Tuesday, June 19, 2018

20 Things to Know When You Visit Rome


It's your first time traveling to Italy, and you're a bit apprehensive because you're not sure what to expect when you get there.  I've learned a few things from my days in this country.  Most tourists like to begin their vacation in Rome, so here are some things you should know when you visit the City of Eternal Light.
1.  Dress fashionably.  The last thing you want is to stand out looking like the "foreign tourist", then becoming a target for pick pockets or gypsies.  The Italians refer to them as the Roma people.  You'll find them in large cities, like Venice,  Florence and Milan.  Rome is right up there on the list.  They work singly and in groups, mostly in crowded places.  When you see them, it is suggested you ignore them.  If you're approached by them, don't make eye contact and keep on walking.  They are not a dangerous people, just annoying as they try to make a living by begging for money.
2.  Speaking of fashion, Rome is home to so many fashion houses.  This is why everyone, men and women, look so nice.  Their street fashion is casual and chic with a lot of women wearing dresses and great accessories.  The men tend to wear slacks of different colors more than the basic jeans.  Italian men also save their shorts for the beach towns rather than the city.  It's not a terrible thing if anyone wears shorts, but as a tourist, it sure breaks the spontaneity of walking into a church on the fly or looking like a pickpocket target.  The new color in sneakers this season?  White.  Worn with everything.  When I was in Rome two years ago, the color was black.

3.  Still on the subject of fashion and the tourist, you will undoubtedly be visiting a lot of cathedrals and places of religious significance.  It is important to remember that you are visiting a country that is Christian with 88% of the population belonging to the Catholic Church.  Avoid getting stares from the locals by dressing appropriately for church.  In the summer months, skirts and dresses to the knee and longer are a great choice.  Capris are acceptable, too.  Cleavages and shoulders should be covered, so bring a nice sarong or pashmina to wrap around your hips to cover your knees, your shoulders or in some churches, to cover your hair.  Jeans are acceptable but in the hot summer months, wearing natural fibers would be a better idea.  Please do not wear ripped jeans.  It's considered disrespectful.  There is no air-conditioning in the churches, and when it's packed with people, it gets very hot and stuffy.  Consider packing leggings if you're going to wear shorts or short dress for the day, and just slip them on in a restroom before you enter the church.  If you're a man and not fashion-conscious, consider wearing convertible pants.  In a visit to a cathedral many years ago, I and others were startled when we heard a church security guard yell at a teenage girl because she was dressed in shorts and a tank top.  She was led out of the church so fast, and separated from her group.  You don't want to have a moment like that, believe me. Some churches might provide paper clothing so you can cover up, but that just makes you look, and I'm sure, feel ridiculous.

4.  Flip-flops are not acceptable to wear in the city.  Not only are they unsafe when walking on cobblestone and hilly dirt paths, but Italians just don't do that.  Flip-flops are for the beaches or pool areas.  Also, you will not be able to enter the Vatican wearing flip-flops.  The guards will escort you right out.  They don't care if you stood in a line for two hours  under the hot, hot sun waiting to get in.  

5.  Rome is a very big city with so much to see.  Make the most of your time by knowing exactly what sites you want to visit.  Mark it on your map.  Then spend one day wandering in that district and surrounding areas.  The next day, see tourist attractions in another district.  You can save yourself some cab fare by just walking a route that connects the sites.  The city is very walk-able.  It's a lot of walking, but you can do it!

6.  If taking a cab is your choice of transportation, know exactly where you need to go.  Cab drivers know all the tourist spots, but if you want to get to a specific hotel, restaurant or shop, they will need an address.  Keep a list of your hotels and other places on your notepad or cell phone, including addresses and phone numbers.  Uber is also available in Rome.  Yay!

7.  Tipping is not required in Italy.  I kept telling myself that on my last visit there, but I still continued to tip because it's what we do in the U.S.  I felt bad if I didn't give a little something. Keep in mind that waiters get paid way more than our waiters in the states. Waiters and cab drivers are getting spoiled with foreigners leaving tips and are now expecting them.  But really, you don't need to leave a tip.  When dining, do look over your bill.  If you see the words servizio or coperta, you're probably already paying a service or cover charge, or both.   If it bothers you to not leave a tip for your meal, then leave small change.  

