a multi-level Zara.
After we felt we had seen enough, we walked across the river to the Trastevere neighbourhood for some pasta and Chianti. This area is a prime spot for cute terrace restaurants, and especially after being in Switzerland, we couldn't get over how inexpensive everything was. Since mom and dad weren't a fan to waiting until 8 to eat dinner, we made a habit of sharing a bottle of wine and a thin-crust pizza around 5 while enjoying the sights and sounds around us, wondering the streets for another hour or two, and then sitting down once again for a pasta dish (and usually more wine - it was almost cheaper than water!). We justified the carb-loading with all the walking we did throughout the rest of the day.