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La dolce Vespa: the delights of discovering Rome by scooter

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This article is part of a new guide to Rome from FT Globetrotter

When I decided to buy a Vespa in Rome, I wasn’t totally sure it was a good idea. I questioned whether it would make my life easier or, given the city’s cobblestone streets, pavements in need of repair and the aggressive nature of some drivers, was it simply the quickest way to break a few bones? 

“You just have to go with the flow — the traffic in Rome is part of the natural order of things,” said the woman who sold me my second-hand black Vespa LX 125. “Just dive into it.” 

Soon after taking the plunge, I realised that she was right. It was possible to make sense of the disorder and confusion on the city’s streets. Rome has its own pace and rules — you just have to embrace them. Stay focused; do not rush or lose your temper, but don’t be timid either.

Three years in, I’ve had no regrets about purchasing my due ruote (two wheels). It’s made my life easier — and all my bones remain intact.

Exploring Rome by Vespa is one of the best ways to immerse oneself in the city © Roberta Perrone

My Vespa (her name is Anita, after the actress Anita Ekberg) is by far the best way to explore and get around Rome. In a city with generally unreliable public transport, riding one is quick, provides natural air- conditioning and can be romantic too, depending on who’s holding on to you.

How to talk scooter in Italian

Assicurazione: insurance

Bauletto: top box

Bloccadisco: disc lock

Catena: chain

Chiavi: keys

Due ruote: two wheels

Fari: headlights

Freno (or Freni): brake(s)

Libretto: registration booklet

Luci: lights

Manubrio: handlebar

Motore: engine

Motorino: moped/scooter/Vespa

Parabrezza: windscreen

Patente: driver’s licence

Sanpietrini: cobblestones

Sella: seat

Sottosella: under the seat

A journey to the centre by Vespa (or motorino) saves a lot of time and makes the commute less stressful — and certainly more fun. You can be at the Colosseum, the majestic Fori Imperiali or along the Lungotevere with a twist of the throttle, or you can streak away to Gianicolo (known in English as the Janiculum), the peaceful hill just above the Vatican and Trastevere that offers the best view of Rome. 

Travelling by Vespa is also one of the best ways to immerse oneself in the city, contribute to its vitality and, at the same time, absorb a bit of it by racing through vast boulevards, narrow and colourful lanes and winding tunnels of trees, evoking 1953’s Roman Holiday, starring Gregory Peck as a reporter who carries around secret princess Audrey Hepburn.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in 1953’s Roman Holiday have inspired many of the city’s vespisti © Paramount

The film has inspired many to take to two wheels, but the real bible for Roman vespisti is 1993’s Caro Diario (Dear Diary), in which Italian director Nanni Moretti rides his Vespa through the divergent neighbourhoods of the city, offering a rare insight of the urbanisation of Rome’s quarters. 

Moretti, who stars as himself, stops to admire the different architectural styles across the city, from the project units built in the early 1920s in Garbatella — now one of Rome’s trendiest quarters — to chic Monteverde, and Spinaceto, a neighbourhood on the southern border of the city known for being a little edgy. “I was expecting it to be much worse, but it’s not that bad after all!” Moretti says. (Oddly enough, he also stumbles upon Jennifer Beals from Flashdance, who’s strolling past ancient Roman walls and speaks perfect Italian.)

But in order to explore the Eternal City by scooter like Hollywood royalty or a local, you first need to master the art of riding a Vespa here. Below are 10 tips and rules to follow to stay safe and make the most of your time on due ruote.

Three years later, Davide Ghiglione has no regrets about purchasing his Vespa LX 125, known as Anita © Roberta Perrone

1. Always bring your sunglasses, not only for the sun (and to look smart), but to protect your eyes from wind and insects. 

2. Carry a waterproof jacket to save you from unexpected showers. It’s also useful on hot summer nights when you’re just wearing shorts and a T-shirt, as a cooler breeze could catch you unprepared on your way home.

3. Keep a little towel under the seat to wipe your Vespa before a ride. You’ll want to keep your trousers clean and dry, especially for a day of exploring. It could be also useful for cleaning your windscreen.

