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Trip Report TRIP REPORT: 16 days: Paris, Milan, Venice, Sorrento, AC, Rome w/ 3 kids

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We just returned from 16 days with our 3 kids ages 12, 9, 7. Without Fodors, this trip would never have been possible. I am taking the time to write a report to give back to the Fodors community and hopefuly help other travellers make the most of their vacation.

The five of us left on March 28 for Paris on American Airlines. My husband and I had saved enough miles to go to Tahiti alone but by the time we had enough, the kids were old enough to take to Europe so we switched gears. We do not fly often and so most of the miles were accrued as bonus miles for opening no fee credit cards. We each had our own account and could each do it. Spring was chosen for several reasons: We were really excited and wanted to go right away; AA only requires 20,000 each way during off season (only the 10 weeks of summer is peak); the kids had one of the weeks off for sping break and; the summer can get hot in Pompeii making unairconditioned hotels and buses uncomfortable.

We were short just a few miles to get all 5 RT tickets free so I transferred points from a starwood hotel program for about $78. We went from SFO to JFK to Paris and arrived at 11:30 a.m. The total taxes were about $128. For the way home, (since all the redemption is one way now, it's really easy to have different arrival/departure cities) we went Rome (FCO) to JFK to SFO and the taxes were only $5 per person. So, in all, airfare was 100,000 miles and about $200. We only had to book about 6 months in advance (any other time I have used miles it was 331 days or forget about it - especially for 5). AA worked with us and held tickets during the mileage accrual transfer and postings. At one point, the final seat sold out and our hold expired. They actually got approval to book an award seat on a full flight. Thank goodness because our plan was just to buy the final return ticket if our points didn't post in time. The ticket would have been $2200 (4 months in advance)!

My children's teachers were all super supportive of the trip and, for the 2d and 3rd graders, even let the formal study contract go for the 8 days. There was no way I was going to keep my kids doing math sheets in a hotel in lieu of exploring anceint Rome or the Louvre. All of my 6th grader's teachers volunteered to come along and tutor! They gave him extra time to make up the work so no worries there. We might get a nasty gram from the district but so be it - I really did not want to travel in the summer when the weather here is beautiful.

So, off we went. My mom was ill and couldn't take us to the airport. I asked a friend for a ride to BART and she insisted on taking us all of the way in her minivan. On a Sunday morning at 9 am, it only took 35 minutes from the suburbs. We had a leisurely breakfast then boarded the plane.

Ahead of time, we ordered 3000 Euros from B of A for about $4300. There were no fees, the profit was in the slightly padded exchange rate. Although Fodorites had taught us the best way was to use ATMs and credit cards, we needed to pay cash for our Paris Apartment on arrival. I also wanted a back-up in th event our ATM card would not work for whatever reason and/or they put a security hold on our credit card. I'm not much of a worry wort but the one thing that is really hard to do without is money, right? It was worth $150 - $200 to me to make sure I didn't end up on the phone dealing with financial issues. And who was to say the rate would not go up after the purchase. We lucked out with a nice dip in the Euro.

So the kids were loaded with enough juice in their electronics to power the Empire State Building. I sat with my husband. My two youngest sat in front of us and my 12 year old sat across the aisle. I didn't hear a word from them. At JFK, we had just enought time to grab a bite, use hte restroom and board the next flight. We were delayed about 45 minutes waiting for take-off clearance and so we arrived in Paris at about 12:15 pm.

We set out to take a Taxi but were told "No" to five. I had read that a taxi for 5 was easy. All of the shuttle bids came in high (80-90 euros) so I didn't book a transfer. The signs to the RER to Paris were clearly marked and we all felt great. We had 3 average sized roller suitcases, one duffel bag and a kid's backpack. The kids bickered over who got to wheel the bags so I actually carried nothing but my purse (but this was made possible by booking apartments with washers AND dryers). We stopped to buy a SIm card for a friend's unlocked cell phone. Little did we know that the 30 Euro chip only got us 9 minutes and adding minutes proved to be an impossibility in Italy and we only needed the 9 in Paris. So, those were a really expensive 9 minutes. I used the first 2 to call the apartment key holder to tell him we were running 45 minutes late. I was irked to learn that he spoke very limited English - What did come in loud and clear was, "I planned on 1 pm and if you cannot be there at 1 then I cannot be there until 4 pm". I just said I didn't understand, hung up and had faith that it would work out. We found this apartment on VRBO and the reviews were all fantastic.

The RER to Paris was easy as pie. The ticket machine was in English and easily took our Visa. The reduced fare option for the kids was super easy as well. However, I didn't know the age limit and so I bought I reduced fare for the 12 year old and he should have been full fare. So, I ripped off France a little. Sorry. All trains go to Paris so which train was slightly confusing. We recognized our muni line to transfer to and so we jumped on the train on the right. It departed in 15 minutes. The routes on the train were easy to study during the 30 minute ride (the cost was about 32 Euros so it was substantially cheaper than a shuttle and a theoretical taxi). We transferred to the yellow metro line at Chappelet where most metro lines meet. The RER ticked includes the metro ride too. Just like BART at home, the metro lines don't say North, South, etc - It just lists the ending city. Luckily, our guide book had a metro map so we were able to figure that out. Also, the apartment owner had emailed me that the closed metro was St. Marks so we knew to get off there. the only hiccup was when we transferred from the RER to the metro, the metro gates were not set-up for airport people and are suitcases got stuck in the gate. My husband pried open the doors for mine and a nice man pried upon the doors next to me for my son. My husband had enough sense to turn his sideways. This was not a big deal to us but had my mother come along, she would have had a meltdown because we blocked the gates for about 30 seconds. So, she is the type who needs to book a shuttle or take a taxi.

Once we got to St. Marks, the biggest snafu of the entire trip happened - I had no walking directions to the apartment. We set off in the wrong direction. We then bought a detailed map and found our address but even then we couldn't get oriented. Fortunately, we were in the historic Le Marais arrond. and there were a ton of the THE nicest, most helpful, English speaking pedestrians. We found it and sure enough, the key holder was on the porch to greet us. It was about 2 or so and had we needed to wait until 4 there were plenty of cafes and places to wait.

The apartment was amazing. It was unusually large for Paris - The second bedroom was it's own loft with a bathroom, internet computer and window with a view of the Eifel Tower in the distance. The kids were in heaven - their own little fort! My oldest son got his own queen size bed in the formal dining room. We had a nice master suite with a huge dressing area and marble bathroom with tub and shower. I think it was like 1800 square feet. We had a huge eat-in kitchen. We had arranged for groceries ahead of time and were all set to go with milk, bread, butter, eggs, etc. We paid 1125 Euros for 5 nights for 5 people. The deposit was in the form of a check mailed to the owner in England who just held it then destroyed it.

