La Dolce Vita, at a Dolce Price ... the Pound May Have Tumbled, but You Can Still Savour Rome on a Budget, Says Frank Barrett

Article excerpt

Byline: Frank Barrett

WHERE are all the tourists? This is the question you keep being asked in Rome: the Eternal Question for the Eternal City. A waiter at a cafe on the Piazza Navona set down my cappuccino and pondered a deserted square.

'Should be busy,' he said. 'But it ain't much busy, is it?' Well, it was just 8.30am, not exactly a time when you might expect it to be 'much busy' in Rome.

It's an hour when holidaymakers are lingering over their breakfasts and consulting guidebooks to decide which of Rome's thousands of competing sights they can accommodate into their crowded schedule.

It's an hour when serious tourists will already be lining up outside the Vatican museum to ensure they're near the front of the queue as soon as the rush to the Sistine Chapel gets under way.

But as in most major eurozone cities at the moment, the anxiety this spring is appropriate: tourists seem a bit thin on the ground, especially Americans who are not only baulking at the euro-dollar exchange rate but have probably decided to forgo a foreign holiday this year in light of Uncle Sam's deep-seated financial troubles.

So while Rome is not exactly bargainbasement for Brits this year - at near enough one euro to the pound, how could it be? - the tourist famine is likely to be good news for anyone who makes the trip.

Not only will you discover that most tourist businesses have had to trim rates in order to get their share of tourist revenue, but you may find yourself with space to enjoy that ice cream as you toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure your future return.

Actually, Rome can be surprisingly affordable. For a start, you can get around all the major sights on foot - walking is, in fact, the best way to enjoy the city and, considering Italy's passion for the car, it's a surprise to discover that Rome has been extensively pedestrianised.

Many of the major sights are its churches, which are free to enter.

One of my favourites is the Santa Maria della Vittoria, with its famous Bernini sculpture Ecstasy Of St Teresa, described by Dan Brown in Angels & Demons as 'some sort of pornographic still life - the saint on her back, arched in pleasure, mouth open in a moan, and over her an angel pointing his spear of fire'.

Another favourite is Sant'Andrea della Valle, which provides the setting for the opening act of Puccini's opera Tosca. …