Article by Beverly De Soto
Photos by Harry Stevens
TO BE PERFECTLY HONEST, ROMANS CAN COPE WITH ANYTHING. For centuries, their city has been a target for hordes of tourists and barbarians. Through it all, Romans have remained inscrutable – insouciant, unsinkable and ready for just about anything. That being said, however, if you plan a visit to the Eternal City, it is a good idea to follow a few simple rules:
DO VISIT SAINT PETER’S FIRST: For first time visitors, stepping inside the arms of Bernini’s amazing Colonnade is a real thrill. (Secret Catholic Tip: For a free, fascinating personal tour of Saint Peter’s, stop by the Vatican post office and look for a small, unobtrusive sign advising English-speaking visitors when an American seminarian will be there. Impress him by pointing out that the statues on top of the Basilica are the Apostles.)
DO GO TO LATIN MASS ON SUNDAY: 11:00 Sung High Mass at Santa Trinita Dei Pellegrini, the church of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, just steps from the Piazza Farnese. Dress appropriately, please.
DO PREPARE YOURSELF: Films and books will help you really enjoy your Roman Holiday (1953), The Cardinal (1963), Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), The Bicycle Thieves (1948), The Scarlet and the Black (1983), and La Dolce Vita (1960).
Then, there’s Only You (1994). My favorite classic books include Hilaire Belloc’s Path to Rome, H.V. Morton’s A Traveler in Rome, Bishop Sheen’s This is Rome, Louis De Wohl’s The Spear, Roger Wiltgen’s The Rhine Flows into the Tiber and John Walsh’s The Bones of Saint Peter.
TRAVELING WITH A CROWD? Rent an apartment in the Eternal City. Way cheaper than a hotel, plus you can cook (and have the experience of your life shopping in Rome’s produce markets!) We like Halldis, but all you need to do is Google ‘apartments in Rome’ for a great selection.)
DON’T EXPECT ROMANS TO SPEAK YOUR LANGUAGE: Give yourself three months to learn some touristic Italian. Never mind the stares from your fellow motorists — drive around with CDs from your local library, repeating “Il conto, per favore?” and “Ho bisogno un medico” with an Italian accent.
DO STAY IN A CONVENT: There are 2,762 hotels in Rome. Convents are cheaper, cleaner, safer and WAY more authentic than any tourist trap. They are the single best way to see Rome – especially for Catholics who would like to attend Mass with the sisters. (Secret Catholic Tip: To find a convent that gladly takes in tourists, visit www.santasusanna.org which calls itself the ‘home of the American Catholic church in Rome.”)
DO LEARN TO USE THE BUS: Forget those dangerous mopeds, although the brave and the foolhardy like Audrey Hepburn can rent one for 40 euros a day. Red Roman buses are cheap and plentiful. Find one that stops by your convent, buy yourself a pass at the local newsstand/tobacco store and soon you’ll be zipping around Rome for basically nothing – without losing a limb.
DON’T BE A TARGET: Avoid drawing attention to yourself. Keep your voice low. Leave your sneakers at home. Wear dark, conservative clothing. Don’t wear a fanny pack or keep your wallet in your back pocket. Americans, especially, need to remember that we have a reputation for being loud and naïve – perfect targets for pickpockets and flimflam artists. This goes TRIPLE at night, or if you have been drinking. Don’t be paranoid, but do be smart. (Secret Catholic Tip: The young woman begging at church doors with a new baby is not starving to death. This is an age-old scam targeting naïve tourists and seminarians.)
ALWAYS REMEMBER: For Catholics, Rome is far more than just an ancient city filled with treasures and history. For us, the Eternal City is just that — the closest that we will ever have to a spiritual home here on earth. Treasure your days there – and be sure to toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain, to ensure that you will, in fact, return.