After a short nap for us and computer games for the indestructible children, off we went. We had a loose itinerary and wanted to get oriented by taking the Siene cruise from Pont Neuf as recommended by many on this website. We were able to pre-purchase the tickets at home and print a voucher with no date. It was only 28 Euros for all 5 of us. It was about a 15 minute walk. On the way, there was a brief torrential downspur with thunder and lightening. We ducked into a doorway and it passed in 5 minutes. We stopped at a bar on the way and got some pizzas and a bottle of wine to go. We arrived at 7:59 for the 8:00 boat - this time was recommended to catch the lighting of the Eifel Tower and it worked out perfectly. We sat on the wet seats on the top with a crowd of rowdy American teenagers who provided entertainment as they hollered under each bridge and sang songs. My kids loved it. It wasn't too cold and the Eifel Tower not only illumiinated before our eyes but the lights also twinkled on and off. It was really amazing. This was my husband's first trip to my Europe and my last was 22 years ago so it was the perfect intro.

We walked back the long way, traversing both islands and stopping for Bethilon ice cream. It was the perfect first day and we all felt really good.

The next morning we all slept until 10 then made a mad dash for the Eifel Tower to catch a Fat Tire bike tour, highly rated on this website. We got there too late plus it was cold, windy and threatening to rain. Nobody felt like riding a bike anyway. The kids didn't even want to stand in the hour long line to go up the tower. They were content seeing it from ground level. The police station at the south tour was open and a non-English speaking officer used his iphone to help me find the company's telephone number to call them and verify we missed the tour and confirm the possibility of a tour the nexy day.

We set off on foot to Les Invalides and the Armory Museum. My family loved both. Les Invalides was the first historic European monument my kids and DH had ever entered. They were blown away. We went ahead and purchased 4 day museum passes for the 2 adults for 48 Euro each. This was also really good advice. The kids were free for everything. Because of this, we used a credit card for food, did no shopping and spent no other money in Paris the entire time. Our Euros lasted a really long time. We had also purchased a carnet of metro tickets for us and the kids - again the metro ticket machine is so easy to use. It's just a booklet of 10 single use tickets so you can share them.

On our way into the Armory Museum, we encountered some sort of formal military ceremony in the courtyard. We stayed to watch. The uniforms were out of this world. there was a marching band and everything. We figured it was a graduation of sorts. We enjoyed watching it. After the museum, we set off for the Louvre but it poured rain on us and we took the metro home instead. That night, I worried that we had "lost a whole day" but in the end, we had plenty of time for everything we wanted to do. That night we walked to the Bastille (let the little ones have Mcdonalds and we got crepes) and the Place de Vosages (sorry for the spelling - I am just going to try to get this out without looking up things).

The next day, we again set out for the Fat Tire Bike tour but were early enough to stop at the Tuillerie gardens first. It was so cold and windy, we again all voted no to bikes. I asked a man where all of the people were headed and he said the Louvre was just opening so off we went. With our museum passes, we just waltzed in. Unlike any where in Italy, they had a very convenience and free coat/backpack check. We are not art people and so headed off the for the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. We cruised through a few galleries, the Egyptian section and the statuaries and were done in 3 hours. The kids were troopers. We had lunch in the cafeteria then headed off for the Musee d'Orangerie. We liked the water colors but the modern art is not our thing. The kids had a least heard of most of the artists in art in school.

From there, we walked to the Concorde then all of the way down Chomps Elysse to the Arc d Triumph. When it rained hard, we ducked into a bakery. We hiked all of the way to the top of the Arc and the kids loved it. (I almost didn't make it - 243 stairs, I think. I stopped, panting at about 210. It was only after total embarssment from multiple offers to push me up that pure pride got me up there!) It was the highlight of their day -especially the one kid who voted to go back the apartment after the Louvre. They got a big kick out of the arial view of the crazy traffic patterns/driving. The views were beautiful. The sun even cooperated.

I chatted with a nice French woman on the metro on the way back. For the record, every person we met was nicer than the last. We saw no hint of snobbery. She explained that Le Marais meant swamp and our district used to be under water. It really was a quaint district with cobblestone streets and historic buildings. We ate at a restaurant nearby. I had really good, lean sliced duck breast and DH had a mixed grill. HUGE creme brulees for dessert. On our way back, an elderly gentleman stopped us and told us the story about a building that he was the preservation/restoration archetect. He even invited us in. At that point, I was alone with my kids (DH had gone for wine and cheese) and so I reluctantly declined. I do teach my kids to talk to strangers but going into a building on day 2 in a foreign country was a little much. I am sure it would have been wonderful to see.

We slept in the next day then had strawberries and croissants before heading out to Notre Dame, the Conciglierie and St. Chappelle. Our museum passes served us well for everything except the hour long Notre Dome tower line. We skipped it. We had great paninis and crepes at a creperia on St. Michel on our walk to the Luxemborg gardens. At one point, a man chased us down with cash in his extended hand, asking us if we dropped money because it looked like it fell from our pockets. We weren't missing any so we thanked him and carried on. We had a little sun. We did the Pantheon and the crypts then returned to our apartment at 4. We had dinner at nearby Bourgogne and had our only disappointing meal there. It had been recommended in the apartment literature. The kids had had sandwhiches in the apartment and only wanted ice cream which was 6-8 Euros a scoop. In all, I estimate we spent about $200 on ice cream in Paris. But for the most part, by eating in the apartment a bit and just grabbing pizza and crepes, we did not spend a lot of money on food.

Our final day we spent in Versailles. We just walked to Notre Dame where we could directly catch the RER C line (the airport line is different). We had a nice, relaxing train ride with the usual accordian player. We met a nice couple from St. Louis. As soon as we arrived at Rive Gauche, the kids were hungry wo we walked into town. All it took was a man over hearing chants for croissants to guide us to the bakery. I do better on protein and so I bought a peice of the most amazing quick in this world. She heated it up for me and I ate it like a piece of pizza on the go.

Even with the passes, we had to wait in a 20 minute line for security. If you really want to expedite, try not to bring a backpack which they inspect and make you check at the Trianons. My husband should have also not been carrying all of that loose change which is a hassle dumping into the x-ray machine trays along with his cell phone, keys, etc. It pays to be organized. And you have to be patient. Europeans push! And cut.