4. Have a second helmet as it’s quite common to be asked for a lift. If you have a top box (or bauletto), you can leave the second helmet there and put the first one under the seat. It’s generally quite safe; theft is rare. (Speaking of helmets, some people put a handkerchief in theirs or wear a bandanna to keep their hairstyle intact. If you have long hair, tuck it inside your helmet to stop it getting ruffled or damaged.)

Rome has its own pace and rules — you just have to embrace them, advises Davide © Roberta Perrone

Stay focused; do not rush or lose your temper, but don’t be timid either © Roberta Perrone

5. Don’t ride in high heels; it could be dangerous. You need stability and for that you want comfortable shoes. That doesn’t mean you can’t be fashionable — if you wear the right clothes, you’ll catch everyone’s attention at the traffic lights anyway.

6. Get up close to the major sights. A big advantage of riding a scooter in Rome is the possibility to access the centro storico (historic centre) and ZTL areas (limited traffic zones), allowing you to nip up to the most iconic landmarks.

7. Stay in lane. As in many big cities, driving in Rome can be hectic, and Romans are famous for their fiery use of the horn, especially when they see a motorino slalom between queueing cars, or proceed faster than them in an unorthodox way. If you want to avoid bickering and, most of all, accidents, stay in lane (and avoid moving into yellow lanes, which are for taxis and buses only).

8. Be careful when driving on cobblestones (known as sanpietrini), especially if they are wet, as they can be very slippery. The same goes for tram tracks across the city. Driving with your wheel in line with them can be really dangerous — again, especially if wet. If you stumble on them, try and cross them diagonally to avoid sliding or getting stuck in the groove. 

Scooter parking is generally not hard to find in Rome © Roberta Perrone

A big advantage of riding a Vespa in Rome is the ease at which you can access the historic centre © Roberta Perrone

9. Don’t worry about finding parking; it’s generally much easier for scooters than it is for cars. The best places are scooter-designated spots, which are small white rectangular bays. Blue bays are also fine, although parking between two cars could be risky for your scooter. Parking is free, so it’s best to use an appropriate spot — don’t be fooled by the scooters parked on the pavement (that’s just another way to get a ticket).

10. Don’t rush. The philosophy behind riding a Vespa is to enjoy the journey and, especially in Rome, the stunning views — they will leave you breathless.

Where to rent a Vespa in Rome

© Bloomberg

Bici Baci

From €65-80 for 24 hours, including insurance. You’ll need a valid driver’s licence and a credit card. Via Cavour 302; +39 0648 28443

Centro Moto Colosseo

Charges €70 for 24 hours, including insurance. You’ll need a valid driver’s licence and a credit card. Via SS. Quattro 46; +39 0670 451069

For more stories like this, visit ft.com/globetrotter, or follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter for insider tips for exploring and enjoying great cities





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Marine Le Pen falls short in French regional vote

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Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party fell short of expectations in the first round of France’s regional elections on Sunday, leaving the Les Républicains party and other centre-right politicians in a strong position for the second and final set of ballots next weekend. 

The relatively poor results for the anti-immigration RN — in a record low turnout of about 33 per cent — will also provide some comfort for Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to face Le Pen when he seeks re-election as president next year. 

Le Pen described the low turnout as a “civic disaster” that gave a false impression of the political situation. “If you want things to change, you must vote,” she said in a short speech as the results began to emerge.

Xavier Bertrand, the centre-right leader of the Hauts-de-France region in the north, was on course for re-election and received a boost to his own presidential ambitions, with early estimates from BFMTV after polls closed giving him 44 per cent of the vote, against 24.4 per cent for Le Pen’s RN. 

Recalling that the RN had been ahead in the region after the first round in 2015, Bertrand boasted in a speech of “breaking the jaws” of his far-right rivals in this year’s electoral battle. Le Pen had campaigned in the north and hoped to flip the region to her party in Sunday’s vote. 

Xavier Bertrand after casting his ballot © AFP via Getty Images

Early estimates suggested that Le Pen’s party might be within reach of a first-round lead in Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur in the south. But even there the performance was less impressive than predicted by opinion polls, which had suggested the RN would take control of the region after the second round in the first such victory in its history. 

That now looks less easy to achieve for the RN, since other parties have in the past tended to unite in a so-called “republican front” in second-round votes to keep the extreme right from power.

