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Trip Report Italy Trip Report - Rome/Venice - late December

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Finally.......here's the start of my trip report!!!!

Italy Trip Report…. or …
“Is it cheaper than a Roman Coke?”


Who – (1) DH - 50+; enjoys food, wine, history, art; hates the hassles of traveling; looks the other way when I pay the hotel bills but never hesitates to splurge on a good bottle of wine; (2) me - age withheld to protect my ego; official travel planner; enjoys any holiday during which I don’t have to cook or clean or do laundry; (3) DS#1 – almost 16; the mellow one who never complains and can’t make a decision to save his soul; loves pasta; hates shopping; does whatever he can to annoy DS#2; (4) DS#2 – 14; the opinionated one who always has a comment (some good, some bad, some confusing) about everything; loves seafood; loves to shop; middle name “Dad – can I get……….”
What – family vacation
Where – Rome and Venice
When – late December 2007
Why – because (1) I didn’t get my act together enough to finalize our planned trip to Thailand, (2) we haven’t been to Italy, (3) we love Italian food, (4) there wasn’t much of a time difference so minimal jet lag, (5) we needed to get out of Azerbaijan, (6) there is wine in Italy, and (7) I could get to Italy on a direct flight. (Did I mention there was wine in Italy?????)

Just a note - After 7 years of living overseas and planning family trips, I have developed a good sense of what works for us.
(1)We like to stay in the center of the city (or near the main sights) to avoid having to take a lot of buses, metros, and taxis. The extra cost is worth it for us. We don’t need a 5* hotel, but we like to be comfortable – preferably with breakfast, mini-bar, internet connection, lounge/bar area, and cable TV (okay – the boys want that – I don’t really care). Of course – I would LIKE to stay in 5* places but since we need 2 rooms – the price gets nasty!
(2) Food is a big part of our travel adventures. We live in the middle of nowhere, so when we travel - being able to get good food/wine is a real treat for us. Our general philosophy – if we have enjoyed the meal – the price is worth it. We are occasionally disappointed – but not too often. I tend to only order appetizers (in a pointless attempt to watch my weight when traveling), so that helps balance out the cost. We seldom have dessert but almost always have a nice bottle of wine (which the boys now insist on tasting!).
(3) We don’t try to see everything. We have a “must see” list and a “would be nice” list. As long as we get through the “must sees” – we’re happy.
(4) We don’t generally do tours, preferring to do things on our own and at our own pace.
(5) We take lots of breaks – for coffee, cokes, wine, snacks. We learned long ago not to go at a break-neck speed. We also tend to go back to the hotel in the late afternoon for a rest before heading out for dinner.




DAY 1
Travel - For a change, our flight out of Baku didn’t leave until 10 am, which meant leaving our house at 7 am. Much better than the 1 am pickups we are used to for the 4 am flights to the US! Our flight to Milan on AZAL (Azerbaijan Airlines) was uneventful (always a good thing!). We had several hours in Milan before our connecting flight to Rome, during which DS#2 window shopped (he particularly liked the Ferrari clothing store). We finally arrived in Rome, collected our luggage, and easily located our driver. The hotel had arranged the airport transfer for us, and the cost was 65€ for the 4 of us. We arrived at the hotel around 6:30 pm.

Hotel - I looked at a lot of hotels, checked out comments on Fodors and TripAdvisor, and finally settled on the Albergo Cesari (www.albergocesari.it). It is located on a small square (Piazza di Pietra), just off Via Del Corso. It is a great location – just a 2 minute walk to the Pantheon, 2 minutes to Trevi Fountain, and maybe 15+ minutes to the Roman Forum (depending on traffic). There are a ton of restaurants in the area and some great shops. We had 2 double rooms (185€ each, including breakfast) and while the furnishings were simple, I was surprised at the size of the rooms – quite large for Europe. Even the bathroom was spacious and well-equipped. The breakfast was basic, but quite good – cereals, meats (great salami), breads, pastries, and cheeses. There is a computer near the lobby, and there is a small bar area. But that is probably the only real “negative” I have – the bar was not well stocked and the wines weren’t really stored properly.

Dinner - By the time we got settled in our rooms, it was about 7 and we were tired and hungry. So, on the desk clerk’s recommendation (seeing 2 American teenagers and immediately thinking of pizza), we went to a small pizzeria about 2 blocks away. Can’t remember the name, but it was something like “La Cava _____” and it was located in Piazza St. Ignazio. The food was okay, but not a place I would really recommend. We headed back to the hotel and crashed.

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    DAY 2
    Vatican Museums - I decided to book a tour of the Vatican Museums because I didn’t want to wait in line. Standing in long lines is not something the “Y-chromosomes” in my little family have an abundance of patience for. I booked online through Viator. Although we were supposed to be ready for 7 am, we weren’t picked up until almost 7:30. But that gave us time (in shifts) to run up to the breakfast room for a quick coffee/tea/juice and a croissant. There were about 40 people on our tour and we were split up according to language. Since we don’t do a lot of group tours, this was my first time using the earphones to hear the guide – it was quite nice being able to wander a bit and still hear the commentary.

    I really didn’t know what to expect, and I had not done much background research (since I knew we’d be doing a tour). We are not a very religious family, but I have tried to teach my sons the importance of religion in history. I wouldn’t have guessed it at the time – but based on their later comments – the boys really enjoyed the statues, the geometric mosaics, and the tapestries. While DH and I marveled at the Sistine Chapel, they were a bit under-whelmed. But in fairness, it was toward the end of the tour, we had gotten up very early, and we were all quite tired.

    Lunch – When the tour was over, we took advantage of the tour guide’s offer to drop us off near the Trevi Fountain. We found the fountain, threw in the obligatory coins, took a bunch of photos and then headed off to find lunch. We found a nice little place just off Via dell’Umilta (by Via Di San Marcello). The restaurant was called La Scaffi (again – I’m a little fuzzy on the name but it’s on a little square across from a Chinese restaurant). DH, DS#1 and I had various pasta dishes and DS#2 enjoyed a beautiful grilled sole and followed it up with a crème caramel. I think the waiter was amazed that my skinny little child could finish off the sole, but he did. And he didn’t offer to share!

    Time Elevator Roma – After lunch we thought it would be fun to go to the Time Elevator Roma (www.timeelevator.it/) – a theatre that shows a “living history” movie on Roman history. The theater is located on a small alleyway between the Trevi Fountain and the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument on Via SS Apostoli. The movie on Rome was a nice, easy way to get a refresher course on the 3000 years of history. We also saw a 3-D movie about the origins of life on Earth (quite interesting and very well done). It is one of those “interactive” movies, with moving seats and special effects (won’t mention them and spoil the surprises!). It was fun and provided some good background information. Amazingly – we ran into a co-worker of my DH’s who was visiting Rome with her daughter. Small world!

    Shopping – After the move we backtracked to our lunch spot because there was a neat little book/print shop around the corner from the restaurant. The shop, Libreria Antiquaria (Via dell’Umilta, 77/a), was full of interesting old books and prints. We looked around, made our purchase, and then headed back to the hotel for a rest.

    Pantheon and Piazza Navona – After our rest, we strolled out of the hotel and headed toward the Pantheon (through Piazza dei Pietra and down Via di Pastini), looking in shop windows and scoping out potential restaurants. This is a pedestrian area and is quite nice to stroll. At one point, we passed one restaurant and then immediately stopped as the door opened and we all smelled wonderful scents drifting into the street. That place immediately went to the top of our list for potential dinner spots.

