Traveling in Rome with Kids
With its warm weather and delicious gelato, Rome, Italy was a welcome site after the cold and rainy days in Paris. On our flight in, we decided to purchase the airport shuttle service directly from Easy Jet, so after waiting for the bus to arrive we were anxious to get checked in and set down our backpacks. The shuttle only made two stops, how hard could it be, right? Unfortunately, in our haste, we forgot to make sure we got off at the right stop. Within minuets of getting off the bus, we realized it was the wrong stop, but they said we could not board the next bus. So, we ended up taking a taxi to the hotel after all. It worked out though, because that meant we got curbside service instead of trying to find our hotel from the train station. We stayed at Hotel Papa Germano – it was small, but clean and well-situated with a good breakfast. The only downside was the lack of an elevator, but I suppose it was good practice for all the walking left to do.
We started each day with breakfast at the hotel. Fortunately, there was a little street fair just a block from the hotel where we could get fresh fruit and veggies for afternoon snacks. We also find a market a few blocks away where we could get picnic supplies and anything else we needed. After a few lunches at the mercy of the street vendors ($15 for a coke and a crummy sandwich) the picnic lunches worked out great. One thing you learn traveling with kids (and a hungry mom) is to have food available at all times.
The Roman Colosseum
Rome was full of history and such a mix of the old and modern. You can’t visit Rome without a trip to the Colosseum. Our Rick Steve’s guidebook suggested spending an extra few euros for a guided tour in order to skip the lines. That advice alone was worth the cost of the guidebook. The regular line was hundreds of people deep, and there were unofficial guides outside offering American tours for an extra $30 per person. But, with Rick’s advice, we walked right up to the guided tours line, waited behind 3 people, paid our extra $4 euros and got right into the next English tour a few minutes later. What a steal! Also, because we had a stroller, we were able to take the elevator right to the top. The Colosseum was indescribable. Knowing the history of what happened on that site, hearing just how barbaric and cruel humans have been (and have the capacity to be), seeing the “cages” were man and beast were kept – it all gets you thinking. The sheer size of the Colleseum is mesmerizing – to think that a stadium with such magnitude could be built (and last) without the use of modern tools was amazing. We also learned some fun trivia – such as the history of the word “arena” which means “sand” in Latin. During gladiator fights there was, understandably, lots of bloodshed. To soak of some of the blood before the next match, the officials would have sand (arena) poured on the floor of the stadium. We now refer to the entire thing as an “arena.” Now, you’ve learned something new today.
Palatine Hill and the Roman Forums
Just outside the Colleseum is Palatine Hill and the Roman Forums. Again, it just makes you stand back and think about the things that our ancestors were able to do. The forums are filled with ruins of once mighty temples, homes, and government buildings. To think that so many of the ideas that were as the basis for western civilization as we know it started to take root right here is just amazing. While there is certainly evidence of the cruelty of the human race, there is also evidence of our compassion, ingenuity and brotherhood. We spent the entire afternoon exploring the forum and Palatine Hill, immersing ourselves in the ancient history, walking on the old roads, admiring the skill and foresight of the Romans. I wonder what they would think if they could see their buildings still standing, thousands of years later. We also took some time that afternoon to relax on the grass at the foot of Palatine Hill, letting the kids run and frolic, appreciating one of the few times in Rome that we weren’t surrounded my hoards of tourists. I will say, that in general, the Roman ruins are not very stroller friendly. This was pretty much as I expected, and worked out well anyway, since I left a stroller in Paris. Even if it had ben stroller friendly, I would have had to carry Elliott around. Thank goodness for my Beco Butterfly.
Another can’t miss site in Rome is Vatican City, home to The Vatican Museum (Sistine Chapel) and St. Peter’s Cathedral. For this excursion, we planned ahead and reserved advanced tickets online. The museum was beautiful, although crowded. Elliott rode in my backpack most of the tour and I have to laugh because, while I know he’s a handsome little fellow, apparently our fellow tourists though so as well, because they were taking his picture as though he was on display at the museum. Maybe they haven’t seen a sleeping baby in a backpack before. Or maybe, he looks almost as big as me these days. Or, maybe he’s just that charming (probably the latter). In any event, it wasn’t the first or last time that tourists took pictures of my kids. The highlight of the Vatican Museum is, without a doubt, the Sistine Chapel. It’s hard to think that such a masterpiece was painted by one man lying on scaffolding over the course of years. The mood in the room is one of awe and admiration. I hope you, too, have the opportunity to see The Sistine Chapel.
