The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Going to Rome? Part 3

Today's post on visiting Rome will be a change of pace and will address some of things you'll want to take with you (and some things you'll want to leave behind). Tomorrow we'll get back to the city itself and recommend some additional places to include on your Roman tourist itinerary.

Packing. I can't speak for the women, so I won't even try...other than to tell you what I tell the men: pack light. Here are my packing recommendations for the guys:
  • A single, medium-sized suitcase per person
  • A single carry-on knapsack or similar bag per person
  • Rome isn't Disney World, so shorts are t-shirts are generally unacceptable attire
  • Several pair of microfiber slacks (they don't wrinkle and look dressy)
  • Two pair of jeans. Wear these when roaming the city.
  • Reversible belt - black/brown
  • One blazer or sports jacket that will go with everything
  • Polo shirts or similar shirts, either long- or short-sleeve depending on the time of year
  • Five pair of underwear and socks. You can wash these in your hotel room, so check out the quick dry underwear sold by Magellan's; also their hotel room wash kit.
  • One pair of comfortable walking shoes and one pair of comfortable loafers. Just be sure they're broken in and truly comfortable. Hurting feet can ruin a vacation.
  • A light-weight windbreaker or parka with a hood. I have one that can be rolled, zipped into its own pocket, and stored in my backpack.
  • Small containers of your toiletries -- tooth paste, hair gel, etc.
  • I use a Braun battery powered electric razor when I travel because it takes up so little space and one set of AA batteries last several weeks.
  • Battery chargers for all the electronic devices you take along: digital camera and video cam; netbook PC; GPS; cell phone. (Before you leave be sure to check with your cellular service provider about eliminating roaming charges in Europe. And check with them on the cost of calls back to the US. You don't want surprises when you return.)
  • One neat little device I bought before my last trip to Italy was a Power Monkey. You charge it up and stick it in your backpack. If any other device needs a charge when you're roaming the streets of Rome you can charge it with your Power Monkey. It comes with connectors for virtually every device.
  • Plug adaptors for Italian electrical sockets. Most battery chargers will work on US and European voltage, but you will need adaptors so you can plug your device into an Italian socket. Magellan also sells these. You can probably get away with buying one for each two devices.
  • A collapsible, folding suitcase to hold all the souvenirs and other goodies you buy and don't want to ship home. Magellan sells a neat one.
Backpack. When I'm actually out and about in Rome, I carry only the basics. This is because Diane and I tend to walk a lot in Rome, on average four to six miles daily. It's not that we're avid walkers; it's just a relatively painless way to burn off the calories that accompany all that good Roman food. Oh, yes, and I do enjoy the wine as well. Anyway, with all that walking it's best to carry as little as possible.

Several years ago I picked up a Rick Steves' Veloce shoulder bag/backpack after seeing it in use on his PBS European travel show. It's perfect for me because it holds everything I need for a day's outing. It can be carried over one shoulder or as a backpack. I've carried it all over and it's held up beautifully. The above link will take you to the page describing the bag. It costs about $50 but is worth every cent. On any given day in Rome, here's what I carry in the bag:
  • Canon Digital Rebel SLR with wide-angle to telephoto zoom lens (18 to 270 mm)
  • Camera accessories, including lens cleaner, extra SD memory cards, lens filters, and folding mini-tripod
  • A small Everio JVC video camera -- records onto internal solid state memory or SD card. No tapes or DVDs needed.
  • My HP Travel Companion with TomTom GPS built-in. A neat little device that lets me surf the web on WiFi hotspots and also use the built-in TomTom GPS with Italian maps. (One of my sons has almost convinced me that in the future I might be better served to move up to an iPhone.)
  • Detailed map of Rome for finding those out of the way places
  • A laminated tourist map (handy when it rains) that also includes basic info on key sights and attractions
  • A small pocket guidebook to the city
  • Individual guidebooks to any particular places we intend to visit that day
  • A bottle of water (the bag has pocket designed to hold a water bottle)
  • A Moleskin notebook, along with extra pens and pencils
  • A leather folder containing a documents we need to have with us that day
  • A small umbrella and hooded windbreaker
It sounds like a lot of stuff to carry around, but it really isn't all that much.