    I guess I had seen pictures of the Pantheon but I was not really prepared for its elegant simplicity. It definitely has to be one of the most stunningly beautiful buildings I have ever seen. While trying to educate my offspring on the history of the building, my younger son noticed that near the top of the dome – a balloon of a horse had gotten stuck! That caused no end of chuckling from the boys, extinguishing my hopes that they had finally outgrown childish adolescent amusements! (Note: upon returning to school and commenting on this to a classmate who had been to Rome a few days after us……the balloon was still there when she visited!).

    We continued our stroll over to the Piazza Navona. I had read a lot about this spot, but I was a bit disappointed. The main fountain in the middle was being worked on, so it was hidden behind some fencing. I had read that this was a great place to sit out and enjoy some coffee or a glass of wine at one of the cafes, but most of them seemed to have put away their outdoor seating. This could have been because of the all the stalls set up in the piazza that limited viewing. I’m not sure if these stalls were just part of the Christmas market or if they are there all year. We did walk around, looking at all the things for sale. I spotted some neat Roman ruin replicas (arches, columns) made out of some lightweight material and bought a set of columns. DS#2 was in heaven with all the places selling candy and especially cotton candy – which we promised to come back and get after we had dinner.

    Dinner – We eventually made our way back to the “good smelling place.” The restaurant, Rotonda, was fabulous (Via Dei Pastini, 17). DH had a grilled artichoke appetizer and a pasta and seafood main dish. I enjoyed some tomato soup and eggplant gratin, and DS#1 had a spicy pasta dish. DS#2 immediately found a grilled shrimp dish. He really has a knack for finding the expensive things on a menu!! He wanted to order the shrimp and a plate of pasta, but we talked him into just the shrimp. Well, he finished up the shrimp before my DH even had a chance to ask for a taste. DS#2 asked if he could have another order of shrimp. After some head-shaking, we called the waiter over and asked for another order. Again, the boy ate them up. But he wasn’t done. Still insisting he was hungry, he asked for just a small bowl of pasta with garlic and olive oil. The waiter just grinned. Since we had to wait for the pasta, DH and I decided to share a piece of cheesecake. As I said before, we are not big dessert eaters – but this was by far…..the BEST cheesecake we have ever had! Even DS#1 (who really don’t care for cakes and such) admitted it was good and stole a few bites.

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    I do't remember hearing about the TimeElevator. Sounds like a fun rest for a hot June day (when we'll be there with our 13 year olds). Do the movies run in English all day?

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    Great report! Can't wait to hear more since I'm headed to Rome next month.

    Care to share what you're doing in Azerbaijan? Curious minds (ok, nosey Nellies like me) want to know..;-)

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    Hello Grcxx3, I am so happy to see the start of your trip report as I remember when you were planning your trip to Italy.

    I so loved your description of your family. My two grandson's sound exactly like your sons, lol. My oldest is like your oldest and the younger one is like your younger one so I can really relate! Oh yes, the younger one has always had a bottomless pit when it comes to eating. Really, if I didn't know better I would think you were describing my grandsons!

    I remember when kswl took her young teen son to Italy and they went to the Time Elevator Roma. That was the first time I had heard about it. A good choice for all of you.

    I look forward to your next installment.



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    pkdof - If I recall correctly, you wear earphones for the movie and there were certain sections of seats reserved for English, Italian, etc. So, shouldn't be a problem.

    Kristina - With sincere respect to the lovely people who live here.....there is no reason to be in Azerbaijan except for work and the main areas of work here are embassies (small, but growing number) and the oil biz and related service companies. There also are a few major corporations starting to put in country managers. We are in the oil biz.

    Next installment coming shortly!

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    DAY 3
    Roman Forum – Our plan was to be out the door of the hotel by 8:30 am to go to the Roman Forum, but we got a late start and didn’t head out until about 10. Oh well……. We walked from the hotel, down Via Del Corso toward the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument (which unfortunately is being worked on and is partially covered). It took us about 15+ minutes. Following the walking tour set out in our Fodor’s book, we walked through the Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum. It was truly amazing! We had planned on also doing Coliseum this day, but one look at the line (combined with my aching feet and DH’s need for an espresso) made us change our mind.

    Snack #1- It wasn’t quite lunch time, but we decided to go across the street from the Coliseum for a small snack. Here was our first “oops” of the trip. We went into Cafee Martini, knowing that it would be overpriced because of the strategic location. One espresso, 3 soft drinks, and 2 small sandwiches later……we got our bill and about choked at the 56€ total! Those soft drinks were 6€ each! Hence our motto for this trip - “Is it cheaper than a Roman Coke?”

    After coughing up the money for our snack, we were ready for our afternoon adventure – a Crypts and Catacombs tour (again, booked online through Viator). The plan was to take a leisurely stroll to the meeting point (Piazza Barbarini). Unfortunately, I had forgotten the receipt for the tour, so we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, got the receipt, then strolled to the Piazza.

    Snack #2 - We were there much earlier than we anticipated, and now (an hour or so after our little “oops” snack by the Coliseum) the younger generation decided they were hungry. DH was a little annoyed at having to make another food stop, but I knew that if the boys didn’t eat now…..they would be irritable and grumpy all afternoon! (Always best to keep the beasts well fed!) We strolled up Via Veneto and (just before it curves) stopped at the Alex Restaurant. Several of the restaurants along this street have “enclosed” outdoor seating. So, you get the feel of being outside and watching the world go by, but are protected from the weather. I had some hot tea, DH had a glass of wine, and the boys each had a bowl of pasta with olive oil and garlic - just enough to fortify them for the afternoon.

    Crypts and Catacombs Tour – We finished out snack and headed back to the Piazza to meet up with our tour. This tour had 14 people – quite a manageable number. We started off walking over to the monastery with the Capuchin Crypt. I had read that the crypts were decorated with thousands of human bones, but I really wasn’t ready for it! I was amazed at how quickly we were all fascinated with the unique “artwork!” DS#1 picked out a bunch of postcards so that he could include them in the art journal he has to keep for school, and DS#2 picked out several postcards just to show his friends.

    Then we boarded a bus for the Domitilla Catacombs, an ancient Christian burial ground just outside the old city walls. It was quite interesting wandering through the catacombs (and I certainly wouldn’t want to get lost down there!). Note – the temperature was quite cool and I was glad I had my jacket and gloves. Finally, we drove to the Church of San Clemente, near the Coliseum. The church is built over a 4th century church which is built over even older ruins. Our guide was an art historian and you could tell that he really enjoyed talking about the various unique aspects of this church. DH and I enjoyed all the stories and the details he gave about this church, but by this time the offspring were getting a little “antsy”. We exited the church, walked over toward the Coliseum, and grabbed a taxi back to the hotel.

