June 22, 2014: When in Rome
Just returned from a week in Rome with friends from Canada. We met up with them in the middle leg of their holiday, after their trip to Paris, but before they went to Florence.
After spending a week sightseeing (something I’ve never really done before), I’ve learned a few very important things (in no particular order):
Read up on the locations you want to see. Unless you’re planning on paying for a tour guide (and even if you are), do research about where you’re going. Historical context is absolutely necessary to get the most out of visiting historical sites. While ruins are neat-o to look at, unless you have some idea of their relevance, historical or otherwise, the experience feels a little hollow.
Be aware of and Do try out local customs. Really, what I’m trying to say is, research where you’re going. Take as much or as little time as you need to read a few travel wiki’s or blogs about where you’re going, so you know what to expect. In Rome (and Italy in general), for example, coffee is not taken with milk after breakfast. It’s also not drunk during a meal but had afterwards, in the form of an espresso, to aid digestion. (There’s no real reason as to why, it’s just the way it’s done). It’s a great chance to broaden your horizons and get the most out of your trip. Plus, you’ll usually be able to figure out what areas specialize in what dishes, so you can make sure to order something they’re known for, and chances are, your meal will be exceptionally good (or, at very least, authentic). Same goes for ordering the daily specials.
Take some time to enjoy the the space between attractions. Some of the best experiences we had were when we were going to or from sightseeing. You’ll be passing through areas where people are just living their lives, and it’s worth a look. Go into stores, check out stuff that isn’t on your itinerary.
Give yourself all the time you want to see things. If you find you only want to spend an hour at the Coliseum, that’s ok. If you find you want to spend all day at the Vatican, that’s ok too. Don’t get tied up in how many things you “have-to” see that day. Personally, I found one “thing” a day was plenty. It gave me plenty of time to get there, see what I wanted to see for however long I wanted to, and time to enjoy the rest of the day exploring the area. I even had time for a rest before dinner (somewhat necessary, as June in Italy is very warm and showering before dinner seemed like the polite thing to do).