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Travel & Holidays in later life


In the Roman ForumCitybreak brochures are packed with suggestions on brief sightseeing jaunts to the highlight cities of Europe. Mostly these are capital holidays, concentrating on the culture-vulture circuit sweetened by the shop-gazing and nightlife potential. Among the top favourites is Rome. 

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do." 

Such as? Well, just like anywhere else, the local inhabitants eat, drink and enjoy themselves. Doing all that in Roman style is good enough formula for a break to remember.  

But, first, what about the monuments? For a 20th-century Roman, all the guide-book sights are just part of the normal background scenery, scattered throughout the city.

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Rome offers four types of Museum: State - Municipal -  Vatican - Private.

The State museums, galleries and monuments can usually be visited free of charge on the first and third Saturday, and on the second and fourth Sunday of the month. 

They also offer free admission (show passport) to British citizens over 60.

They include the Forum,  Castel Sant'Angelo, the Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia, National Roman Museum, National Gallery in the Palazzo Barberini, the Museum of Oriental Art and the Modern Art Museum.

Municipal museums and galleries (for example, Capitoline and Barracco Museums) and the Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of the month.

More information: Italian State Tourist Board, 1 Princes St,
London W1B 2AY. Tel: 0207 399 3562.  

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Zipping through the Borghese Gardens, a Fiat-driver takes the fast route that runs beside the towering walls of ancient Rome - as well-preserved and impressive as 2,000 years ago. 

He whirls though the Pincio Gate with all the courage and driving skill of a Roman charioteer, and thence down Via Veneto to Piazza Barberini, and so across central Rome. En route, there are ancient Roman columns and ruined temples - 17th-century fountains and Renaissance churches - palaces, museums and art galleries. It's an incredibly rich cultural diet which a modern Roman absorbs over a lifetime. 

The footsore tourist, struggling to "do" Rome in three days, only ends with mental indigestion. Best policy for first-time visitors is to take the standard city sightseeing by coach. After morning and afternoon sessions - five hours with a knowledgeable guide pouring forth history, facts, dates, anecdotes - most tourists feel limp. 

But at least the principal sights have been given a quick glance: Colosseum, Forum, Vatican City, Pantheon and a few churches. You can then return at leisure to whatever interests you most. But you cannot possibly see everything in detail! 

Typical is the guided sightseeing through the Vatican Museum - certainly the world's richest. 

Many guides for one-day Rome marshal their flocks outside the entrance just before opening time. Then, to keep ahead, they march briskly through several hundred yards of halls and galleries lined with masterpieces of art and sculpture, collected by the Popes over long centuries. 

Anyone who pauses a moment must break into a trot to catch up. The aim is to reach the Sistine Chapel before all the other tour groups make movement impossible. Everyone wants to see the Michelangelo frescoes which were restored thanks to Japanese finance.

Obviously the daily Sistine Chapel stampede is ludicrous. But if you want to linger among the fabulous treasures of the Vatican Museum, it's quite simple to return at your own pace. 

Once you have the overall view, just relax and enjoy your own discoveries. Routes across central Rome to the principal monuments are signposted for walkers. Regrettably the Italians prefer to go everywhere by car, leading to massive traffic jams and long-term problems of exhaust pollution.

Arch of Constantine, with the stonework cleaned after years in scaffolding. Many of the famous monuments and buildings are still being cleaned and restored. It's an endless task, slowed by lack of funds. Some of the great tourist sights have been draped in scaffolding for several years. But fortunately Rome still has plenty left. 

Staff problems or renovations can disrupt opening times of great museums. Most museums close one day a week, usually Monday or Tuesday. 

Before making a special journey across Rome, check the current opening hours from listings held by the hotel concierge.

On the principal public holidays, virtually all shops, museums and galleries are closed. Central Rome is then a paradise for pedestrians.Spanish Steps, overlooked by Trinita dei Monti church

One of the great pleasure spots of Rome is the entire area around the Spanish Steps - a sociable gathering point for tourists and Romans alike. 

Directly opposite Spanish Square is the narrow Via Condotti and neighbouring side streets, where wealthy Romans go shopping. Italian men say: "It's heaven for ladies, but hell for husbands." Middle-income citizens choose the lower-priced department stores of Via Nazionale.

Rome can be enjoyed sitting down. The locals spend much of their leisure at pavement cafés, gossiping and watching the world go by. Favourite drinks are tiny, extra-strong cups of espresso, or aperitifs like Campari soda. 

There is infinite choice of café locations: in l6th-century piazzas, echoing with children at play; in side-streets, friendly as a village pub; at busy crossroads, providing ringside seats for the cut-and-thrust blood sport of Italian driving. 

Food? Rome has colourful restaurants by the thousand. If you go overboard for Italian cuisine with Italian wine, you can have a glorious time at reasonable prices, just eating the way the Romans do. 

Take a cab to the Trastevere district, crammed with popular restaurants. During the warmer months you dine out doors, lingering over a 2-hour meal with a low-cost bottle of wine. Itinerant musicians and flower-sellers make the rounds. On cooler evenings, service is indoors. 

It's much more fun than eating standard tourist menus in the hotels. Don't worry if you cannot speak Italian - just wave and point. But most waiters have basic English. 

Finally, it's a complete evening entertainment to go down to the Trevi Fountain to look at the tourists, all busy throwing coins into the water. 

That's where the young men of Rome go girl-hunting, among the ever-changing supply of talent. With traffic jammed by horse-carriages, the Trevi Fountain becomes starting-point for innumerable international flirtations. It's all part of the magic of Rome! 

For other viewpoints of Italy, read these articles: 

ITALY CUISINE - Finding your way around the menu

TRENTINO - on sunny side of the Alps

TUSCANY - Tasting the flavour

VENICE - City without wheels

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: Rome" - Doesn't kill you with details, but features superb photographs which can recapture memories of Rome.

"Italianissimo: Beginners"   A language pack of book and four CDs by Denise De Rome - a highly-rated BBC publication which introduces the Italian language,  background culture and lifestyle. Worth studying a few months before your departure, to gain extra pleasure from a visit to Rome.

The Rough Guide to Rome - Ideal for a short break, with colour illustrations and good maps.

Masterpieces of the Vatican - This selection of 100 masterpieces gives the reader a profound insight into one of the world's greatest collections.

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