Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Rome

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Looking for a travel guide that goes where other guides fear to tread? One that rides roughshod over ad-copy puffery to smartly deliver the real scoop on a destination's sites and attractions? One that dares to be honest, hip, and fun? Look no more. Frommer's Irreverent Travel Guides are wickedly irreverent, unabashedly honest, and downright hilarious, and provide an insider's perspective on which attractions are overrated ...

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Looking for a travel guide that goes where other guides fear to tread? One that rides roughshod over ad-copy puffery to smartly deliver the real scoop on a destination's sites and attractions? One that dares to be honest, hip, and fun? Look no more. Frommer's Irreverent Travel Guides are wickedly irreverent, unabashedly honest, and downright hilarious, and provide an insider's perspective on which attractions are overrated tourist traps and which are the secret gems that locals love. You'll get the lowdown on restaurants, lodging, and shopping, and even find out what the locals think of you. "Like being taken around by a savvy local," said the New York Times. "Hipper and savvier than other guides," concurred Diversion magazine. Never shy about confronting the issues, the Irreverents are guides to real travel in the real world.

 Includes information only a local would know, such as:

  • Hotels for the well-heeled and the sensibly-shod
  • Where to see monks’ bones, "talking" statues, and lesser-known Michelangelos
  • Attractions to line up for–and those to skip
  • Where–and when–to enjoy a proper cappuccino
  • Shops to scour for the latest bags, boots, and papal vestments
  • The best piazzas, outdoor cafes, and discos for people watching, wine sipping, nightclubbing, and doing as the Romans do
  • How to tell a friendly hand gesture from a not-so-friendly one
  • Charming outdoor spots and special museums that are far away from the crowds and motorinos
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764598869
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 12/12/2005
  • Series: Frommer's Irreverent Guides Series , #27
  • Edition description: Revised Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 214
  • Product dimensions: 4.40 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in California, Sylvie Hogg first came to Rome as a screaming toddler and returned 20 years later as a distracted student of classical archaeology. After living and working in Rome for several years—during which time she developed unnatural obsessions with umbrellas, pines, and tufa; a serious prosciutto habit; and a huge crush on 17th-century artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini—Sylvie now resides in New York City, making several trips to Italy, her favorite place in the world, throughout the year. She is also the author of Frommer’s Rome Day by Day.
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Table of Contents












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First Chapter

Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Rome

By Sylvie Hogg

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-3924-8

Chapter One


Rome has the most generous supply of artistic, architectural, and archaeological attractions of any place in the world.

That generosity, however, can be pretty overwhelming for first-time visitors. We're the first to trumpet the virtues of all of Rome's ruins, churches, museums, fountains, and palaces (see our superlative-heavy descriptions below), but don't feel you have to get to all of them. You won't have the time-or the energy-anyway. Non basta una vita (a lifetime is not enough), it has been said more than once, to see Rome. So, instead of overdoing it with the sightseeing (and spending more time around tourists than locals), pick and choose from our list of sights below, and take time out for aimless wandering, people-watching, and cafe-sitting. What the locals refer to as la dolce far niente (the sweet doing of nothing)-not racing from the Colosseum to St. Peter's and back-is what the Roman experience is all about. And most likely, that cafe you've chosen to sit at is in the shadow of a masterpiece of Western art anyway.

Getting Your Bearings

All roads lead to Rome-and then, they lead to confusion. Unlike Paris, Rome is not a planned city but rather a winding mass of cobbled streets and narrow alleys, grimy thoroughfares and traffic circles. Piazza Venezia, the most central of these traffic circles, is where five busyroads converge, causing a lane-less snarl of intertwining traffic and unclear right-of-way rules that understandably intimidate the newcomer. The main architectural feature here, the locally despised Vittoriano, makes a good point of reference for dazed and confused tourists-once you're here, you're pretty close to everything on your sightseeing list. Just south of it is the heart of Ancient Rome, from the Capitoline Hill to the archaeological areas of the Roman Forum, Palatine, and Imperial Forums. At the end of umbrella pine-lined Via dei Fori Imperiali is the Colosseum, beyond which rises quiet Celio Hill, with its rustic churches, and the cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano. Tourist-thronged sights like the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps lie north and northeast of Piazza Venezia, while Termini Station is about 1.6km (1 mile) due east.

Northwest and west of Piazza Venezia is the Centro Storico, including the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo de' Fiori, and Ghetto areas. Occupying the zone within the river Tiber's slightly C-shaped bend, the Centro Storico is home to some of the city's greatest pedestrian squares, scads of churches and fountains, and tons of hip restaurants and bars. Rome also has a dirty, largely unnoticed river-the Tiber-which snakes its way through the city from north to south, separating the Centro Storico from the picturesque Trastevere ("across the Tiber"; pronounced tras-teh-veh-reh) neighborhood, Vatican City to the west, and the tony Prati district to the north.