Once inside, the free audio tour was great. I had to tell a lie and say Jane was 8 (instead of 7) or they would not have given her one and that would have been the end of the world. Actually, she would have taken mine. The kids loved dially in the number of the item and listening. With the massive crowds, it added some sanity since most people had them and would calm down, stop and listen for a few. The Palace only took 1 1/2 hours. We went quickly knowing the weather was turning.

Unfortunately, our passes would not work for the gardens. I had read about this complaint on Fodors. They claimed to be having a special fountain concert event rendering them void. So, we bought 5 tickets for nearly 50 Euros. The concert entailed piped in music playing through speakers in various places. At least there was a bathroom. The gardens took about 30 minutes. Not a whole lot to see and too cold to hang out and relax. So, we exited at the canal and rented bikes. The kids loved this and we made it to the grand and petit trainons in no time at all. We had planned to bike around and get a picnic to eat along the canal but: 1) It started raining HARD; 2) Even on a nice day, the canal was not what I remembered/envisioned - it's not that big like a boat rental stand would make you believe and 3) We had no idea where town was from there. So, we rode in the pouring rain the 300 yards from the Grand Trianon to the bike return then walked in the really, truly pouring rain towards the train. Our shoes and socks got soaked making walking miserable. We had 2 umbrellas to share but the rain blew in sideways. The kids took it like champs. We stopped in town at the first restuarant we saw and didn't even check the prices. At that point, a bowl of hot pasta was worth like 50 Euros to us. It ended up being our absolutely favorite meal and reasonably priced (first little restaurant on the right on the first little street that leads into town. The bakery was a little further down on the left). I had the plate of the day for like 12 Euros which was a meaty white fish with tomatoes. the kids had pasta and my husband had the traditional sandwhich which was always nothing more than a long baguette with one pieve of thin ham - just the way he likes it. We had a fantastic bottle of wine but then again, we would have enjoyed vinegar at that point. I slipped my shoes off and my DH tried to dry my socks with the hand dryer in the bathroom. The kids got a kick out of the co-ed bathroom with the urinal out in the open.

All in all, Paris was a huge hit. 5 days was plenty. The weather affected our ability to do the highly anticipated bike tour, made one day of walking uncomfortable and greatly affected our ability to fully enjoy Versailles. We were lucky enough to do the boat and all of the other walking tours. It had been unseasonally warm and sunny a week or two prior to our arrival so you just never know. We traded sun for lighter crowds.

We packed up for our flight to Milan and off we went 4/3 for the next two-thirds in Italy...

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    The kids do great. 4-6 weeks sounds awesome! I don't know much about Greece - My mom went and said it was tour after tour of ruins. My heart is in Italy. We only went to Paris because of the free flight. The best preserved ruins are in Pompeii. After Pompeii and a professional tour of the Coleseo, forum, Palatine Hill and Vatican in Rome, we had a pretty good idea of ancient civilations. For what's is worth, I always pictured Greece as gorgeous, lush islands with swimming in warm, briliant water. Everybody I know says it's hot, dry, barren and crowded. I am sure it depends on where you go. Many of my friends rave about Turkey and Croatia and so one day I will combine a trip of those two countries with Greece. Otherwise, it's a long ferry ride from the east coast of Italy that doesn't have much to do. I priced Easyjet and Ryanair to Athens but they had limited service. If we had any extra time, we would have done a weekend trip from Rome to Cairo to do the pyramids of Giza, the national museum, see a radically different culture and go. The flight was only 2 hours and reasonably priced. So many choices ... At least you have a lot of time.

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    Such great parents sacrificing a trip to Tahiti to take your young kids to Europe. My husband and I used our only air mile accumulation ever to go to Hawaii 6 years ago. But I am going to Italy with my two daughters this summer - ages 19 and 16. I can't wait and I will be back to look for your report of Italy.

    BTW the apt in Paris sounds dreamy - can you post vrbo number?

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    The Paris Apartment was vrbo.com - Listing #19130. With a party of 5, a hotel was out. I couldn't imagine a more comfortable, convenient place.

    So, off to Italy. The key holder arranged a 6:30 a.m. shuttle for us which was promptly waiting at 6:28 a.m. Oh yea... The apartment is in the 5th floor with no elevator so not good for older folks. My in-shape husband just made two trips with the luggage and we were fine.

    Since I didn't book the shuttle, I asked the driver the cost and he said 50 - 55 Euro so I was thrilled. But when he got to the airport, he did a per person/suitcase calculation and charged us 70 Euro.

    We arrived at 7:15 for our 8:30 Easyjet flight to Milan. Milan was chosen to keep cost low. Our other air segment was from Venice to Naples and both flights with taxes and 4 suitcases for 5 people was about 300 Euro. Easyjet was a dream - Well staffed, quick lines. One suitcase was a little over weight and they didn't care. Having heard how you get slammed for weight on the discount airlines, we just brought a huge duffle bag and used a 4th checked suitcase for the European flights.

    The flight to Milan was only 1 1/2 hours and we arrived at 10. Our northern Italy destination was Venice but at the last minute, I made contact with old friends in Brescia which happens to be the mid-point between Milan and Venice. We were invited to stay in my friend's home.

    We took the bus from Malpensa to Central Station. It took an hour and was a bit pricey as I recall. At least the kids were all half priced. Unfortunately, both the 11:30 and 12:10 trains were sold out (Easter break) and we had to wait until 1:25. the good news was the train tickets were 23 Euro total. When I had priced them at home and considered pre-purchasing them, the total was $120 to Brescia and $240 to Venice from Brescia. Venice was only 80 Euros.

    So we arrived at 2:15 pm and were greeted by friends and taken to her home where a huge welcome reception awaited. I was completely blown away, having lived there for 10 months in high school. That night, 8 families and us went to a mountain-top trattoria and had the dinner of our lives. All of my old friends looked exactly the same and we picked up right where we left off. The kids ran amuck with the other children - language is no barrier to tag - and we stayed and drank and sang until 1 a.m. I would have been content to spend the entire trip in Brescia! When asked, the kids even say their favorite part was Brescia. It just goes to show you, it's always about the people.

    The next morning was Easter and the bunny found us. The kids got their baskets and had a little egg hunt. It was so nice to wake up in a home on Easter Sunday. We were again stuffed to the gills with lasagne and carne and grappa before being taken to the station to continue on to Venice. I had a hard time going.

