1. At the airport, do not wait it the long queues for train tickets. Instead go to the tobacconist’s and get your ticket without waiting.
2. To avoid the Termini Station, take the train to Trastevere (the tobacconist can sell you the ticket and direct you to the correct track), then take the number 8 tram, which will go to the centrally located Piazza Argentina (or you can take the number 3, which ultimately goes all the way to the Villa Borgia, though on a rather roundabout route).
3. If you are in Rome for any length of time, get a three-day or one-week transit pass. This will allow you to hop on and off buses and trams without worrying about having change, deciding whether a short trip is worth a euro, and getting your ticket stamped. Stamp the pass only the first time you use it. It will be good until midnight on the third or seventh day. This pass is also good to go to the ruins outside of town at Ostia Antica, the former port.
4. Consider getting an unlocked cell phone and buying a sim card for it that’s good for Europe. Despite what you might read on Rick Steves’s site, it can be a little bit tedious to do this in Italy, and it might be worth the extra 5 or 10 dollars to buy the card over the internet in advance of traveling.)
5. A good bus connection through the city is the 115 line together with the 116 line. These are small hybrid vehicles that go down narrow cobbled streets in the restricted traffic areas. From the Trastevere the 115 will take you to the Gioncolo terminal. In the parking garage there you can take the elevator or stairs down one level and catch the 116, which will go through town past the Piazza Spagnia to the Villa Borgia. At the place in the garage where the 116 stops there is also an airport terminal–style walkway right down to St. Peter’s
6. Speaking of St. Peter’s, try to avoid approaching on the 64 bus, which is crowded and full of pickpockets. These are often distinguished-looking elderly gentleman in suits and ties who hold newspapers over there arms to conceal their activities.
7. You’re going to feel obligated to visit the Vatican Museums no matter what I say, but be aware that it’s a fairly hellish experience. It’s extremely crowded and not very visitor friendly. The objects labels are poorly designed and placed. There are tour guides barking all around you at every turn. The museums are designed to keep the thundering herd on course along the Long March to the Sistine Chapel, where they will be ferociously shushed by curt guards who will be taking every step to make sure no photos are taken, as this might cut into the gift shop sales. (On the other hand, every square inch is a masterpiece.)
8. But don’t be tempted to skip the Capitoline Museums. They are excellent, and also afford fine views of downtown Rome for the third-floor cafe and of the forum from the Temple of Veiovis, a relatively recent (and quite amazing) archaeological discovery located off the passage between the two buildings.
9. The best English-language guidebook appears to be the Rough Guide to Rome (we got ours from the public library); it’s quite helpful. But I wouldn’t put too much stock in its restaurant recommendations. Our best meals were all from restaurants that were chance discoveries.
10. Finally, and critically, especially if you are continuing to Napoli and the Amalfi Coast (as we were), try at all costs not to get that infernal song about the moon hitting your eye like a-big a-pizza pie in your head. You will never get rid of the damned thing. Tippy tippy tay, tippy tippy tay, tippy tippy tay, that’s amore.
Image: Sign on a restaurant in the Trastevere.