Rome The Eternal City

Travel Tips

  1. Do not spend extra money that you don't have to. It is impossible to travel and not spend extra money on something that you don't need, but do everything you can to avoid this costly mistake. One of the easiest ways get off on the right foot is to avoid taking a taxi when arriving in Rome. Rome has a train that goes directly to the city center and is less than 20 euros, which is 30 euros cheaper than a taxi. Also, know where in Rome you are staying, if you pick a hotel in Trastevere don't take the express train to Termini, because the metro does not go to Trastevere, instead take the regional train to Trastevere that is only 9 euros. I stayed at Hu Camping in Town in the Aurelia area, which is about a mile or so away from the Roma Aurelia train station, so I was able to take the regional train and transfer in Trastevere for only 9 euros.
  2. Get a Wise Account for money transfers directly to a debit card. This is a simple way to avoid foreign transaction fees and poor exchange rates, which is sort of just giving extra money to people simply because you need money in a different currency when you are traveling. A Wise Account is Free and the debit card is 9 dollars, it has low fees, it is simple and easy to use, and you can exchange money right fro your phone and have it available instantly. I rate it 10/10.
  3. If you plan on buying a data in the form of an e sim for your iPhone, make sure it is unlocked first before you make a purchase. Otherwise you will be forced to go through your carrier.
  4. If you are going to Italy carry on luggage is probably going to be your enemy. It is a major hassle pushing large suitcases up and down cobblestoned roads, or up and down bridges in Venice and lugging them all over the place. Do whatever you can to pack as minimal as possible, keep in mind you can always do laundry. Pack layers, 3 or 4 days worth of clothes, minimal extras. You can always buy the shampoo, soap, toiletries etc. at your destination, this helps avoid TSA or Security checks. Europe is a first world place, it has all the same amenities that we are used to here in the USA.

Be Smart

Rome is kind of like other major European Cities in the sense that violent crime against tourists is a relatively rare occurrence. Even petty theft and pickpockets is relatively rare. Each year about 8-10 million tourists visit Rome, and in all of Italy there are about 200,000 cases of pickpocketing theft that is reported to the authorities. There is probably a lot more cases that don't get reported, But even if only 20% of the cases get reported and the real number is somewhere around 1 million cases a year, that still means that 90% of tourists to Rome do not get something stolen.

It is still smart to be aware and adopt the attitude that every person who you don't know is out to try to take every dollar from you. There are scams all over the place, along with thieves. The simplest way is to check your zippers on your backpack, make sure they are zipped closed and is a little bit of a hassle to undo.

I simply attached some key rings to the zippers, and then used these grim lock D rings as a quick lock. This won't stop a determined thief, nothing will do that. But this makes me less of a target on the metro, and makes it more difficult for a pickpocket. If you have something like this on your backpack or purse a pickpocket will probably look at it and then look towards someone else who didn't plan ahead. The cost of this was almost nothing, I purchased a MOLLE backpacking accessory pack from Amazon for $10 and it included a lot more then just these two D Rings, cheap locks from Wal Mart will also do the trick.

Safe Travels begins with being Smart.

Anti Pick pocket protection

take photos on your phone

Big European Cities like big American Cities have some kind of Metro system. For some Americans like me who live on the West Coast and are not used to taking the subway or "riding the metro" it can be a little bit of a new experience.

The quicker you figure out the right direction to go to, and more importantly which exit to take out of the metro station after getting off the train the easier your life will be. Rome has a confusing mix of buses, trains, metro, light rail, and different buses. I made the mistake on my second day of taking a different exit out of the metro station and finding the nearest bus station, which led to me accidentally taking the wrong bus which lead to me losing about 2 hours riding different busses just get back to where I was at when I got off the metro.

After this I simply took photos of the directions and the exit out of the metro, and my bus stop, which meant that I would not get lost again.

This is easy and becomes second nature after a few times of riding a metro, but at first if you have never been on a subway before it can be intimidating.
The quicker you figure out the best exit from the metro station to your destination and where to go after that the easier your life will be.

This simple trick helps, because it can be easy one night to get back to your hotel with no problems, and then the next time be overly confident and not pay as close attention, pop out of the wrong exit and then instantly realize nothing looks like it did the other night and become lost. But if you snap a photo on your phone you can make sure to take the right exit.

