Let’s face it, one is never short of good reasons to plan a trip to Rome. Among the several thousands that spring to mind, I might mention the staggering amount of artistic and archeological treasures, the sheer beauty of a sunset on the Tiber and the fact that it’s the only place in the world where you can experience the supreme deliciousness of a proper Roman-Jewish-Style artichoke. This year, however, those seeking a spiritual experience a full set of extra reasons for visiting the eternal city: in 2015, the Pope announced an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Catholic Jubilees are normally held every 25 years, which is why this is an extraordinary occurrence. Pilgrims from all over the world will be gathering in Rome throughout 2016, in order to walk through the Holy Doors of the four papal basilicas (St Peter’s, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore and San Paolo Fuori le Mura). On a more practical note, visiting Rome during an event of such gigantic proportions is no picnic and it will require careful planning, particularly if you are planning your visit for the summer months. Whether you are pilgrim, seeking to join your community in deep spiritual connection or just a tourist, wishing to explore one of the most captivating cities in the world, these tips will help you make the best of your journey.
1. Plan ahead and dine out in Rome like a Roman
This is pretty basic advice, but you would be surprised by the number of tourists that come to Rome on a whim. This is usually fine, of course: Rome is a big city and it can take the extra load. “Usually”, however, there isn’t a Jubilee happening. An event on such a massive scale and lasting a whole year has the potential to make the search for affordable accommodation an unimaginably frustrating experience. Planning ahead, however, is not limited to booking your flights and hotel rooms a few months in advance: it applies to everything else you might want to do that requires a reservation. Some of the most popular landmarks in Rome, for instance, are either in or connected to the Vatican and they are busy at the best of times. This year visiting the Sistine Chapel or the Vatican Museums might require longer queues than usual. Moreover, while all Jubilee events will be free to attend, most require a reservation. This includes the most important of them all, the very point of a Jubilee: walking through the Holy Door in St. Peter’s. For security reasons, pilgrims will be required to register. This should not lead you to think that non-religious landmarks will be any less crowded: when throngs of pilgrims flock to Rome, nowhere is queue-free. There are a few things that you can do to avoid waiting for hours or days for anything more complex than an espresso. The first golden rule for enjoying the best of roman food without having to book every meal three days ahead, is dining out like a Roman. Shun the fancy continental restaurants and most of those you will find in the city centre and focus on local expertise. If the restaurant you are about to pick sounds like a collection of national stereotypes, just keep walking. If you can, drive about 15 minutes from the city centre in any direction, then pick the busiest restaurant and go for it.
2. Learn at least some basic Italian phrases
If you follow the last tip on paragraph 1, English alone won’t get you very far. The kind of Trattoria that you will be looking for, in the neighbourhoods where the real life of the city happens, don’t usually cater to tourists. This means the menu won’t come with an english translation and a good command of the English language might not be among the job requirements for the waiting staff. You don’t need to converse fluidly in Italian: just make sure you can understand the basic ingredients of each dish and can ask for information when you need it. If dietary restrictions are an issue, make sure you learn the relevant terms in Italian. It is pretty easy, for instance, to convey that you are a vegetarian or vegan, since those words sound practically identical in Italian, but it might be trickier to enquire into allergens such as nuts, shellfish or dairy products. If that is the case, pack a special food dictionary before you leave and make notes of how to explain your dietary restrictions in Italian.
3. Know your options
As a visitor during the Jubilee, you have a huge advantage that you might not be aware of (but you can be sure that every single Roman that was in the city in the year 2000 is fully aware of it): the City has been rearranged for your convenience. Ok, maybe not the whole City, but if you stick to the neighbourhoods that tourists usually favour, you will find that everything has been planned to meet your needs – although the planning might have been done without a full understanding of what your needs may be. To save you the hassle of having to book every visit to every church or museum, you might want to take advantage of the Omnia Card. This tourist pass, which has been specifically designed for pilgrims, will grant you discounts, free entries and queue jumping on several sites, depending on the type of card you purchase. It is mostly focused on churches and religious sites, but it also grants easier access to public transport and several facilities that offer assistance and information to pilgrims and tourists alike.