Scalpers

The average Roman is somewhat unfriendly, walking the streets or Rome you will bump into lots of them scurring along,  going about their business, oblivious to the people around, endlessly talking to their cellphones.

We are also quite suspicious which comes from living in a big city. We know this is a charming and quaint city, but for everything there’s a price to pay and for us is to be confronted with a wide assortment of dodgy people which tend to be in your face (that’s another of our pet hates) and won’t take no for an answer.

Usually people like that target outoftowners, problem is with the current crisis they can be really pushy. The streets around the Colosseum and the Vatican are crawled with people which are after a fast buck. These days it’s impossible to walk the distance from the subway stop to the Vatican Museums entrance without being approached by one of those people trying to sell virtually everything from postcards to any kind of stuff . The catch up line is usually: ‘Do you speak English?’ or ‘Skip the line to the Museums!’, too bad most of the times there’s no line at all.

Now the best way to skip the line is to book through the Vatican website, you are given a time slot to show up and that’s  about it. This is also the cheapest way without any mark-up.

So those frightening tales about waiting in line for hours are a thing of the past.  A few years ago it was impossible to book the tickets online so the whole world would go to the Museums in the morning, last entrance used to 1pm. Hence long line-ups.

At present the Museums are open til 6pm (last admission though is at 4 pm)six days a week and visitors distribute through the whole day so if you really wish to find a humongous line like the good old days your only chance is to go there on the last Sunday of the month when the Museums are open only from 9Pm until 12Pm and free of charge, or during some festivities such as the Christmas or the Easter week. In that case there’s still people who arrive around 7Am and wait for a couple of hours  in order to be the first to go in.

So my advice would be to book any ticket (be the Colosseum or the Vatican) online to avoid the scalpers and save time to boot. The museums are usually busier during the weekend, so if you are in the position to choose the day of your visit Tuesdays and Thursdays are the less busy days of the week.

Around the Colosseum the environment is even more hostile: people dress as Roman centurions who may charge you from 5 to 20 Euros for a picture, young students (I always wonder when do they actually study since they are out on the streets all the time) offering free tours: ‘Buy now pay later’ being their favourite catch-up line (whatever that means) and knockoffs galore.

As for the Vatican you can save yourself a lot of trouble by simply booking your tickets to the Colosseum in advance. It’s only an extra 1,50 euro per ticket.  Keep in mind we don’t believe in plastic money much around here, so make sure you always travel with a little cash. The Colosseum ticket office accepts some major credit cards but not all.

A lot of websites also  advertise their tours with VIP entrance to the Vatican or to the Colosseum underground areas(hypogeum): but beware since in most cases  it is not a real VIP entrance and you are going to pay more for something  you could simply reserve  on your own !

http://natgeotv.com/uk/scam-city/videos/tour-guide-con-artists

Rome for kids

Though Rome is not “the” city  for kids here’s a list of suggested places.

3D Rome Rewind: a  3 dimensional journey through the history of imperial Rome!      http://www.3drewind.com/   

Villa Borghese an historical  and very central park that houses the Zoo, train rides,  bike rentals and the Casina di Raffaello (a museum, playground and area for exhibits. Most of the activities are in Italian).

Villa Pamphily the largest city park, with hills, ponds, fountains, and a lot of room for all outdoor activities. Inside the park  there is a restaurant Vivibistrot which also offers  kid’s  menus and picnic boxes. Wide variety of special menus including organic food.

http://www.vivibistrot.com/bambini/

Castel Sant’Angelo first built to be a Mausoleum for emperor Hadrian and his family, then became a papal fortress  where the Pope would take shelter and also imprison his  enemies in gloomy dungeons. There is a section with ancient armoury and a stunning view from the highest terrace. Walk all around the walls to the different bastions, see the firing chambers with cannons!

Saint Peter’s Dome climbing the dome of Saint Peter’s basilica (550 steps) could be  also fun. You may take an elevator and climb only 430 steps. stunning view inside the Basilica and city view.

Vatican Museums If you plan to go to the Vatican Museums then do not miss the Carriage Pavillion  (Padiglione  delle Carrozze) with  gorgeous 19th horse carriages, Pope’s mobiles and a model of Vatican city’s  first train engine . In the Egyptian section instead you can see  two mummies from Thebes dating around 1000 b.C.

