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A Traveler's Guide to Rome
Sure, Rome wasn't built in a day, but you can no doubt make a day, or days, out of it. The Eternal City remains unrivaled when it comes to the sheer aesthetic supremacy of its antique structures and its impressive, widely-venerated history. It doesn't come as a surprise that Rome claimed the #2 spot on the Condé Nast Traveler's 2004 Reader's Choice Awards Top 10 European Cities; bested only by its northern cousin, Florence.
Rome has a population of about 2.7 million people. Climate is mild to rainy in winter while hot and dry in the summer. Except for a specific list of European countries, everyone must have a passport to enter Italy. However, you do not need a Visa if you're only staying for 90 days or less. Experts recommend visiting Rome in the off-peak months between October and March to so you won't lose your wits in the summer mob. In choosing accommodations, try to book a hotel near-if not within-the centro storico or historic district. It cannot get any better located than the Hotel de Russie found between the Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps. These will obviously be the first places worth seeing before heading out to the main attractions.
The best way to take in the city's artistic treasure trove is on foot because you can play it by ear, taking quick side trips at your muse's prodding. Still, it's best to list down the sites you intend on visiting beforehand to save cash as things can add up without you noticing it. Private guided tours are a convenient way to get around and are easily available from your hotel's concierge. Another great way to economize is by taking the TramBus system, which goes around the city and provides a fascinating tour of Rome's neighborhoods.
No matter what your tourist inclinations may be, there are certain places that should not be missed when sightseeing in Rome. The Coliseum is probably, next to the Vatican, the most popular-at the very least, most recognizable-structure in this city. You can tour the premises on your own or join those conducted every hour by guides dressed as Gladiators. Operating hours vary throughout the year so be sure to call ahead for admission details.
After an awe-inspiring tour of The Coliseum, walk across the street to Foro Romano or The Roman Forum. This was the civic center of Ancient Rome where political, religious, and economic activities took place. Many of its columns remain standing among the ruins even after 2000 years, displaying the intricacies of Roman architecture. Admission is free, opens at 9 am and closes an hour before sunset. There are matching fees for guided and audio tours.
It would be hard to believe that The Pantheon is 1,800 years old when it stands today, virtually unchanged. This structure can be perceived as how the Foro Romano ruins would have looked had its buildings held. The Pantheon means "temple to all gods" and was built around 125 A.D. by Emperor Hadrian. Its concrete dome features a 9-meter opening that provides the only source of illumination within. Many prominent individuals, including two Kings of Italy, Vittorio Emmanuel II and Umberto I, and Renaissance painter Raphael, are buried here. As the building has endured countless civilizations, retaining much of its form, imagine strolling inside it during Hadrian's time and picture yourself among the Romans. Did they look at or appreciate the sculpture and woodwork the same you do now? What kind of clothing, gestures, conversations, or types of people would you come across? The thoughts that come to mind can induce goose bumps all over. The Pantheon is open every day of the week including holidays except Christmas. Admission is free.
If you followed the way these places are listed on this article and visited them all in one day, at this point, you're probably up for just one more stop before heading back to the hotel. You can easily spend three hours visiting The Vatican and its collection of sculptures, paintings, books, and many other artifacts that chronicle the Catholic Church's history. Of course, this amount of time doesn't provide for detailed examination of the various pieces as much as one would want. Besides, if that were the case, one day is not enough to barely scratch the surface of the Vatican collection. In St. Peter's Basilica, marvel at Michelangelo's Pieta, its detailed masonry, or the papal catacombs. Move on to the Vatican Museum where even more magnificent antiquities are housed, not the least of which are Egyptian mummies from B.C. era. If pressed for time, skip everything else and proceed to the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo, primarily, was known as an excellent sculptor so when Pope Julius II commissioned him to paint the Bible on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he thought it was a ploy by his rivals who thought Michelangelo, not being a full-on painter, would yield mediocrity and embarrass himself. Of course, we all know it didn't quite turn out that way. In fact, the Sistine Chapel is probably the most recognized piece of work from the Renaissance period. Remember to call one day ahead of your trip to find out about any changes in schedules which are quite irregular to start with. But don't let that hinder you from the rewarding experience the Vatican offers.
Many restaurants and cafes are situated around major tourist attractions so there is no problem finding replenishment. Wear comfortable shoes and keep the things you carry around to a minimum; a bulky backpack will make it hard for you to maneuver through crowds. As always, the hotel concierge is the best source for specials and tourist information so get to know yours well.