On a slope to the east of the Spanish Steps, tree-lined Via Veneto is luxury hotel central, but apart from the Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, there's little reason to visit this La Dolce Vita street, unless you enjoy sipping overpriced cups of cappuccino at cheesy, glass-enclosed sidewalk cafes. Via Veneto today is overrun with American and German tourists who, in their search for Marcello Mastroianni types, stumble upon the Hard Rock Café-and each other-instead.

Spreading out from the top of Via Veneto, the Villa Borghese park is a handy "green lung" when all that sightseeing gets to be too much. The Quirinale and Esquiline areas south and east of here form "uptown" Rome, whose main streets (Via Barberini, Via Nazionale, and Via Cavour) feature a conglomeration of government buildings, tacky tourist shops, and smog-stained hotels and apartment houses. Farther afield, the Aventine Hill and Testaccio areas lie to the south of the Centro Storico and are overlooked by most tourists. Precisely for that reason, we highly recommend a trip down here, as you'll be rewarded by quiet, leafy luxury on the Aventine, and a slice of real Roman life in Testaccio-all at a safe distance from the tourist hordes. EUR (Esposizione Universale di Roma; pronounced ay-yur) is about 8.05km (5 miles) south of central Rome, at the tail end of Metro Line B. EUR was Mussolini's grand project to show off "La Terza Roma" (the Third Rome, after that of the emperors and of the popes), and it's full of cold, imposing Fascist architecture. It's kind of an island unto itself, not a part of town you'd wander into-it's only accessed by highway-type boulevards-but it is the home of a large sports/entertainment arena (see "Entertainment" chapter) and a couple of good museums. Finally, the only tourist sight that isn't walkable from the centro is the Appian Way (Via Appia Antica), the southbound queen of Roman roads and home of the catacombs.

Note: Beware of fly-by-night "tour guides" at the main tourist areas who pose as "architecture students"-these young Americans, Australians, and Brits are operating illegally and often haven't a clue what they're talking about. For truly informative, entertaining walking tours of Rome's top sights, contact Enjoy Rome (tel 06/4451843;

For a map of Rome neighborhoods, go to p. 4, following the "Introduction" chapter.

Getting Around

Rome's graffiti-tagged Metropolitana subway (Metro for short) consists of two lines, A and B, which intersect at Termini Station, on the northeast side of the city center. Having only two lines, the Metro is easy to use and will get you close to many of the major sights, although it skirts the most characteristic parts of the city (Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Campo de' Fiori), where ancient ruins beneath street level were too dense for city authorities to deal with when they built the Metro in the 1980s. In the future-as in, when pigs fly-they might dig tunnels right through this archaeological mother lode to create Metro Line C, with underground stations showcasing the ruins behind glass panels, a la the Athens subway system.

If you're pressed for time or are claustrophobic, avoid riding the Metro in the early evening, when it seems every gel-coiffed Roman youth is heading to the Spanish Steps. Rome's bus system is quite reliable, and traveling aboveground will give you the chance to sightsee while getting around. One of the most useful lines for tourists-but definitely not the most scenic-is the 40 Express (Termini-Via Nazionale-Piazza Venezia-Largo Argentina-Castel Sant'Angelo and back the same way). Bus 64 does the same route, making many more stops, but it is always packed with pickpockets and pervs and best avoided altogether. Note: Bus stops, trains, and train platforms in general are the gypsies' favorite haunts, so always keep an eye-and a hand-on your bags. (For more on public transport, see "Hotlines & Other Basics.")

To help you get your bearings, see the Rome Metro map on the inside back cover of this guide.

Discounts, Passes, and Reservations

You can actually see every major sight in Rome-except the Sistine Chapel-for free. But if you start to get a hankering for entering monuments and museums, it gets pricey-tickets at most admission-charging sites range from 4 [euro] to 8 [euro]. Almost all student discounts are reserved for E.U. citizens, but U.S. students can try their luck with ticket booth staff, who might bend the rules if they like you and no supervisors are around. State-owned sites usually have reduced rates for children and seniors. A number of sites run by the Archaeological Superintendent also offer joint tickets for other related attractions-20 [euro] gets you a 7-day pass to the Colosseum, the Palatine, the Baths of Caracalla, the Appian Way's Tomb of Cecilia Metella and Villa of the Quintili, and the four buildings that make up the Museo Nazionale Romano. If you're really lucky, you'll visit Rome during Settimana dei Beni Culturali (Cultural Heritage Week), when admission to all publicly owned museums is free. This annual event is usually scheduled for early May; check ahead. To visit the Galleria Borghese or the Domus Aurea (Nero's Palace), you'll need to make reservations. It's a good idea to take care of this as far in advance as you can, but as long as you're not a big group, you can almost always get away with booking just 2 or 3 days ahead of time.