Crypt of the Cappuccini this weird cemetery was created by the Cappuccini monks starting from the 17th century by arranging  the bones of the dead monks in an artistic manner along the walls of this crypt . It is located on via Veneto and it is rather creepy but children and teenagers seem to love it. www.cappucciniviaveneto.it

The Planetariumhttp://en.planetarioroma.it/

Janiculum Hill this could be a fun thing to do. At the top there  is a nice park with great view over the city  and everyday at noon the famous cannon   fires (blanks) once in the direction of the Tiber river to signal the exact time. On the left of the square there’s also a puppet theatre with shows at certain times of the day.

Explora a museum designed for children where they can explore the  aspects of daily life. http://www.mdbr.it/

Puppet theatre in Villa Borghese         http://www.sancarlino.it/index.htm

Bioparco Rome’s Zoo is a fairly old fashioned park. There is a small gift store and cafeteria. It is also possible  to do a train ride through the zoo.

http://www.bioparco.it/en/bioparco-in-rome.html

Mouth of Truth this ancient  marble disk representing the  face of a river god was probably used as a drain cover. Tradition has it that if a liar puts his hand into the open mouth will have his fingers bitten off! Go early morning or expect to find long line ups to catch a picture.

Giolitti Ice cream splurging! If you want to treat yourself order the mouthwatering  Coppa Olimpica or simply take  a marvelous cone to go! Large selection of flavours to choose from.

http://www.giolitti.it/home.html

City of Rome official website with a section  dedicated to children:

http://piccolituristi.turismoroma.it/index.php/pagine/indice/en

110 Open bus:  hop on the red double decker  for a ride through the city.

http://www.trambusopen.com/en/110open.cfm

Travel tips: the Vatican city

VATICAN CITY STATE

Dress code and photography

Everything is different in the Vatican, it’s a foreign country after all, so what works in Rome may not work over there.

If you are planning a visit there prepare yourself to go through security checks as you leave the country! (Italy)

No sharp objects (pocket knives, scissors and the like). Water is allowed as long as it’s in plastic, positively no glass bottles.

You should bring your camera, pictures are allowed (with a few restrictions) but no tripods.

There will be a dress code:  shoulders and knees must be covered so no tank tops, mini skirts or shorts. Sandals, flip-flops are fine, no restrictions for the shoes.

To make things more complicated, (this is its own country but the people who work there are Italians after all) the rules in the Museums (and the Sistine Chapel) differ from the ones in the Basilica of S.Peter’s. This can be quite frustrating at times but it’s the way it goes. You can bump into security guards every step of the way and each one of them can tell you their own version of the rules.

Here’s an example:

pictures are allowed  on the outside with no restrictions, while inside the Museums cameras and videos are fine without the flash. In the Sistine Chapel positively no pictures or filming whatsoever. In St. Peter’s Basilica pictures are fine with the flash, while down the Vatican Grottoes pictures are again not allowed. Confused? So are we.

So if you are told off by the security don’t say “but your colleague told me it was all right to…” it will only make matters worse, smile politely and pretend you don’t speak any Italian.

As everybody knows it gets sweltering in Rome in the summer with temperature always in the high 90’s. The humidity (and the heat index) make things worse especially when walking through the Vatican Museums.

A way around this problem is to wear pants (natch) and bring a pair of slacks as well.  Because  shorts (as long as they are knee high) are allowed in the Museums. then before you enter the church you can put on long pants and walk past the knee and shoulder checkers. The dress code is strictly enforced in St. Peter’s, especially when the Holy Father is in residence.  It is also true that recently men were allowed to wear shorts (always knee lenght) but to play safe we always recommend wearing long pants in the Basilica. Rules may change quickly with no advance warning.

There is actually something all the Vatican guards agree upon: flip flops are fine throughout the Vatican City!

Best time to go. Prepurchasing tickets or not? This is the question…..

Museums are generally busier on Saturdays and Mondays since  they are normally closed on Sundays.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays are much slower. Most of the people still like to go there in the morning, so if you go there around 2 pm, you will probably walk right in. The Museums close at 6 pm from Monday through Saturday so that’s plenty of time to cover the highlights, unless you are a museum bug.

On the last Sunday of the month the Museums are open and free but from 9 to 12,30  only so the lines are generally very thick ! Inside there is a lot of noise and confusion which is the reason why I’d avoid a visit to the Vatican Museums  on Sunday unless you have no other possibility.

What about Wednesdays? In springtime, summer and fall the Holy Father gives a morning  audience in St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica won’t be open to the public until the end of the audience (approx. 1 pm). So if you intend visiting the museums there won’t be large crowds  since many will attend the papal audience but if you want to see the Basilica exiting from the Sistine Chapel it will be closed. In the  early afternoon instead a lot of the groups attending the papal  audience will go to the museums.

When planning your tour I always suggest  to check the Vatican official calendar to decide whether or not making a ticket  reservation: if the museums are closed for 2 days in a row because  of a religious festivity when they’ll reopen  there will certainly be  a long line, if that’s the case I would surely book my tickets.

But how long are the lines really?

Back to the good old days before internet came around the longest line I had to stand in my career as a guide was some 2 hours. But this was before the Vatican introduced the reservation system via web.

Now when I give tours I normally enter with groups and individuals with ticket reservation but I’d say that very  long lines are rare, it happens only  when the museums are closed for a couple of days in a row.  All the other days I think that 1 hour  is the worst that could happen to you!

It is true that it is difficult to predict lines (on a cruise day for example there will be  busloads of visitors from the cruiseships) but very often on some of  the websites selling Vatican tickets and tours  you read those tall stories about humongous line-ups. That is I can say is a thing of the past (unless coming on December 24th or Easter).

Check this post as well for the Vatican tickets reservation:

https://lucasandra.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/vatican-museums-sistine-chapel-tickets/

Are you visiting Saint Peter’s? (during the busy season)

If  you decide to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica only, without the museums, expect to wait in line in the square if you get there too late. I suggest going to the Basilica before 9 am or after 4 pm. Normally guides can give tours in the Basilica from around 10 am to 4.30 pm so this is when the line in Saint Peter’s square gets very long.

Do you want to see Raphael’s Rooms?

Well then don’t do the mistake many do!

When you exit the Gallery of the Maps, there is another short gallery with some tapestries and then if you turn LEFT you’ll go to the Raphael Rooms. If instead you’ll go STRAIGHT you’ll take the stairs that lead directly inside the Sistine Chapel. At that point once you get in the Sistine Chapel  it will be impossible  to climb up the same  stairs and go to Raphael’s Rooms since it is a one way stairway. So if you do not want  to miss Raphael’s masterpieces in the Vatican remember to turn left (there is a small sign). After  the Raphael Rooms you’ll be able to reach the Sistine Chapel with a rather long itinerary  through the collection of Modern Religious Art in the Borgia Apartments.

Vatican crowds…are you ready?

Yesterday (Saturday, April 3) was one of the worst days in my entire career as a guide inside the Vatican Museums! In the afternoon the crowds were awful and the Vatican museums  wardens had to stop people in the halls because it was impossible to go on.

Here are a couple of pictures taken with my cell phone when I was stuck for some 20 minutes with my group in the Greek Cross room! And this was not the only time we were stopped!

The Vatican Museums  will reopen on Tuesday after 2 days being closed so other crowds are expected…

I am looking forward to the end of  this Easter week so the situation will go back to normality. What made things worse yesterday was that Saint Peter’s Basilica was closed for a Pope’s  Mass and there was only one exit open  from the Museums.

Vatican museums Sistine Chapel tickets

If you plan to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in the busy season you may like to prepurchase tickets to avoid long lines.

Normally worst days for linewise are Saturdays and Mondays since on Sundays the Vatican Museums and the Sistine chapel stay closed (except the last Sunday of the month when the’re open and free). Though it is sometimes difficult to predict lines.

To prepurchase tickets I always recommend the official Vatican website (www.vatican.va ) where you can buy your admission tickets (http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do) from 60 days before the date required. Sometimes tickets are sold out, but do not get discouraged, try again some days after since  other tickets are often avaialble.

With  other companies offering the same service tickets will  be more expensive.