Just Back From... the Major Sights of Rome


Reader Douglas Mitchell took his niece and sister-in-law on their first overseas trip to Rome, where they toured ruins and museums and refueled with daily helpings of gelato.

Our favorite part... The necropolis tour under the Vatican, which we applied for eight months in advance. We found out that 20,000 people a day tour the Vatican, but only 200 a day are allowed down into the excavations. Right nearby, at Castel Sant'Angelo, we ran around the ancient castle fortress like little kids. [PHOTO]

Worth every penny... The taxi (arranged by the hotel) that took all of us to Fiumicino airport in time for our morning flight. It was $54 (€40) for a quiet, quick, and luxurious ride.

Wish fulfilled... My sister-in-law Arnell works in a retirement home, and one of those in her care is an elderly widow whose husband was in Rome after the Germans were pushed out in World War II. He told her tales of the beauty of the Spanish Steps, but was never able to take her there. She asked Arnell to go in her place. [PHOTO]

Wish we'd known that... Italian attractions sometimes close at odd hours. We lost track of time over lunch in a small place across from San Clemente—only to find out when we entered the church that it was closing down for three hours.

Great local meal... The cafeteria at the Capitoline Museums had fair prices and simple, delicious sandwiches. The people-watching there was superb, as was the view. [PHOTO]

Moment when things got tense... We arrived at the Pantheon during a rain shower around 5:30 in the evening to discover it was closed until 6:15 for a Lenten church service. There were well over 100 wet, impatient people huddled under its great portico, half of which was closed off for renovation. We eased the tension by running into a small gelato shop next door—ice cream's good like that.

We're still laughing about...The little old Italian fellow who came into the restaurant Bar Ciao with his very well-behaved dog. He ordered a glass of white wine and what looked like an antique ceramic wine caddy filled with nothing but potato chips—and ate his snack while his little dog sat motionless until he was finished. It was picture-perfect, right down to the man's battered cap and long scarf.

Hotel we liked... The grand Hotel Columbus, 33 via della Conciliazione. [PHOTO] It's steps from the Vatican and Castel Sant'Angelo and was built for a cardinal in 1480. The staff was very friendly and helpful, the rooms were clean, and the bathrooms had all sorts of amenities, from sewing kits to shower shoes. We were at the very back of the hotel, overlooking a wonderful courtyard. I'd heard that staying near the Vatican is dull, but I disagree! The Borgo area offers easy access to buses and taxis, as well as very picturesque side streets with nice restaurants.

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