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Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures New Year’s fireworks over Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, Italy.

rome fireworks new year italy


Photos: 11 Best Italy Experiences

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

See Our Favorite Rome Hotels

– written by Sarah Schlichter

spanish steps romeOn my last night in Rome, I thought I’d gone blind.

Fortunately, it turned out that I was just very tired. The muscles in my left eye wouldn’t dilate my pupil, leaving me unable to take in more light. It was as though my pupil were a heavy barn door and keeping it open was just too much work.

Rome is not, as it happens, a relaxing place to go on holiday.

It is not a place to go if you’re looking for a more sedate pace of life. It’s a place where architecture falls over itself like people squeezing onto an over-stuffed Metro train.

We did try to have a quiet day. It was raining, so we went to Babington’s Tea Rooms in search of Earl Grey. Earl Grey tea is rare in Rome. It’s seen as more of a medicinal curiosity than a delicious refreshment, so you’re more likely to find it at a pharmacy than a restaurant. As we sipped, we ate sugary cakes that made our teeth buzz like maladjusted transistor radios.

When we’d finished, it was still raining, so we crossed the bottom of the Spanish Steps to visit the Keats-Shelley House. It’s a tiny, intimate museum, filling the space that was the poet John Keats’ last residence before his death from tuberculosis in 1821. We hadn’t meant to have such an English day, but the museum was close and, as it turned out, an excellent find.

Our Favorite Spots to Stay in Rome

As we rang the bell, we noticed an ugly knot of people gathered up, like a fist, around the column in the square. They were protestors. The armed guards outside the Spanish embassy looked nervous.

rome crowdWe’d settled into a dark room to watch a short film about the Romantic poets in Rome when a volley of shots outside drew everyone out of their seats and to the nearest window. So much for our quiet day.

We’d seen lots of protests during that week in April. A few days before, the president had been hastily sworn in for a second term to break the political deadlock that had mired the country for the last few years. Police and press crowded the streets, and jets flew tricolor smoke overhead.

Many Romans saw this as more of the same kind of corruption and cronyism that has caused many to lose faith in their political representatives. They felt dissatisfied with the slow pace of change, and the resurgent influence of Silvio Berlusconi — a man seen by many as an overt criminal — caused tempers to fray. There were blockades of expensive shops and hotels. Everyone wanted to make their opinion heard in ways that the traditional electoral system didn’t necessarily allow. Earlier in our trip we’d sat in a square in Trastavere watching some anti-fascists protesting by playing the accordion. (Didn’t you know? Accordion music is like a stake through the heart for fascists.)

Now, at the museum, we soon learned that the “shots” we’d heard had, in fact, been nothing more than a string of firecrackers that someone had let off under one of Keats’ windows.

The museum’s curator seemed sad. “It’s a vibrant city for sure,” she said, “but there’s a real dissatisfaction at the moment.”

walk rome cobblestonesFrom the outside, it looks impossible for Berlusconi to come back, but within Italy there is a lot of support — and now that he’s gaining power again, people are wondering whether anything they do will ever change anything.

We left Rome in a state of flux, but that’s nothing new. Rome thrives on change, on excitement, new ideas and influences. It is a city that has successfully reinvented itself over and over again throughout the centuries. Even when things seem hopeless, you get the feeling that a change could be just around the corner.

11 Unforgettable Italy Experiences

– written by Josh Thomas

st ignatius church rome domeEach month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

In this month’s featured review, reader Amelia Hesson spends three days exploring Rome, the Eternal City. “We walked from our hotel to the king of Baroque churches called St. Ignatius. The Romans call this the 3D church because the artist Pozzo painted a fake dome which looks very much like a dome if you are standing in the proper place to see it. It’s very cool — moving through the church you see it become distorted and even then it is something to behold. This church is painted very much like the Sistine Chapel with biblical scenes rising up the walls and onto the roof of the church. Don’t forget to turn on the lights of the dome, they really illuminate it well and it only costs one euro.”

Read the rest of Amelia’s review here: Roma, Roma, Roma. Amelia has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

11 Best Italy Experiences

– written by Sarah Schlichter

rome spanish stepsStrolling the historic streets of Rome while savoring a few creamy scoops of gelato is one of travel’s most delicious pleasures. But if you’re visiting the Eternal City any time soon, don’t try to sit down on the Spanish Steps or the Trevi Fountain with that ice cream — a new Roman ordinance prohibits eating and drinking near the city’s historic, architectural or cultural treasures, reports the New York Times.

