Hello my friends, it has been a long time since I have added anything to my blog. Life under lock-down didn’t was mostly uninspiring as we couldn’t go anywhere. Over the last month however, life has been moving in an uplifting direction and I was finally able to spend a weekend in Rome.
Travel has not yet picked up in Italy even though it has reopened to Americans. There is still a 10-day quarantine in place even if you are vaccinated and have a negative Covid test which you will need to fly. The only way to escape the quarantine is by flying in on a Covid tested flight. Delta Airlines is offering these flights, and a few routes are already in effect with more becoming available in the next couple of months. I recently learned from a friend whose parents came to visit, that the Italians are serious about this quarantine and the authorities immediately checked in with both the town’s mayor and the Air B&B owner with whom they are staying. That said, if you have the time to quarantine or can take advantage of one of these flights, Italy is magnificent right now.
I recently took the train to Rome for the weekend and enjoyed wandering in some of my favourite places without the crowds. While I didn’t go into the Forum and Colosseum, peeking in from the outside I could tell they were nearly empty. There was a short line to pick up reserved tickets for the Capitoline Museum and another friend who had visited the Vatican Museum a few days earlier said it was downright pleasant. As a tour guide who regularly visited the museum when it was crowded to the gills, I can assure you that this is monumental!
One of the highlights of my weekend visit, aside from visiting with good friends who I have missed dearly since our lockdown in March of 2020, was a visit to a special exhibit at the Capitoline Museum. Tucked around the back of the museum, the exhibit space, Villa Caffarelli, is hosting I Marmi di Torlonia until June 29, 2021. The Torlonia Collection is considered one of the most important private collections of ancient art in the world. The sculpture displayed is all beautifully restored and is the crème de la crème in the world of sculpture. The museum space is small and as is the case in most Italian museums, you can get up close to the art and with these sculptures, still see traces of the colors used by the ancient Romans and the attention to detail and realism is astonishing.
Visiting the exhibit with my good friend, Francesca Caruso, who also happens to be a stellar local guide in Rome came with added insight and I can now identify female figures from the Flavian period by means of their hairstyle (elaborate curly dos), and faces from the 3rd century from the mono-brows that they sport!
Wandering around the city was a little bitter-sweet as it previous dynamism isn’t yet there, and many hotels and restaurants were still closed (or won’t reopen) but there are signs of hope. People are out and wandering again, dining and drinking al fresco, where once seated, you can take off your mask. The evening stroll or passeggiata that brings the locals to the streets, has been revived, and the bars were full as people enjoyed a cup of coffee or an aperitivo. While I was in Rome while there was still an 11pm curfew (very early for Italian diners) and there was an air of urgency in getting home, like Cinderella fleeing from the ball. This curfew has finally been lifted in most regions. Museums are open too, but you do have to plan a bit as reservations are mandatory. The churches are also open to visit, with hand sanitizer at the entrance, and seating that reflects our new era of social distancing.
If you do decide you are ready to travel, there are a few things you should take into consideration. Buy travel insurance! I always take an informal pole when guiding and roughly one third of my tour members buy insurance before coming to Italy. I would not step foot into the US without insurance, or anywhere else for that matter because if you have a major problem, it will make your life easier and it should simply be considered part of the cost of traveling. If you can’t afford the insurance, you probably shouldn’t be taking the trip, and this is especially important while Covid is still a problem. You should also know that if you end up in the hospital for any reason, you will be on your own, visitors are not allowed.
Bring extra patience. In some shops, in museums and in the train stations, they take your temperature before you are allowed to enter which takes time. In some places there are routes set up to keep things flowing in the right direction and you will often be following sets of arrows on the floor. In the Vatican Museum, you are no longer allowed to go back the way you came. While in the past this was already difficult with the crowds, now it simply isn’t allowed. There is also nowhere to sit in the museum if you get tired. The walk through the museum is around 2.5miles, so be prepared. In small shops, there are also limits as to how many people can enter so you might have to wait outside until someone leaves.
Plan ahead! Reservations are required for museums and even the Pantheon has created a reservation system to control the flow of people. The Pantheon has always been open and free, and the rumours that circulated a few years ago that they were going to start charging admission, never came to pass but they do now require reservations on weekends and holidays. There is a QR code at the entrance of the Pantheon which gives you access to the reservation system, and I have not found any updated information on-line.
You will wear a mask! In all honestly, when social distancing is possible outside, people will lower their masks, but they are required everywhere. You are allowed to unmask while sitting down at a table in a restaurant or bar but put it on again to make your way to the bathroom! If wearing a mask really bothers you, big European cities are not the place to be right now.
You will also want to make reservations for meals. Seating is harder to come by and if you have specific places you want to dine, this is a necessity. That said, the restaurants on some of the main walking routes in Rome were still trying to hawk people in, but anyone who needs to persuade me to eat there makes me turn tail and run! The upside of the pandemic is that many restaurants are doing take-out and delivery so if you are pooped at the end of the day, you can always eat in your hotel.
All in all, I loved my weekend in Rome and while I am thrilled it is starting to spring back to life, it was pleasantly uncrowded and full of charm. If you have the means, it is a lovely time to visit but make a conscientious decision knowing full well that you will have to be flexible, patient, and potentially deal with the added risks that Covid has thrown our way.