Wednesday, July 07, 2004
The Best Way to Travel to Rome
We used to think the way we entered a city was important. Coming to New York from Europe, you sailed into the grand New York harbor, passed the Statue of Liberty, and docked next to the towers of midtown, where you could hail a cab as soon as you stepped off the boat.
Most continental travelers came in through Pennsylvania Station, where McKim, Mead & White built a majestic interpretation of Rome's Baths of Caracalla. After the station was replaced by a particularly mundane low–ceilinged International Style station, Vincent Scully wrote, "You used to enter the city like a god, now you creep in like a rat."
We still have Grand Central Terminal, but that's primarily a commuter destination (as implied by the name). Most people now drive to New York, passing through mile after mile of sprawl en route, or fly in to JFK or LaGuardia and then suffer while their taxi sits in the bumper to bumper traffic jams on the auto sewers leading to Manhattan: SNAFU, as they say in the Marines.
When the Popes returned to Rome from Avignon, they realized the importance of the impression made by the entrance to the city (sort of like curb appeal), and over the years, the Piazza del Popolo was built at the northern entrance used by most of the religious pilgrims, new roads were cut through the medieval maze to ease the pilgrims' way to St. Peter's and S. Giovanni, and Michelangelo and Bernini were hired to rebuild the gate itself.
Today, Rome is surrounded by sprawl like everywhere else, the main airport is as boring as everyone else's airport, and the train station is a weak work of Fascist modernism behind a boring Fascist parade ground. But there is a good way to travel to Rome.
The trick is to fly into the old (also Fascist?) airport, Ciampino. Less than 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the historic center (Centro Storico), Ciampino is at the end of the Appian Way, which means that your taxi goes into the center via one of the oldest and most picturesque Roman roads.
Nearing the center, you leave the Via Appia Antica and turn onto the green Viale degli Terme di Caracalla, the best of the Fascist-built boulevards, and drive by the Coliseum and alongside the Roman Forum on the broad Via dei Fori Imperiali before plunging into the Centro Storico. It's a wonderful way to arrive.
The first time I flew to Ciampino, I had been in England for 5 days in December, where there had been a single 30 minute period when you could actually tell there might be a sun somewhere in the sky. When we landed in Rome, we walked down the stairs from the plane onto a runway with palm trees, a strong sun and a comparatively balmy 65 degrees, and then into a small baggage claim room (not "area") with windows all around and the door open to a distinctively Italian smelling breeze from a sunny piazza. The airport has been enlarged since then, but you still "deplane" onto the runway before going into the terminal, and the piazza is still visible from the luggage carousel. And then you're on the Appian Way.
More Good News: Most of the flights to Ciampino are on the discount airlines popping up across Europe. I've flown to England to Ciampino on Debonaire, GO and easyJet.
Good news / Bad news: easyJet, in style and comfort the Greyhound of European airlines, bought both Debonaire and GO, apparently. GO was an elegant, low-cost airline started by British Air. But easyJet fares a low (a good thing), and it flies out of the convenient and semi-elegant Stansted Airport, designed by Sir Norman Foster.
RyanAir fares are even lower than easyJet's, and they also fly from Stansted to Rome, but they have a low baggage allowance to match their fares, so you can pay a lot in surplus charges, if you're not traveling light. easyJet isn't generous with their luggage allowance, but the difference between their higher allowance and RyanAir's can make up for easyJet's higher but still low fares ($600 lower than American Airlines wanted to charge me to add the London to Rome leg to a New York to London / Rome to New York ticket!).
Travelocity and Expedia won't tell you about these flights. But you can find a list of all the airlines that fly out of Stansted at this page on their website, and many of the small European airports have similar lists.
PS — a classic Italian entrance: In Summertime, Katherine Hepburn excitedly films Venice as her train crosses the long causeway leading to Venice. In Top Hat, Fred Astaire walks out of the Venetian train station to find synchronized swimming in the canal in front of him. Even without the swimmers, the canal immediately outside the entrance to the Venetian station is a wonderful introduction to the city.
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» Airports Should Be Better from Veritas et Venustas
Airports are often the way we enter the city today. That usually means arriving at a somewhat shoddy, hermetically sealed International Style building that could be anywhere, and then taking crumbling, dirty highways through sprawl. If the city is a [Read More]
Tracked on Jul 12, 2004 11:27:23 AM
» Santa Fe Airport from Veritas et Venustas
This is the “passenger deplaning arrival point” and “airport baggage retrieval area” at the Santa Fe airport, designed by Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem. It's another airport that shows that the International Style is not necessarily the bes... [Read More]
Tracked on Dec 31, 2004 2:26:03 PM
Hi, just read your article and I was wondering - if you are so obsessed with Fascism and Fascist architecture, then perhaps you should do your research a little better. Fascism was in power in Italy from 1922 to 1943 - Ciampino Airport was built in 1916. So you can't count it as Fascist but perhaps NeoClassical.
On the other hand making a comparison between the grandeur of US airports and Rome's SECOND airport doesn't make any sense either. Rome's major airport is, for your information, FIUMICINO. I'm not saying it is as big as some of the US airports, but you really can't make such a comparison. For instance, have you noticed that there are no flights from NY to Ciampino? Didn't it ring a bell??? Or perhaps you thought that if someone from the States had to fly to Rome he would have to fly to Paris and then take a carriage to Italy...
Overall I find your article rather biased. There's freedom of speech, off course, and especially on the web, but do your research better next time! Thanks
Posted by: slawka at Oct 8, 2005 5:44:47 PM
Did you read what I wrote? I make it clear what I think of Leonardo da Vinci airport, that I don't know if the Fascists built the airport at Ciampino, and that it is the route into Rome that is grand, not the airport.
The building at Ciampino is not Classical and was not built in 1916. That's clear to anyone who has seen it.
Posted by: john massengale at Oct 9, 2005 11:58:10 PM
The details on the best way to travel to Rome were helpful.
Hopefully I will be in Italy with 2007.
Posted by: D Duhon at Dec 11, 2006 12:23:50 AM
Hi, very interesting article on travel. Next month, I was planning to go Rome. Your article has all the useful and worthy information on how and where to travel. I was searching for this kind of an article and the airlines and their fares are also mentioned. Wonderful article, thanks for sharing it.
Posted by: cheap flights to Rome at May 26, 2010 1:11:35 AM
I think you've made some truly interesting points. Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. I'm really impressed that there's so much about this subject that's been uncovered and you did it so well, with so much class. Good one you, man! Really great stuff here.
Posted by: Guest House Edinburgh at Aug 5, 2010 6:53:13 AM
I like the post and the links you have mentioned in the post will be very helpful for me as I am fond of traveling..I want to view more interesting posts from you, Keep it update :-)
Posted by: Flights at Jun 9, 2011 7:25:34 AM
Stumbled across your blog . If I go to Rome , I will always think of how I arrive because of you. Thank you
Posted by: Steve at Jan 19, 2013 5:47:19 PM