ITALY: Getting Around

Choosing a place somewhere near where you work is important, because the city streets are crowded and public transportation is not the best in the country. This has a lot to do with Rome’s ancient past; it’s hard to build a subway when you bump into a buried archaeological treasure every few feet. Planning the simplest tunnel or parking garage is a constant struggle against the remnants of Roman history.

The subway has just two lines. The first, the red line, starts near the Vatican, crosses the river, skirts the northern edge of the historic center, passes the Termini train station, and finishes in the southeastern outskirts. The second, the blue line, starts in the eastern suburbs, runs through Termini, the Colosseum, and Testaccio, then ends near EUR in the southwest. If you have the luck or the foresight to live and work near one of those lines, getting around won’t be too hard. The subway is fairly efficient, though packed at rush hour.

The great majority of Romans live outside walking distance of a subway stop, and so publictransport commuters rely on buses and trams. Both are reliable in the sense that they exist and will come eventually (except during strikes). They are not famous for their punctuality. Bus tickets are valid for 90 minutes, which starts the moment you punch the ticket in the on-board machines. If you don’t punch the ticket, you’ll get a fine in the off-chance that an inspector steps on.

No discussion of Roman buses would be complete without a brief mention of old No. 64. This route cuts through the heart of the city, from Termini to the Vatican. As you might expect, it’s loaded with pilgrims, priests, tourists, and some very crafty pickpockets. If you do ride No. 64, and chances are you often will, make sure to keep an eye on your bags and pockets.

Like anywhere else in the world, it takes a certain type to enjoy riding the bus. They’re particularly hot and stuffy in Rome, and every time you board and look out the window, you start dreaming about getting a scooter. The classified ads are full of used mopeds, and they come pretty cheap”as low as a few hundred euros. They are the ideal form of transportation in a city that certainly wasn’t designed around the automobile, and where downtown is off-limits to most cars except taxis.

If you don’t want to deal with the paperwork of getting a license plate and the other necessary permits, there are loads of agencies around that lend out mopeds by the hour or by the day. You might even be able to strike a deal where you can rent one for a month at a substantial discount.

If you prefer pedal power to motors, by all means, bring your bike along, but don’t expect smooth riding in Rome. In Italy’s northern cities, getting around town by bike is a way of life; in Rome, it can be a shortcut to death. And inline skating is out of the question, except in the leafy Villa Borghese, where skates can be rented. There’s no better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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