Your travel guide to Rome
Business travel can be fun and it's a nice way to see the world and make money at the same time. You can enjoy some of the same benefits as tourists. You have access to all the cool restaurants for dinners. Then there are those nighttime sightseeing walks after business is done, where you can enjoy the architecture - without the crowds, and in a different light...
But of course there is work, you're traveling to produce results, and that means you need to get productive quick. Let me outline some of the challenges, and offer some solutions to them for the business traveler in Rome.
Getting around used to be super easy for the traveler on an expense account. Taxies are invented for this! You get a taxi at the airport, at the office, at the hotel, or at the restaurant, a friendly chap will zip you to your destination, and you might even get some restaurant or bar tips on the way. Now we're in a recession, travel budgets are shrinking, and you just know that outrageous taxi bills will give you unnecessary visibility. Here are a number of ways you can shave off some Euros from your travel expenses:
When you arrive at the Rome Fiumicino Airport, consider taking the Leonardo Express into the city. It takes you to a main train and bus hub, Roma Termini. You can take a taxi from the Termini, and many of the major hotels are actually in a walking distance from there. The train ticket costs 11 Euros.
The subway system is not extensive, but see if you happen to go to a location that is close to a metro station along the two subway lines.
When you do decide to travel by taxi, here are some local phone numbers that you can use to call a cab for yourself: 06 3570, 06 6645, 06 8822. If you call from a non-local phone, dial +39 and then the number, including the zero.
Note that while some airport taxies will take credit cards, the taxies you order by phone or pick up on the street will usually only accept cash.
Talking to people
Yes, you can get by with just speaking English; Italians will probably understand you even if they don't necessarily respond back in English. But just a few key phrases in Italian will make everything easier and more pleasant for everybody, so let's learn some Italian:
Numbers are important, you will want to go to addresses, get prices for products or you will want to give a tip at a restaurant. I think you can get away with just counting from 1 to 10, and put together numbers from that, but you might go the extra mile and go up to 1000. Counting from one to ten: uno due tre quattro cinque sei sette otto nove dieci
When booking hotels or tables at restaurants, you may need to know the names of days. From Monday to Sunday: Lunedi Martedì Mercoledì Giovedi Venerdì Sabato Domenica
OK, we got the numbers and days out of the way. You'll want to add a "please" to your request: "per favore". Now that you managed to get to places and buy stuff, you will want to thank the taxi driver or your waiter for the nice meal. "Grazie". And finally, "You're welcome" is "prego".
Using this 15-20-word vocabulary will make you more welcome in Rome!
Mobile roaming charges slowly start to crawl downwards within the EU, but participating in a couple of long phone conferences while abroad will still cost you a lot. The easy solution is to get a pre-paid SIM card at any phone shop. I got mine at a TIM shop, which is the local subsidiary of T-Mobile. For around 10 Euros, you get a local number and a SIM card, which you can use in any phone. Bring a secondary mobile with you: if you don't have to pay roaming fees on a one-hour conference call with the head office, you already saved money.
When I get a local number, I always send out an email with this new number to my coworkers and business contacts I expect to talk to during my stay. I also add the phone number to my email footer so that people can quickly find it when they want to respond to an email message over the phone.
If you need Internet access, your best bet is to find a Wifi-enabled coffee shop in your neighborhood; they typically have a Wifi Zone logo outside. As a bonus you can enjoy a nice cappuccino or espresso while cleaning your email inbox online. Otherwise, just stay in your business hotel in Rome: it's pretty sure it provides WiFi access.
There are many articles and even books written about eating out in Rome, so let me just offer a couple of guidelines that can help you make a quick decision on your breakfast, lunch or dinner.
While you can fill yourself up at the breakfast buffet in your hotel, you might want to venture out and have a breakfast in the city. There are many tiny cafés around, you can mingle with the locals there, soak in the atmosphere, and even save a few Euros. Many cafés are open from 7. You can get a very nice Italian croissant called cornetto and an excellent cappuccino to start your day. My suggestion is to look for places where you only see local people and no tourists, and you'll likely have an excellent experience. Remember the Italian words we discussed above to order your breakfast.
Have a backup plan if you're not offered lunch on your visit. Make sure you have a breakfast, and try to find lunch for yourself. It's usually very easy to find a place where you can get a slice of pizza or some pastry to survive until dinner.
Romans tend to have dinner from around eight in the evening; restaurants serve food until around 23:00. Selecting the restaurant can be a daunting task though, as Rome has hundreds of restaurants. Many of them primarily cater to tourists, not necessarily aiming for culinary experiences, so try to get some recommendations from your local coworkers or business partners.
If you don't have the chance to do research before dinner, you can try to rely on the following general rules:
If it's named after a tourist attraction, don't go in
If you see people in tourist hats and cameras hanging in their necks, avoid it
If you have waiters standing outside inviting you in, don't do it
If it's a small restaurant, in a tiny side alley, and there are local people, families with kids, or old guys having a spirited discussion in Italian, you've found your authentic Roman dinner!
Enjoy your stay in Rome, and remember to fill in your Expense Claim for the business trip as soon as possible.