    The train ride to Venice was about 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was a really pretty trip. Of course, the kids just stuffed themselves silly with candy and never looked out the window. Over two decades ago, I had made brief visits to Venice on rainy days and it was never my favorite city. I think it was just a little depressing. This time, it was a sunny day and I absolutely loved it. The Vaporetto is right outside the train station and it was easy to hop on and take the #2 to Piazza S. Marco. From there, it was a 2 minute walk to our hotel.

    We stayed at the Westin Europa and loved it. It is a 600 year old hotel and was quite grand. Initially, we thought we would be using our starwood hotel chain points for all of our hotel rooms until we learned the apartments were the better bet for the longer stays. So, we dumped all of our points into these two nights and got two exclusive adjoining rooms with a view of the grand canal and balconies. The rooms were spectacular. Even as such we had to sneak in the third kid. The occupancy rules are so stringent and a rollaway would have been 175 Euros per night. The kids room had 2 doubles pushed together to make a giant king so I just had them made into seperate beds and the little ones shared. This hotel got some negative reviews on Trip Advisor for an unhelpful concierge, unfriendliness. We encountered just the opposite. The concierge was always avaialble to give directions, make recommendations and book our boat taxi back. When we went to the restaurant one evening to ask where to go for brunch the next a.m., the waiter said "right here. But wait." He reappeared with a massive plate of chocolate, put it on a piano and told us to have at it. We probably ate a 1/4 pound each. Even when the maid came to seperate the beds, she brought the kids a box of jelly candies. So, no complaints there. The kids got to soak in huge marble bathtubs and we stocked up on their high-end toilletries for our next apartment stays.

    The first night, we walked to P. San Marco and had dinner at a great pizzeria that sells it by the meter. It was really fun having this long pizza resting on glasses going down the table. It was only 7 Euros per person. They played pretty loud American dance music and the kids goofed off, dancing in their seats, entertaining the entire restaurant. We all had a good time. We just walked around then went to bed.

    The next morning, we had an amazing American hotel brunch. Another complaint on TripAdvisor was the cost of breakfast - 18 Euros for a coffee and pastry or 45 Euros for the brunch. Lucky for us, we could do an instant point redemption and get a brunch for 1500 points each. So, we got 3 since my little ones eat like birds. The waiter said "There are only 3 people on this ticket?" I told him I would order ala carte for the 7 and 9 year old and he said "no worries". I did order croissants for them and all he did was go to the buffet and bring them a huge basket of assorted pastries. He didn't charge us anything for them. This really was a meal to remember. It came with cappucinos, fresh prsciutto and melon, fresh pineapple and strawberries. Sausage, scrambled eggs, omelet to order if you wish, endless patries, cheeses, breads ...

    After brunch, we accepted the hotel's free tour of the Murano glass factory. A private boat picked us up at our dock and took us to the island. The boat ride alone was fun. We were amazed watching the glass maker blow these glass vases. We all really enjoyed it them browsed the showroom. Some of the items were truly exquisite. We got a soft sales pitch and were set free to browse in the little store with more reasonably priced item. We bought a little cheese knife as a souvenier. The boat took us back to St. Mark's square where we shopped and walked around the rest of the day. We really had no itinerary in Venice and were burnt out from Paris so we just took it easy.

    After an amazing dinner (we did well just looking for the prix fixed tourist menus with multiple courses and beverages for a set price of about 12 - 15 Euros) we decided to do the gondola ride. It was a quiet, clear night with few people around and we got 30 minutes for 80 Euros. The water was like glass. It was so peaceful. Our gondalier didn't sing but we were serenaded by a few people on the bridges who sang as we passed under. It was really relaxing.

    So, even though we didn't do any museums, we felt that we really experienced Venice and we all had a great time.

    Our Easyjet flight to Naples was at 8:30 so we arranged for a boat taxi at 7 a.m. It was an easy ride to the airport but then a bit of a walk from the dock to the airport. The taxi was 50 Euros. The other option was to take the Vaporetto to Piazelle Roma then take a bus. It would have actually cost more and we would have had to catch the 6 am Vaporetto to make the 6:45 bus.

    Again, Easyjet was well organized and easy. We were able to print our boarding passes for both flights at home weeks before we even left. We arrived in Naples at 9:30. To get to Sorrento, we took the Currei Viaggi bus. It took about 1 1/2 hours. This website had referenced the service and said it was 6 Euros per person. It is now 10 Euros per person. The driver didn't charge us for a kid though so we only had to pay 40 which was nice.

    Once again, thank goodness for Fodors because I had studies in Naples 20 years ago and was familiar with Pompeii but had no idea where to stay. Sorrento was much more highly recommended than Positano. We found a quaint monastery in Sant'Agnello, right next to Sorrento. The reviews raved about the nice nuns, fantastic views, breakfast and reprieve from touristy Sorrento. So, I booked a convent for 3 nights called San Domus. Yipes. Not what I expected. The bus stopped in the town of Sant'Agnello but it was quite a hike up to the convent. We were isolated from everything. Going to Sorrento required a substantial walk to the train station and then a train ride.

    Our room was stark but large with 5 beds. I am pretty sure they were hospital beds. At least we had an in suite bathroom. I seriously considered bailing our early for Rome but couldn't get my DH on board with the change. After a ton of walking, we found a decent restaurant in Sant'Agnello. The kids were thrilled to be rid of the grand Venetian hotel and loved all being in the same room. They were asleep in minutes. My husband and I lied there in our pushed together twin beds, looking up at the huge crucifix, wondering what possessed us to have double espressos at dinner. We ended up each putting our heads togehter, putting one ear bud in an ear and watching Zombieland and his 2" ipod screen. For some bizarre reason, it seemed fitting. At least the room was only 120 Euros and it was nice to have breakfast there.

    The next morning we took the train to Pompeii. It was amazing. We probably should have used a guide to get more out of it but we like our independence. It got hot though being on all of those black cobblestones. It took the whole day but was well worth it. On the way back, instead of getting off at Sant'Agnello, we took the train to Sorrento.

    More soon! Next comes Capri then Positano and the AC then Rome...

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    I am really enjoying this report. We experienced the same kindness in Paris and mostly in Italy. Occasionally, I annoyed some Italian men by talking with them directly as DH. I'm not making this up. Of course, everyone loved it when my DH ordered two biscuits to Roma at the ticket station.

    Were your children in awe going down the Grand Canal?

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    Haha! We honestly did the same things we would have done without the kids. They really were no problem. It's not like we had a baby in a stroller.