Maps and Guidebooks. My library probably contains more guidebooks to Rome than the average Barnes & Noble store. Yes, it's a weakness, but whenever I come across a new guidebook and flip through its pages, I inevitably encounter something or some place new to me...the rest is history and a hit to my debit card.

All kinds of guidebooks are available:
  • You can pick up one of those laminated tourist maps that also include brief descriptions of the "highlights" of Rome.
  • You can also select one of the many pocket-sized guidebooks that provide basic information on the places most pilgrims and tourists visit, along with itineraries for "seeing it all" in one, two or three days. (Just the thought of it tires me.)
  • Or you can go to the other extreme and opt for the Michelin Green Guide to Rome and Vatican City, a book that provides rather extensive details on the history, architecture and people related to virtually every district, church, museum and piazza in Rome.
  • And finally, you can obtain guidebooks specific to particular places. For example, I have individual guidebooks to the Pantheon, the Basilicas of Rome, the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and many others. Most of these I picked up in Rome because they offer the kind of detailed information I find useful as I take my self-guided tour of the place described. They're also nice souvenirs and have helped me identify the subject of many a photograph.
I suggest, however, that you use your available funds more wisely than I and buy only those publications that best suit your specific needs. As I explain how I use them, let me also recommend a few that you might want to pick up before your trip.
  • Large, detailed guidebooks -- for example the Michelin Green Book mentioned above -- are wonderful reference tools for reading up on the places you intend to visit. For example, if we plan to take a day and roam about the Trastevere district, we'll take some time the evening before to read about the district and note those places we'd like to visit. By jotting down the key information in my little Moleskin pocket notebook, I have all I need for out next day's outing. The guidebook can remain in the hotel room.
  • In this same general category is the Eyewitness Travel Guide to Rome. A beautifully illustrated guidebook, one of its more valuable features is a section that describes nine different self-guided walking tours of Rome. Each walk is described in two facing pages so you can copy each walk on a single 8 1/2 x 11 sheet and just leave the book in the hotel room.
  • A good map is invaluable in Rome. I have a dozen or more, but many of them are so busy with such small print that I find them almost unusable. If you have younger eyes than I, you might disagree. I suggest that you stop by your local chain bookstore (Borders, Barnes & Noble, or Books-a-Million) and look at their maps of Rome. I especially like the laminated maps since paper maps do not do well in the rain. The two that I have found easiest to use are the Let's Go Map Guide to Rome and the Streetwise Rome Map. Take your pick, or be like me and buy both.
  • A note on using GPS. I have a TomTom GPS with the maps of Western Europe pre-loaded, and yet I still carry my handy laminated map. The GPS is great for planning walking routes and for showing you where you are, but there's nothing like a good map on which you can view your entire route and take note of where you are relative to other places you want to visit.
  • A good pocket guidebook to the city is also a useful thing to carry with you on each daily outing. There are dozens to choose from and so I suggest visiting your local bookstore so you can page through several before buying the one that most appeals to you. Here are a few I've used, listed in no particular order: Rick Steves' Rome; Fodor's Citypack Rome; Frommer's Rome Day by Day; Eyewitness Top 10 Rome; and AAA Essential Rome. The Rick Steves' book is a little larger than the others, but it's really quite good as a carry along guidebook so I've included it here rather than among the larger reference books.
  • Finally, I'm listing a guidebook that I just ordered a few days ago based on the recommendation of a friend. It sounds wonderful, especially for those who consider their visit to Rome as a pilgrimage: A Catholic's Guide to Rome. If the Amazon reviews reflect the quality of the book, it should be wonderful.
I hope these map and guidebook suggestions help. Regardless of which book(s) you decide on, just be sure to buy the latest edition. You want an up-to-date guide with current information on the places you visit. There's nothing worse than walking halfway across the city to find that the museum you hoped to see is closed because their hours changed a year ago. This is another good reason to check the websites of places you intend to visit.

Next time I'll return to a discussion of some of the more interesting places to see and enjoy when in Rome.

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