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Rome a Piedi

Enjoy the City as the Romans Do — On Foot

Romans still live la dolce vita, and if you join them it doesn't have to break the bank. Rome overflows with affordable pleasures. And the best and thriftiest way to enjoy this easily walkable city is as the Romans do-a piedi (on foot).

On our last trip we planned a fountain tour, to keep us out in the sunshine and on our feet on our first jet-lagged day, and began it by joining the locals in Piazza Navona. The square, with its impressive Baroque architecture and glorious Bernini fountains, has been the social center of Rome since beginning life as a stadium in the first century. Today we had trouble finding sitting room on a fountain ledge as we enjoyed the first gelato of the trip-a mouthwatering chocolate tartufo con panna (chocolate gelato with whipped cream) from Tre Scalini (Piazza Navona 28).

Trampled lettuce leaves and pieces of cardboard were being swept up by city custodians as we swished our arms in the tureen-shaped fountains of nearby Campo de Fiore, quieting down after the popular morning market. We sipped a cooling coconut and pineapple frullato (a Roman specialty of blended fruits and ice) from nearby Jungle Juice (Piazza de la Cancelleria) and relaxed by the fountain.

A few blocks away we passed through another free alfresco museum. Flanked by twin fountains topped with fleur de lis, the emblem of the Farnese family, elegant Piazza Farnese is anchored by its namesake palazzo. With a roof-long cornice designed by Michelangelo, impressive Palazzo Farnese is now the home of the French embassy.

From Piazza Farnese we walked to the Pantheon and wandered freely into one of the wonders of the ancient world. At nearby Casa del Caffé Tazza d'Oro (Via de Orfani 84) we splurged a bit for a coffee-lovers wonder-granita al caffè, a cold coffee "slushy" topped with whipped cream.

To give our feet a break we picked up a ticket at the closest store that sells tobacco (marked with a "T") and settled in among the commuters on bus 64 for a 50-cent city tour. The orange bus runs from St. Peter's to Termini Station, passing many of the city's key sights along the way.

After all of the free looking-from St. Peter's columned piazza to the Baroque fantasy of the Trevi Fountain-we were ready to spend a few euros for a look at the unforgettable frescoes of the Vatican Museum's Sistine Chapel and, our favorite, the brilliant jewel-toned works of the Raphael rooms.

While meanders around the city are free, it's definitely worth every penny to take in a reasonably-priced walking tour like the one called Through Eternity ( Enthusias-tic and knowledgeable young guides lead an early-evening tour of the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona, ending on Michelangelo's exquisitely Piazza Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill. (All of the sites of course are admission-free without a tour.)

But it was time to head for our hotel. Tiny Piazza San Pantaleo, a perfect location for walkers, offers two economical choices, both in the same building. Hotel Primavera, occupying the fifth floor of an old palazzo just south of Piazza Navona, is a 2-star with large rooms, private baths, and optional air conditioning (Hotel Primavera Piazza, San Pantaleo 3, 00186 Roma; 011-6-8803109; EUR54-EUR103.) The fourth floor Residenza San Pantaleo's has five bright rooms with private bath, air conditioning, and satellite TV. They'll even let guests send and receive email at their front desk (Piazza San Pantaleo 3, 00186 Roma; 011-6-6832345;; EUR63-EUR106.

Reasonable B and B or apartment options are available through the Bed and Breakfast Association of Rome (Via A. Pacinotti, 73 sc. E, 00146 Rome; 011-6-55302248, fax 011-6-55302259; (B and B EUR40-EUR120, apartment EUR77-EUR180) or you can stay in one of the city's "holy hotels". A well-located choice is Fraterna Domus, near the Spanish Steps (Fraterna Domus, Via dell'Cancello, 9; 011-6-68802727: lodging from 36 euros, lunch or dinner, reservations required, closed Thursdays.) The spotless rooms with private baths are a bargain at 36 euros, but come with an 11 p.m. curfew. Even if you choose to stay elsewhere, the sisters will serve you a filling family-style meal of comfort food all'Italiana, for around 16 euros.

Other culinary best buys include busy self-service Il Delfino, where for under 10 euros you can join the local businessmen at lunch (Il Delfino, Corso Vittorio Emanuele 67; 011-6-6864053, Tuesday-Sunday 8 a.m.-9 p.m.) Or try Ristorante Abruzzi's house specialty-cannelloni Abruzzi. The same family has been dishing out bargains to appreciative neighbors in the Piazza Santi Apostoli for over 40 years (Ristorante Abruzzi, Via Vaccaro, 1, closed Saturday). Across the river, near the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere's glittering golden mosaic façade, Da Mario is a frugal standby for locals and tourists. Get there early to enjoy a filling 3-course meal for only 9 euros (Da Mario, Via del Moro, 53).

Any ill-prepared tourist can spend a lot of money in Rome-millions have. However, a traveler who's learned a few lessons in cheapology can eat, sleep, and enjoy the city's charms like the Romans do on an unbelievably low budget.

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