Rome: A one-day 'commute' into the city
Narrow streets open to an ageless cityscape of piazzas and grand monuments to popes and emperors. A short walk links centuries-old ruins and masterpieces like the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.
In the glorious old center of Rome, the citizens of modern Italy live a high-energy, hurry-up lifestyle. Watching them go about their daily business while surrounded by all that marble can be a big part of the city’s charm. It’s a look at all that is bright and wonderful about Italy: chattering voices, great food and a life of style.
But where can a family find a place to stay? Choices in the downtown hotels are limited. It’s nearly impossible to find a reasonably priced room for a group larger than three. With two children, you will be asked to book two individual rooms. The only other alternative might be a high-priced suite at the Hilton.
On our trip to the Italian capital we stayed, not in tourist Rome, but in “bedroom Rome.” Still inside the E80 “ring road” — the Grande Raccordo Anulare — but not in the center of town, this area can be a great alternative for family accommodations. Just make sure that the place is convenient to public transportation.
We loved our stay in the residential part of the EUR district in southern Rome near the Via Appia Antica (Appian Way) Park.
Each morning, we did as the Romans do: We made our “commute” into the city center via bus and train and returned with them as they scurried home to their small apartments carrying groceries or a small bunch of flowers. We were part of the life of the city when a car blocked the road and the bus passengers shouted rude Italian phrases out the window.
At the outset, we made our usual bargain with our pre-teen daughters. If you sightsee without complaining a lot, you’ll get a trip to McDonald’s, the Disney Store and maybe a movie during the week.
We enjoyed the multimedia movie about Rome’s history at the attraction known as the Time Elevator. The staff was an indifferent group of good-looking young Romans with stylish clothes, great hair and distinctive family noses. They issued our tickets as they planned that night’s partying on cell phones. Each seemed to understand that we would be asleep before they even left for the all-night dance clubs.
We found the dishes at the “mom and pop” restaurants where we ate to be consistently good. Simple pastas, soups and salads followed trays of delicious marinated peppers, eggplant and olives.
On an unforgettable Sunday morning, with fellow commuters still in bed, we made our way to St. Peter’s to see Pope Benedict XVI celebrate an outdoor Mass. The congregation — African nuns, Korean priests and others from every corner of the world — made the event an even more moving grand spectacle.
From the sunny expanse of Piazza Del Popolo, we spent the rest of the day wandering slowly down the Via Del Corso, which was closed to traffic. We stopped for coffee and pizza, and finally found that Disney Store. The pope and Disney in the same day? This is 21st-century Rome.
Ken O’Donnell is a DOD civilian working in the Philadelphia area who recently spent four years in Mainz-Kastel, Germany. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know and go ...
We highly recommend the Hotel Orto di Roma on the Via di Grotta Perfetta. We had a very large room for less than the price of a double in the city center.
In the clean and comfortable suburban atmosphere, our only nightlife was downstairs in the indoor/outdoor pizzeria restaurant. With music on the patio and in the garden, we shared an excellent early meal with a few traveling Italian businessmen seated at tables for one. On weekends, the neighbors had lively birthday dinners and christening parties there. The hotel’s Web site is, www.ortodiroma.it, has an English version.
The hotel is close to the Ciampino airport, which is served by Ryanair, but the area is ideal for drivers, too. While you sightsee by bus and train during the day, your car is safe inside the hotel lot and available for trips into the Roman countryside to places like Tivoli.
Unlike the city center, which lacks supermarkets, there was a brand-new shopping center only two blocks from the hotel. Our Italian-style shopping mall must have had at least 10 places to get an espresso. Items like cookies, chocolates and kitchen gadgets make great souvenirs and gifts at a fraction of tourist-shop prices.
After a wonderfully hectic day touring some of the most important monuments in Western civilization, such as the Roman Forum or the Colosseum, it was great to travel “home” with all the Romans on the bus. Staring out the windows, there was time for a short nap or to contemplate the tiny portion of Rome that can actually be experienced in a few short days.
— Ken O’Donnell