Some recollections from a recent holiday with my wife.
Take a taxi from the airport: one of the best white-knuckle rides you will ever have. Look out for the grand Rome city walls - preceded by bone rattling cobbled streets - and walled villas. But mostly, just look out.
All the main sites within the city are within 20-30 minutes walking distance of each other. See street map: Rome.
Possibly one of the most visited places on earth. From early in the morning to late at night, expect large crowds and queues at the popular sites; but don't let that put you off, as the queues tend to move quite quickly, and you get to share your queue with vistors from a huge cross-section of countries around the world.
Be prepared for an intense amount of traffic. You will be constantly diving out of the way of flocks of mopeds - even on tiny back-streets. We suspect the Italian Job would not have worked in Rome. The film's plot depended on traffic lights being disrupted; had the same plan been used in Rome, we don't think any of the motorists would have noticed.
Be prepared to be confused with all the ruins. Given that ancient Rome itself had roughly 1000 years of history, which the ancient Romans themselves studied, the place seems to have been been built, sacked, knocked down, rebuilt, and built-over any number of times, and most of the useful remains that were not declared to be churches or holy ground, and did not collapse, have been plundered for new buildings. Why pay for someone to dig out and carve more rock, when you can take it from existing monuments?
By a tie; the quality is excellent. Time it right, and you may earn yourself a healthy slap on the face and a hearty "simpatico" from the shop owner.
Don't expect top-notch quality from the snack vans stationed near the famous sites; but, for a quick lunch on the steps overlooking the Roman Forum, they have their uses.
Don't necessarily believe some of the wobbling decrepit-looking old beggar-ladies, with heads and hands covered. Whilst some may be genuine, others are just youths, and the tear-jerking hump is their ruck-sack.
Watch out for for packs of priests in dark robes and sunshades - Reservoir Dog-Collars?
Buy ice-cream whenever you can.
Enjoy a sandwich or wrap take-away lunch from a locally-run shop on a side street, and sit in the Castel Sant' Angelo park, or by the steps to the Roman Forum at the Monte Capitolino and the Musei Capetolini.
Take a front-row seat at one of the restaurants at the North end of the Piazza Novona at around 5 to 6 pm, and drink overpriced wine whilst watching the picture sellers, street comedians, dualling guitar buskers, occasional church processions, and frequent tour groups following limp coloured bits of cloth on car arials. Don't expect the guitarists to actually do much busking - they are too busy chatting or arguing. Don't rush. Have a meal, and then stagger off at about 9 or 10 to purchase unique pieces of spray-paint art work from enterprising students on street corners.
If you cannot stand this Piazza, then the Campo Di Fiori is for you.
We and the 2000 other people crammed into the square thought the Trevi Fountain was brilliant. Do not expect a quiet moment here. There are several billion people in the world, and we all want to see it.
By day, look out for the street sellers trying to sell novelty toys (malleable plastic faces, flying saucers, bubble blowers etc) to passing nuns.
By night, watch out for roses being shoved up your noses.
If you time it right, you may get to see the Pope in the Piazza San Pietro. This is perhaps a more meaningful experience than some of the ruins, at it is a real living event, which will be history to somebody else one day.
On the Wednesday we visited, he was giving a morning audience to a number of mainly school or youth groups from around the globe. Each group was introduced in their own language, and the Pope demonstrated his multi-lingual powers by reading out a prepared speach (again in their language). The enthusism and chants of the crowd were reminiscent of the treatment reserved for pop stars or football teams: "
Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Benedict, Benedict".
What does the Pope use to pay with? Paypal.
Entry to the Basillica is free, but expect a 45 minute queue, due partly to baggage scanning security measures. Psychologically speaking, this was not a great torture, as the queue moved quickly. Once in the Basilica you form part of a liquid of humans, flowing rapidly through the church. Enjoy all the marble and domes as you rush past, stopping-off to admit a sin or two at one of the multi-lingual confessionals.
Make a visit to the Vatican Museum, from which you get to the Sistine Chapel. The Entrance to the Vatican Museum is round the back, about half a mile from St Peter's square.
On your way round look out for the huge shining bronze doors on a side entrance, with "
Benedictus XVI Pont Max" engraved into them.
As the Sistine Chapel is in the part of the museum near to St Peter's Square, expect a half-a-mile walk back when inside the museum to get to the Chapel; the museum is that big. You will see so many signs saying "Sistine Chapel This Way", that you will begin to doubt them (and your sanity) after a while. Take your time; enjoy the journey through the long ornately decorated corridors of the museum.
When you finally, in disbelief, arrive at the Sistine Chaple, take a moment to note the signs requiring silence and no photography, then enter into the noisy murmuring gloom, tut at the millions of digital cameras snapping away, wrestle with your own conscience for a second or two, and then join in. If you can, at least do not use the flash.
The Pantheon is an essential visit.
It is one of the most untouched Roman monuments, due to it being dedicated as a church early in its history. Does that make it a montheon?
The Roman Forum, Paletine Hill and Colloseum are the core ancient Roman monuments and ruins.
The Roman Forum remains are free entry, and are best approached from the Emmanuel monument. There is an excellent view from the stairs leading down into the ruins. Most of the ruins are just confusing foundations, and the highlights are the Senate House (Curio), the Paletine Hill and the Colloseum.
You must pay for the Paletine Hill and Colloseum. Purchase a combined ticket from the ticket offices at the foot of the Paletine Hill (near the Tito arch), and avoid the large Colloseum ticket queue. Don't believe a word of any warnings that the guided-tour salesmen tell you about waiting times etc, it is never as bad as you imagine.
The Paletine Hill is now a peaceful garden, where once stood many state buildings, and is a fine place to relax.
At the Colloseum, if you have a ticket, take the left hand queue. The right hand is for the ticket office.
The main mid-market shopping street (equivalent to London's Oxford Street) is the Via Cola Di Rienzo.
Follow this from the Vatican City all the way to Piazza Del Poppolo. Stop off here to have a play on a Segway for hire in the Piazza.
Then down to the Spanish Steps and the upmarket shops.
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