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  1. #1
    Senior Member volosong's Avatar
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    Seeing Rome by bicycle - my personal experience

    Wasn't sure which sub-forum to post this, but since it is assumed that we are of an age in this sub-forum where our kids are out of the house, or nearly so, and we now have a little bit of discretionary income, (assuming we aren't paying for our kid's college education), I decided to post my experiences here.

    This little "review" is about my experience on renting a bicycle for two days while in Rome last month. During the Spring Vacation from school, (I teach part-time in the evenings at the local community college), I booked a flight to Rome. I had been to Rome once before, several years ago as part of a big-bus tour that went throughout Italy over a two-week period. Those bus tours are good enough, especially if you've never been to that country before and want a quick, highlight, fast-paced tour that crams in as much as possible for the time frame of the tour.

    Of course, on a tour, you are on a set schedule and cannot spend as much or as little time as you desire in any specific place. Which brings me back to last month's trip. There are some things I wanted to see in Rome that I did not have the opportunity to see on that first trip. Specifically among these is that I have had a childhood dream of walking on the Appian Way. Have no idea where I got this bug. Probably from some teacher when I was in the third or fourth grade ... and for over fifty years, that dream has never been forgotten. Just something about walking on a highway that is over 2,400 years old, and is still being used today! The other place I wanted to visit was Ostia Antica, the original seaport of Republican/Imperial Rome.

    Well in advance, I booked my flight on Iberia (not recommended), my hotel, (Hotel Julia, decent budget motel, excellent location), and a two-day bike rental at Top Bike Rental and Tour (very highly recommended). First couple days in Rome I just hoofed it. Even though Rome is a very large city, the places a tourist would be interested in seeing is actually quite compact; probably within two miles in any direction from the historical center. Went here and went there, spending as little or as much time as I desired, (I went alone).

    On the third day, I went to Top Bike Rental and Tour to pick up my bike. I reserved one of their mountain bikes, one level below their best. For a rental bike, I was pretty impressed at the quality of the bike and its level of maintenance. I did have to re-adjust the brakes because they were looser than what I'm comfortable with. The bike only had two front sprockets, but I didn't miss that third sprocket even once during the two days I rode the bike. I took my own pedals and shoes too, as I'm uncomfortable if I'm not clipped in.

    With the basic bike rental, you get a helmet, (but I took my own along with me), an ABUS U-lock for which they will install a frame holder if requested, a spare tube, tire irons, CO2 if requested, a spare tube, a pump, and one or two panniers. The panniers are different than what I'm used to using here in the states. It is more of a kayak wet bag than a pannier. You drop your stuff inside, roll up the top, fold the top inward to click each end together. Effective for keeping your things dry. Bag material itself was a coated rubberized "bag". It worked well enough. I put my camera bag on top of the rack and held it down with bungies.

    The first day, I rode south-southeast out of town to Via Appia Antica. Rode along the Appian Way to the end, until the original Appian Way, (Via Appia Antica), merged with the new Appian Way, (Via Appia Nuovo). At that point, it was just a typical, modern highway. Nothing special, we see them all over the world. The Via Appia Antica section is about 12-13 miles long, extending from just outside the Aurelian Walls to its aforementioned end, which is also the end of the "park" that contains the restored/conserved section of the Appian Way. This section has been preserved and acts as a green belt for Rome. It will never be developed with modern comerce. Along the route are numerous ruins of crypts, ancient Romans being prohibited from burying their dead inside the city. Two frequently visited catacomes area also along this route, but I did not have an interest in visiting ... this time.

    On the way back to Rome, I took the modern highway for part of the route back. Riding on those 2,400 year old basalt stones and modern cobbles are pretty rough for an unsprung bike. I tried to find Aquaduct Park, an area where numerous far-afield aquaducts come together before their final run into ancient Rome. Didn't find the "park", but did see some cool aquaduct ruins. Those things were HUGE!

    Kept the bike in the back room of the hotel lobby overnight and the next morning I headed out the other direction to Ostia Antica. Ostia is a Pompeii like city ruin, but a whole lot less touristy. Pompeii is like the Las Vegas of ancient Rome ... Ostia is like the San Pedro (Los Angeles working seaport) of ancient Rome. They say if you want to see how wealthy Romans laughed and played, see Pompeii; if you want to see how the lower classes worked and slept, see Ostia.