8.  A few shops in Rome will close anywhere between 11am to 4 p.m. to observe riposo, or rest. They typically close at 8 p.m.  The Italians work to live, not live to work.  
9.  Observe meal times in Rome.  The restaurants tend to start serving dinner around 7:30 p.m. to accommodate visitors' dining habits. Romans usually won't sit down at the table at until 9 p.m. or later.  Lunch time is served after 1 p.m.

10.  Before sitting down at a table, check the menu and decide if it fits within your budget.  When you are finished with your meal, review your bill to make sure everything adds up correctly before you pay. A few unscrupulous restaurants include extra fees on the bill.  If you want to dine on a budget, look for restaurants outside the tourist hotspots.  You'll likely get faster service, and the owner might want to chat with you!

11.  The major attractions in Rome draw thousands of tourists every day.  In the summer months, expect long lines to tourist sites and, and if you can afford it, book a private guide for skip-the-line access. 
12.  Cappucino is a beverage to enjoy before noon.  Italians like to make this their breakfast. After noon, you can have expresso or macchiato.  After dinner, ask your waiter for a caffe corretto which is an espresso with a little alcohol, usually grappa, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or sambucca.

13.  When greeting a stranger, do not greet them with a Ciao.  This cute word is reserved for family, friends, and little children.  Always greet with a buon giorno (good morning), buon pommerigio (good afternoon), buona sera (good evening, and buona notte (good night).  These words can also be used as a formal goodbye.  Salve is another formal way of saying hello or goodbye.

14.  The first time I met an Italian stranger (it was in Rome), I was immediately kissed twice, once on each cheek.  It was more of an air-kiss.  I was shocked because it's not the American way, but I loved it!  So don't be inclined to push someone away from you when all they want to do is warmly greet you.  They might even kiss you three times!  Do as the Romans do, I say.

15.  If you're lucky enough to drive in and out of Rome (let's say you're doing some day trips), do stop off at an Autogrill.  This uber-combination supermarket / drug store / souvenir shop / delicatessen / coffee bar can be found throughout Italy.  I love the Autogrills.  It's like a glamorous 7-11 store on steroids.

16.  When ordering a beverage or food at an Autogrill or food joint, you need to pay attention.  If you're just buying packaged items from the shelves, pay at the register and your purchase is complete.  However, if you're looking to buy a handcrafted sandwich, follow these steps.  

  • Look over the different sandwiches and other goodies in the refrigerated case.
  • Go to the register and let the cashier know what you want.  Pay for it, plus other items you pulled from the shelves.
  • You will be given a ticket.
  • Take the ticket to the sandwich counter.  It may be crowded so you're going to have to establish if there's a formed line, or if you'll have to elbow your way to the counter. 
  • Hand your ticket to the person behind the counter, and wait for your sandwich. 
But then, there are other cafes where you must select your food item first, then pay last.  It's okay to ask the staff how you should proceed, or if they're too busy, just watch the crowd for a few minutes to see how they're getting their food.

17.  Do drink your coffee standing at the bar.  Sitting down with your coffee will cost you extra.

18.  Don't expect tap water or ice cubes at the restaurant.  Bottled water is available for purchase, usually 2 to 3 euros each.  You can pick either acqua  naturale (still) or acqua frizzante (sparkling).  While the tap water is perfectly potable, its just not the norm at restaurants and one of those things you don't do in Rome. You can insist on a glass of tap water, if you really want it, but your waiter may be a little put off by the request.  Also, the restaurants do not provide ice cubes for your water and soda because Italians don't drink their beverages cold.
19.  Bring your favorite water bottle.  You will find great-tasting water from the fontanelle spigots found throughout Rome.  Water falls into plain tin basins or come from elaborate fountains.  You can wet your whistle or fill your water bottle.  Surprisingly, you will find the water to be very cool, and it's free.
20.  No traipsing in, climbing on, and eating and drinking near fountains and historic landmarks.  A ban was in place last year to ensure adequate protection of the historical, artistic and archaeological capital of Rome.  Break the rule and you will be fined.

Follow these guidelines, and you will have a stress-free and wonderful time in Rome because you knew what to expect.

Have you been to Rome before?  Is there anything I should include in this list?  Please share!

Happy travels,
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