When in Rome...
"From the Airport to the Hotel"
My first impression of Rome... "Wow, this reminds me so much of Orlando, Florida!" My poor taxi driver, who spoke about as much English as I spoke Italian was baffled by this exclamation. After a few choice words, including "Mickey Mouse," "Disney World," and "palm trees," we were finally able to come to an understanding of each other. Turns out, my wonderful taxi driver had been to the "Sunshine" state and was excited that I had been there too.
Another thing I discovered on my way from the airport was that no matter how much you study Italian by reading a book titled, "Italian in 30 Days" over the course of a couple of weeks, it does not prepare you (at all) for actually speaking or understanding spoken Italian. Thanks, Berlitz! I suppose I should have used the enclosed c.d. Between my inability to conjugate any useful verb on command and my readiness to lapse into German for the sake of speaking something other than English, my driver and I spent a lot of time laughing... mostly at me!
Approximately 35 minutes and 45 Euros later, I arrived at Hotel Zara. I do not wish to be disparaging, but I would not recommend this place at all to anyone. From the picture below, you can see my wonderful twin bed, which was certainly not the problem at all, and I actually had a decent view from my the only window in the room. The problem lay in the dirty, wire-exposed, poorly-lighted, limitedly furnished room and the hotel's ill-tempered employees. The location, however, could not be beaten as I was a step away from Via Nazionale and about a 10 minute walk to the Spanish Steps.
"Would You Like To See The Pantheon?"
Well, at 1:30 in the afternoon, so would everyone else... Not to mention that you and everyone else would like to see the Trevi Fountain, and just about most other sites.
The picture below is taken from the place I felt that it would be safest to stand. Before me is a sea of people waiting to get into or around the Pantheon. My advice - If you want to get even close to the Pantheon (although not in it), go later in the evening, or better yet, at night. You could also sneak there incredibly early in the morning. I went back late at night, and was fortunate to have great company with me to explain all that I was seeing.
"Something Special in Hidden Places"
What does the Spanish Steps + Local Artist + A Trip to the Villa Borghese Gardens & Museum =? Magic!
I had my most amazing day in Rome wandering around the Villa Borghese with Sergio Angilella, a local artist, who works at the top of the Spanish Steps. I had never thought to go there (or actually even knew about it!) Under the advice and guidance of Sergio, I was able to see a beautiful and also, mostly tourist-free, part of Rome. It's a great place for a picnic, to read, to take great pictures, and to see amazing free art (sculptures), and of course, there is also the museum.
The image below is of sculpture which is part of a larger installation titled "I Nostri Silenzi." There are several similar sculptures along the path, and they are there to symbolize all the things that people hold themselves back from saying because we deem it inappropriate. There is also a beautiful lake with ducks, and another museum on grounds.
If you want to get away from the crowds, find a little quiet time, and see some art, then this is the place to go.