    The ride to Ostia is not very direct, bicycle wise. There is one freeway, (autostrada); and one frontage road. It is very difficult to tell which one you are on. There are no "pedestrians and bicycles prohibited" signs on any of the access roads to the autostrada. Having my Garmin GPS with European maps helped a lot to keep me on track. It is not a car navigator GPS, but a handheld hiking type GPS. The European maps were purchased on a micro-SD card off eBay. It does not give turn-by-turn directions, but before leaving, I programmed in the latitude and longitude of the places I wanted to visit. The GPS pointed me in the proper direction and gave a direct shot bird-flight distance.

    Ostia is about 20 miles or so outside the city center. Simple enough for a cyclist of any ability. I was a bit disappointed on the return trip because I was hoping for the ocean breeze at my back, but it did not seam that way. Still, I returned a whole lot quicker than the trip out. For about five miles, I did end up on the autostrada. It went okay until merging traffic was hindered by my slowness. A kind, older gentleman explained to me, in Italian, that bicycles are not allowed on the autostrada and I needed to "be over there". I thanked him and hopped the guard rail the first opportunity I had. They aren't easy to cross ... wide and high they are.

    Cycling in Rome itself? Whoa, what a rush! You have undoubtably heard about "crazy Roman traffic". It's all true! But then, I've done enough traveling to hispanic cultures in South America, (Mexico City, Terra Caliente, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, etc.), that I knew what to expect. Also, I am a Vespa rider and understand about lane splitting, (legal in Californai), and such. A bicycle has an advantage in Rome because a lot of the streets in historical Rome are closed to automobile traffic, except for deliveries or local residents. A bicycle can go anywhere, and a lot faster than walking. On the major streets with autos, I found it quite easly to keep up with traffic. On the longer streets, they would sometimes leave me in the dust, but I'd catch up with them at the next signal. Usually, I kept up or went faster than the auto traffic.

    One word of warning ... if you are at all timid around cars, then bicycle riding in Rome is not advised. You have to be agressive and ride like you own the road. Ride like you are a bicycle messenger in New York City. Suprisingly, automobiles are very respectful of bicycle traffic ... as they are with scooter traffic. I asked and was told afterward that Roman automobile drivers realize and understand that they could kill you and that knowing that, they will give you as much room as you want or need. I found that very refreshing, opposite from what I experience in this country.

    However, I almost did get squeezed between two busses. I just figured that most Roman bus drivers don't expect a cyclist to ride so fast in and amongst traffic. Riding a bicycle in Rome, you have to be just as attentive as riding anywhere else, probably more so. There is actually structure to Roman traffic and it is not as chaotic as we think at first glance.

    Next time? I'm definitly renting a bicycle again when in Rome ... and will seek to find out a rental place in any city I visit in Italy, (except Venice, of course). Seeing Italy on the seat of a bicycle has to be the best way of seeing the country.
    Last edited by volosong; 05-16-11 at 12:15 PM.

  2. #2
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Not done a city on a bike yet but numerous trips to France and a bike is the only way to see a country. Can't talk about cars against Cycles in America but that does not exist much in the UK. In France- Belgium and Holland the car drivers are great. Does give you a false sense of security when you get back to home turf though.

    But pics would be better next trip- and no report on the Pie. Can't do a ride in a foreign country without trying what goes for Pie
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


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  3. #3
    Senior Member bigbadwullf's Avatar
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    Didn't happen if there aren't pics

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  4. #4
    Senior Member teachme's Avatar
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    That sounds like a great adventure!!

  5. #5
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    sounds like fun.
    Punctuation is important. It's the difference between "I helped my uncle, Jack, off a horse" and "I helped my uncle Jack off a horse"


  6. #6
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    Glad you are alive to write about it. They drive like maniacs in Rome and Italy in general. Saw a girl get run over my a Vespa. She stepped off the curb just as the light changed and blamo.

  7. #7
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Buona storia e complementi per il vostro coraggio!

  8. #8
    Senior Member volosong's Avatar
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    pix as requested

    Since I went by myself, I was on the back end of a camera instead of the front end. Here are a couple I took of myself set up on a mini-tripod in the middle of the Appian Way. All the rest of the pictures I took were tourist type pictures of "stuff".

