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Trip Report Trip Report: Family of 4 enjoys "La Dolce Vita" for 2 weeks

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Here is the first installment of our trip report. (Warning it is long!)

Before I begin let me tell you a little about ourselves. We traveled with our two kids. My daughter (DD) is 12 and my so (DS) is 9. Neither my husband nor I had ever been to Europe at all, so this was the first trip for all of us. After many years of spending Spring vacation in Arizona, Walt Disney World, and Maui we decided it was time to see more of the world, so I began planning our trip to Italy (6 nights Rome, 4 nights Venice, 4 nights Florence). Would the kids be able to make the transition from sleeping in and boogie boarding all day to getting up early, lots of walking and seeing the sites? Would we regret not resting on the beach?? (I'll give you a hint next spring break we are planning our 2nd trip to Europe!!!)

Well, here is our trip:

Flights took off on time and were uneventful. In Frankfurt airport we ate at a Chinese restaurant in Terminal 1 down near the train station. It was okay, not great, but we love Asian food and knew it would be our last chance for awhile.

Sat. March 12

Arrived at Rome airport about 4pm. Apparently we didn’t have to go through customs, as we had done it in Frankfurt, which basically was a swipe of our passports.

Our driver is there to pick us up and we immediately see why people say not to drive in Rome. There really are no definitive lanes and while pedestrians technically have the right of way – you wouldn’t know it. Sometimes it looks like the cars are trying to herd sheep.

Our hotel, Albergo Cesari, is not lavishly decorated, but is nice and our quad room is quite large as is the bathroom. As others have mentioned the breakfast room is a bit small, but we only had to wait for a table one morning and then only for a short period of time. Many of the people staying there are British, French and German, so the breakfast room feels like an international café. We always found the concierges to be very helpful. After our 6 nights we all agreed we would stay there again.

Our first stop is to find Café St. Eustachio which my brother-in-law has been raving about for years as having the best espresso. We are following the map, then we walk down a small street thinking we are probably going the wrong way and walk out into the Piazza della Rotunda and there is the Pantheon – WOW!! We practically ran right into it. We finally find Café St. Eustachio in the Piazza Eustachio and DH gets his first of many Italian espressos. There are no to go cups here, and no laid back 20-somethings serving you either. Here, as in almost all cafes, you are served with china cups and saucers, and the barristas are dressed in black or white jackets with ties. Everyone just stands at the bar and drinks down their espresso.

Next our first stop for gelato. We go to Gelateria Della Palma (Via della Maddalena 20) near the Pantheon. The kids love how they just pile it in the cup.

For dinner we head to Da Baffetto (Via del Governo Vecchio, 114) near Piazza Navona which has very good pizza. On our way back to the hotel, one last stop at Café St. Eustachio and della Palma for gelato.

May 13, Sunday

Our first full day in Rome. We meet in the morning for our Orientation Chat with Petulia from Context Rome/Scala Reale. She takes us to the Gran Caffe (Piazza Di Pietra) just around the corner from our hotel. This becomes DH’s favorite hang out, requiring a stop every morning!! The kids and I order the hot chocolate. It is too thick and rich for DD and I, but DS loves it.

Petulia gives us lots of good tips for eating as well as just answering our many questions. We decide to have her book our train tickets, as we don’t want to have to go to the train station to do it. It was a very helpful hour with her.

The Rome Marathon is going on. There are no cars on the streets, but many streets are blocked off which makes it hard for us Newbies to navigate. We do the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Via Condotti. DD buys a skirt, top and capris at Onyx on the corner of Via Corso and Via Condotti. Nice teen stuff, and reasonably priced. DD also gets a “Luis Vuitton “purse and “Chanel” sunglasses from a street vendor.

Eat lunch at the Gran Caffe then head to our first church listed in Grinisa’s Thrill and Chills in the Eternal City. San Silvestro in Capite where John the Baptists’ head is. DS lights candles for his grandma & grandpa, which becomes a ritual for him at all the churches. Petulia had mentioned that morning that Santa Maria Concenzione – the Cappucchin Monk Crypt which had been closed for renovations was now open. It was absolutely incredible. It is an amazing amount of bones. Located at Via Veneto 27 in the Piazza Barberini.

DS enjoys the “living statues” around the city, and we have decided he will collect pictures of him with all the statues.

We go shopping at Diesel and Puma. Head to San Crispino (Via Paneterria 42 near the Trevi Fountain) for gelato. Hazelnut is better at Della Palma but other flavors are better here.