The Lowdown

Must-sees for first-time visitors ... Few modern Romans have actually been inside the Colosseum-and what's the point, really, now that the gladiators and wild animals are gone? In any case, tourists besiege the 1,900-year-old Flavian Amphitheater all day, taking cheesy photos with the self-described centurioni (locals dressed up in a faintly gladiator-ish ensemble of plastic bristle-crested helmets, tin cuirasses, and red socks). A poignant graveyard of Rome's Golden Age, the Roman Forum was essentially the center of the world for about 700 years. The ruins here-of temples, assembly halls, military monuments-merit multiple visits (and a good tour guide to explain the mess of marble). Time-warping ahead to the Renaissance, St. Peter's Basilica has everything you'd expect from the largest church in Christendom, with gold, marble, and Michelangelo's Pietà. The majority of the galleries in the Vatican Museums underwent restoration in the years preceding the 2000 Jubilee. Frescoes that were coated with soot, such as those in the Raphael Rooms, have been cleaned, and statues like the ancient Laocoön have been polished. Of course, most visitors pay little attention to these treasures, instead heading straight for the Sistine Chapel. Fortunately, the most hyped chapel in the world-even more astounding now after the 1980s restorations-never disappoints. Unfortunately, unless you have the $5,000 it takes to rent out the chapel privately, you'll have to endure standing-room-only crowds if you really want to give the brush strokes of Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists a good once-over.

With its porch of gargantuan granite columns, its original bronze doors and polychrome marble revetment, and its 43m (143-ft.) wide, unsupported dome, the Pantheon is one of Rome's-indeed, the world's-most impressive architectural spectacles. The "temple of all the gods," completed about 50 years after the Colosseum's debut, houses the tomb of Raphael and the tombs of the kings of modern Italy.

Two of Rome's biggest baroque public spaces-the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona-are great places to take a load off and people-watch. During sun-drenched days, both are flooded from dawn to dusk with lounging tourists and locals (as well as those inevitable by-products, annoying vendors and street performers). Legend has it that if you toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you're guaranteed to return to the Eternal City. (Please remember, it's just a toss you're going for, not some kind of over-the-shoulder sinking fastball-I've seen people actually get hurt.) One of Rome's more romantic tourist traps, the fountain is at its most spellbinding at, oh, around 4am, when all the tourists and vendors have finally gone home. The rest of the time, the steps in front are swamped with coin-hurling tourists, scam artists, and roving Casanovas.

Only in Rome ... For Catholics and other curious tourists, a trip to Rome means a papal audience, held on Wednesday mornings in St. Peter's Square or the modern auditorium just to the south. So what if the gathering is slightly more intimate than a high school graduation ceremony? It may be your last chance to catch J. P. II before he leaves the firmament and checks in at the pearly gates. Contact the Prefettura della Casa Pontifica (tel 06/698-83-017; fax 06/698-85-863; mailing address Città del Vaticano 00120) several weeks before you want to visit. (In a pinch, you can sometimes gain last-minute admission by applying at the Portone di Bronzo-the big bronze door-located in the right colonnade of St. Peter's Sq. On Tues afternoon, the Swiss Guards start giving out any leftover "invitations.") An attraction that drives kids and Japanese tourists wild is the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), located at the entrance of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Legend says that if you've been untruthful, the mouth of the ancient sewer cover clamps down and cuts your hand off. When you get your picture taken, don't just stand here and smile, for God's sake-ham it up like that gorgeous Gregory Peck did in Roman Holiday and pretend that your arm is being sucked in.

Remains of the day ... Whether it's a random bit of aqueduct under which cars now race indifferently, or a graffiti-tagged brick wall that used to belong to a temple, reminders of Rome's ancient history are everywhere-there's even a McDonald's with a sizable chunk of 2,400-year-old fortifications in its dining area. With those unforgettable superimposed arches curling around into decadence, the Colosseum is still a potent demonstration of all that Rome was, even though only half of it is intact. Earthquakes, barbarians, and popes have had their way with the "Rome Bowl" over the years, so you'll need to use your imagination to reconstruct the monument's interior. The crowds to get into the amphitheater are about the same as they were back then, but the entertainment, alas, was cut off in A.D. 523. Tourists can now walk across a wooden platform over the substructures and see where gladiators and animals were kept and brought up to arena level through 32 elevator shafts and trapdoors. More important historically but a lot more difficult to visualize, the ruins of downtown ancient Rome are in the greater Forum area, where commercial, political, and religious activities all took place around a public square. The marble skeletons of the mightiest civilization the Mediterranean has ever known are at their most haunting after dark, when all the columns and arches are floodlit. For the best view, go to the terraces of the Capitoline Hill.]


Excerpted from Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Rome by Sylvie Hogg Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2006

    best guidebook i've ever used!

    I went to Rome last october and (even though i do like to fancy myself the savvy traveler) this book was indispensable! of course all the major tourist sites were covered, but i loved how all the insider tips on the nooks and crannies (from ruins to top-notch shoe shops) were covered with equally passionate and honest detail.

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