    As I was goofing around on the Appian Way, closely examining the old basalt paving stones, looking along the grooves made by centuries of the wheeled cart travel ... I wondered about the slave who placed those stones. Could he possibly have imagined a foreign traveler over two millennium later would ponder what he did that day, appreciate his craftsmanship, and wonder who he was?
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by volosong; 05-16-11 at 04:30 PM.

  9. #9
    The Grampster tlc20010's Avatar
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    Great report, I think I hate you :-)
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  10. #10
    Senior Member CrankyFranky's Avatar
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    Sounds like a perfect break. I'm envious! Thanks for sharing.
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  11. #11
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    Great story, thanks volosong. Living in a rural area, I really enjoy urban biking. I've biked in Montreal, Quebec City, New York, Boston, Ottawa, Munich, Paris, etc.

    Paris was a challenge. The drivers are very aggressive. But it was still a thrill to ride up the Champs Elysée to the Arc de Triomphe. New York drivers aren't that bad; I think they're more used to cyclists. You can see so much more of a city from a bike, with less fatigue at the end of the day than on foot.

  12. #12
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    My wife and I have been to assorted European countries, including 3 trips to Italy, with 2 of those since '06. We had avoided Rome, not wanting to visit a "big" city" (been to Paris, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Munich, Vienna, etc...) but surprisingly LOVED Rome.

    All the while I observed with an eye to someday riding a bike around the city. I was shocked somewhat to read that you rode the "new" Appia Way", as that's an incredibly narrow and congested road that I would have avoided, as well as finding another route to the seaport. You choices of places to visit were smart though, as they show, somewhat, the real city. Terrific story that I found inspiring.

    Thanks

    SB

  13. #13
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    Your story reminded me of our visit to Rome last September. We both felt we wanted to go back and stay longer. Makes me wish I also could experience it by bicycle. My wife does not cycle and we are both in our 70s but I would still enjoy seeing Rome by bicycle. We did go to Pompeii so I know about the streets with 2000 year old wagon tracks carved into the stone. We also were on a short tour so it is difficult to go where you want as long or short a time as you want. You made a good decision. When we were first going together and living in New York we did get around on my motor scooter in Manhattan for a while.
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  14. #14
    cycling fanatic Ken Brown's Avatar
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    My wife and I were in Rome last month too. I have cycled in big cities, including New York and Chicago, but Rome looked more intimidating. Your post has me thinking that we should have rented bikes for a day or two.

    Incidentally, we liked Florence a lot more than Rome, and we were in Venice 3 years ago and like it best. We are at point where we no longer are willing to be moving to a new city every 2 or 3 days so we spent a week in each. We did stay just 3 days in Sorrento this trip and 3 in Verona the previous trip, but I recommend a week in larger cities, and taking time to smell the roses.

  15. #15
    Senior Member NOS88's Avatar
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    Nice report on what must have been a grand time.
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. - S. Wright

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by volosong View Post
    As I was goofing around on the Appian Way, closely examining the old basalt paving stones, looking along the grooves made by centuries of the wheeled cart travel ... I wondered about the slave who placed those stones. Could he possibly have imagined a foreign traveler over two millennium later would ponder what he did that day, appreciate his craftsmanship, and wonder who he was?
    This is cool. When I saw the title, my first thought was, 'Does this guy have a death wish?' But it sounds like a great trip and a great way to see the city.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Philipaparker's Avatar
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    Wow, that was great something I never think about is renting a bike. You are an inspiration!
    To me the life is a glass half full, I love optimism, life's better that way.
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  18. #18
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    We just returned from 2 weeks in Italy, partly for the Giro, and I must say you are one brave old man. I loved to watch the traffic from our balcony in Rome, and drove out of Rome, and it was really unnerving. It seems to be an experience bordering on mass insanity, there seems to be an agreement that almost anything a driver does is acceptable, lanes have no meaning, tailgateing is expected, passing at any time is the norm, and traffic control devices are mere suggestions. It is worse in Sicily. I would like at some point to do a bit of cycling in Umbria, but next time I think we may to hire a driver to get us there.

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