Also, modern technology has made finding the right direction after exiting the metro a little easier, I have found that most of the time the exit sort of points you in the right direction so long as you walk straight ahead. But sometimes it can be helpful to simply write down some "Left, Right, Straight, Left" directions on a piece of paper before hand. For example in Rome if you want to go to the Vatican, you can get off at Ottaviano, but that metro station has multiple exits to different streets, so having a map with you and knowing exactly the right exit and the right direction to go once you exit the metro station reduces the amount of headaches you will have when traveling abroad to a country or city you have never been to before.

Rome is history alive

There are a couple things I learned from reading the plaques and signs around the coliseum and the forum.

The first being that it is impossible to read all the informative signs and plaques that tell you the story of what you are seeing. It is probably easier to buy the audio guide.

The second is that most of them follow a similar narrative. The narrative is that up until about 400 Rome was the Ancient Rome we all imagine it being, a highly advanced society and government that ruled over a very large territory.

Then what followed was a dark period in which apparently, nobody living in Rome cared at all about the history of the ancient Romans. They would use the forum for cattle grazing and farming. The Colosseo was a homeless encampment full of squatters and much of it was torn down to build churches. Essentially like society today in modern times, nobody in Rome cared about their past or history.

This continued for just over 1,000 or so years. It was not until the late 1500's and the 1600's that archeology and an appreciation for the past began to be important to the people who lived in Rome. Florence may have been the heart of the Renascence or a rebirth of the old in a new way, but the search and the digging up of old history continued after the end of the "Renaissance" and continues to this day.

Archeology in many ways began in the city of Rome, the Popes in the following centuries funded archeological digs throughout Rome which filled their museums with early christian art, ancient Egyptian art, early Roman sculptures, they have preserved this history for the world for the last 500 or so years.

A family actually purchased the Colosseo and lived in it during the 1600's. They began renovating it, and uncovering some of its hidden secrets that were buried for a thousand years. Over time the Forum began to unveil itself as the center of the Roman society. The archeological work continues to this day. The Vatican itself continues to fund archeological digs throughout the world for historical preservation purposes.

This story has played out in America but for far less important or well known historical sites. For example, the small California City in the heart of Wine Country, Sonoma California is the home to the Bear Flag and the final Spanish Mission. The Mission trail in California tells the story of Spanish priests interacting with Native Americans and pioneers. However, after the Gold Rush the missions became almost completely unimportant. The Sonoma Mission was a complete disaster at the turn of the 20th century even though it was only 80 years old. A family in the area purchased the historical sites, lived in them for several years and did what they could to renovate and uncover the history that was hidden within those buildings. Eventually the Lynch family of Sonoma donated it to the newly formed state Department of California State Parks which has maintained, renovated, and preserved history for Californians for the last 100 years.

Sometimes it just takes a few dedicated people who are completely committed to preserving stories and history to change the entire narrative.

The Food

The Food I ate on my Trip

There are some foods that you just have to try on your first trip to Italy, the trick is to eat the right foods in the right places and recognize the tourist traps that are designed to overcharge you and provide you with an inferior product.

For example: Don't go to Venice and order a Roman pasta like Carbonara, it's the wrong region to be in to be eating that pasta dish. Also, when in Rome, eat Roman food, fried food is a popular street food such as artichokes or supli which are fried rice balls. The classics such as Neapolitan Pizza are not necessarily street food, Roman pizza is served by weight and by the slice for people on the go. You just go up to a place, pick out what looks good, they reheat it for you and you are on your way. One of my favorite things about Italy is that you can get either a shot of espresso or a little cup of gelato around every corner. And if you can't on whatever corner you are on, just walk a little more. In Italy you are never more then a 5 minute walk away from an espresso machine or a cup of gelato, and that's not an exaggeration in reality its probably more like 2 minutes.

The Biggest Tourist Tip I could think of about Restaurants in Italy

In Italy there are a lot of places to eat and the food is on average much better then most everywhere else on earth. However, you can sort of tell what places are designed for tourists and what places are designed for locals, but also that difference is getting very difficult to notice.

