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getting around rome

Before we discuss getting around Rome... might be interested to know what is the best map to buy for the stranger to Rome.

Like all the best European cities, central Rome is served by a tram system. In recent years this service has been wound down and somewhat neglected, but with the year 2000 celebrations coming up, city councillors have realised the green and trendy aspect of trams and thus have built new trams and added new lines, none of which are being used much at present as not even seasoned Romans can figure out where and when the new lines run...

That aside, there are five other ways of getting around Rome, none of them ideal to the non-Italian visitor:

the safe but nauseous way
the moderately safe but exhausting way

the safe but boring way
the dangerous and boring way
the dangerous but most fun way.
Oh and taxis of course, but that's cheating.
This being hypertext, we shall deal with these different methods in whatever order you wish to click on them...
Our picture shows the inside of a Rome city bus,

and as you can see it's pretty overcrowded, with everybody having to stand.
That's why it's both a boring and an uncomfortable way of getting around Rome. Worse so when you consider that this photo was not taken during rush-hour, but actually around midday. A London bus cruising the West-End streets at about this time of day would be comparatively empty, with plenty of seating-space. Not so the Roman buses...
There simply aren't enough of them, which is a bit silly considering the enormous amount tourist-traffic the city's public transport system should be catering for. Being the mild-mannered gent that I am, I have rarely been able to find a seat on either train or bus in Rome, no matter what time of day I travel. There are plenty of bus routes, and the city is well covered, but what a shame that when your bus arrives, it will be so cramped that you will be forced to stand sandwiched among forty others, and thus quite unable to see any of Rome's fabulous landmarks out of the window.
The other curious thing about Rome's buses is that they hardly have any seats in them anyway - There is only a single row of hard seats running down each side of a ridiculously wide central aisle. So it seems we are supposed to stand! Don't ask me why.
The same goes for their urban railway network (tube-trains, subway, call it what you will). The trains run on time ok, but here again, not frequently enough.
The Rome subway network (click here for subway map) is much simpler and smaller than that in either London or New York. It's basically a cross-shaped intersection of two lines, one running north-west to south-east ('Linea A') , and the other north-east to south-west (the 'Linea B'). They intersect at 'Termini' which is smack in the middle of the city and equivalent to Kings Cross in London or Grand Central in Manhattan. Here you can also catch mainline intercity trains to all over Italy, buy tacky souvenirs, get pick-pocketed, picked up, score a line of coke or whatever you're in the mood for. There are other smaller lines intersecting these, plus the main inter-city network, but from the tourist point of view the A and B lines are all you'll usually need.
A further aggravation of Rome's public transport is its ticketing system. Unlike London Transport's splendid easy-to-handle credit-card sized tickets, (or even the older, smaller but reassuringly thick cardboard ones) which are neatly drawn into and out of a slot in both the entry and exit barriers at beginning and end of your journey, the Roman ticket has been manufactured so cheaply from the thinnest possible card that will do the job. You have to fiddle to poke it into a little franking slot (at the station or on the bus) at just the right angle, and not too hard or it will bend. This can take up to fifteen seconds if you are unlucky, which is just long enough to miss your train in, (as I have done on more than a few occasions). Doing this on the bus is often impossible as you cannot fight through the throng to get to the machine at the back of the bus. A ticket currently costs L.1500 (about 60p) for 75 minutes of unlimited travel. Which is pretty good value really. Except that it's not unlimited, as you are only allowed to take a maximum of two buses and one train (or is it one bus and two trains? I really can't be bothered to remember, it is such a ludicrous system. If your ticket expires while you're on the bus, you're supposed to put a new one in. Thus the blame for the slow-moving traffic jam is placed squarely on your shoulders. You will pay for it, or though there willnever be any visible improvement in road-surfacing or city-traffic-flow management. But someone someone will be getting rich, and that's all that really matters in Italy. Ticket inspectors make frequent but random checks, although the whole system sems so loose, open-ended and ambiguous that whatever penalty you may face if not found with a 'valid' ticket will very much depend on whether or not the inspector likes your face or knows your brother-in-law. One final gripe about the ticketing system is that children's fares are decided on height, not age. Children under one metre tall travel free. Children over a metre pay the adult fare. So if you have a three or four-year old with you who's big for his age, too bad... You're dealing with an alien mind-culture see?

Really, if you're not in any particular hurry, the best way to get around Rome (from a sight-seeing point of view) is on foot. Obviously it's more tiring than riding the bus, but you'll see a lot more, and of course, there is an awful lot to see. Rome is a fabulously beautiful place and meandering through its streets is one of life's most delightful pastimes. On foot though you need to be wary of pickpockets and beggars (the latter can be tiresome), but with a little exercise of common sense you needn't let these people spoil your day. Rome is extremely labyrinthine and there are some places you'd be better advised to stay clear of if you're walking, so it's a good idea to invest in a good streetmap.

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