Nationwide, centre-right lists were forecast to receive about 29 per cent of the votes cast in the first round, against 19 per cent for the RN, 16 per cent for the Socialist party, 13 per cent for the Greens and 11 per cent for Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party. 

Incumbent parties performed well, with LR politicians in the lead in the Grand Est region in the east, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in the south-east and Ile-de-France around Paris. The Socialists expected to hold Occitanie and Brittany in the west.

Gérald Darmanin, interior minister, said the record low turnout was “particularly worrying”, adding: “Our collective effort must be to mobilise the French for the second round.” 

The low turnout did not fulfil the fears of Macron’s ally François Bayrou by benefiting the extreme right or the extreme left, and may have been the result of voter weariness with politics and a desire to enjoy themselves after more than a year of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“The French have their minds on other things completely,” Brice Teinturier of polling group Ipsos told a webinar last week. “We are coming out of the pandemic . . . and the outlook for the economy is getting much better.”



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Delta variant begins to spread, threatening EU’s Covid progress

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The Delta coronavirus variant that swept the UK has become dominant in Portugal and appeared in clusters across Germany, France and Spain, prompting European health officials to warn further action is needed to slow its spread. 

While the new strain, which first emerged in India, still only accounts for a fraction of the total coronavirus cases in mainland Europe, it is gaining ground, according to a Financial Times analysis of global genomic data from the virus tracking database Gisaid. It accounts for 96 per cent of sequenced Covid-19 infections in Portugal, more than 20 per cent in Italy and about 16 per cent in Belgium, the FT’s calculations show.

The small but rising number of cases have raised concerns that the Delta variant could halt the progress the EU has made over past the two months in bringing new infections and deaths down to their lowest level since at least the autumn. 

“We are in the process of crushing the virus and crushing the pandemic, and we must in no way let the Delta variant get the upper hand,” France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, told reporters at a Paris vaccination centre on Tuesday. 

Véran said that 2 per cent to 4 per cent of virus samples being analysed in France were showing as the Delta variant: “You might say this is still low but it is similar to the situation in the UK a few weeks ago.” The FT’s analysis of Gisaid’s data suggests this figure could be higher.

Chart showing that the Delta variant now accounts for more than half of sequenced cases in parts of the US, and is growing in prevalence across the country

In Portugal, community transmission of the variant has been detected in the greater Lisbon area, where more than 60 per cent of the country’s new coronavirus cases in the past week have been identified. Non-essential travel to and from the city has been banned in an effort to prevent the spike in cases spreading to the rest of the country.

Scientists across the continent are now looking to the UK — where Covid-19 cases have tripled in the past month and the Delta variant accounts for about 98 per cent of all new infections — for clues about what may happen next and which measures may need to be taken.

After official data showed the Delta variant appeared to increase the risk of hospitalisation by 2.2 times compared with the Alpha variant, the UK government this week imposed a one month delay to the removal of its remaining coronavirus restrictions.

“The decisions the UK makes to reopen life and society will serve as a laboratory for us in Europe,” said Bruno Lina, a virologist in Lyon who advises the French government and helps co-ordinate variant sequencing in the country.

Whether the clusters of Delta infections peppering the EU turn into bigger outbreaks will depend in part on how many people have been fully vaccinated, scientists said, as well as people’s behaviour now that many restrictions on life and business are being lifted.

Chart showing that there are signs that many states are now seeing a shrinking outbreak of the Alpha variant, and a growing one of Delta

Recent UK government research has highlighted the need to complete vaccination programmes as quickly as possible. According to data gathered by Public Health England, the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is generally less effective against the Delta variant than with the previous strains. Two doses increases protection against symptomatic infection with Delta from 33 per cent to 81 per cent. 

While in the UK about 46 per cent of the population has been fully immunised, vaccination rates in most countries in mainland Europe are hovering at between 20 per cent and 30 per cent. About 26 per cent of the population in France has been fully vaccinated.

French authorities are currently trying to contain an outbreak in the Landes region, near the Spanish border, where 125 cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed by genetic sequencing and another 130 are suspected, representing about 30 per cent of recent infections in the area. Clusters of the Delta variant have also been identified in recent weeks in the southern suburbs of Paris and an art school in Strasbourg. 