Having grown up in a tourist trap town of Sonoma CA as a kid I understand that the difference, generally the best places to eat are a little bit away from the touristy spots. Maybe it's only around the corner, maybe its a little longer, the problem though his that this trick is known. For example, Roscioli is a famous internet secret of Rome, and it has some great pasta and food. Its location is about an 8 minute walk away from the tourist trap that is the Campo di Fiori. But around the corner of the little cafe/salumi is also some more tourist trap restaurants. Wherever there is a somewhat hidden local gem of a restaurant near a tourist spot, there's some shitty restaurant around the corner that opens to try to steal its thunder and put the hidden gem out of business, it makes money of the people rejected from the really good restaurants. But also with time, these shitty restaurants get kind of good and become hidden gems themselves.

There is a lot of places in Italy that serve pizza and pasta, and not all of them are A+ life changing experiences, there's a good amount of average to B- pizza and pasta in Italy as well. Think of Italy like a NYC Pastrami sandwich, there are a thousand or more delis in NYC that serve Pastrami sandwiches, but only one Katz, who serve a sandwich that will ruin brisket for you for the rest of your life unless you live in Texas. When traveling you sort of want to fill your plate with as many experiences that ruin things for you for your entire life as possible.

So here is how I figured out how you can tell if you are about to eat at a good restaurant in Italy or a bad one. It literally is a criteria and standard I created in my head while searching for a place to eat lunch in Venice, and it turned out to be absolutely perfect.

  1. Check to see if people are eating there and if it is busy or not busy. If the restaurant is not busy and full of people, that should probably tell you something about the place. If it looks like a library inside, go somewhere else.
  2. If the place has a people eating inside, take a few minutes and do a little people watching, if 80% of the customers at the restaurant look like tourists and are speaking English or some language that is not Italian, walk to some other restaurant. BUT, if the people look like they are just out to eat at a restaurant and you hear Italian then that's almost a surefire sign that the restaurant is probably excellent.
  3. You want to be near a tourist spot, but not right exactly on the tourist spot, but the problem is that if you go too far away from a tourist spot in Italy to find a restaurant you end up being closer to another famous tourist spot and the restaurants get touristy quick. But there are little pockets where some hidden gems are found.
  4. When in doubt you can find a decent meal at the Mercato Centrale in Rome or Florence. Termini station has a few restaurants in the main area, but if you head towards the McDonald's, and turn left and go through the department store you find the Termini Mercato Centrale that has some excellent food at slightly higher prices then elsewhere in Rome. You won't feel ripped off and the food is excellent, so it's kind of a win-win. In Florence it is right near the touristy "Leather Market" and not far away from Santa Novella train station, and the food is better than what you will find at the train station.

Here are Two excellent places to Eat

Trattoria a Teo in Trastevere Roma

I wanted some lunch and I was walking around the Trastevere area of Rome. I looked on the trip adviser for the best pasta in the area and picked this one because the reviews seemed as if they were written by local Romans and not people on vacation.

There were other restaurants around the corner that were open, but they looked full of tourists. I parked myself on a bench for about 15 minutes waiting for it to be open. There was a couple next to me speaking Italian also waiting.

When I got seated there was a couple to my left who were British, a couple to the right who were Chinese. But there also was a large family/friends of romans and Italians gathering together for a weekend lunch together of about 10 people. There was also another table of about 6 people who were speaking Italian enjoying lunch. Of the 20 or so people at the restaurant for the first half hour it opened, about 15 of them were local Romans out enjoying their life.

That's the kind of experience and restaurant you sort of wish to have while traveling. Also the Amatriciana was spectacular.

Osteria Ai do Archi Venezia

This restaurant met the criteria I had created in my head about 20 minutes earlier, it was full of people inside, none of them looked like tourists, and I was hungry so it got chosen over all the others.

Everybody inside were Italian, and the tourists who were there were Italian tourists visiting Venice from other places in Italy. I ordered their special which was a seafood pasta, because when in Venice you eat seafood.

It was hands down, no doubt about it, the best pasta dish I've ever had. Better then anything I've ever had in Napa or Sonoma, and better then anything I have ever made myself. (and I am an excellent cook). The only other restaurant I've ever been to that can compare to this place is Thanh Long in the Sunset District of San Francisco and their Vietnamese whole crab and garlic noodles.

Don't ask me where it is located, it's Venice you will get lost while in Venice. But it was about a 5 minute walk away from St. Marks square, around some corners and through some allies and it was near the corner that is not near where all the fancy designer stuff is at, its somewhere around the corner of the church a little bit away from that corner.