To be perfectly honest, Romans can cope with anything. For centuries, their city has been a target for hordes of tourists and barbarians. Through it all, Romans have remained inscrutable – insouciant, unsinkable and ready for just about anything. That being said, however, if you plan a visit to the Eternal City, it is a good idea to follow a few simple rules:
DO PREPARE YOURSELF: Films and books will help you really enjoy your Roman Holiday (1953), The Cardinal (1963), Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), The Bicycle Thieves (1948), The Scarlet and the Black (1983), La Dolce Vita (Adults only, 1960) and Only You (1994). My favorite classic books include Hilaire Belloc’s Path to Rome, H.V. Morton’s A Traveler in Rome, Bishop Sheen’s This is Rome, Louis De Wohl’s The Spear, Roger Wiltgen’s The Rhine Flows into the Tiber and John Walsh’s The Bones of Saint Peter.
DON’T EXPECT ROMANS TO SPEAK ENGLISH: Give yourself three months to learn some touristic Italian. Never mind the stares from your fellow motorists — drive around with CDs from your local library, repeating “Il conto, per favore?” and “Ho bisogno un medico” with an Italian accent.
DO STAY IN A CONVENT: There are 2,762 hotels in Rome. Convents are cheaper, cleaner, safer and WAY more authentic than any tourist trap, They are the single best way to see Rome – especially for Catholics who would like to attend Mass with the sisters. (Secret Catholic Tip: To find a convent that gladly takes in tourists, visit www.santasusanna.org which calls itself the ‘home of the American Catholic church in Rome.”)
DO CHECK OUT THE VIEW: Some famous vistas are to be seen from myriad vantage points in the old city. (Secret Catholic Tip: The views from the cupola of Saint Peter’s and the top of the Castel San’t Angelo are unbeatable. And for a sunset that will take your breath away –see above– quietly take the elevator to the roof of the Helvetia Hotel.)
DO GO TO LATIN MASS ON SUNDAY: 11:00 Sung High Mass at Santa Trinita Dei Pellegrini, the church of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, just steps from the Piazza Farnese. Dress appropriately, please.
DO LEARN TO USE THE BUS: Forget those dangerous mopeds, although the brave and the foolhardy like Audrey Hepburn (left and below) can rent one for 40 euros a day. Red Roman buses are cheap and plentiful. Find one that stops by your convent, buy yourself a pass at the local newsstand/tobacco store and soon you’ll be zipping around Rome for basically nothing – without losing a limb.
DO VISIT SAINT PETER’S FIRST: For first time visitors, stepping inside the arms of Bernini’s amazing Colonnade is a real thrill. (Secret Catholic Tip: For a free, fascinating personal tour of Saint Peter’s, stop by the Vatican post office and look for a small, unobtrusive sign advising English-speaking visitors when an American seminarian will be there. Impress him by pointing out that the statues on top of the Basilica are the Apostles.)
DON’T BE A TARGET: Avoid drawing attention to yourself. Keep your voice low. Leave your sneakers at home. Wear dark, conservative clothing. Don’t wear a fanny pack or keep your wallet in your back pocket. Americans, especially, need to remember that we have a reputation for being loud and naïve – perfect targets for pickpockets and flimflam artists. This goes TRIPLE at night, or if you have been drinking. Don’t be paranoid, but do be smart. (Secret Catholic Tip: The young woman begging at church doors with a new baby is not starving to death. This is an age-old scam targeting naïve tourists and seminarians.)