Thursday, November 12, 2009

Random Roman Notes

ROME - The Eternal City has been perhaps the richest stop on my trip for history and culture. Also the priciest. But in any case, I think it may prove the most memorable.

Here, in no particular order, are some random thoughts on being a traveler in Roma in late 2009:

The Trinity of tourism in this city are cigarets, cameras and cell phones. Locals provide the cigs and the phones, visitors bring the cameras.

The omnipresent buzzing motor scooters of Italy are as numberless as ever. Mosquitoes with wheels, they shoot around corners and race down the narrow streets when you least expect it. You can count on it.

Roman fast food has the fast food in my part of the world, North America, completely outclassed. At home, it is typically burgers and fries and coffee that is just OK. Here, I have lunched - standing up and in a hurry, to be sure - on good panini and top- notch coffee for as little as 3 euros, less than $5 U.S. Ronald McDonald is all over the place in Rome, too, but it beats me why anyone here would ever sit down to sup with Ron.

I took only two taxis in Rome and was punked by both of them. I read in the guidebooks that cabbies do not expect much of a tip. That they are happy just to round up to the nearest euro. Uh-huh. Tell that to my first driver, who smilingly pocketed change amounting to a 20 percent tip and was off before I could say, uhh, hold it a second. Or to my second, who winced when I asked if I could pay with a credit card, then swiped my card repeatedly, claiming it did not work, though it works everywhere. When I mimed the motion of punching in the numbers, he acted like he did not see it. No tip for this guy, but given that he had already padded the fare, it hardly mattered. My advice: walk, take the Metro (fare: 1 euro), do what you have to do to minimize the use of taxis on your Roman holiday.

One more tip, given to me at the Hotel de Russie, that proved useful: You can avoid long lines at the Vatican Museum by going at 2 p.m. on weekdays. It is less crowded just after the traditional lunch hours on those days. It worked for me. Finding the Sistine Chapel, down stairs and around corners, felt for a long while like a snipe hunt, but I eventually got to crane my neck and feast my eyes on world-famous masterpieces. And I barely had to wait in line.

Now, off to the next stop on my round the world trip: Barcelona.

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