The ordinance, designed to protect landmarks such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum from potential damage (it also prohibits camping on the monuments), follows similar statutes elsewhere in Italy. The New York Times notes that it’s illegal to eat a bag lunch while sitting on the steps around St. Mark’s Square in Venice, while this summer Florence banned visitors from the steps of its cathedral.

11 Best Italy Experiences

Of course, Italy isn’t the only country where tourists could be tripped up by unexpected laws. You’ll want to watch your step in the following places around the globe:

1. Germany: Drivers who run out of gas on the Autobahn could face a fine.

2. Singapore: You won’t find chewing gum for sale anywhere in this city-state, nor are you allowed to bring it into the country yourself (except for medicinal/therapeutic reasons). Violators could face fines, stints of community service or even jail time.

3. Thailand: You may not step on or destroy any part of the local currency. It’s considered an insult to the king, whose face appears on all coins and bills.

4. New York State: You might want to reconsider that vacation fling. Adultery is illegal here (it’s on the books as a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail or $500 in fines).

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

– written by Sarah Schlichter

On a Mediterranean cruise with six port calls in seven days — essentially the tapas restaurant version of European travel — you might only have 10 hours in port to get it right. Ironically, in many ways the half-day visit requires more researching and planning than a lengthier, more stationary stay.

Unless you have a local friend. Or the next best thing: a guide.

If you’re a fan of Julius Caesar, Augustus or Caligula (you weirdo), there’s nothing like Rome, near which our ship docked for the day (in Civitavecchia, a 12-euro train ride away). It’s an easy capital to visit in the sense that it’s eminently walkable. Just wear comfortable tennis shoes and stay hydrated via the fontanellas, the public fountains found in almost every square. But it’s a challenge in that its history is as dense as the Pantheon’s walls, and, as in other epic destinations, tourist traps sprout like barbarian hordes around the 2,000-year-old monuments.

rome


As a wanderer, my previous experiences in the Eternal City comprised just that: ambling for what sometimes seemed like an eternity until I reached a Renaissance-era church or second-century ruin, not knowing what either really meant. This time — my shortest visit — would be different.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Rome

Our group of three met Teresa, a U.S. expat turned Rome tour guide for Love Holidays (and a long-time friend of one of our fellow passengers). She took us through mini-tours of the Colosseum, the Pantheon and San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter’s Chains), and brought us to a low-key cafe filled with Italians enjoying sandwiches and salads. Bouncing questions off Teresa — did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned? Should I get the raspberry or apricot gelato? — went a long way toward making me feel like I wasn’t squandering my time.

“What do you guys want to do?” (followed by 20 interesting options) was a welcome conversation starter on more than one occasion.

11 Best Italy Experiences

Finding yourself such a guide, of course, is the trick, but it’s increasingly easy. TripAdvisor reviews, message board recommendations and friends with a penchant for gladiators can all steer you in the right direction. And a private guide isn’t necessarily that expensive; split among a party of four or five, you can expect to pay about 100 euros each (plus museum entrance fees, public transport and tip) for a full, eight-hour day. That’s less than cruise lines charge for the “panoramic” motorcoach tour — you know, those excursions that often leave 40 passengers in that hazy space between sleep and reality, heads thudding against windows at regular intervals.

For more information, see When Do You Need a Tour Guide?

– written by Dan Askin

trevi fountain rome italyIt’s traditional for visitors to Rome to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to guarantee that they will return someday to this most historic of Italian cities. But thanks to a new tax on Roman hotels, museums and other attractions, tourists will have to dig up a lot more than a single extra coin to pay for their next trip to the Eternal City.

As of January 1, 2011, non-residents must pay an additional tax when they stay in a hotel or pay an admission fee in Rome, CNN reports. For hotels, the tax varies based on what type of accommodation you choose. Here’s the breakdown:

Four- or five-star hotel: 3 euros ($3.89) per person, per night
One- to three-star hotels: 2 euros ($2.60) per person, per night
Campsites, bed and breakfasts: 1 euro ($1.30) per person, per night
Admission fees to museums and other attractions: 1 euro ($1.30) per person

Children under the age of 10 are exempt from the tax.

The city expects to rake in about 80 million euros ($103.6 million) a year from the new tax, which will be put toward improving cultural heritage and city infrastructure, according to CNN. But local hoteliers worry that the additional fees could deter potential tourists and business travelers.

Naturally, I’m not a fan of any tax that makes it more expensive to get up and go. But is it worth saying arrivederci to Rome over a few extra euros? Let us know what you think in the comments.

– written by Sarah Schlichter