Walk around Piazza Navona, but it seems so large to us. We go to dinner at De Pallero (del Largo Pellaro 15). Excellent meal. This is a fixed meal, fixed price dinner. It is 20 euros per person for a wonderful 5 course meal. Antipasto – fennel, lentils, proscuitto and olives and veal croquettes. Pasta course – large tube pasta with tomato sauce, salad w/ mozzarella cheese, veal and homemade potato chips . For dessert there is an almond torte and a small glass of mandarin juice (yummy!) The poppa (owner) seemed to enjoy having us, especially the kids. He gave DS a bottle of wine to give to us as we leave.

Back to Della Palma for gelato, then off to bed.

Monday 3/14/05

Met our Context Rome guide, Richard, at 9:00am in the hotel lobby. With him we toured The Colosseum, Domus Aurea (Golden House of Nero), Church of St. Peters in Chains (Michaelangelos’s Moses is also there), The Forum, The Mammertime Prison where Peter & Paul were supposedly imprisoned and the Pantheon. We enjoyed the tour very much, although at times he may have moved a little slow for the kids. However, DD loved the Domus Aurea and when asked by the customs official on our return to the US “What was the favorite thing you saw?” DS said “The Colosseum”. DH and I really appreciated all Richard had to tell us. It was nice to be on a private tour with the kids, as we were able to stop and have lunch when we needed to and also were able to be flexible with our itinerary.

Head to Giolitti’s ( Via Uffici DeVicaro near the Pantheon) for gelato. It was okay, we got stuck between two big group’s of French highschoolers. Back to the hotel to rest. Then I take the kids out to Replay and Bennetton. Replay is very expensive for kids. Buy jean skirt for DD and multi-colored scarf for me at Benetton..

Got lost trying to find Orso 80 for dinner, but walked down this neat street with many small stores selling antiques. When we finally get there, it is closed on Monday nights. Decide to go to Obika – The Mozarrella Bar recommended by Petulia (in Piazza Firenze near Piazza Navona.) We had a wonderful evening there. Great cheese and salami tasting plate. We also had wonderful gnocchi and delicious vegetarian lasagna.

Tuesday 3/15/05

Next morning we head to the Church of San Clemente. Saw the different layers of churches. It was very interesting, but we were all wishing Richard was with us to really explain what we were seeing. Walked back by the Colosseum and through the Forum, through the Piazza designed by Michaelangelo. Passed by this store that sells vestments, etc. for priests.

Stopped in a Mercado for laundry detergent. Interesting to look at the brands and type of food being sold there.

For lunch we headed to Lozozzone (Via del teatro Pace) a panini place recommended by Petulia. The sandwiches look great. I, however, was tired, and did not feel like ordering at the counter, but wanted real table service, so we walk back down Governo Vecchio, a small street behind Piazza Novana. We just stop in a place that looks good. We eat at Mimi & Coco (Governo Vecchio 72) and have one of our favorite lunches of our trip. DS had penne a pomodoro. DH lasagna a Bolognese, me risotto a raddichio et noli and DD a sampling of cheese and meats. It was an excellent meal., The bread was d efinitely the best we had so far. The salads were great – very big, we should have shared. Retrospectively, DH deemed it the best salad in Italy.

A quick stop at Café St. Eustachio and then our first stop at La Cremeria, a gelato place recommended by Petulia. (Via della Rotunda 22) right across from the Pantheon. Everyoone thinks it may be the best gelato so far. Definitely, the hazlenut is the best. And it is located in our favorite piazza. Come back to hotel to rest for a few moments before we go off to the Catacombs.

Wanted to go to San Sebastiano Catacombs based on Fodor’s recs., but our taxi driver seemed to want us to go to San Callisto, so there we went. It was incredible. We all found it very fascinating and enjoyed the Irish priest who took us down, although he was a little hard to understand sometimes. We all loved the catacombs. Despite the fact that these were supposed to be the least interesting, we were fascinated and consider them a must see for those going to Rome. We walked down to the Appian Way, but the cars were whizzing by with no shoulder so we walked back to get a taxi. Would definitely try to go on a Sunday next time when the streets are closed to traffic.