    Dinner – After a brief rest, we left the hotel and strolled toward the Pantheon. We looked at a lot of restaurants but no one seemed able to make a decision. Finally, finding a place on the piazza by the Pantheon that seemed to have something for everyone, I made an “executive decision” and got a table at Di Rienzo (Piazza del Pantheon, 8/9). The temperature wasn’t too bad, so we chose to sit outside under one of the heaters. I knew that the location meant we would be paying more than we should, but I really wanted to sit looking at the Pantheon (sometimes you just gotta give in to those little desires!). DS#1 once again chose a spicy pasta dish, DS#2 ordered a grilled fish, and I ordered spaghetti bolognaise. DH for some reason chose Wiener Schnitzel. Why he chose this is still a mystery. The veal was dry and rather tasteless, but the rest of us thought our choices were okay (but not great). In short – I would skip this place for meals, and DH considers this “oops #2”, but it would be a great place for a glass of wine and dessert – mainly because the view is just stunning.

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    DAY 4 – Christmas Eve
    Palatine Hill and Coliseum – Again, not a really early start to our day, but by 10 we were out the door of the hotel and heading toward the Coliseum. We bought our tickets at Palatine Hill (covers both Palatine Hill and the Coliseum) and this was a smart move – however, be aware that you can only pay with cash. The view of the Forum from up above is quite nice and it was pleasant walking around the gardens. We spent a little time going through the museum, but didn’t linger. Then we walked down to the Coliseum.

    We chose not to get a guide (and a few of them were rather put-off that we weren’t interested) and got in line for security. We were lucky that the line was short and we were through in 1-2 minutes. Then we skirted to the left, walking past the line of people waiting to buy tickets. We were approached once to show our tickets, and then sent on our way. It was quite nice to just walk in without having to wait in a long line.

    We really enjoyed walking around the Coliseum, picturing what it must have looked like, and enjoying the view of the city from the upper level. Between the 4 cameras – I can’t even begin to count the number of photographs we have! I had read that there was a model of what the Coliseum originally looked like, but we never found it. But there was a nice exhibit along the upper walkway of mosaics and statues.

    Before leaving, we hit the gift shop. While DS#2 bought stupid stuff (including a gladiator-shaped eraser), DS#1 - after much prodding - finally picked out a nice bookmark and several postcards to add to his art journal.

    We decided to walk back toward the hotel, grabbing some water and Cokes from a kiosk along the way.

    Lunch – I wanted to do some shopping before the shops closed, so we decided to have lunch in the area near the Pantheon. We ended up at L’Arcano (Via delle Paste, 102, where it meets Via Dei Pastini). There is an outdoor area that would be nice when the weather is good, but it was quite chilly and we wanted indoors. It was VERY crowded but we were finally seated. We had a very nice meal, with DH again getting an artichoke appetizer and seafood pasta, DS#2 ordering grilled sea bass, and DS#1 ordering a veal sautéed in wine and butter. I had a grilled eggplant appetizer and a salad. We really enjoyed the meal and the lemon sorbet that DS#1 ordered was some of the best we had.

    Shopping - After lunch, we walked around for a while exploring. Then DS#2 and I wanted to do some shopping. DS#1 and DS didn’t. So, they went back to the hotel to check email, read, and relax.

    I wanted to get some ceramics and we looked at the masks but knew we would wait for Venice to buy one. I had been window-shopping all along and decided to go to a little store between our hotel and the Pantheon called De Sanctis (Piazza di Peitra, 24). They had lots of interesting traditional ceramic and glass pieces as well as some modern pieces. I selected some ceramic Christmas ornaments in beautiful dark blue, gold, burgundy, and green colors. And I also selected a glass Christmas tree with ornaments attached. DS#2 had money burning a hole in his pocket and just wanted everything!!!! He finally settled on a small glass tree with tiny ornaments. There were some bigger pieces I would have loved to have purchased….but I managed to walk out without breaking the bank!

    We also strolled through some of the other shops in the area, and finally grabbed a couple of bottles of soft drinks to take back to the room. We found DS#1 and DH lounging around watching an old “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote” reruns!

    Dinner – Since this was Christmas Eve, we had asked the hotel to make us reservations somewhere nice – but no where that required really dressing up. We were a little concerned with their choice because we were afraid it would be “gimmicky” – but it ended up being one of our favorite meals.

    We had 7:30 reservations at Alfredo’s Gallery (Via della Scrofa 104/A), we left the hotel about 6:30 and just wandered. Most of the shops were closed, but it was nice just walking around. The Pantheon was getting set up for the Christmas Eve service. The restaurants were getting ready for their holiday diners. It was quite nice.

    It was only 7:15 when we arrived at the restaurant (we had scoped out the location earlier in the day so there were no problems finding it) and sat outside until the place opened. We ordered our drinks and as DH and I enjoyed our first glass of wine, the waiter told us the story of the restaurant – the home of the original “Fettuccine Alfredo.” We loved looking at all the photos on the wall of famous people –from movie stars, to music legends, to political figures. Of course, most of them were “old” and the younger generation didn’t know who they were….but we enlightened them!

    DH ordered an artichoke appetizer and a steak (he just wanted one!). DS#1 ordered a veal escalope with ham and sage. DS#2 ordered a salmon steak. And I couldn’t resist – I ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo! I have to say that everything was fabulous! When my pasta dish arrived I was a bit panicky – I had NEVER seen so much Parmesan cheese piled up on a serving of pasta in my life! But the waiter skillfully mixed it all together and handed me a plateful of steaming, rich-flavored fettuccine. There was no way I could eat the whole thing, so I shared with the 3 Y-chromosomes. By the end of the meal – it was all gone! I also enjoyed tasting DS#1’s veal, which was divine. We were so full at the end of the meal that we skipped dessert.

    We, again, took our time strolling back to the hotel, window-shopping and people-watching.

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    Such an amazing trip report! I am truly enjoying reading this! You are inspiring me to take my SO to Italy next Christmas. We have made a tradition of traveling abroad (we live in Charlotte, NC) for the holidays and I think Rome, Florence, and Venice may be the it for 2008. I have traveled in Italy before, but he hasn't. We're both in our late 20's (soon to be 28 and 29) and truly enjoy eating and drinking while on vacation. Thank you for detailing your dining spots- like you, I often order appetizers instead of entrees (makes me feel like I'm saving calories even though I know I am not!). I can't wait to read your next installment.

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    Please be patient - the next segment will be a few days in coming. The younger generation and I are heading to Dubai for a rugby tournament. Will add more as soon as we return!

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    Grcxx3...

    LOVE this report! I was also in Rome for Christmas this past year, we probably were in the Piazza near the Pantheon on Christmas Eve at the same time, our dinner reservation were for 7:30 at a place a few blocks from there and we walked through at about the same time you were there!

    I am completely re-living my Rome experience through your trip report...Thanks for posting! :)

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    If the worst thing that happened to you over two days around Rome's Coliseum was the expensive Cokes, I say, cheers!

    We took the subway to the forum area, and were duly wary of pickpockets. Nevertheless, I found myself literally being pulled by my shoulder strap out the subway doors at the Coliseum by my superhero travel companion. At the same moment, I realized that the two young men who'd hemmed me in were a ploy, and even think I felt a hand leaving my shoulder bag as I was being yanked purposefully from the other end!

    Sure enough, once on the platform I saw that several pockets of my nifty GAP canvas shoulder bag were freshly unzipped, and at the bottom of one was still, yes -- a shiny silver camera loaded with vacation shots.

    Phew, have a Coke and a smile!

    For those with a trip to Rome still in their future, we'd highly recommend the Borghese Gardens and the exquisite gallery in the villa there, built in the early 1600's by Pope Paul V's favorite nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, lifelong patron of Bernini. We enjoyed an exhilarating afternoon there and were privy to so many other delights of Rome, thanks to Insider's Italy, a personalized travel planning service out of Rome/New York.

    We can recommend, and henceforth would not consider a visit to Rome -- or anywhere in Italy, without them. If you peruse their site http://www.insidersitaly.com/ , you'll see that they are a personalized travel planning service for the intellectually curious and the independent. That can encompass bambini, as this outfit now has considerable practical experience tailoring trips to include and delight children as well.

    Among their many opinionated, always spot-on suggestions, was a visit to the once proletariat Testaccio neighborhood where we spent an exciting weekday morning. First we visited Volpetti, Via Marmorata 47, Rome's best food store according to Insider's Italy, run by two brothers, Claudio and Emilio Volpetti who sell hard-to-find, Slow Food-resurrected and classic cheeses and hams/salami, as well as fresh pasta, dried pasta (Insider's told us about the Latini brand), legumes, honey, wines, freshly baked pizza, excellent breads and prepared dishes.

    Laden with purchases, we turned round the corner to the Piazza del Testaccio market, a covered square, with fishmongers on the left, butchers at the back, cheesemongers at the front, and shoe and general goods merchants on the right. And at the center is the produce market -- the most dynamic and beautiful one we visited in two weeks in Italy.

    Whatever your interests, wherever your passions lie, Rome probably contains some aspect of these in its many and complex layers. Though we'd been to Rome before, we felt that the planning executed by Insider's Italy utterly maximized our experience. Cheers!


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    wrldpeas, no need to register just to advertise this company. You should be aware that advertising is not allowed on this forum.

    Grcxx3, no fair that we have to wait for more. I won't get to read it until I return from Rome myself! Oh well, guess I won't complain about that! :-d

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    Hi LCBoniti, I am sure enjoying it also. And her sons..love the stories about them. Now if I could just have some of the wonderful dishes they were served, that would be heaven.

    And yes wrldpeas, one should not "jump" into the middle of a Fodorite's trip report and start giving their own report and I too think you are advertising. That is against Fodor's Rules, have you bothered to read their rules?

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    thanks for the trip report! I am planning my Sept 08 trip to Rome so your info is coming at a great time!I love hearing the stories about your sons too! It only makes me think of how I can't wait one day to have kids and show them Italy as well!

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    DAY 5 – Christmas Day
    Morning - We knew that this was going to be a low-key day – so we planned it as such.
    We slept late, and then I had the boys go through their clothes to separate out the “worn, but can be worn again” from the “worn, and now needs to be isolated from all other clothing items.”

    Then we grabbed a taxi to the main train station. I needed to buy train tickets for our day trip to Pompeii and tickets to take us to Venice. While I stood in line for the tickets, DH and the boys scouted out the train station to get an idea of where we would need to go.

    DS#2 was also checking out the shops and was ecstatic at seeing a Foot Locker store. He insisted that he “needed” to get some skateboarding shoes and we insisted that he “needed” no such thing. He has started using the word “need” instead of “want” – foolishly thinking that will make us more likely to say “yes.” Such a silly, silly boy!!! He was also disappointed to find no Burger King – only a McDonald’s. He really wanted some BK onion rings, and while we had spotted some while driving around, we had not walked past any. Sometimes – life is just tough! (Okay – to be fair – DS#1 and I could have gone for some BK onion rings as well!)

    We had planned on getting our train tickets and then grabbing a taxi to the Spanish Steps, but since we were already at the station, I talked everyone into taking the subway. I told the boys that they needed to add the Rome subway to their list of subway adventures, and I told DH that it would be cheaper than a taxi (I was not sure if that was really true – but he bought it so I must have been convincing!!). We went down to the lower level, figured out how to get our tickets from the machines, and were on our way.

    Let me take this moment to talk about the fear of pickpockets, gypsy scams, etc. I had read all the comments warning of these problems. We were prepared. We had talked about it with the boys, had discussed the best way for them to carry their cameras, wallets, etc. We were vigilant and stayed aware at all times. I have to say – we were VERY lucky. We never had a problem. But – our experience should not “downplay” the problem. I am sure it is real – we were just fortunate.

    Afternoon - We arrived at the Spanish Steps station, walked out into the fresh air, and were immediately “greeted” by music. It was very crowded, but we worked our way through the people and saw that the steps were providing the stage for a large gospel music group – singers and musicians. What an incredible setting for a concert! We stood there just listening to the music. It was fantastic. The boys had never really heard gospel music before, but DS#1 (trumpet player) enjoyed watching the brass players and DS#2 (guitar player and budding rock musician) was fascinated by the guitars and drums. When the concert was over and the group was packing up, I made my way over to talk to some of the musicians. The members of the group came from all over the US and were in Rome for a series of concerts.

    We made our way up to the top of the steps, looked at the nativity scene, and just enjoyed the beautiful view. Unfortunately, the obelisk at the top of the steps must have been having some work done because it was covered up and – unfortunately – the material covering it had advertising logos on it. Really was not appealing to look at.

    We walked down the steps and strolled around the piazza for a bit. I did insist on taking a photo of the boys in front of the Keats-Shelley House for their grandmother (an English teacher). Then we strolled down Via Condotti - just window shopping. I am not really into “high fashion” stuff, but it’s always fun to look in the windows! At some point, DS#2 spotted another Ferrari store, but DS#1 dragged him away so that we could continue our stroll. We crossed Via del Corso, then down Via del Leoncino (which turns into Via Campo Marzio), slowing heading back toward the Pantheon.

    As we walked, DS#2 spotted Gelateria della Palma (Via Della Maddelena, 20) and was drawn in by the variety of candy. We insisted on lunch (somewhat late due to our late start) before turning him loose in the candy store, so we plopped down at a little outdoor café next door. I honestly don’t remember the name, and that’s okay because the food was very average. Nothing really to rave about. DS#2 ate, begged us for some money, and headed back to the candy/gelato store to BUY!!!! We sent DS#1 after him to provide a voice of reason and to make sure he didn’t buy anything stupid. That was probably a mistake. They came back - 15€ poorer – with a bag-full of candy! YUCK!

    We continued walking around - checking to make sure the balloon horse was still at the top of the Pantheon dome, looking in store windows, and people-watching. We slowly worked our way back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before dinner.

    Dinner – One of the restaurants that the hotel had recommended for our Christmas Eve dinner was Grill and Wine (Via in Arcione, 74/75), but they were not able to get us reservations. We had passed it when we walked to Piazza Barbarini and were intrigued enough to get reservations for this night.

    As we walked form the hotel to the restaurant, we passed a number of street vendors at the corner of Via di Pietra and Via del Corso. DS#2 spotted some artwork that he liked – especially a painting of some sailboats. Not really a “Rome” theme – but he liked it. However, the artist wanted 45€ and we thought that was a bit much. We continued walking and told him we would look at it again on the way back.

    DH and I enjoyed some good wine. DH had a Greek salad and fettuccini with clams. I can’t remember what DS#1 had, but DS#2 had grilled shrimp, and I had a grilled chicken breast. There was live music, which was nice but was a little too loud for conversation. The food was good, but overall, it wasn’t our favorite meal.

    On the way back to the hotel, we told DS#2 that he could use some of his Christmas money to buy the painting he liked, but that he needed to bargain to get the price down. He got it down to 30€ and everyone walked away happy - except for DS#1 (the artist in the family) who kept grumbling that spending that much money on a painting of sailboats was “just stupid!”

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    Almost finished with Day 6 (Pompeii). Will have that for tomorrow.

    SusanP - have a wonderful time!

    SavTrav - we usually have a good time! We have occasional ups and downs....but it all works out in the end!

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    DAY 6 - Pompeii
    I’ve wanted to go to Pompeii ever since I read “Gods, Graves, and Scholars” in early high school (and that was SEVERAL years ago). I’ve always had an interest in archaeology, took several courses in college, and I just couldn’t imagine a trip to Rome without taking the time to go. The Y-chromosomes were interested, although not as “passionately” as I was – but they went along “to make Mom happy!”

    Morning/afternoon – We hailed a cab and headed to the train station. We quickly went through McDonald’s - grabbing some coffee for DH, a Diet Coke for me, and juice and hash browns for the boys – then we boarded the train to Naples. I had paid for the 1st class coach and it was nice to have reserved seats (although I later got the impression that 2nd class seats were also reserved). No matter – we were quite comfy. I think our train left around 9 am – but the actual time is a little fuzzy.

    Unfortunately, the skies got grayer and grayer as we moved away from Rome. I was keeping my hopes up – but my DH kept looking at me and shaking his head. We reached Naples, and after asking a couple of different people, finally found the train that would take us to Pompeii. I had read several reports that I had to change “levels” in the Naples station – going downstairs or something. But that was not the case. We just had to find the right platform and it helped when someone (in very broken English) explained that the train to Pompeii was the 2nd train on the track – so we had to walk down a little ways. No reserved seats on this one.

    Here is where my research failed me a little. We got off the train in Pompeii about noon and went through the small station to the street. DH asked (quite naturally) “So - where do we go?” And, frankly, I had no answer! Somehow, it never occurred to me to research HOW to get from the train station to the site! I just assumed there would be signs with directions or taxis lined up ready to take us. No such luck. DH (in an unexpected move) went into the little gift shop and asked directions. (This was a first, and I was a little shocked!) The lady assured him the main entrance was just a 10+ minute walk down the street. Well, 20+ minutes later, as the walked along in the drizzling rain, we reached the main entrance. Not knowing what would be available within the site, we stopped for a quick snack, then went inside.

    Our original plan was to hire a guide once we got there and to enjoy a nice leisurely tour of the site, but the weather had us a little concerned so we decided to go it alone. The book I had purchased outside looked like a great resource – with a large map with locations clearly marked with numbers and corresponding to descriptions in the text. The map showed a short (1-2 hours) and a longer (2-3+) hour route and we decided to follow the shorter route but take any detours that looked interesting. However, it didn’t take us long to figure out that the numbering system on the map I had did not match the numbering system within the site (which was coordinated with the audio tour, I guess). But with some persistence and lots of patience, we were able to make our way through the site.

    I really wasn’t prepared for the place to still look so much like “a city.” You could really see how everything was laid out and walking through the various buildings (shops, homes, public buildings, etc) was fascinating. I would have loved to have been there on a bright, sunny day!

    However, the little drizzle that had greeted us started getting heavier and heavier. DS#1 was in charge of the map and I was in charge of the book with the descriptions, but every time we pulled them out to figure out our location or learn about a specific building – they got wetter and wetter. We took a small break in the café that is located within the site hoping that the rain would subside (a good FYI – since we would have skipped the snack outside the site if I had realized there was a nice place inside). But the rain kept on and kept getting heavier, and combined with the chilly temperature, it was really getting miserable. DH and I were okay because our coats were long, but the boys were in shorter jackets and their legs were getting soaked. We kept ducking into covered buildings to get out of the rain and dodging the puddles accumulating in the streets got harder and harder. Soon, the boys had wet legs and wet shoes!

    We took cover at one point, looked at the map again, narrowed down 2 or 3 more things that we really wanted to see and focused on those. Somehow, we missed the big amphitheater, and it was a little difficult finding the garden that had the enclosed area with the remains of a family who perished there. We did eventually find it and worked our way around the mud puddles for a closer look. Then we decided to cut our losses and head for the exit – throwing away the map and the little booklet, both of which were so water logged the paper was tearing. I was sorry to have to go, but we were all really miserable at this point.

    We decided to go across the street to a small café and dry out. It was a small place, but it was warm and they had pizza. We ordered some food, hung up our coats to dry, and the boys stood in front of the heater near us trying to get their jeans dry. The shoes were hopeless. The male members of my little family were so cute. They kept telling me how sorry they were about the weather – knowing how much this trip had meant to me!

    We still had 2 hours before our train back to Naples, but I thought there was an earlier train, so we decided to go back to the station and try to get on it. By this point, the rain had lessened, so we walked to the main square in town and then over to the train station. On a better day, it would have been really nice to explore the city some more. The main square area looked so interesting, but we just weren’t up to it.

    Unfortunately, since this was the day after Christmas – and a holiday in Italy – not all the trains were running. So, we had to wait in the station until our scheduled train. Just a note- there is NO HEATING in that station and the little café next door and the little gift shop were both closed. So we had no choice but to sit in the little, cold, waiting area. As the time for our train approached, we crossed over to the appropriate side of the platform. DH and DS#1 stayed on the platform, but I made DS#2 – who was still quite wet and miserable- stay in the covered area by the stairs, trying to keep him out of the wind. Of course, the train was 15 minutes late, but we eventually made it back to Naples and caught our train back to Rome.

    Exiting the train station in Rome, we noted the long taxi queue. We were so miserable, the last thing we wanted was to stand in a long line, but I knew that the individuals approaching us offering taxi rides were the “gypsy taxis” and I told my husband to ignore them. We passed the long queue and walked around the corner of the station, where I was lucky enough to flag down an empty taxi within 1 minute. The Y-chromosomes were quite impressed.

    Back at the hotel, we all changed clothes. Luckily, I had insisted on the boys bringing an extra pair of shoes…..just in case something like this happened. Again, they marveled at my wisdom!

    Dinner - We didn’t want to spend a lot of time walking around looking for a place to eat, so we decided to return to Rotunda, just a short walk from our hotel. I really wanted another eggplant gratin and DH really wanted another artichoke appetizer. However, luck just wasn’t with us as they were out of both items. I settled for a small bowl of pasta. DH ordered another seafood pasta dish. DS#1 ordered his usual spicy pasta, and DS#2 – once again – ordered the grilled shrimp. I guess our first visit to this place left an impression because the young lady taking our order (who had been around the first time) asked the dear boy if he wanted just 1 order of shrimp or if he wanted to go ahead and get 2! He decided on 1 order with a side dish of pasta with olive oil and garlic. DH and I again got the cheesecake….which was still divine! Then, we went back to the hotel and crashed!!!!

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    Grcxx3,

    Too bad you had such a rainy day for your important daytrip!

    << I had read several reports that I had to change “levels” in the Naples station – going downstairs or something. But that was not the case. >>

    Actually, it IS the case--just another option. You took a regular Trenitalia train to Pompeii, the town. If you bought a ticket Rome>Pompeii from Trenitalia, ut it was not the most efficient way to reach the excavations.

    On the lower level in Naples, you could have taken the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii Scavi, which stops directly outside an entrance the the Pompeii Excavations. For this option you buy a Trenitalia ticket for Rome>Naples. Then you buy a separate ticket in Naples for the Circumvesuviana.

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    ellenem - OH! Another "notch" in my unpreparedness for that day!

    Just for future reference, could I still have bought the more "efficient" ticket at the main station in Rome? Or could I have just gotten the tickets to Naples and then purchased the tickets to Pompeii once we were there?

    I know I specifically mentioned to the agent helping me that we were visiting the ruins in Pompeii, so - silly me - I just assumed I was getting the most efficient route.

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    The Circumvesuviana is a special local commuter train line that runs between Naples and Sorrento. Trenitalia doesn't sell its tickets since its a different company. You have to buy the tickets locally, in your case in Naples.

    On a sunny day, strolling through the modern town of Pompeii might have been perfectly pleasant . . .

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    DAY 7 – Our last day in Rome
    Since this was our last day, I didn’t really schedule anything. It was kind of a “catch-all” day – a day we could use to make up for any weather or logistical problems or to do extra shopping or whatever. As such, I was thrilled when I was “chatting” online back in November with a friend and realized that her family would be arriving in Rome the night before. She suggested we all try to get together for lunch.

    Morning – We had tried to get reservations for the Borghese Gallery in the morning but it was not available. So – on to Plan B. Since we were meeting our friends at Piazza Navona at noon, we didn’t want to venture too far away. We decided to go to the Palazzo Altemps – a museum located near Piazza Navona (Piazza Sant’Apollinarie, 46). We really weren’t expecting much and were a little surprised at the entrance fee (around 10€ each if I recall). Then, we realized that the entrance ticket also included 3 other sites/museums – but at that point, we knew we wouldn’t have time to visit them. Oh well….

    We stored our stuff in the lockers provided and started our walk through the museum. I will say – it didn’t take us long to realize that this was a real gem! The statuary was spectacular and the painted ceilings and walls were wonderful. And, most of the pieces had English descriptions – which helped a whole lot!!!! There weren’t very many people in the museum, so it was like we had the whole place to ourselves. DS#2 and I were busy taking photos (which were allowed), while DH moaned about leaving his camera in his bag in the locker. We went through the whole museum and it was getting close to the time we were to meet our friends.

    DH was still bummed about not getting any photos with his camera, so I suggested that he and DS#1 stay in the museum while DS#2 and I went to meet our friends. The people in the locker area were quite nice and helpful – allowing DH to retrieve his camera and go back into the museum.

    So – DS#2 and I headed back to Piazza Navona. It wasn’t long before I got a call from our friends saying they had had a late start and would meet us by the Pantheon in 30 minutes. I sent a text message to DH telling him not to hurry and to meet us in the Piazza by the Pantheon. We strolled around the Piazza Navona a bit– and the boy even talked me into giving him money to play some of those stupid arcade games (shooting games, bowling game, etc). YUCK! I did, however, talk him out of any more cotton candy! Then we headed over toward the Pantheon, checking out shops along the way.

    I grabbed a table at one of the outdoor cafes and decided it was time for a glass of wine. DS#2 - with his own agenda – went into the Pantheon to check on the horse balloon. It was still there at the top of the dome! DH and DS#1 joined us a little while later – just after our friends had called again saying they had been stuck in traffic but were now parking and on their way. So, DH had a glass of wine and told me how he insisted on D#1 purchasing something at the museum gift shop. As usual, DS#1 picked out a simple, elegant piece – in this case – a handsome gladiator helmet about 2 inches high. The boy doesn’t buy much – but what he buys is always classic!!

    Finally, our friends arrived. Now, I would be remiss in not talking a little about them – because they are quite interesting. The husband is American, but has lived overseas for many, many years and is a CNN Middle East correspondent. They lived in Cairo for 8 years (where their middle child and DS#2 became good friends), and 2 years ago they moved to Jerusalem. The wife is Italian, and much of her family still lives in Rome. Between the 2 of them, they speak 6+ languages, and the 3 kids are fluent in Italian and English and quite competent in Arabic. We used to go to great parties at their house in Cairo – meeting all sorts of journalist types that were quite different from the oil-business types we usually hung out with!

    We had a glass of wine and then headed off for lunch. It took us a while to find a place that appealed to everyone and could handle our 9 person group. We ended up at a little place right next to our hotel on Piazza di Pietra. It was very interesting being there and hearing our friends (even the kids) ordering in Italian. However, the food was really mediocre and my lasagna was downright awful! But the company was great – and while we were sitting there our friend got a text message from CNN about Benatar Bhutto being assassinated. Of course, he rushed outside to check in with the office and came back in to fill us in on the story. It was such sad news, but it was very interesting getting it “hot off the wire!”

    We had a leisurely lunch – catching up on our lives, filling each other in on mutual friends, and comparing notes about the trials and tribulations of raising kids overseas. Meanwhile – the kids were comparing notes about school, social lives, and what they got for Christmas!!! It was great fun! Then they had to head back to be with family, and we headed back to the hotel to pack up.

    Dinner – This was such a tough decision, but in the end we decided to go back to La Scala – which was quite near the hotel. Again, it was very crowded but we got a table rather quickly. I honestly can’t tell you what we all ate that night, but I know that I got the veal dish that DS#1 had had for lunch a few days before. On the whole, the meal was not as good as our lunch had been, but I think at that point – we were just tired and nothing would have been really great!

    Since we were all packed and ready to go – we spent a little time walking around before heading back to the hotel. Earlier in the day, DH had spotted a little shop that sold magic tricks. It was a very eclectic shop – with all sorts of miniature soldiers and strange things from all over the world. But in the back was all the magic stuff. DS#2 has been practicing card tricks for months (often studying videos on You-Tube when he was supposed to be doing homework) and was getting pretty good. DH thought it would be fun for him to have a real set of “trick cards.” DS#2 was thrilled, DS#1 was perplexed, and all I could think of was how long it would take him to lose one of the cards!!!! In fairness – weeks later – the deck is still intact and he has entertained his friends at school during lunch.

    Tomorrow – off to Venice!

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    Taxis were pretty easy. Sometimes we caught one on the main street by our hotel (Via del Corso). We also grabbed a taxi where Via del Corso runs into the Vittoria Emmanuel monuments. TONS of taxis there. At the train station, there is a queue for taxis, but we walked around the corner and got one. And on our last day, we had the hotel call for a taxi to take us to the train station for our trip to Venice.

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    DAY 8 – to Venice
    Morning – We had decided to take the train to Venice – partly for the experience and partly to avoid the hassles of flying. Since our train was departing around 9:30, I paid the hotel bill (DH occupied himself with the luggage) and had the desk clerk call a cab for us. We arrived at the main station about 9, got our requisite coffee, Diet Coke, hash browns and orange juices from McDonald’s and waited for the train to pull in.

    I had paid for 1st class seats and it was a nice setup – with the 4 of us facing each other and a table in the middle. DH and the boys had their iPods and books, I had my book and we were all ready for the trip.

    I enjoyed looking at the scenery, reading, and taking a little snooze. BUT – the trip was made more difficult by the family sitting behind my sons. It was a mother, a little girl about 6, a little boy about 2 and their nanny. The little girl was quiet and entertained herself the whole time. The mother seemed to only be interested in reading her magazines and wanted the nanny to take care of the little boy. Unfortunately, that’s not what the little boy wanted. He wanted to be with his mother! So, we spent most of the trip listening to him whine, scream, cry, and fuss. The nanny did her best, but the little boy was only quiet when he was sitting on his mother’s lap. The mother really wasn’t interested in taking care of him (that’s what the nanny’s for, right???), so she would hold the child for a few minutes, he would quiet down, then she would give him back to the nanny and – you got it - he would start crying again. I felt really bad for the little boy…..the kid just wanted him mom. And I felt bad for the nanny who was incredibly embarrassed by all the fussing. The whole situation made it very difficult to “relax” and enjoy the ride.

    Arrival in Venice - We arrived in at the Santa Lucia station Venice a little after 2 pm (I think – mind is fuzzy here), grabbed our bags, and ventured out of the station to figure out how to get to the hotel. We bought out tickets and searched out the boat we needed. According to the hotel’s website - we needed the #82 vaporetto, we needed to get off at the Rialto stop, then we needed to follow the map to the hotel.

    All was going well. We got onto the boat – it was crowded and we had luggage, but we did out best to “squeeze” into as small a space as possible. Riding along the Grand Canal really was a wonderful experience. We got off at the Rialto stop and I got the map out to get oriented. Next step – simply follow the map.

    DH was a little concerned about having to haul our luggage to the hotel, but I assured him it was only a short, 5 minute walk. Well, it wasn’t. As it turns out - the map was wrong and after asking directions a couple of times and walking an additional 5 minutes – we finally arrived at our hotel.

    NOTE – as I was writing this, I checked the website again and the map NOW on the site is correct.

    Hotel – I had a really hard time getting a hotel in Venice. Many of the ones that people had recommended and that had good reviews were full. Others were in locations I didn’t want (really wanted close to Piazza San Marco). Other hotels wanted a 4 night minimum and we were only staying 3 nights. The fact that we were leaving Venice on the morning of December 31 – didn’t help. Other places I looked at had really mixed reviews on TripAdvisor. Some of the reviews mentioned musty, moldy smelling rooms, and since DS#2 has severe allergy problems – I try to avoid any rooms like that.

    SO – we ended up with 2 rooms at the Hotel Bonvecchiati (www.hotelbonvecchiati.it)
    located where Calle Goldoni meets C. Ungheria. We spent WAY more money than we wanted. But, I just dealt with it. I have tried to block it all out of my mind….but it seems like we were paying something like $300+ per room per night, including breakfast.

    While I checked in at the hotel, the boys and DH looked around – quite impressed with the lobby area. We were a little dismayed, however, when the desk clerk mentioned that our room was in a separate building. With the help of a porter, we took our bags across the bridge over Rio Fuseri to a building that had shops on the ground floor. He used our room key to open the door and took us up to the 2nd floor. In this building, each floor (I think there were 4 above ground level) had 2 rooms.

    On the plus side – the rooms were quite large and well equipped and the setup provided some quiet and privacy. There were lots of windows overlooking the canals (Rio Fuseri and Rio e Basino Orseolo) and 2 of the windows opened onto small balconies. The rooms had comfortable beds, nice TVs and mini-bars and great bathrooms. The breakfast (back at the main hotel) was quite good – with bacon, sausages, eggs, pastries, breads, yoghurt, fruit, etc. I can just imagine sitting out on the covered patio in good weather.

    On the negative side – the room seemed to be lacking the “information” normally found in hotel rooms (room service menu, phone list, TV channel guide, etc), and even after requesting the information I didn’t get it. The TV had lots of channels but no English ones. I’m not even sure we found CNN or BBC. The rooms were incredibly COLD and on the 2nd day we had to request that someone come and turn on the heater - since the thermostat didn’t seem to be working. The breakfast room was VERY crowded the first day and we had to wait for a table, but the next day we got there earlier and had no wait.

    Afternoon/evening – After getting settled into the hotel, we were all hungry. And – having spotted a Burger King in the square walking to the hotel (Campo San Luca) …..that’s where we went. It was late afternoon and we didn’t want a big meal, so this was perfect. (DS#1 and I finally got our onion rings!).

    Then we started walking around. What fun! We walked over to Calle Dei Fabbri and started strolling toward Piazza San Marco. I love window shopping – and Venice is definitely a place to do that! We reached the Piazza and although it was starting to get dark, it was really lovely. We continued walking around, eventually stopping for a glass of wine at a little café, then did some more window shopping.

    DH and I had decided to “treat” ourselves to a piece of Murano glass, so we had fun looking at all the different pieces that were available trying to decide on something we both would like. I liked almost of it, but we really don’t have a place for anything real “artsy” so that ruled out a lot of things. And somehow – I just couldn’t see DH spending 500€ on a glass balloon!!!!

    Dinner - We finally decided it was time for dinner and ended up being “lured” into Trattoria Pizzeria da Gioia (Calle dei Fabbri, 1016). I guess you might consider this “oops #3.” DS#1 had his usual spicy pasta, I had a salad, and DH talked DS#2 into sharing a fresh flounder. The “mistake” was that he ordered the fresh fish “for 2” – and it was WAY too much for the 2 of them to eat. He should have just ordered it “for 1” and shared. The food was certainly good, but I wouldn’t call it great. Anyway – as a result - this was a REALLY expensive dinner, but when I averaged in the McD’s as a mid-morning snack and BK as an afternoon snack, it wasn’t much above our usual daily average!!!

    After dinner, we strolled back to the hotel and crashed!!!!

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    Grcxx3,

    Enjoying your report. My teenage son learned his "Coke" lesson on his own at Piazza San Marco: 7€ (over $10!) for an 8 oz. Diet Coke. I actually encouraged him to always have wine instead as it would have been 1/3 the cost (the drinking age is 15 in Italy) but he simply doesn't care for the taste of wine, beer, or anything alcoholic. Thereafter, he spent his own money if he felt like he really needed a Coke.

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    Thank you for continuing this very entertaining trip report. I think I said before that I love family trip reports - so "real".

    I hope you did eventually purchase a Murano glass piece (or two) . . .

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    Day 9 – Venice
    Morning – Our first morning in Venice! We slept late, called the boys room to wake them up, and got ready for the day.

    DH is not a big breakfast eater, but I convinced him he needed coffee and dragged him and the younger generation off for breakfast. Of course, DH was not happy that we had to wait 15 minutes for a table – but the dear boys had spotted the bacon and sausages and refused to leave without eating! Breakfast was quite good, but as I said before – I think in better weather, when you could sit out on the patio – it would be just lovely.

    After a trip back to the room to gather our “stuff” – we headed off. We had already decided that this would be our shopping day. Too often, we have held off shopping until the last minute – only to find the stores we wanted to go back to ….closed! Since this was a Saturday and we didn’t know what the store hours would be on Sunday – we didn’t want to take any chances.

    Of course, the thought of having a whole day focused on “shopping” thrilled DS#2 and made DS#1 just roll his eyes a lot!

    We decided to venture out toward the Rialto Bridge and explore the area on that side of the Grand Canal. We strolled along and eventually reached the waterfront near the bridge, where DS#2 spotted a “window” selling pizza – which looked and smelled really good! I could see his little mind working……..”It’s only 10:30. We just had breakfast an hour ago. There is NO WAY Mom and Dad are going to let me get a piece of pizza now. But gee it smells good!” ........then he asked if he could come back later and get a piece! Sure. No problem.

    We walked up the steps of the bridge and – naturally – had to stop and take a bunch of photos. The view is just incredible. All the boats in the water – the gondolas, the little water taxis, the vaporettos. And I loved looking at all the buildings going right up to the water’s edge and the walkway areas with cafes. We took LOTS of photos!

    After looking and taking photos on both sides of the bridge, we crossed and headed toward the Rialto Market. I explained to the boys the history of the market. They nodded, accepting the fact that it was an interesting and historic place, and then walked quickly ahead to catch up with dad! So much for my attempt at education!

    The younger Y-chromosomes were a little bored with the market at first. I mean, really, who gets excited over piles of fresh fruits and veggies? But for DH and I – it was a feast for our eyes! Oh – to have that variety of fresh produce!!!! However, the younger ones got more interested when we reached the area with all the seafood. They had a great time looking at all the fish, the octopus, the squid, the clams, the shrimp, etc. We easily spent 20 minutes looking at everything there! Again, nothing like living in the middle of nowhere for 3 years to make you appreciate simple things in life!!!!

    From the Rialto Market, we just walked around, looking in windows, people watching, stopping for tea/coffee/cokes, and just enjoying the day. Eventually we came across a small mask shop that looked interesting. We looked at the masks, but didn’t really find anything that we wanted to purchase. I did, however, buy a small ceramic “house” to add to my collection. Of course, DS#2 was intrigued by the “blank” masks. These are ones that you can decorate yourself. They weren’t expensive (maybe 5 € each) – so we let him get one. I asked DS#1 if he wanted one – but he gently reminded me that he had just finished a clay mask project in his art class and had NO desire to decorate a mask again! Considering it took 3 different “tries” to get an actual mask of his face - fair enough!

    Afternoon - Happy with our purchases, we headed back to the Rialto Bridge. Since it was after noon by this point – we KNEW what DS#2 would want – although the rest of us weren’t quite ready for food. So, just for anyone who wants to know…..across from the Rialto vaporetto stop is a little café. The pizza “window” seems to be separate from the café – selling pizza by the slice. Evidently – it ranked up there with his top favorites! And this is a kid who keeps track! His favorite - Winnie Bagoes in Queenstown, New Zealand, which is followed closely by Il Sol in Salzburg and New York Pizza (the original one on Magazine Street) in New Orleans. At the bottom of his list – the Tate Museum in London!

    We continued walking, slowly working our way toward Piazza San Marco. It didn’t take long, however, for DS#1 and DH to start complaining about hunger. Remembering our bit of an “oops” the night before, we really didn’t want to do anything fancy. We walked around a bit, looking at menus and eventually landed back on Calle dei Fabbri. Now, we generally stay away from places that have “photo menus in the window” – but by this time we were starting to get a big grumpy. So, another “executive decision” on my part and we went in. It wasn’t fancy. In fact, it was a downright plain little place – but we ordered a sausage pizza and 3 soft drinks for me and the boys and a sandwich and glass of wine for DH and I think our whole bill was under 30€. Not cheap, but quite reasonable – and the food was good!

    Fortified and rested – we ventured back out for some more shopping. By this point, we had a good feel for the shops that we liked. In addition to buying a piece of Murano glass, we wanted to get a nice Venetian mask. We looked at a lot of fancy ones – quite interesting, but not really what we wanted. We kept going back into a little shop called Cristal Star (Calle dei Fabbri, 1047). The owner was so nice and spent a lot of time talking about the different masks she had in the shop. She showed us the traditional masks, the fancy masks, and the ones she makes “for tourists!”

    While we were learning about the masks, the boys were picking out ones that they liked. Looking over their selections, the owner just laughed and commented on their good taste. Yeah – just what I need – kids with exquisite taste!!! DS#2 had picked out a classic mask – the name escapes me at the moment but it is the one with the “Gonzo” nose. DS#1 – always more conservative and restrained – picked out a gorgeous Casanova mask in dark burgundy and black and gold. Really wonderful choices by both kids. I had “in my mind” picked out the masks I wanted, but I wasn’t sure what DH was thinking, so I put of my purchase for the moment. I also learned that the shop was open all day on Sunday – so my anxiety to “buy” right then was lessened.

    By this point, the weather was turning a little cold, so we decided we needed “refreshments.” We ended up at a nice little bar on Calle dei Fabbri, right where the street does a little “dog-leg” before reaching the Piazza San Marco. I think the bar is part of a Best Western hotel, but I’m not sure. The place is small – with only room for about 15 people at the most, and while it is technically “inside” – it doesn’t have a door – so it is cozy in size but not necessarily warm. But – it’s quite a nice little place and one we went back to a couple of times the next day.

    After our refreshments, we strolled along the streets off from Basillica San Marco – around Calle Larga San Marco. There were lots of neat shops here and we had a great time looking at stuff. There was some beautiful Murano glass pieces, but we were still “window shopping” – not having really found anything we HAD to have.

    Tired of shopping, having had a somewhat successful day, we decided to take a break before dinner, and we headed back to the hotel.

    Dinner – We decided to walk in a slightly different direction – walking in the general direction of the Rialto Bridge, but staying more in the center of the island.

    The weather was quite chilly and DS#2 was really moaning and complaining. DS#1 had little sympathy – telling him that had he been “smart” he would have brought his heavy coat, instead of trying to be “cool” in his little American Eagle windbreaker. While window shopping, we came across a nice men’s store and DH commented on a scarf in the window. DS#2 – of course – insisted that a scarf was JUST what he needed to stay warm and asked if he could get it. I mentioned 2 problems with his idea. First, the store was closed. Second, the scarf was silk and was 75€ and there was no way on earth I was going to buy him a 75€ silk scarf!!!!! The boy was absolutely delusional if he thought that was going to happen! Geez………….

    We were on Salizzada San Lio by this point and came across a restaurant that looked promising. The restaurant, Marco Polo, (Salizzada San Lio, 5571, near Calle Paradiso) was absolutely outstanding. As usual, DS#1 had a pasta dish (that boy loves his pasta), DS#2 had a grilled fish, DH had seafood pasta, and I had a salad and “shared” the DS#1’s pasta. This dinner was one of our favorites, and I was particularly pleased when I was presented with a nice Murano glass necklace on a ribbon at the end of the meal. DH commented that the necklace probably meant that we spent too much money – but I didn’t care!!!! A gift of jewelry is never to be refused!!!!

    We took our time heading back – much to DS#2’s annoyance since he was “freezing” and reminding us constantly that if he had a nice scarf he wouldn’t be complaining. DS#1 kept “bopping” him on the head (what we call “doing a Gibbs” – from the NCIS TV show) and telling him to keep quiet!

    We got back to the hotel, told the boys to go to bed and not to kill each other before morning, and went to bed!

  • Report Abuse

    Just wanted to say "thanks" for all the nice comments about my trip report.

    I think that this is the first "detailed" report I have done and sometimes I feel that it is too detailed and boring and stupid - but it's real!!! For anyone who has traveled as a family ....this is just the way it is!!!!

    For those who don't travel with kids - welcome to my world!!!! :)

    Still working on our last day in Venice.....but for those of you waiting to hear whether I get my Murano glass ....this is the thread that got me interested in it

    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2

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