A Travellerspoint blog

Circling the Adriatic Italy: Rome arrival

I should make it clear early on what motivates us to travel, and what our priorities are when discovering a new country or culture. We're mainly into experiencing the modern life of the places we go, which means markets, restaurants, street festivals, and lots and lots of walking. What we aren't particularly into is monuments, landmarks, and museums. It seems a lot of people have a checklist of famous places wherever they go - they run down the list, take a picture in front of each landmark, and then feel like they've accomplished something even though that's what thousands of tourists have done before and thousands will do after. We're more focused on those unique experiences that only happen when we merge into the ambient scene and try to live like locals. Of course, I still feel compelled to see some of the more famous spots but I'm getting better at ignoring the vast majority of the semi-obligatory attractions, especially the museums. After all, I don't really know or care that much about classic art or archaeology and I never go to museums in the cities I've lived in, so why force myself to do that when I travel? It doesn't really make sense.

I bring this up because Rome is a classic example of the dichotomy between our kind of traveling and sightseeing. While the city is a sightseers paradise, the sheer density of tourists in the center of the city obscures whatever real modern Roman culture may survive there. For us, it was a challenge to find the things we like which are awesome produce markets, delicious food, and authentic street life. In the end, I think we enjoyed ourselves because we managed our expectations and didn't build Rome up to be some kind of cultural epiphany. We had our first jetlagged evening then two full days of walking, and that ended up being just right for us.

The Rome airport is actually in Fiumicino, about an hour to the east with traffic. We didn't get much sleep on the plane despite flying a redeye (our daughter Cleo doesn't really sleep on planes) but fortunately I had researched the complex airport taxi issues in advance. Despite consistent information I had received that I should be able to get a taxi to the city center for €48, we found this almost impossible. Several official-looking and very confusing signs were posted at the taxi stand that listed different potential prices. There seemed to be a number of airport employees at the taxi stand whose only job description seemed to be to convince us we actually had to pay €70 for the taxi. Just when I was about to give up and pay the jacked up price, one of the white Roma Capitale taxis stopped in front of us and agreed to take us to the center for €48. Of course, when we got to the destination he tried to explain we actually owed him more but I pretended not to understand and bundled everyone into the apartment. Our Airbnb hosts were super friendly and helpful and seemed shocked that anyone would have attempted to charge us more than €48 for the taxi ride, which they believed to be a strictly-enforced standard. So, our first experience of Italy was a little frenetic which actually was good preparation for the next couple of weeks.

The babies were thrilled to arrive in Rome.

Airbnb is always our first choice in the US and Europe, especially if we're staying more than one day. We've had great experiences and we typically get two bedroom places for much lower cost than we would in a hotel, especially in large cities. There's also the added convenience of a kitchen and sometimes laundry facilities, as well as the occasional helpful host. I'll qualify that by saying that we had many more logistical problems with Airbnb hosts in Italy than we had in other countries, although things usually worked out for us. The main problem we had in Italy was that many hosts didn't update their calendars so that apartments which appeared to be available actually were not available. Eventually we realized we had to send out multiple requests simultaneously to find an apartment that was really available. In Rome and especially in Venice, it seemed like there were hosts with multiple listings who were playing bait and switch games. They would promise you one location with the plan to inform you on arrival that there was a problem with that apartment and they would need to "upgrade" you to another apartment which was generally lower quality and in a worse location. Fortunately, we figured out how to spot these games and managed to avoid them. Airbnb worked much more smoothly in the other countries we visited on this trip.
The kids getting settled in Rome

We had decided to stay in Campo de Fiori for the central location as well as the proximity to the Mercato di Campo de Fiori. I think this was the right decision, although the area itself wasn't as lively as the area around the Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps. Trastavere would have been a decent place to stay as well. Despite our sleep deprivation, we unpacked the necessities and then took a quick swing through the Mercato. The market was on the small side but had an impressive variety of colorful and fresh-appearing produce.
Mercato di Campo de Fiori

After getting an SIM card for Italy, we checked out Piazza Navona which was pretty but touristy, with street performers.

Piazza Navona

Regretfully, the sleepless and exhausted family grabbed dinner at a local restaurant Pierluigi which had been recommended by our hosts. I had assembled quite a list of restaurants from Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, and Chowhound but in my exhaustion decided to chuck all that aside and go with the local recommendation. Ouch. Pierluigi ended up being our first and worst meal of the entire month-long trip with inedible food and incredibly obnoxious attempts to jack up the bill, such as a seven euro microscopic bottle of lemon soda and a whisper from the waiter that service was not included on the check. In general, it proved to be extremely difficult to get decent food both in Rome and Venice, but Pierluigi was in its own realm of awfulness.
Pierluigi in happier times (before we ate there)

After dinner we weren't capable of anything other than crashing at our apartment.

Posted by zzlangerhans 15:39 Archived in Italy Tagged rome

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