    So, after the day in Pompeii, we spent the late afternoon and evening in Sorrento. We really loved that town. We had ice cream on the main square at Ercolano. We took a cheesy pony carriage ride through town with a pony named Bob. It was only 30 Euro. At the end, we wiped a massive amount of snot all over Jane's shirt and we just all cracked up.

    We shopped and walked around a little bit then had a nice dinner down an alley at a place called Risorante Sorrento, I believe. It was good, as usual, but not spectacular. We chatted a bit with the Australia family next to us which is a good thing because we ended up leaving our camera on the table. They sent their girls to find us. Luckily, we had stopped for ice cream and they tracked us down pretty close to the train station. Such kindness!

    We got a fairly early start the next day for Capri. We stopped at a supermarket for a picnic, per the advice of some nice ladies at a Limoncello store. The deli in the store was really nice. We got 2 "etti" - about 1/3 pound - of roasted turkey breast and "un etto" of salami, formaggio, pane, patine, aqua for about 12 Euro.

    We had to walk from Sant'Agnello to the circumvasuviana station then take the train to Sorrento. In Sorrento, we had to walk from the train station all of the way down to the marina. We barely made the 10 am hydrafoil. It was cheaper to buy roundtrip tickets. We were advised to take the cheaper boats versus the hydrafoil but didn't see that option. We paid 99 Euro for the tickets.

    It was still a 30 minute ride. When we arrived, we were bombarded by tour guides and restarounteers. Initially, we said no to everything. The reviews of the blue grotto I read were all horrible - You pay to take a boat to the grotto, only to get in line to pay to take a row boat into the grotto where the guide stresses the importance of tips during the entire 30 second tour of the case. I had been once 25 years ago and shared the same negative impression. It wasn't worth the crowds, hassle or money. But what were we going to do all day? We don't like browsing in little shops.

    So, we accepted a 60 Euro offer for a 1 1/2 hour private tour of all of the blue grottos except THE blue grotto. All of the other solicitors were 100 Euros of more. THIS TOUR ENDED UP BEING AMAZING AND WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF OUR TRIP. Our guide Stefano was terrific. We kicked off our shoes and dangled our feet off of the bow. He pointed out all of the rock formation and we pulled into several caves with the impossibly blue illuminated water. There was not another boat or soul around. We felt like we had inherited the Earth. Our tour ended on a private beach with exclusive bathing clubs.

    We sat at a table on rocks, directly over the beach and ordered a bottle of wine. They were just fine with us eating our picnic at their tables. The kids splashed around on the beach. Afterwards, we took a crazy bus up the hill to the city center. Not impressed with the crowds or shops, we had the option of the funicular (tram) or huge staircase down to the harbor. We chose the stairs and loved it. It was a really nice quaint stroll, difficult to describe. Once back in port, we had ice cream then took the ferry back. We enjoyed dinner in Sorrento (or did we grab pizzas?) then took the train back to Sant'Agnello. The sun and the sea were so refreshing, we all went to bed happy.

    Unfortunately, the next day was by far the worst of the whole trip. I do travel with an open mind - I hadn't much cared for Venice or Capri in the past but loved both this time. Although my professor says we toured the Amalfi coast when I studied in Naples, I had no recollection of it. From Naples, I had frequented the island of Ischia and loved that. He rented a boat out of Positano and it took us to green grottos where we could jump off and swim. So, I had a fairly open mind. I did not care for the AC AT ALL.

    We paid 450 Euro for a private tour with Tour of Italy, as recommended by ONE Fodorite. Huge mistake. This was our one splurge where we had planned to check out of Sorrento, have him take us on a tour of Positano, AC and Ravello then drie us to Rome. I knew we would be getting tired and my U.S. pricing of the train tickets was much higher than the actual prices in Italy so I thought it was a pretty good deal.

    It was a disaster from start to finish. The owner/father Giancarlo, called the convent and said he couldn't pick us up there and said to meet him at the soccer stadium. Well, the convent was a huge hike and one of the big benefits was the luxury of the door-to-door service so that was disappointing. There was a narrow street with no sidewalks. He was early so we hurried up breakfast then lugged everything onto the street and walked to the soccer field.

    The luxury "Mercedes Van" was of lesser quality than most of the Japanese vans we all drive. It had cloth seats, broken arm rests and was nothing special. It was dirty. Giancarlo said something about why he couldn't wash it or he did wash it and it got dirty again ...

    He wasn't too friendly and his English was worse than my Italian. He didn't great the children or ask their names. He invited my husband to sit up front with him. So off we went. The contract was for a 10 hour tour starting with Positano, the Amalfi Coast, Ravello and then a transfer to our apartment in Rome. The ride to Positano was silent. He stopped at an overlook that offered a pretty scenic view. Once we approached Positano and the traffic became congested, the started cursing and waving his arms around. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He then ranted and raved about the cost of parking and the despicable traffic enforcement officers. I think he has just been doing this too long maybe. He had no patience. Having lived in Italy, I understand how excitable Italians can seem and they calm down in 2 seconds but it was frightening to my kids.

    So, he stops in Positano, points us in the direction of the beach and says he is staying with the van because of the parking fees.

    OK. We walked to the beach. I don't know what to say. It was 50 yards of black sand. The coast is pretty but this simply isn't a beach destination unless you have no other options to visit the sea. Like I could see how the wealthy Italians would go there for the lifestyle with the beautiful people and upscale nightclubs. But as a visitor, there is no culture. Again, it's just my opinion, but for a beach vacation, we would go to Hawaii. If we needed one in Europe, we would go to the French Riviera.

    We had no problem of making his 45 minute deadline to be back at the bus. We then drove to Amalfi. Some more traffic cursing and another dump off, this time with instructions to see the really nice church. We didn't know a thing about it and it didn't look very inviting. Instead, we bought some wine and had a beverage at a bar. We met back at the van in an hour.

    The windy road back up without traffic to slow us down seemed twice as bad. Just a few kilometers from the autostrada, my middle son lost it. It was 12 noon at that point and they hadn't eaten since 9. We got him out of the van in time to throw up on the side of the road. This is our first car sickness ever. Giancarlo took the opportunity to smoke a cigarette in rude proximity to us, blaming me for giving him orange juice. I told him he didn't have orange just and so he demanded to know what I fed him for breakfast - I told him bread. "Solo pane?" he asked, incredulously. YES! Only bread.

    The whole incident only lasted 10 minutes. I rummaged through our luggage and found some facewipes and Kevin took it like a trooper. His little knees were shaking and he asked Daddy to carry him back into the van. That was a big deal for a 9 year old. I equipped him with a bag and towel to make sure we didn't soil the car.

    The real trouble started at 12:30 when I explained that we needed to eat. Giancarlo said we would eat at the autogrill on the autostrada halfway to Rome at 2:30 or 3. There was just no way. I insisted we needed to eat earler and he demanded that the kids not be given any liquids and reluctantly agreed to let us eat at a little pizzeria by Pompeii. I wish I had just aborted the tour and taken the train to Rome at that point.

    After lunch, we all felt better. I actually had no idea where Ravello was but I was pretty sure he had skipped it. Afraid of more windy roads, I didn't raise the issue. Clearly, he was no tour guide and provided absolutely no information on anything. This was nothing but an overpriced transfer.

    I finally got the kids settled and to sleep on the autostrada on the way to Rome. Then Giancarlo pulled over at the autogrill for a cigarette and to point out that this was the place where we were supposed to eat. We all used the restroom to make sure we didn't have to stop again before Rome. I told him that we needed to contact our key holder about an hour in advance. He asked me what the number was and decided and decided to call him on his own. Giancarlo ends up getting into this huge argument with the key holder on the phone when the key holder said he couldn't meet us until 8 pm and Giancarlo said we would arrive at 5. I told Giancarlo that I had told the company 7 pm because it was supposed to be a 10 hour tour. Boy did that make him mad. He got on his cell phone with his son and started yelling. His neck got red. When he hung up, he was angry at me for rushing when I knew it was supposed to be 10 hours and nobody told him it was supposed to be 10 hours. He said, "Fine, you want 10 hours, I will take you to the Coliseum and the Spanish Steps".

    Since this apartment came with good reviews, I just let Giancarlo calm down and said nothing. Sure enough, the key holder fixed things on his end and said he could meet us at 5, he called back on the cell phone. Giancarlo ranted a bit more, claiming he must have other people in the apartment (in reality, he had just double booked check-ins) and insisted he was taking us on a tour of Rome. Finally, DH kicked in, told him we were all freezing (as clearly evidence by our coats being dragged out of the suitcases to be draped over us) and to please put his window up and take us straight to the apartment.

    I'll wrap it up - He got lost in Rome, having not looked up the address we provided well in advance, and seemingly peeved that I couldn't give him directions. We made it at 5:30 and the key holder was there to greet us. I was so happy to be rid of him. It only took a few Motrin to kick the resultant migraine.

    So, that was our exprience with Positano and the AC. For my family, that is just not our type of detination. Even in the summer. I'd rather hang out in a villa with a pool in Tuscany or Niece. Those locations are just so isolated. I liked Sorrento, Capri and Pompeii though. When I studied in Naples, I remember that city findly as well.

    POOKYMIMI - I hope this is helpful to you. When I chose Sorrento over Positano, it was through strong recommendations on this website. Italian cities have such personalities - I am sure different people have vastly different experiences. I am sure you know that that entire coast is one huge cliff, albeit beautiful cliff, with tiny, exclusive beaches.

    Back to Rome... Again, we loved this apartment right off Campo dei Fiori - the most lively square in all of Rome. I will look up the VRBO link if anybody is interested. Rome was amazing. It just always feels so welcoming. I love everything about that city. By staying right in the historic center, we could walk to everything. No need for even the metro. We had four days to conquer it ...

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    Oh my. I'm sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience with Giancarlo. Is there any recourse since you spent a pretty penny for the tour? Especially if you were expecting a Merc and got a Toyota.

    How was Pompeii?

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    Pompeii was great. So facinating! It's huge now ... To me, it's more fascinating than the ruins in Rome because of the way the whole city was preserved - you get a good feel for their ancient way of life. They were so prosperous - It makes you wonder what could have been had they been allowed to evolve. Mosaics remain on nearly every sidewalk - Makes it seem as if the streets were "paved in gold". They had so much time for art and leisure.

    As for Giancarlo, you live and you learn. It was a Mercedes - I meant to say that a Toyota would have been nicer. In the middle row, my daughter's armrest was broken and so every time she put her arm on it, it would flop down on to her and jiggle. She would crank it back up then forget and put her arm on it and go through the same exercise over and over. A cap was missing off my seat and Giancarlo would tinker with it, trying to fix while re waited to re-enter the van.

    The biggest argument in favor of not paying the full amount would have been that he cut the time by 20% and eliminated one of the cities listed on the tour. In truth, that would not have bothered me had he been a kind, informative, competent tour guide but I will refrain from going into that again!

    After that nerve rattling transfer, Rome felt like home. After travelling for 2 weeks, it felt like we had arrived the minute we set foot in Campo dei Fiori. It's just the funnest square imaginable. It's lined with inviting cafes, great shops, bakeries, pizzerias, gelaterias and flowers, of course. There are happy people and musicians every where but it wasn't packed. Our apartment was only about 25 yards down an alley. Only motorinos could fit in this alley and so it was very quiet.

    This apartment was a single story, first floor. In addition to it being down an alley, after entering the gate on the street, it was at the back of the courtyard making it even quieter. This was much smaller than Paris but way larger than any hotel room and had a kitchen (naturally) and a washer and dryer. At this point, we needed to do 2 loads of laundry to get us through since we packed so light. I picked this apartment because it had a dryer - A washer alone wasn't going to do me much good because I wouldn't even know how to line dry and iron clothes! But ... each load took nearly 2 hours in these energy saving, low capacity devices so you can't expect to crank out loads the size of Texas. We brought 2 laundry tabs and 1 dishwasher tab from the apartment in Paris.

    I would estimate this apartment at about 900 square feet. It had one living area with a fold out couch that was supposed to be a bed for up to 2. However, my 12 year old couldn't sleep on it because the mattress itself had very uncomfortable wires in it. We tried putting the 7 year old on it but it was to uncomfortable for even her so we ended up closing the bed and wrapping the couch in the linens for her to sleep. That actually made a great bed. There was a nice large kithen table and then a few steps down into a nicely sized bedroom with en suite bathroom with a shower. Our masterbedroom was on the opposite side of the apartment and also had it's own small but functional bathroom with a shower. It led to a utility area that housed the washer, supplies and nice bid racks of shelves to store our suitcases, sort laundry, etc. We were very happy with it but I would suggest 4 maximum for the occupancy.

    Another note on the Paris apartment: It comes with housecleaning on Mondays and Thursdays regardless of your stay. So, it was nice to have the garbages emptied, beds made and dishes washed the one day.

