Flights & Hotels
Flights: Most flights from India arrive at the Aeroporto Leonardo Da Vinci-Fiumicino, 30km west of the city. You can go via Middle East in Qatar Airways, Emirates and the like or via Europe in Finnair, Swiss Air, and Lufthansa amongst others. Return tickets start in excess of Rs 45,000 per person. Prices are usually lower in winters.
You can book flights through lonelyplanet.com, kayak.co.in, expedia.co.in or ixigo.com besides a host of other travel portals such as makemytrip, yatra etc. Most of these portals link multiple travel booking sites and you get the most competitive fares at a given time.
Accommodations: Accommodation in Rome ranges from the sublime to the basic, with prices to match. The city center is in and around the Termini station area so there are lots of hotels to choose form here. Booking ahead is advised as the rates can be double if you book on the spot when you arrive in the city. A typical three-star or a bed & breakfast would be at least Rs 6000 for two per night. The five-star hotels in the city center can even cross Rs 50,000 per night. Most of these hotels are quite close to popular sights such as the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Vatican City. Accommodations too can be booked through the aforementioned sites.
Visa & Currency
Visa: A Schengen visa is required for Italy and Vatican. This single visa gives you access to 26 European member nations for three months from the date of travel. The same can be obtained from VFS – a company appointed as an outsourced partner by the different Schengen countries – who will submit your application to the Italian Embassy. The cost of the visa is 60 Euros per person or approximately Rs 5,500 (for current exchange rates see xe.com). The visa fee is only 35 Euros for children between 6–12 years and is free for those below 6.
Currency: Euro is the principal currency of the European Union nations so make sure you have enough for your stay.
Climate & Best Time to Visit: Spring to autumn is a good time to be in Europe. March, April, May and September are very pleasant with maximum temperatures reaching around 23°C. June to August is generally hot with temperatures breaching the 30-degree mark. The longer days of spring, summer and autumn ensure you get lots of time to see the architectural marvels and museums of the eternal city and to reflect on things past while lazing on one of the numerous piazzas of Rome.
Local Transport: If you are in Rome for at least three days (ideal amount of time) then do purchase a Roma pass. For 34 Euros it gives you full access to public transportation (metros and buses), along with giving you free admission to the first two museums and/or archaeological sites visited. It also gives you discounted rates for other museums and sites. A single bus/metro ride ticket costs 1.5 Euros.
Taxies are expensive but run on meter and typically pick you up from taxi stands which you will find at almost all piazzas (squares) as well as at the main train station.
Hop-on, hop-off (HoHo) buses is quite a popular way to see the city’s top attractions. They are open-top, double-decker buses and an all-day ticket costing 18–20 Euros which can be bought when boarding the bus. You also get earphones for running commentary on approaching sites.
You can also hire mopeds or scooters, their rentals cost between 30–70 Euros per day depending on scooter size and rental company.
Food & Drink: If there’s any one thing that Italians live or die for, it’s food. And there’s a lot more to sample than just pizzas and pasta. Vegetarians will be spoiled for choice and the desserts will please every palate.
Opening seating under colourful awnings are generally the best. But most of the popular recommendations can be quite pricy. To find an authentic restaurant that won’t be a burden on your pocket, try to look for a place in a residential area or one that is slightly away from the main tourist locations. You can go for baccala (battered salt cod) for a starter followed by a thin crusted pizza for an authentic roman meal. Pizza al taglio is one with a thicker crust and generally served by the piece. Of course no meal is complete without gelateria, the Italian ice cream.
Vegetarians will be spoiled for choice, and though there are several Indian restaurants in the cities, you’ll be unlikely to miss Indian food – Italian cuisine is rarely bland. Buffets in many restaurants have a wide selection of vegetarian stuff such as salads, pasta fresco (fresh homemade pasta). Vegetarian pizzas with cheese or tomato toppings are also very popular.
House wines (vini della casa) are generally inexpensive and of very good quality. You will often find a bottle of wine on the table and it would cost no more than 5–6 Euros. This does not hold true for touristy restaurants where slightly better wines can take a big bite out of your wallet.
Rome & Vatican – Must-see list
While there are endless architectural masterpieces in Rome, here’s a short list of must-sees for any traveller worth their salt:
- The Colosseum: As grand as the one you saw in the Russel Crowe’s Gladiator, this imposing structure is without doubt Rome’s greatest architectural triumph. Its construction started in 70 AD under Emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under the reign of Titus. The iconic symbol of Roman power once seated 50,000 spectators. The cavea or seating area was divided into three parts, with the commoners taking the lowly seats on top. Trapdoors led to the hypogeum below, and caged animals were hoisted into the arena by pulleys. This structure has seen countless bloody mortal combats between gladiators and wild beasts, including lions, bears and even hippopotamuses.
- Roman Forum: Today an impressive sprawl of ruins, the Roman Forum was once a dazzling complex of marble-clad temples, proud basilicas and vibrant public spaces – the gleaming heart of an ancient city.
- Pantheon: A temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD, this striking 2000-year-old temple (today a church) is remarkably preserved and a marvel of architecture. The dome is the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built in human history.
- Trevi Fountain: The largest and most impressive of Rome’s famous fountains, this fantastical creation almost fills an entire piazza. It was commissioned by Pope Clement XII and executed by Nicola Salvi in 1732.
- The Famous Piazzas: The buzzing piazzas of the Italian capital is bound to steal your heart. Make sure you visit the Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona, Piazza Della Repubblica and the Piazza Di Spanga which is adjacent to the touristy Spanish Steps.
- Museums: The National Roman Museum, National Gallery of Modern Art, MAXXI museum and the Capitoline Museums amongst many others are not to be missed if you wish to feel the true essence of Rome.
- The Vatican: The world’s smallest sovereign state (a mere 0.44sq km) rises up on the right bank of the Tiber, on the foothills of the Monte Mario and Gianicolo. The spiritual centre of the Catholic world, the Vatican has its own postal service, newspaper, radio station and army. The Vatican definitely warrants an entire day of sightseeing and while here make sure you don’t miss the following:
- St Peter’s Square: This great, monumental square is the brainchild of Bernini, who constructed it between 1656 and 1667. In the centre of the square stands the Egyptian obelisk (25.50m high) with four bronze lions at its base.
St Peter’s Basilica: Rome’s largest, richest and most spectacular church, St Peter’s Basilica (Basilica San Pietro) is a monument to artistic genius, as well as a major tourist attraction. Do remember to dress appropriately – no shorts, miniskirts or bare shoulders.
Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel: One of the greatest art galleries in the world, it is most famous for its spiral staircase, the Raphael Rooms, and the exquisitely designed and decorated Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s frescoes. The most famous painting of his is the Last Judgment which spans the entire wall behind the alter of the chapel. Among other most famous works are Trails of Moses by Botticelli, The Delivery of the Keys by Perugino and The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo which is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. These works are considered to be the crowning achievements of western painting.
Nitin Gairola is a globe-trotting photographer, a back-packing trekker, a poet and a keen student of earth science, history & world cultures besides having a proclivity towards philanthropy and human rights issues. He has travelled to many parts of the world in his quest for knowing more about the planet and its inhabitants. He can be reached at email@example.com