Rome is, of course, a fascinating city. The area around the Coliseum looks more like a movie set than what was once a fabulous center of government. The building where the senators convened stands where it stood when Nero ruled. What is most amazing is that, in movies, the buildings seem very close together. I always thought that was for the sake of keeping the sets from running wild. In truth, they’re exactly the way they look in the movies. The entire government center of ancient Rome was very compact but built to last.
But this is really about the people that inhabit this great city. Around the Coliseum, gladiators wander about, ready to be photographed by visitors. How many persons alive today can boast a photo standing shoulder to shoulder with a gladiator just before he bows before the emperor and says, “We who are about to die, salute you”? In the streets, traffic is usually something of a nightmare and in one instance tourists remember a motorist who was apparently cut off. He slammed on the brakes right in the center of a busy intersection, leaped out of his vehicle, and jumped up and down waving his fist and cursing at the other car which had already disappeared.
An interesting detail for tourists to remember is that you can’t buy your tickets on buses and subways. Many little shops sell the tickets. But if your chosen shop is closed on Sunday, as many are, what can you do? You board the bus anyway and try to pay the driver (who is shielded from the public by presumably bullet-proof plastic). All he can do is shrug. All that is fine, except that periodically the police check passengers leaving buses or trains, and woe to the person who has no ticket.
Rome, like most large European cities, is a hotbed of pickpockets. Many confidently swear no pickpocket is ever going to slip a hand into their pocket. We’ve all seen magicians on stage who can remove a victim’s wristwatch and rifle their pockets while even the carefully watching audience sees nothing. Those guys are amateurs to the trained pros in Europe. if you have anything of value in a pocket, they’ll get it. A neck wallet placed beneath undershirt, shirt and a sweater may be pretty safe. But be careful!
Another tip for the unwary visitor: The Vatican is an exciting and wonderful place to visit no matter what a person’s particular religious beliefs. Many want to climb to the top of the basilica for a view from above, but beware. The climb is through a very narrow and confining circular stone cylinder. Three hundred twenty steps (yes, 320), wind upward seemingly forever and this is strictly a one-way passage. No turning back. But most visitors feel the climb was worth the effort.
As in any area frequented by hundreds of tourists every month, tourist traps abound. One couple saw a narrow street that had a number of small inviting cafés. As in most of Europe, cafés in Italy normally post a menu outside so visitors can see what is offered and how much it’s going to cost. In this case, the couple saw that the old Italian favorite, spaghetti, was just a little high, but not unreasonable. Besides, a sweet little old lady popped out and graciously invited them in. Her English wasn’t bad at all.
Once inside, they placed their order for spaghetti. She asked if they’d like mushrooms and they thought that would be fine. Did they want meatballs as well? Of course, they told her. First, she brought a small place of bruschetta (sort of toast with cheesy tomatoes). Then finally the spaghetti with meatballs and mushrooms. They ordered inexpensive drinks as well.
The dinner was acceptable, but when they had finished, the female diner told her husband, “I think we’re in trouble here.”
He asked why and she told him that there were four people back by the kitchen working on the check. That bode trouble in her opinion. Her opinion turned out to be valid.
The sweet little old lady brought an un-itemized check for seventy euros, at the time about a hundred twenty dollars.
Naturally the couple thought there must be some sort of mistake but unfortunately by this time no one spoke English and being foreigners in a strange country, and the cook being an unfriendly-looking giant who needed a shave, they meekly paid up the seventy euros and got out of there.
But the sweet little old lady didn’t get a tip!
Actually, in Italy, many don’t tip at all, or very modestly. Service workers are better paid than in many parts of the world and don’t expect much, if anything, in the way of tips.
On one final note, most restaurants are good and give good food and service for the prices indicated on the menus. Just avoid businesses that surround all the hot Italian tourist spots!
But once you’ve seen Rome… Mamma mia!