    As for both apartments, location is the key and we could not have done better. As the first course of business, we relaxed at a long dinner at Campo dei Fiori. Musicians sang and the kids just loved the atmosphere. My husband and I both had the same thought - "This feels like Disneyland". It was just so perfect, you almost felt like it was scripted by professional entertainers.

    The next morning without any particular itinerary, we set off for Piazza Navonna, my personal favorite. It had been 20 years. On the way, we wandered into a church - Probably Santa Maria delle Pace - Based on the street nearby. We had it all to ourselves and even though the kids had seen Notre Dome, this one felt special without the crowds and because it was so beautiful without being overwhelming. We had "toast" (a delightful very Italian sandwich of sliced bread with the crust cut off toasted in a panini press (but not flattened) with a very thin piece of cheese and ham. No butter - They are only about 2 Euros and are so delicious) for breaksfast and that amazing freshly squeezed orange juice.

    We then happened upon a wedding (complete with twin babies in the arms of the bride and groom at the alter!) in Saint Agnes in Agone (I think this was the name - The chuch named for the saint who was stripped in a brothel and miraculously grew hair to cover herself). The kids were mesmerized by the full mass and we stayed quite a while. I liked looking at what the guests were wearing!

    After Piazza Navonna, we set out for Castello San'Angelo. I didn't know it housed a museum! I was dragging a bit and in no mood for a museum. We took a look at St. Peter's square from a distance and I really wasn't up for that either. So, we bought a picnic from a pork vender (bread, salame, cheese, proscuitto) and headed out for the Borghese park. The day got really warm - 23 C. It was a bit longer of a walk than we bargained for but it was worth it. I LOVE THAT PARK! I just don't find the Paris gardens welcoming as opposed to this park. We hung out on a bench in the shade and ate. We could hear a live musician playing a guitar in the distance. The kids chased the birds around. We layed back on the grass and didn't want to go. We were supposed to see Santa Maria del Popolo but it was closed from like 12 -3 and we were too tired to wait. After the park, nobody felt like doubling back for Santa Maria so we continued to the Spanish Steps. Not a big thrill for the kids but we liked the church at the top. The flowers weren't out on the steps yet and they were so full of tourists, you had to negotiate your way down.

    My husband then decided we really needed to see the Capuchin Crypts. We were hot and tired but were able to perk the kids up with an ice cream. We found the church just as it was opening at 3 (those pesky afternoon closures can get you sometimes!). OK. That was creepy and visited solely for the benefit of my DH and 12 year old. It is a crypt totally decorated in thousands of monks' bones. Really creepy. Designs made of vertebrae. Skulls stacked high. Shallow dirt graves. We were outa there in 5. At least it was cool (as in not hot). And we learned our coffee capucinos are named after monks because of their hoods - it means little hoody because of the foam cap.

    We were exhausted and meant to head back to our apartment but happened upon la fontana de Trevi. Because of the heat, it seemed extra amazing. The water was so blue and the monument so white. The water was inviting. I wanted to swim in it. We had a great break hanging out there for a while.

    Again, we set out for the apartment. My kids were done and Jane starting faking a limp. Fortunately, the Pantheon was conveniently there! We went inside and sat in the shade and took it all in. Afterwards, we really went back to the apartment for some down time.

    After a brief nap, we were as good as new and had dinner on Campo dei Fiori. We browsed through the shops, had ice cream then went to bed.

    The next day we meant to get an early start for the Coloseo but didn't. By the time we walked there, taking the long way up by the Capitoline Museum so we could look down on the forum, the lines were huge. The tour operators were plentiful and while we stood there figuring out what to do, we got a sales pitch. The kids are free for tours and all we had to pay was a 13 Euro supplement for our tickets which were 12 Euro. This got us direct entry to bypass the 1 1/2 entry line (which was worth the 25 Euros alone, right? We could always just leave the tour if we didn't like it), a 45 minute tour of the coleseo and then a 1 1/2 hour tour of the foro, Palatine, etc. Both tours ended up being great. The kids loved the gladiator stories. Next came Palatine. The tour guides switched and we actually got an American art major who was passionate about her job and a natural with kids. She was soooo wonderful. The kids hung on her every work. She told Greek mythology tales and the whole history of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. I learned so much. Being the smart people that we are, having roasted the day before, we were all now in flipflops and shorts and so, naturally, it was cold, windy and threatening to rain. Without her, I know we would have just gone back to the apartment. We were all so hooked, we ignored our discomfort in the cold.

    At the end of this great tour, we were all joking about how we should kidnap the guide and keep her for our own for all of Rome. No sooner did we say that when she says she is doing a Vatican tour the next day! Perfect. Our last day and the last thing on our agenda.

    We parted ways just as the rain came. We were able to stop and see the cats at Torre Argentina. After a rest and change of clothes, we went to dinner on Piazza Navonna. We managed to get caught in the rain on the way back (can't explain why we didn't bring the umbrellas!) but it wasn't cold so we didn't care. We just got wet and stopped for ice cream anyway.

    We had to hustle to the vatican meeting point the next day. It was well worth it. That place was packed! Without the guide, I doubt we would have gotten much out of it. I hadn't been in years and had forgotten so much. I don't know if I ever appreciated the Raphael tapestries for what they are or the whole history of Michaelangelo's inspiration for his faces and bodies in his frescoes. The tour even included St. Peters.

    We were fully satisfied at the end and had no desire to go up the cupola. THAT I remember vividly from 20 years ago and felt content to skip it. Plus, we had breakfast at 9 on the way and the tour ended at 3:30. How my kids went that long with food or a break, I will never know.

    By the time we cleared the high priced, poor quality food near the vatican, we were so close to home that we just went to our favorite pizzeria on Campo dei Fiori - da Buffetto. After a brief rest, we decided we could rest at home and all picked our favorites to revisit on our last night.

    So, we did a little window shopping, walked to Torre Argentina to see the cats again, passed through Piazza Navonna (oops - Maybe mom got 2 favorites)and ended at Trevi Fountain where handfuls of even more coins have ensured our return to Rome. It was dark at that point and pretty lit up. A few rain drops (nothing to us at this point!) cleared everybody out and made it even more enjoyable. We let the kids shop for junk at the souvenier store but not even they could find anything of interest save for a few trinkets. I bought a candle for our dog sitter and off went to pack.