We were about to try calling for a taxi when one came. Two men got in and then out. We ask them why they don’t want to take it. They don’t want to take it because there is no meter. The taxi driver spoke very little English. He wants to charge us 20 euros. We say we paid 13 euros to get here, how about 15. In very broken English and lots of hand signals he explains if we call a taxi, they will charge us 15 to come pick us up and 15 to take us to our hotel. We agree on 15 euros to have him take us. Definitely the most lively cab driver we had, and our most enjoyable cab ride. He sang Frank Sinatra and Pavoratti, pointed out sites of interest and even talked politics (“Bush, Blair, Berlusconi my friends!” he said.) He didn’t seem too interested in where our hotel was, just wanted to drop us of at the Pantheon. Oh well, we are very close. Enjoyed it so much we gave him the 20 euros

Stopped in at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and came back to rest before dinner. Dinner at Le Bacaro on Via degli Spanoli. We had a wonderful dinner. Started with fagioli soup and a delicious salad. I had the filet with cheese and onion sauce, DH had meat with chestnut sauce, and DS had strips of steak and balsamic vinegar. DD’s meal was voted the best by everyone – a wonderful pasta with shrimp – we all licked her bowl clean. (120 euros including sparkling water, and wine). This is a small restaurant and a reservation is a must.

Off to La Cremeria for our gelato nightcap.

3/16/05 Wed.

Up at early A.M. to meet our Context Rome guide at the Vatican at 8:15 am. We have booked another private tour with Context Rome. We meet Sara, a young American who, did graduate work in London and France but now lives in Rome. We all really enjoy her and our tour of the Vatican Museum. She is very interesting but moves along to keep the kids motivated. A tour guide is really the way to go. So much interesting information is given. As we leave the Sistine Chapel and head to St. Peter’s Square, we look up and there is the Pope looking and waving from his bedroom window!! We can’t believe it – perfect timing. And now with his recent death we realize how truly amazing it was to be able to see him. DS found the trompe l’oeil through the Hall of Tapestry very interesting. It looks 3-D but is actually completely flat. He loves the Swiss Guards as well.

We walk down to Castle St. Angelo and go up to the terrace and have some panini for lunch. Had a very nice visit with Sara, our tour guide, talking to her about traveling in other parts of Europe. Sara then gave us a tour of the Castle. DD’s favorite part was the Papal bathroom. We walk to the top of the castle – what incredible views of Rome.

Say goodbye to Sara and walk back to St. Peter’s Basilica. We see the church, the Pieta and go down to the crypt of the Popes. Amazing to think they are all down there and how close we can get.

Back to the Pantheon area for espresso and gelato. DH takes a nap. I take kids to do some shopping – Jam it, Miss Sixty. Buy DS a Scooby-Doo book in Italian

Dinner at Orso 80 on the Via dei Orso. Ordered their house antipasto which was an incredible amount of food. All very good. 72 euros including tip and a bottle of wine. Stop at La Cremeria on our way back to the hotel.

3/17/05 Thurs.

We go to Campo de Fiori and then the Crimonologico Museum at Via Galfone 27. It was very interesting. Showed instruments of toruture in the middle ages. There is also an area about well know Italian criminals, someone’s brain in formaldehyde, skeleton’s of people. There is also an area on contraband, forgery, and the mafia. While some signs were in English, many were not, but still very interesting. There was also a trunk that man(spy) was smuggled in on plane, trying to fly from London to Cairo but discovered at Rome airport.

Went to the Jewish ghetto, not a very large area. Ate in a kosher restaurant Il Taverna de Ghetto. Had Jewish style fried artichokes, salami plate and 2 plates of pasta. The food was good but the service was slow and it was expensive.

Went to the synagogue, which is now guarded by Italian police due to a PLO shooting several years ago. A short but interesting talk on the synagogue and history of the community. Also a small museum. Walk to Bocca de la Veritas (the mouth of truth). Stick our hand in for fun!

Walked back to Le Cremeria and Café St. Eustachio, then over to Piazza Navona. We decide that we definitey prefer the Plaza near the Pantheon - Piazza della Rotunda as it is smaller and interesting to have the Pantheon right there.

Back to the room to rest. Leave early for our dinner reservation so we can walk along the Via Del Corso and Via Condotti. Ah, Rome! Have dinner at Gusto (Piazza Augusto Imperatore – corner of Via della Frezza & Via de Corea nw of the Spanish Steps) which is wonderful. This is a big, loud, hip restaurant. We have a two wonderful plates of cheese and proscuitto. We enjoy a pasta carbonara and pasta a gamberi a pomodoro. Our last trip to Le Cremeria before we must leave Rome.

Well, the kids are throughly enjoying the trip. They get to share a cappuccino once per day and the twice a day gelatos don't hurt either! We are all sad to leave Rome, but we are all looking forward to Venice.

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