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Trip Report Rome with Kids (blog & photos)

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We’ve just returned from a wonderful week in Rome. I’ve updated my blog to include photos and the day-by-day description. It’s mainly for us to catalog our trip and to share our experience with our family and friends. If you like the traditional blow-by-blow trip report and/or photos then have a look:

http://ukfrey.blogspot.com/2011/10/rome.html

For those that don’t have the time or interest to slog through the blog I’ve put together a few logistical tips and recommendations below.

First some background: we are a family of 4 (DW, DD12, DS9) who are American ex-pats in the UK. This was our autumn half-term (i.e. fall) break. I was in Milan for a few days on business a few years ago but the rest have never been to Italy. I did spend some time researching and planning though not overly so. It went well if I do say so myself.

As this is our first trip I can’t tell you “the best” or what it’s like in July, etc. These are just are experiences – take them for what they are worth (hopefully something).

General Schedule : this worked well for us – every family is different. Light breakfast and coffee in the apartment, out between 8-9. Morning activity. Picnic lunch. Afternoon activity. Gelato. Home to rest around 4-5. Dinner around 7. With a week, we were able to fit in most of what we wanted to see without being too rushed.

Apartment/Area: we decided to stay in the central area near Piazza Navona. I prefer to go through a service and I liked the website of Sleep In Italy so that’s what I used. We were in the Governo Vecchio apartment (#345).

https://www.sleepinitaly.com/en/show-governo_vecchio-navona-pantheon-roma/appartam.php?id_appartam=345

The apartment was great. 2BR/2Bath. Great location – grocery and restaurants nearby. Most sites walkable though we also used public transport (see below). It gave us the space we needed and the kitchen was sufficient for the prep work needed (we didn’t cook any meals – we were on vacation after all). It was 1173€ for the week.

Note: some helpful things to bring are a lunch size cooler bag, small freezer packs and a trusty corkscrew. An extra roll of TP and some dishwasher tabs would have saved a few euros as well, though we didn’t remember to bring them.

Restaurants: we stuck to the Piazza Navona (and occasionally the Pantheon) area. We used the “Rome with Kids” book (below) for suggestions (and a map). I’m not sure any are worth trekking to as I’m sure there are many fine restaurants around. Dinners were very reasonable – in the 50-80€ range (total for 4). We generally targeted 7 pm. Only Maccherioni wasn’t open until 7:30. It was also the only one that asked if we had a reservation (we didn’t but they fit us in). If you find yourself in the area . . .

Excellent (ate there twice): Da Francesco, Piazza del Fico 29.

Very Good:
Ciccia Bomba, Via del Governo Vecchio 76
Ponte E Parione, Via S. Maria dell’Anima 62
Maccherioni, Piazza delle Coppelle 44

Poor:
Trattoria da Gino E Pietro, Via del Governo Vecchio 106

Best recommendation (thanks to madamtrashheap): Pizza al Tonglio (pizza by the slice) on via della Grazie, street leads off the road that runs between the columns of St Peter's and the entrance to the Vatican Museums. Excellent.

Flights: one benefit of being in the UK is not having the transatlantic flight. I normally would pay some premium for a direct flight with convenient times. There’s actually a RyanAir flight direct to Rome from our small, local East Midlands airport. However, the price never came down. So, I took the inconvenient flights to save a bundle ($700-800 total). The downside was a long layover and 8 pm arrival and a god-awful 6:45 am departure (Saturday-Saturday).

We arrived 2 hours before our outbound flight left (from Terminal 3 on Brussels Airlines) and there was already a line and one attendant. It took close to 45-50 minutes to get through. When another agent arrived, we did experience the local line forming policy (or lack thereof). Enough people squawked that it didn't get too out of hand. Security was a breeze (5-10 minutes) so 2 hours was about right in the end (for worry warts like me).

Side note: we connected through Brussels both ways and that is one expensive airport. Take food if you can.

Airport Transfer: given those less than ideal times I wanted to book a service. We used www.romeshuttlelimousine.com. Could not have been better. Waiting for us on arrival and more importantly on departure at 4:15 am! Price was comparable to a taxi (85€ round trip). Note, they originally quoted 10€ more each way because of the luggage. I found out that that was because they assumed we needed a van. I convinced them that we were traveling light (21” rollerboards each) and that a sedan was fine – that’s how we got to the airport after all.

Also note that the return was pre-pay given the early time (and perhaps policy). That’s a little unnerving (cash) but worked out fine. Highly recommended.

Toolkit: We used Rick Steve’s Rome and J. M. Pasquesi’s Rome with Kids as well as the excellent site www.roninrome.com (and this forum) for pre-planning and touring.

Best Investment: Streetwise Rome laminated map. 4” by 8.5” accordion fold, front/back. $8.95 list on Amazon.com. Excellent, easy to use, map. You’ll need it. I feared the navigating because there isn't a perpendicular intersection in the city; however, the map was a huge help and most streets have signs on the building (better than in the UK).

Note: it was a little nerve-wracking walking with kids in the narrow streets. Many did not have sidewalks and the ones that did required single file (no hand holding). We had a near miss (or actually a minor hit) upon arrival where DW's foot was actually partially run over and pinned -- could have been a disaster.

We found that the cars would stop for the cross walk (without signals) but to them perfect timing would be to graze your heel as you are taking your last step (i.e. move along). You need to make eye contact and walk confidently (and en masse). If you wait for them, you'll be there until 3 a.m. (this only applies to the non-signaled walks). Wait for the signal if there is one.