    At that point, we felt fully content and totally done. We walked all we could walk and took in all we could take in. The professional tours at the end were great because we were tired and getting lazy. Rome is so great as a last stop because it can be whatever you want it to be - nonstop touring or just hanging out in the Piazzas and parks while still enjoying the city. We did a nice hybrid.

    I have no regrets about our itinerary. Many decisions were budget based and worked out great. I was accurately advised though that every time you switch cities, you lose a lot of time and money with transfers. Sorrento is a good base to see a lot from one location. Other than that one negative experience with Tour of Italy, we couldn't be more thrilled with how everything else worked out.

    Thanks for reading and if this helps even just one traveller make a better decision, it was worth the time and I'm glad I did it! Bon voyage.

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    Fabulous trip report! I really enjoyed reading your adventures through Europe with your children. What a lifetime of memories you created. We took our son through Europe a couple of times and just as you did, learned to go with the flow. Picnics were often much more delightful and memorable than sitting in restaurants.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

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    Jill,

    I was looking forward for your Italy part!
    Well, I agreed with you about Amalfi Coast, my gut instinct told me not to take the apartment in Positano and better to get a room with a swimming pool in Sorrento.
    I'm happy I got in the same Hotel that Rick Steves stayed, Minerva, it's very well located with two swimming pools. I got a cheap rate and I think we'll do all our visits to Pompeii, Positano, Capri, Ischia from there.

    Mia

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to share so many details in your trip report. I am going to Rome in June with my 13 yo son and find your experience very helpful. Do you have any details/names regarding the tour guide who was an American art major for the Palatine tour? I would love to try and get her.

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    A lovely report Jill, I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip and that your accommodation was mostly good. Your children will have the most amazing memories to share with each other for the rest of their lives

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    Thanks for the positive feedback. I was afraid I came across too critical of the one negative which could make me sound like a whiney traveller, best suited staying home. I guess the good attitude in everything else came through ...

    Mia - GREAT choice. I was a little worried about you being unhappy in Positano. It is so isolated. My mom is an older traveller and is content to sit on a bus for 2 hours for a 5 minute scenic overlook. As with many, to her, that is seeing the country. That is not for us. That's the one thing my kids wouldn't tolderate. To me, it's not really experiencing anything, at least in a memorable fashion. Let's face it, even at Disney World, my kids complained about be forced to leave the swimming pool to go to Epcot Center! They need that down time. There is nothing to do in Positano unless you are going to rub shoulders with Europe's elite and go to the hottest nightclubs in the latest styles.

    ncounty - I wish I had the information for you. They solicited us in front of the coleseo. They had their best looking, English speaking man make the pitch. He then took us to Francesca (she was sitting on a brick planter right where all the crowds form to figure out the ticket and entry lines). Francesa did the finances then directed us to wait in a group. The actual coleso tour was by a woman with an accent who lacked Maya's passion but it was only 45 minutes. Then, Maya did the ruins for 2 hours. So, if you ask around for those names, you might be able to find them. They all seemed to know each other and were cooperative and friendly, negotiated their groups around small spaces.

    Additionally, we met at 10 at the Octavano (sp?) metro stop for the Vatican tour. Alert: This is a 15 minute walk from Castel Sant'Angelo. Any metro map will have it on it. We were late and Maya was still there. The tour was on a Monday. Once she got the group, she walked us to the tour office which was 1-2 blocks back towards the Vatican and slightly off to the right. Probably not too helpful but worth the effort if you can find her ... Maya is tiny with a fairly dark complexion, very long black wavy hair. Good luck and enjoy Rome!

    Mia - Some more thoughts on your itinerary. Now that Sorrento is your home base here is some info that may be helpful. You already got my 2 cents on Capri - completely worth it if you don'd do the tourist thing. Ischia is calmer but to get to Ischia, you need to take the ferry from Naples so it is quite a long journey. As a student, I enjoyed taking a boat taxi to a beach only accessible by taxi. But remember, we are talking rocky sand - not California, Florida, Hawaii or the Caribbean. From Sorrento, Capri is your better bet. Naples is a day. Pompeii is a day. Both are real easy to access on the circumvasuviana. If you can, and you really want to see Positano and/or the AC, try to do it by boat. The drive is really hard for Americans. The cities are congested with difficult parking. Tours are expensive and carsickness is a valid concern -especially in the heat.

    FYI - I don't know if you have Rome on your itinerary, but the train ride is only 2 hours. I used to take the train for a day trip all of the time. In just 6 hours, you could easily walk to Piaza Navonna, Trevi Fountain, Borghese park, Spanish steps, Pantheon, etc. and pop into many churches. Of course you wouldn't be able to go into the Vatican museum or the Coleseum but I like the Coleseum just as well from the outside and the Vatican is worth visting to see St. Peter's Basilica, the square, etc. Everything is real close. Don't take the bus from Sorrento though - It is 4 hours long and leaves at 6 am.

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    Jill,

    Thanks a lot for the input!
    Rome is in our itinerary, not sure if it will be out last stop to Denver or once before going to Lake Como if I still have money and energy. My daughter is looking forward to seeing the Coliseum, so we may stay there for a couple of days.
    We may stay a day in Positano to just feel the vibe, but being on a pebbly beach is not my cup of tea, mostly when those are hot, hot, hot.

    Mia

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    Thanks for drudging up all the names you can remember, Jill!

    Mia- I also stayed in Sorrrento and think it makes a good base. I loved Capri. The hike is gorgeous. Glad Rome is on your itinerary; there is so much to see and do there. I am very excited to be introducing my 13 yo son to it.

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    Thank you for posting your TR--very helpful for those of us planning a France/Italy trip with kids! Would love to stumble across the restaurant in Paris with the HUGE creme brulee--that's our favorite, and we intend to have one every day we're there! Also, thanks for the positive reviews about EasyJet--we'll be taking that from Pisa to Paris, so your descriptions help calm my nerves about the stringent rules you read about with them.
    Thanks again for taking the time to give us this report!

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    Turns out I benefitted from my own report too! I didn't think we could afford to return to Europe for years... But we earned enough miles for us to go (but without the kids) this October. I really struggled with an itinerary that didn't include Italy. We finally settled on Turkey, Greece and Croatia. Three new countries. Funny - two years ago I wrote that is what I wanted to do in my next trip! Now I know I made the right choice.

    P.S. The kids still talk about Europe and beg to return. We took them to the Caribbean and they wanted Europe instead. We took them to Maui and they wanted Europe instead. I reminded them of the freezing rain at Versailles and the 14 hours of walking. They still want to go back to Europe. Maybe the Germany castles in a couple of years...

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