1. Crossing the road
Crossing the road may seem like the easiest thing in the world, but in Rome you need to have your wits about you. The advice I am about to give you could well save your life.
Roman drivers are in fact very pedestrian-conscious and will try to always give you priority–unless they are in a real hurry. Many of the pedestrian zebra crossings are very faded–you can still use them, but putting your foot in the crossing does not guarantee that drivers will stop. You must pick a moment when either there is simply nobody about or there is sufficient time for the driver to acknowledge you. At this point move slowly and deliberately. Rushing or running across roads in Rome can be dangerous. Even if you mess things up and the cars don’t seem to want to stop–DO NOT RUN without first making sure everybody knows your intentions. That’s how traffic works in Rome, everybody expects the worst manoeuvres and works on anticipating the intentions of everyone else.
Your biggest challenge will be in Piazza Venezia if you go to the middle of the square to get your best shot of the ‘wedding cake’. Here hundreds of cars will zoom at you–you might do best waiting for a gang of you to form before crossing as there are safety in numbers.
There is also another dangerous element: the green man. The green man shining bright in most countries will guarantee a car free crossing, but in Rome this is not the case. It does mean that there is no direct traffic coming at you but you will find that even though the green man is shining, cars will still turn into your path. Once again keep your wits about you and connect with a look to the driver of these cars and go slowly. Do not insist on any legal priorities in respect to zebra crossings or green pedestrian lights.
And last but not least, there are always scooters flying up an inside lane or on the pavement. Make way for them and forget about what is ‘right and wrong’, tolerance is the way to enjoy the city.
2. Tickets and public transport.
Although the locals moan about the public transport, it’s actually pretty good. The trams are great and the buses–although often very crowded–are relatively regular.
Trains run at often strange irregular times and so if there is one at 10.20 it doesn’t mean that there will be one at twenty past every hour. On the trains it is very important once you have bought your ticket to then stamp (‘convalidare’) your ticket at one of the bright yellow stamping machines otherwise it is not valid.
The same is true of the public transport tickets. They need to be stamped with the equivalent machines on the buses and trams. Sometimes there are ticket machines on the buses, otherwise they are at the main bus terminals or underground. Often it may seem impossible to buy a ticket or to get it stamped because the place is so full you can’t get to a machine, but I encounter inspectors only once a month or less so if you really can’t get a ticket then do not stress too much. That said, they seem to appear on exactly the day you didn’t sort out your ticket.
You can also get tickets at the various news kiosks and the tabaccheria (tobacconist), which have big signs with white Ts on a dark blue or black background. They can also sell you short train journey tickets if the ticket office is closed. There are also various season tickets available and the best place to inquire about these are at the subway stations that have the most serious ticket offices.
Here is an excellent website for planning your journeys across Rome: http://www.atac.roma.it/
3. Paying for things
When you go into a bar or café and take a drink or food standing, it is normal to get a receipt first from the ‘cassa’ (the cashier) and then go to the barman and hand over your receipt. Once you sit down you will probably be served. Prices for food and drinks when seated incur a surcharge over those taken standing. In particularly scenic spots this surcharge can be considerable, but you are paying for a view such as the Pantheon or Piazza Navona!
Always check your change from cashiers, there is a minority who specialise in short-changing foreigners; it’s a fact of life in Rome and other places in Italy (if it happens to you don’t get too upset, just helpfully indicate that you have been overcharged or some change is missing).
When walking around Rome you are likely to get thirsty, and the best way to rehydrate is by using the many water fountains dotted around the city. Their design is very distinctive, and like the red telephone box is to London, an integral part of the Roman landscape. The water runs constantly from them, so it is very fresh.
If you prefer your water bottled then I would recommend ‘leggermente frizzante’ (lightly fizzy). This mineral water is naturally carbonated with the favourite brands being Ferrarelle, Egeria and Nepi.
5. When to come to Rome
Rome can get very very wet and very very hot. July and August can be unbearable in the heat and can make sightseeing a very tough job indeed. If you do come in these months, be sure to tour early in the morning, go for a siesta in the afternoon and then head back out around 6-7pm.
October is lovely; they even talk about the Ottobrate Romane because the light is very special.
November and December can be very very wet and when it does rain it can come down for days on end like the shower on full. Weather patterns are changing so it’s difficult to predict how dry or wet the winters will be, but spring is always a winner for your visits. Being the centre of the Catholic church Easter can get very crowded. I would recommend late September to October or April to June.