(Piazza Navona at sunset)
We're back from our big adventure! We just spent 17 days traveling around Italy and Switzerland with the boys and we had an amazing time. There were so many highlights (and challenges too), so I'm going to try and put it all down here fast, for the benefit of anyone who might want read it, and before my memory starts to fail me! In this part I'll cover Rome - how we structured our days, what we did, where we ate, and where we stayed.
We arrived in Rome around 10 in the morning (3am Texas time) after just a few hours of sleep on our flight. We had done our research (good articles here and here) and we knew that the best way to combat jet-lag was to immediately start eating and sleeping in the new time zone. So, we kept the boys awake (not hard - they were just as excited as us to be there!) and as soon as we were settled into our rental we walked to lunch. Once we had our first yummy Roman meal, we walked back to the apartment and everybody crashed for an afternoon nap. We probably all could have slept for hours, but we set an alarm and only slept for a couple of hours before we went back out to explore. That night we put the boys to bed at normal time, and from then on we were able to stick to our normal schedule. There were still some night-time sleep struggles (particularly with Sam), but it only took a day or two for our internal clocks to be "reset". In the mornings we ate breakfast at the apartment and got out by about 9:30. We would pack in as much activity as we could before lunch, then eat lunch out, and make our way back to the apartment by about 2 for afternoon naps. Then, after naps we would head out again for some evening sight-seeing and dinner. For those few precious days in Rome, we had Sam take his morning nap on the go (in the Ergo or the stroller) and that worked out well.
Now, the fun part: how we spent our time in Rome. Ah, beautiful Rome. I've dreamed of this place since I was about 10 years old, and although this wasn't exactly the kind of trip I had always imagined, it did not disappoint. Tim and I knew the success of our trip depended on planning activities that were fun for the whole family and adjusting our expectations to include two little ones, and I think we did a good job! No, there were no long dinners lingering over dessert and wine, there was no shopping, and we didn't even go near a museum. But there is just so much to see and do in Rome, and we chose to focus on those things that suited our boys - lots of outdoor activities like parks, piazzas, and fountains (which happen to be free - bonus!) within about 15 minutes walking distance from our apartment. We framed everything as an adventure, whether it was a trip to pick up pastries or a visit to the "gladiator Colosseum", and the boys always responded with excitement that was contagious. Here are some of the highlights:
- A trip to the Borghese Gardens. We packed some snacks and walked from our apartment, through the Piazza del Popolo, up to the top of Pincian Hill with sweeping views over the city. The boys loved being able to get out and run, riding on the carousel, and playing on the playground. We loved the beauty and peace of the park. The highlight for all of us was renting a pedal cart and zooming around the park while the boys rang the bell. We only spent a few hours there, but the boys could have stayed all day. It was just what we all needed after spending the previous couple of days traveling. Around lunch time it got rainy so we bought a yellow umbrella, ducked into Porto di Ripetta and had one of our favorite meals in Rome.
- A visit to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. These two spots are very close to each other, and it was easy to visit both in one evening. I was so excited to see the Pantheon, and I was so impressed by the scale of it. What an amazing structure! I think it was interesting for the boys too because the Pantheon and the facing piazza were bustling with people, live music, cars, scooters, fountains...it was really exciting! Once I'd had my fill of gawking at the Pantheon and taking lots of pictures we walked the short distance over to the Piazza Navona. This place thrilled the boys too (in the pictures above they're dancing to some live music and running around on the smooth cobblestones)! It was so fun we actually visited on two different days. We strolled around, Michael chased pigeons, and we threw coins into the fountains. When we got hungry for dinner we stopped for some pizza at Pizza Zaza right around the corner. This was a great place to watch people, and grab some gelato. The icing on the cake was the view of the Tiber on our walk back to the apartment at sunset.
- Seeing the Colosseum and the Forum. We decided not to do the official tour, but we still had fun and wonderful views just walking around the outside of the Colosseum and the Forum. This is another one that might not sound kid-friendly, but Michael had a blast! He loved hearing about the gladiators and hopping along the (huge) cobblestone road through the Forum. As always, we packed snacks, and when we needed a break from walking up and down the hill we just sat down, snacked, and watched the people go by. Before we left, Tim bought Michael a set of gladiator armor and a sword, and it has been a huge hit with the boys. Michael remembers exactly where he got it, and it makes me so happy that he'll always have that memory!
In our three and a half days in Rome, those are the major sites we visited. We also went to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, but both were very crowded (the only time I felt uneasy about keeping a close eye on the boys and our wallets), and the Trevi was being restored and wasn't even visible. I was disappointed with our experiences of those two iconic sites, but as with our other adventures in Rome, the walking and just being there was a treat in itself. So many of the things the boys enjoyed were simple moments in between the "big" things - crossing over the bridges, stopping to play in the fountains, watching the scooters zoom past - and that made the experience even better for Tim and me.
Finally, I think a lot of the success of our trip hinged on where we stayed. We've found that when traveling with kids it absolutely pays to rent an apartment or house, as opposed to staying in hotels. We have two little ones who still nap, so in a rental everyone has their own space to sleep when they need to sleep, and even when the kids are in bed by 7 or 8, Tim and I can stay up and enjoy the evening together. There's also the kitchen; in Italy breakfast is small, dinner is very late by American standards, and in restaurants we couldn't always find foods that were appetizing to the kids. So, a kitchen was invaluable. We were able to start each day with our customary big breakfast, keep fresh snacks to take with us on outings, and in those first few, jet-lagged days, have dinner when we really needed it, rather than waiting until 7:30 or 8 at night. The rental also gave us the luxury of a washing machine and lots of play space for the kids. We could have stayed closer to the action in the central part of the city, but we chose to stay in a quiet neighborhood, in a rental that faced a courtyard, and that was so wonderful for us. It really made such a difference that we had a peaceful, quiet place to nap and sleep. It didn't hurt that the place is my dreamy ideal Roman apartment. I loved playing house here for a few days!