Planning for Rome is fantastic. The anticipation steadily builds. You catch yourself day dreaming of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. And get here and you can live out the cinematic fantasy and even buy the calendar on any street corner. It seems that film is still doing a fantastic PR job 60+ years on, better than any national tourism campaign I've seen.
And it is those same pilgrims which stand in two hour weekend queues for the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church, waiting to put their hand in the 'Mouth of Truth'. So to help anyone who is thinking of going to the Italian capital avoid similar pitfalls of time wasting, I thought I'd offer a few words of advice:
Walk a mile in my shoes
Quite possibly the most beautiful city to wander through. We stayed in Trastevere and were able to stroll for about 20 minutes to all of the major sites. Allocate an hour to walk around the ruins next to the Colosseum. A bike down the Tiber is treat worth making the time for. Another local tradition is to grab a beer, pizza or gelato and head to the nearest piazza, I can recommend Piazza della Madonna in Monti. But don't be surprised when cars bustle past while you cling to the nearest wall when traversing the back streets, some of the risk taking drivers will both scare and impress. Straight out of Bryson and Coogan's The Trip is the highly commended Protestant Cemetery, burial place of Keats and Shelley. A decadent mix of stylish tombstones set within flowered walled gardens. Somewhere to lose a few hours as time and the city seems to pause. A short walk uphill leads you to the Knights of Malta keyhole with an unimpeded tree-lined view of St Peter's Basilica. Try it, it's better than I'm making it sound.
Although famed for our queuing, believe me us Brits are fairly impatient when it comes to lines. So get up early, and avoid weekends for the main attractions like Colosseum and Vatican City. A Mon-Weds focus for all potentially popular tourist activities is advised. There were plenty of offers of queue-jumping but I'm not sure how much substance were behind these all-too-frequent exclamations, as we had pre booked many of our tickets.
London (and everywhere else) has its selfie stick salesmen and Paris with its wrist wrangling groups beset on charging for unwanted bands. Rome's monuments however are plagued by pushers of the most pointless tat, green lasers which wash the Pantheon or little helicopter men shot into the Trevi fountain night sky, floating down to a suitably impressed owner, before he invites you to have a go...even back streets with market stalls are full to the hilt with men selling exactly the same inferior scarves, all the way down the block.
It's a bit much. Cheapening the historic landmarks with utter trash. Every city will have its own version but the quality of the goods on offer and rudeness of approach when alongside some of the world's most iconic sites is criminal.
In po 'di italiano goes a long way
If you're travelling abroad soon, stop reading this article right now and download Google translate. It is life saving. The majority of menus in Rome will have a translation or an English speaker on hand to help. But some of the nicest places we went to were only legible to the indigenous eye. The handy little app will translate through the camera on your phone allowing you to read off the menu like a local.
Real Italy awaits
Rome is fantastic but as with every capital, it rarely shows the true national characteristics. For that you must scratch a little deeper. So if you get the chance, get yourself outside the cities to smaller communities. We spent a week in the little hill-top town of Vetulonia two hours north of Rome in a particularly beautiful Tuscan AirBnB. I couldn't recommend it enough. Lovely hosts, fresh air and even fresher food. Stripped back cooking with fish treated only in olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and lemon. And vitamin D in full supply.