Best Site (you may not have heard of): Without a doubt it was Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini (and only 7.50€ pp). These recently discovered (2005) ruins under Palazzo Valentini have been excavated and are shown under glass floors. A multi-media disply highlights what you are seeing and also projects what it might have looked like. Very well done and a big hit for young and not-so-young. I can’t recommend this enough. Each group is limited to 16-20 people and there is only 1 English tour per day. Book ahead.

http://www.palazzovalentini.it/index.php?lang=eng

This was too new to be in either of my guide books and I don't recall seeing it much on Fodor's.

Best Site (you likely have heard of): In addition to the typical sites, we did like the Capuchin Crypt (Bone Church) near Palazzo Barberini. Unique to say the least. Stop in if you are in the area.

The usuals were good too. Our other favorites included the Capitoline Museum, Colosseum and the Borghese Gallery. Climbing St. Peter's and running around Ostia Antica were good physical activities as well.

Best plan to avoid crowds: I must say, my Vatican plan worked like a charm. We got up earlier than normal and left at 8 and arrived at St. Peter's by 8:30. No line to get up the elevator. We did the basilica after that. After chilling for an hour or so (pizza, etc.) we strolled to the Vatican Museums at 12; again no line. This was on a Thursday which is generally lighter (as are Tuesdays and then Fridays).

After the Sistine Chapel, we still snuck out the group exit to avoid the walk back. The line to get up the dome was huge. Perfect plan.

Guide: we opted for a guide, Alessia Aletta (<first>.<last>@gmail.com) to help us through Ancient Rome. It’s not inexpensive but is comparable to one of the fancy tours for a family of 4. We appreciated the knowledge that Alessia had and admired her passion. It initially started out as a 3-hour tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forums. I signed up for the lower/top level extra tour and that bumped it to a suggested four hours. With a break for lunch it ended up a 5-hour (pay for 4) deal which made for a long day – lots of standing. Glad we did it, but I think the adults got more out of it than the kids.

We also took the English tour at Galleria Borghese. The rest (Vatican, Capitoline, Ostica Antica, St. Peter's, etc.) were self guided without audio. The adults liked the info the guides provided. The kids preferred me as a guide. It's a balance.

I will say that it was nice to mix in the freedom of Ostia Antica and generally walking around the piazzas etc.

Public Transportation: Don’t fear the buses! I find public transportation, particularly in an unfamiliar area (and foreign country no less) to be very intimidating. Which bus? Where do you get off? Etc. Well, don’t be afraid, it’s easy. If you are like me and like to have a game plan ahead of time, there’s ways to help too.

A couple of sites to help:

Map: http://www.atac.roma.it/files/doc.asp?r=383 (print A3 or 11x17 if you can)

Route planner: http://www.atac.roma.it/?lingua=ENG (can be a little cumbersome but still good). You can also type in your bus number in the “find your bus” section and it will show you the stops.

Good explanation: http://www.roninrome.com/%20transportation/bus and http://www.rometoolkit.com/transport/rome_bus.htm

Use the route planner to determine which bus and where you need to get off. Go to the bus stop, check the route and see that you are on the right side of the street (your stop should be under the name of the current stop) and away you go. I found it better to be on the right side of the bus (if possible) so that you can see the names of the stop as you pull up. It was helpful to know the stop before for preparing the troops.

The only minor issue I had was buying tickets. I know that the big “T” tabacchi shops are numerous but they aren’t right at the stop. And, when I needed tickets in a hurry the nearby ones were always closed. We ended up busing on our Roma Pass days, but there was one time when I wish the tickets were easier to find. So, if you think you are going to ride the bus and you see a T shop – buy the tickets!

As noted in the blog, we took the 87 bus from Piazza Navona (Rinascimento) to the Colosseum (and would have used it to San Clemente if it wasn’t raining) and we took the 30 bus to CAVE ARDEATINE to catch the Roma/Lido train at Porta S. Paolo. We would have used the 116 to the Galleria Borghese if not a little pressed for time (and it was our first day).

Roma Pass: we got one but it’s not a big saver either way. If you stack the expensive sites first and use the public transportation option then you’ll come out a little ahead. We mainly got it to bypass the Colosseum line which helped. I guess if you compare to some of the extra pre-pay fees, then you’ll say a little more. Either way, I wouldn’t sweat it.

Discounts: are few and far between for non-EU citizens. In Rome (Italy that is), the kids had to pay full boat. In fact, when we bought our Roma Passes at the Tourist Info stand, we were told that our 9 y.o. didn’t need one (despite what I’d read). However, when we got to Galleria Borghese, we were told that he needed one (like I thought). To top it off, they didn’t have any so I had to buy him a ticket. Grrrr.

The Vatican, however, does give child discounts. We got the kids up the elevator for 7€ combined and paid 8€ instead of 15€ for the museum.

Don’t major on the minors : favorite phrase from a co-worker. You’re spending thousands on this trip (of a lifetime). Yes, the sodas are expensive but don’t stress over it. We compromised and the kids got one each per dinner. Yes, a taxi may set you back 8-10€, but if folks are tired, hop in (or in some cases save your energy and start the day that way). Buy gelato every time you want.

Bathrooms: not obvious, but plenty around. We would dive into any bar/restaurant if nature called (often for the 9 y.o.). McDonalds are always nice for that too. Note that many, particularly men’s, did not have toilet seats. If you find one, um, you might want to take advantage of it.

Language: we should have learned more Italian beyond please, thank you, check please, etc. but it really wasn't necessary. Everyone was friendly and helpful.

Gelato: Every day, sometimes twice. Tried 4 different places. Our local (Frigidarium) was very good. Our favorite was Flor (2 places). Della Palma and Blue Ice didn't measure up. I had a few others listed to try but we didn't go out of our way to find them. The kids didn't want to mess with success either.

Summary: great trip. Surprisingly relaxing. Too many other places to see to return soon, but somewhere else in Italy is in the cards.

Hope that helps as I have spent some time on this and the blog. I noticed that even my "short" report is fairly long. :D

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