Another tip from Rick Steve’s was to exit the Sistine Chapel through the doors on the right, which will lead you directly to St. Peter’s Basilica, thus avoiding standing in line for the church. Another gem of a tip – we were able to go right into the church while we found out later the line was extremely long. Once at the church, we decided the kids really needed lunch. So, we decided to go the “divide and conquer” route. First Troy went into the church while mom and I stayed with the kids. We found a great spot outside the main doors where the kids could laugh, play, and, of course, eat. They also made friends anytime another family took the bench opposite us. Once Troy was done visiting the breathtaking church, mom and I got the honors. What a great afternoon. Before leaving Vatican City, we mailed a few postcards, including one to the kids. In case you didn’t know, the Vatican is actually it’s own country, with it’s own post office and court system. The Swiss guards keep watch over this tiny nation in the center of Rome.
Rome was filled with so many great sites, including funky little piazzas where we were able to sit and enjoy a cold gelato. Of course, we threw a penny into the Trevi Fountain, wishing to return again.
The food, as you could imagine, was great. We tried to frequent little family owned restaurants when we could, although that wasn’t always an option. One thing to be aware of in Italy is that a lot of restaurants charge a “cover charge” of up to $3 Euro per person, just to site down. For the five of us, that could mean $20 USD, on top of the cost of the meal. Crazy. Guess that’s something we should have asked first.
Just outside of Rome is a great little city called Ostia Antica, we decided it was the perfect day trip. Just a short metro ride away, Ostia Antica was worlds away from the crowds of Rome. Ostia was an ancient port town, in fact it might have been the first Roman colony, capitalizing on it’s location as a strategic military port then a commercial port. Unfortunately, for it’s inhabitants, the Tiber River changed course over time and the city was abandoned. But, that abandon means that the city was relatively well preserved under years of silt and dirt. Unlike the other ruins in the center of Rome, Ostia Antica invites tourists to walk through the ancient ruins, climb the steps of its amphitheater, and picnic under its shade trees. The intricate mosaic floors were truly works of art. There was a Christian church from the 4th century AD, there were shops, restaurants, and homes from 2,000 years ago. This was a real highlight – we could have explored these ruins for another day. One of my favorite souvenirs from the trip is a book on Ostia Antica that overlays pictures of the ruins today with what it looked like during its splendor. It’s another great way to understand the accomplishments of this once mighty nation and its people. Books are also a great way to bring the trip home for kids; I’ve tried to collect children’s books from all of our travels.
Italian Emergency Room
I don’t want to leave off one of the more memorable Italian experiences. Just after his bath, Elliott decided to jump off the bed, or rather fall. My little guy hit his head on another bed but luckily Troy was right there to scoop him up. I asked Troy how bad it was but, knowing blood makes me squeamish, he didn’t want me to look. It was bad enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room! We ran down to the hotel lobby and they called us a taxi. When we arrived, it took a few minutes to find someone who spook English, but when we explained what happened they were very kind. They even made little balloon men out of exam gloves, drawing smiley faces on them to make Elliott laugh. It was a nice gesture, but I was so worried about my little boy. By this point, he had stopped crying. In fact, he hadn’t cried since it happened. There waiting room was a lot different than a waiting room in the US. We saw car crash victims come in off the ambulance, I think they keep the ambulance entry separate from the waiting rooms back home. After about an hour or so wait, we finally got examined. When the nurse called us back, she was pushing another patient on a gurney and just said “follow me” – guess privacy isn’t that important in public health care. The exam room was also the room where the doctors/nurses cleaned up, where records were entered into the system – it was just one big open room. Again, in the US, everything is separated. By the time we got back there, the blood had started to clot so the nurse scrubbed it clean and then shaved the area. Elliott didn’t even flinch or tense up. Thankfully, no stitches were needed, just some Dermabond. By the way my tough little guy was acting you would never have known he had been hurt. I’m just glad that was not an experience we had to repeat in each country.
Other highlights include the Church of San Giovanni
and the Pantheon (the oldest building that has been in continual use in Rome).
The Holy Stairs were an amazing site. Legend is that Constantine’s mother (or mother-in-law) had the stairs of the home of Pontius Pilate that Jesus ascended and descended brought to Rome. Pilgrims now ascend the walnut-covered stairs on their knees. It truly is a humbling experience.
There were so many other great sites in Rome, but all good things must come to an end. So, after a week, we packed up our bags again and made our way to the airport to get on our way to Germany.
A few remaining pictures from this once-in-a-lifetime trip: