One of the joys of flying economy and finding cheap flights is the often overlooked but never wasted "layover." I recently took advantage of that on a flight to Israel that left me and my daughter with a nine hour layover in Rome. Not one to sit around or go Duty Free shopping, I decided that I was going to use those nine hours to suck whatever I could out of the streets of Rome and hopefully give my daughter a taste of Italy beyond pasta and bread (though that was a priority as well). So in case you ever find yourself stuck in the airport for a few hours, here's my handy-dandy guide to seeing Rome in nine hours.
For starters, we hit the ground running. Loaded up with caffeine and made a bee-line to passport control. For the most part, getting into a foreign country probably should take a bit of time, but getting into Rome was a breeze. Seriously. The security at the Duty-Free shop was more intense. Not that I'm complaining. It just gave us more time.
We had been warned that traffic in Rome was worse than NY rush hour and so we took the train to Trastevere Station. Most people take the train directly into town at Termini Station. Trastevere is a more chilled out station, a lot quieter and an easier location to meet our driver, Vittorio.
So yes. A driver. We didn't go through any web sites to get this guy. Instead, using friends of friends who know people in Rome, we found a guy who would drive us around and who understood the concept of "people on a budget." Vittorio was awesome. Especially since he insisted on opening and closing the doors for us at each stop which I thought was quite Italian and gentlemanlike.
Our first stop was the Vatican, because if you're going to Rome, you need to do a Sistine Chapel drive-by. We had bought tickets in advance, but really didn't need to. It was a Tuesday. In January. I think that is the lowest tourist season of the year and week for the Vatican. We hightailed it through halls of priceless art and antiquities towards the Raphael Rooms. Luckily, I was able to give a brief synopsis of the paintings and gave my little 5 minute lecture to my daughter and some random tourists who seemed interested.
Onward towards the Sistine Chapel where we marveled at Michelangelo's masterpiece between stern warnings to remain silent.
And of course, no pictures.
That's right. I didn't take any pictures even though everyone else seemed to ignore the constant reminders. After all, I had my daughter there. I figured I'd be the role model. Yay, parenting.
Anyway, after making an inspiring speech about "how awesome was that" we quickly made our way to the exit, stopping only to glance at the modern art gallery to check out some Chagalls. Very cool.
Vittorio met us outside and we drove off to see the Coliseum, Constantine's Arch, and the Roman Forum. We couldn't actually go in - time was a wasting - but it we did get out and look around, checked out some Gladiators, and snapped some touristy pictures.
We quickly drove up to see the Pantheon, passing ancient temples along the way ("Look! The Temple to Hercules!") and even caught one of those famous Italian political protests. Okay, actually, I didn't know they were famous. But apparently they take place all the time now that taxes are so high and people are pretty much pissed off.
It was getting late and we were getting hungry, but we still pressed on, taking some more famous sights like the Roman Circus, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps and some not-so-famous ones like the key-hole view of the Vatican from Avatine Hill (definitely something you should see, by the way). Finally, we headed to the Jewish Ghetto for some kosher bakery action and some classic Italian Fare before heading back to the airport.
Overall, we had about five hours touring time in Rome and made the best use of our limited resources (time being one of them). While we did see a lot, it was definitely the ADD version of a city that has way more than five hours worth of touring. But if you ever find yourself in an airport for a couple of hours, and you don't think there's enough time to get out, think again! Five hours and a pocketful of Euros and you can see the world.