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Rome a Piedi

Roam the City as the Romans Do

Strolling by the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of many ritual walks in Rome. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Romans still live la dolce vita, and if you join them it doesn't have to break the bank. Rome overflows with affordable pleasures. And the best and thriftiest way to enjoy this easily walkable city is as the Romans do — a piedi (on foot).

A Sample Walk in Rome

On our last trip we planned a fountain tour, to keep us out in the sunshine and on our feet on our first jet-lagged day, and began it by joining the locals in Piazza Navona. The square, with its impressive Baroque architecture and glorious Bernini fountains, has been the social center of Rome since beginning life as a stadium in the first century. Today we had trouble finding sitting room on a fountain ledge as we enjoyed the first gelato of the trip — a mouthwatering chocolate tartufo con panna (chocolate gelato with whipped cream) from Tre Scalini (Piazza Navona 28).

Trampled lettuce leaves and pieces of cardboard were being swept up by city custodians as we swished our arms in the tureen-shaped fountains of nearby Campo de' Fiore, quieting down after the popular morning market. We sipped a cooling coconut and pineapple frullato and relaxed by the fountain.

Buying food at the market of magical Campo de' Fiore, so steeped in history. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

A few blocks away we passed through another free alfresco museum. Flanked by twin fountains topped with fleur de lis, the emblem of the Farnese family, elegant Piazza Farnese is anchored by its namesake palazzo. With a roof-long cornice designed by Michelangelo, impressive Palazzo Farnese is now the home of the French embassy.

From Piazza Farnese we walked to the Pantheon and wandered freely into one of the wonders of the ancient world. At nearby Casa del Caffé Tazza d'Oro al Pantheon (Via degli Orfani 84) we splurged a bit for a coffee-lovers wonder — granita al caffè, a cold coffee ice "slushy" topped with whipped cream.

To give our feet a break we picked up a ticket at the closest store that sells tobacco (marked with a "T") and settled in among the commuters on bus 64 for a city tour. The orange bus runs from St. Peter's to Termini Station, passing many of the city's key sights along the way.

After all of the free looking — from St. Peter's columned piazza to the Baroque fantasy of the Trevi Fountain — we were ready to spend a few euros for a look at the unforgettable frescoes of the Vatican Museum's Sistine Chapel and, our favorite, the brilliant jewel-toned works of the Raphael rooms.

While meanders around the city are free, it's definitely worth every penny to take in a reasonably-priced walking tour like the one called Through Eternity. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable young guides lead an early-evening tour of the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona, ending on Michelangelo's exquisitely Piazza Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill. (All of the sites of course are admission-free without a tour.)

Sample Accommodations in Rome

There are plenty of budget hotels and, better yet, vacation apartment rentals to be found in Rome. Just book far in advance if you are visiting during the high season. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

But it was time to head for our hotel. Tiny Piazza San Pantaleo, a perfect location for walkers, offers two economical choices, both in the same building. Hotel Primavera, occupying the fifth floor of an old palazzo just south of Piazza Navona, is a 2-star with large rooms, private baths, and optional air conditioning.

Reasonable B&B or apartment options are available through the,, the now ubiquitous, or you can stay in one of the city's "holy hotels". A well-located choice is Fraterna Domus, near the Spanish Steps. The spotless rooms with private baths are a bargain but come with a curfew. Even if you choose to stay elsewhere, the sisters will serve you a filling family — style meal of comfort food all'Italiana.

Eating Out in Rome

Editor's note: Rome is not the culinary capital of Italy, with very few great restaurants, but you can easily find tasty local specialities, excellent pizza, and great gelato. I have found that I build up a great appetite just walking the streets and checking out the places where the locals eat — or just following my nose — often leads to far better food than recommendations or guides. You can look up lists of the "best pizza" or "best gelato" in Rome and find suggestions, but often recommendations by tourists, visiting experts, or even commercial local suggestions are not the best food the city has to offer. I have had good luck with "Slow Food" restaurants, but largely check out the menu, smell the food, see if I like the tables and atmosphere inside or outside have the right magical Roman atmosphere, and just go for it. I am seldom disappointed.

Any ill-prepared tourist can spend a lot of money in Rome — millions have. However, a traveler who's learned a few lessons in living on the cheap can eat, sleep, and enjoy the city's charms like the Romans do on a surprisingly low budget.

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