Like most post-plane hours, day one in Rome started slow. Having booked a 3pm free bicycle tour, we finally made it out of the hotel around 2:15. The tour was free (tip-based), the bikes, of course, were not. At 10euro/24hr for each of us, we took advantage of the opportunity to use the bikes again the following afternoon as well. The tour was 4 hours, and left very different impressions on my mother and me. She was ready to hop her ass back on the bike at 10am for another tour with our guide, Simone. I began counting down the time remaining a bit before halfway through. I’ll admit that I was both hungry and cold for most of it, leaving me distracted and disinterested; these are wholly my fault. Also, my bony ass was not made for bicycling, a fact I’m reminded of rarely. Me-problems excluded, Michael was extremely informative, so informative, in fact, that my eyes often glazed over during his short rants about the touristy sights being overrated and a waste of time (true, but we’re going to go see them anyway. I didn’t fly here to not throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain). He also didn’t leave time between stops for pictures unless requested, and that’s like 60% of why I showed up in the first place. (Photo breaks are not necessary on a walking tour because you can always catch up, but on a bike, you better be there!) Overall, would I do it again? No. Am I happy that I did it? Yes. He was friendly and really did know a hell of a lot about Rome, having grown up in Trastevere (you’ve almost definitely been saying that wrong, BTW). He even stuck around and gave restaurant recommendations at the end which I so immensely appreciated. I was so freaking hungry. In the end, I can say that he was clearly attentive to the pace of the group, and ensured that everyone made it with the group across streets and through alleys. He had a wealth of knowledge to share, had a generally interesting delivery, while being both receptive and informed when dealing with questions.
The next day, the bike shop was closed upon our noontime arrival, with a sign in the window saying “be back soon” and giving 2 numbers to call for service. Well, we didn’t have a local number, so we waited. Eventually, another couple with a phone showed up looking to change a flat tire; they called; the guy came about 15 minutes later and fixed the tire, then got us sorted with a couple bikes.
We rode around a bit, eventually returning to Piazza Navona, a stop from the tour (go there, it’s pretty, but eat somewhere else). We ate lunch at Terra di Siena, and enjoyed the 10euro specials that include wine and starters. After, we rode back to another tour stop, Castel Sant’Angelo, a large fortress across the Tiber via the pedestrian bridge: Ponte Sant’Angelo. The castle is impressive and home to interesting art, along with beautiful views of Rome, so I’d say it’s worth the entrance fee. We returned the bikes a bit later than 24hours with no worries, and left with the key to the bike lock! I forgot I had it, he didn’t ask, we got to the hotel and they told us to bring it back the next day.
For the third day in a row we walked the same route from the hotel to the bike shop. womp…Only to arrive to another locked door with the same sign. Double womp. We left the key with the hairdresser nextdoor who offered to hold it until the bike shop owner returned (he watched us struggle with where we might be able to leave it). Only then did the email load from Simone, saying we could bring it back or leave it at our hotel. wompwompwompppp.
Anyway, we were only a bit off the most direct route to the Trevi Fountain. Though impressive and beautiful on a sunny day, the volume of humans squeezing to catch a photo and the selfie-stick hawkers waving their sticks in your face (literally, inches from my nose) make for a rather unpleasant experience. I left the Trevi Fountian agitated and happy to move on. A short walk away are the Spanish Steps, altogether underwhelming, the were an easier climb than some of our hotels! (I’m being exaggeratory, of course.) A the top are some nice views of Rome and a Bascilica that you may enter. Another short walk from there is the Villa Medici, a former Medici family home and garden, turned French art school. Still an active art school and residence, it can only be seen during the 12noon or 3pm guided tours (I don’t know the times for French tours, but those times are in English). At 12euro a tour, I wouldn’t put this on a list of affordable or reasonable sights, but after a day surrounded by people, the peace of Villa Medici’s gardens was divine. The tour was more interesting than I’d anticipated, and the art housed there (that is visible) is quite impressive.
For the final day, we saved the best: the Colosseum, Forum and a meal in Trastevere. Well, the Colosseum was about what I’d expected, though not as large and open from the inside as it appears from the outside. Thankfully, we found the ticket booth detached from the entrance, which had no wait. Meanwhile, the ticket sales counter at the entrance was backed up out the gates. Like many other of Rome’s historical sites, and unbeknownst to us prior, the Colosseum/Roman Forum ticket is free on the first Sunday of each month. Even if you miss the free day, at 12euro a person, with under 18s free and 18-25 EU-ers discounted, you can’t complain that you’ve been shorted in the experience. The Colosseum itself has a few interesting sub-divisions, and the Forum cannot be outdone in expansiveness or number of ruins. We ended our walkthrough of the Forum on the opposite side, and passed through the Circus Maximus on our way to Trastevere. The giant hole in the ground is best seen as pass-by, and not worth venturing out of your way for; the same is true about the “mouth of truth” manhole cover-turned-icon. There was almost no line, and we were standing out front of it, so we stopped…but you shouldn’t unless you’re in a similar situation.
The most notable encounter of the day for me, though we saw many impressive things, was the artichoke pizza at Baccanale. It was the best food I had in Rome, including gelato. (I love ice cream, so that’s saying a lot.) After a pitcher of mojitos and half a pizza I was done, but then came the salad I’d already ordered. I was so full, but everything was delicious! If I were to return to Rome, I’d surely stay in Trastevere, and eat at the many local restaurants many times a day. It’s so quaint and everything I’d hoped Rome would be, but wasn’t. Good food, nice people, small streets and excellent vibes.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to avoid the terrible taxi experiences I’d read about, we ended up in one…at 430am on our way out. Just use the MyTaxi app. You’ll have to wait, you’ll pay the same amount, but you will not be frustrated to the point of silence (that’s rare for me). Though when booking through my hotel I’d been assured that our taxi would be the flat-rate (set by the city, and legally required for the taxis), we were met with a man at 430am outside our hotel telling us that it would be metered. Though my protestations were acknowledged, we were both aware that at 430 in the godforsaken morning, he was the only option. So in the cab we go, to see that the meter is already at 16euros! I demanded that it be zeroed before our departure, as it was then 429, and we’d scheduled a 430 cab. We were not late, he did not need to come early and wait for us. His response: “You pay for me to come get you!” What on God’s green earth did this man just say to me? We pay for him to drive to the hotel?! Christ. He must be joking. Then he says “I am a bandito, this is how I live.” At this point, I’m done. I am wholly aware of the precarious position I am in, and as horror stories of cabbies running over luggage flash through my brain, I watch him running red lights, speeding over bumps and around cars, only slowing once: to pass a police car. We left him swearing at us over the 4euro we didn’t have to pay him since he didn’t accept credit, and he’d overcharged us. He threatened to call the police, I gladly agreed, and suggested we walk over together, since we were at an airport. It was an awful experience, one that unfortunately stands out as my last memory of Rome.