You could call me anti-tourist, as ironic as it would be for me to be that way (considering how much traveling I do), and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. So when Therese and I decided to do one of the most tourist-like things we could do on our first day in Rome – to ride the Hop-on Hop-off bus – I did feel just a bit like I was betraying my usual traveling impulses.
But it made good sense to climb aboard the bus along with a hundred or more of my closest traveling buddies (not) and spend two hours riding around Rome’s biggest tourist draws. First, we would have been traveling for half a day by the time we arrived at our hotel in Rome, and the idea of then having to “drive” our own exploration of the city didn’t sound so appealing. Second, I did not anticipate spending our time in Rome at the huge tourist draws (Trevi Fountain – shudder!), but I thought, never having been to Rome before, it wouldn’t hurt to at least get a glimpse of these attractions.
So once we had checked in at our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Claridge (which is in a residential part of the city, northeast of the city center), the next question was, how to get to one of the Hop-on Hop-off stops. Thankfully, the hotel’s desk person/concierge was very helpful. While the Hilton Garden Inn is not close to any of the city’s attractions, there are trams and buses that run up and down its street that will take you to all of those places.
The concierge apologized that she had run out of bus tickets, but I could buy either tickets or a metro pass around the corner at the Tabbachi. Yes, these are stores where you can buy cigarettes and such, but they also sell lots of useful things, like bus tickets. However, I made the mistake of buying a multiple day pass – and for the amount of trips we made, it didn’t make sense money-wise. But – we did have a pass to ride public transportation for the next few days, not a bad thing.
So we hopped on the bus number 53, as instructed by the concierge, and about 15 minutes later, we arrived at Piazza Barberini (the picture above is of Therese standing in front of the fountain in the Piazza). And sure enough, in one corner of the piazza, there was the stop for the bus. I handed a woman inside the bus the voucher I had printed out, and she punched a code into a handheld machine, and a receipt came out. She handed me that and lots of other paper (maps and such) and we were off!
The first place we stopped was actually the train station, called “Termini” (to distinguish it from another train station in Rome) – very unimpressive. But then next we passed by the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, an incredible sacred space – I had already decided we would visit there, but seeing it up close made me more determined to do so.
Next we passed by the Circus Maximus, where the chariot races took place in classical Rome. I am a huge fan of the movie Ben Hur – the Charlton Heston version, not the more recent travesty – and of course the chariot race in that movie, which is supposed to take place in the Circus Maximus, is pivotal, and just breathtaking. The real thing today looks like a huge oval of dirt and a little grass, not that impressive, but oh if that sand could talk…
Next up was the Colosseum, one of the most famous of Rome’s monuments. Now you may notice I was not taking many photos that day – I was tired from traveling, and just letting it all wash over me, positioned in my seat on the top of the bus. So I didn’t get a picture of the Colosseum, but I did manage to snap a selfie with the Arch of Constantine, right next to the Colosseum. We would see the Colosseum the next day – I bought a combo ticket of the bus ride an entree to the Colosseum (more on that in the next post) – so I wasn’t too worried about missing a photo op at that point.
There were several more stops after that – the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, some others – but I was dozing and just drinking it all in (the warm sun felt good). I was struck by the fact that many of the stops are not right next to the attraction for which they are named. For example, to see the Trevi Fountain, you would have to get off the bus and walk a block. The same holds true for the Vatican. Oh well, I didn’t care. I had a comfortable seat.
Eventually, we were back at Piazza Barberini. The fountain, designed by Gian-Lorenzo Bernini, is awesome. Remind me to tell you about Bernini. We ate a simple lunch at a cafe right on the piazza, and then we waited for the 53 back to our hotel. But for reasons we couldn’t figure out, the bus never came. Eventually, we flagged down a taxi, and headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved nap.
After a nap and a shower, we were ready for our first full meal in Rome. We asked our concierge, and they suggested we try Zero Restaurant, across the street from the hotel. We had no reservation of course, but the host at the restaurant told us there was a table free – as long as we could finish eating within an hour. We agreed, and enjoyed a lovely dinner.
And honestly, we were still there an hour later, and no one complained (I guess they found another table for the people with the reservation).