In each case health officials have responded with the same formula: increased contact tracing and a renewed push to vaccinate people in the affected areas.

“If we keep vaccination going at a good pace, and some non-pharmaceutical interventions like masks indoors, we can still repress the circulation of the virus this summer,” said Lina, the French virologist. “This variant will displace the other ones — we must keep that in mind — but it doesn’t mean that it will lead to a new epidemic wave.”

Vaccination site in Jutland, Denmark
Denmark has only identified a small number of Delta infections, even though the variant arrived in the country at approximately the same time as in the UK. © Henning Bagger/EPA-EFE

Some scientists fear the Delta variant may have already spread further but gone undetected given that less of the genomic sequencing needed to identify variants has been completed in mainland Europe. While the UK has sequenced more than 500,000 Sars-Cov-2 genomes, Germany, France and Spain have sequenced about 130,000, 47,000 and 34,000 respectively.

“It’s costly, it’s time consuming and it was neglected,” said Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva.

Denmark, however, has sequenced a high proportion of cases and still only identified a small number of Delta infections, even though the variant arrived in the country at approximately the same time as in the UK.

This could be explained partly, experts said, by differences in demographics and movement, including the number of cases imported into the country from regions with a high prevalence, such as India, and the living conditions in the communities into which it is seeded.

The difference in the pace of Delta’s spread across European countries remained “a little bit of a mystery”, said Jeff Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge.

Still, many experts believe that wherever the Delta variant is introduced, it will eventually become dominant. The key, they say, will be to increase the proportion of fully vaccinated people, while slowing transmission of the virus as much as possible.

“We have to keep the messaging very clear,” said Lina in Lyon. “This is not over.”

Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey, Peter Wise, Guy Chazan and Clive Cookson



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EU fails in legal bid to speed up AstraZeneca vaccine supply

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The EU has lost a legal bid to force AstraZeneca to speed up delivery of Covid-19 vaccines or risk billions of euros in fines, the latest round in a bitter battle between the bloc and the UK-Swedish pharmaceutical company.

In a ruling on Friday, a court in Brussels criticised AstraZeneca for a “serious breach” of its contract with the EU after repeated shortfalls but refused to impose a new schedule demanded by Brussels that would have required the company to deliver 120m doses by the end of June or pay fines of €10 per dose per day.

The dispute between the European Commission and AstraZeneca has severely damaged the company’s standing on the continent and in February spiralled into a diplomatic row when Brussels threatened to exercise an emergency provision of the Brexit deal to stop vaccines entering the UK via Northern Ireland.

The Brussels court ruled that AstraZeneca should provide 80m doses by the end of September. However, in practice this should have no impact on AstraZeneca, which has already delivered 70m doses and plans to provide the remaining 10m before the end of this month.

The commission insisted that the court judgment would nonetheless put pressure on AstraZeneca because it had “laid the tracks for the delivery of future doses on the basis of clear contractual principles”, including supply from British manufacturing sites.

“The company will have to follow these tracks and it can no longer argue that it cannot use the UK plants for the production of vaccines for the European Union,” the commission said.

The ruling found that the pharma company’s failure to send the EU vaccines manufactured in the UK was inconsistent with making the “best reasonable efforts” on supply required by its contract. But it did not order AstraZeneca to use UK production to fulfil the EU order.

A UK plant operated by Oxford BioMedica is nonetheless expected to start manufacturing for the EU, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

AstraZeneca was originally expected to supply up to 300m doses to the EU in the first six months of this year but that forecast was cut sharply after production problems.

With the pace of the EU’s vaccine rollout improving, using mainly Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs, and some countries imposing restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine after the discovery of rare blood clots, there is less practical need for the doses.

Jeffrey Pott, AstraZeneca’s general counsel, said: “AstraZeneca has fully complied with its agreement with the European Commission and we will continue to focus on the urgent task of supplying an effective vaccine, which we are delivering at no profit to help protect people in Europe and around the world from the deadliest pandemic in a generation.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, said: “This decision confirms the position of the commission: AstraZeneca did not live up to the commitments it made in the contract. It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this.”

The court is due to hold hearings in September on a second case brought by the Commission seeking judgment on whether AstraZeneca failed in its duty to deliver on the supply contract. 



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