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Call Me Crazy - I went to Italy with a Toddler , and Loved Every Moment (almost...) A Trip Report: Rome and Tuscany

Call Me Crazy - I went to Italy with a Toddler , and Loved Every Moment (almost...) A Trip Report: Rome and Tuscany

May 9th, 2006, 10:19 AM
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Call Me Crazy - I went to Italy with a Toddler , and Loved Every Moment (almost...) A Trip Report: Rome and Tuscany


In early November, 2005, my husband (34 years), daughter (15 months) and I (27 years) went to Rome and Tuscany, spending a week in each location. I swore I would write a report as soon as I returned, and almost six months later, I am finally taking the time to follow through.

DH and I have been to Europe before: Scotland (myself at eighteen for three months), Netherlands, Belgium and France. It was our first time traveling with a child overseas,.

It is a bit crazy to travel with a young child. But watching my daughter grow those first few months showed me that I must live my life to the fullest and in the moment, because the future is too unpredictable to wait for. And my daughter is VERY easy going, rarely cried as a baby, so the idea of taking her on a plane seemed doable.

LUGGAGE

Our carry-on backpack days are over. We checked two bags and our car seat. We brought one carry-on and my purse. After reading all the posts about theft in Rome, I bought a travel bag at REI. It was large enough to carry all the day trip essentials and closed with a zipper and a flap with magnetic snaps. The strap was made from seatbelt material, overall, very durable, not too bulky, and not all that dorky. In hind sight, we never had any problem with anyone trying to take anything. Perhaps the theft rate is a bit over hyped.

AIRLINE

We chose British Air and bought two tickets in Economy Plus. The seats were comfortable, with enough leg room to stretch my legs out completely. Also, individual TV’s with several channels playing various movies and TV shows. If you travel with a little one on your lap, you must use the child seatbelt, which attaches to yours, and keep you child attached at all times. (Side note: a toddler lying on your lap for ten hours is not comfortable. If your little one will stay in the car seat, mine wouldn't, buy another seat.)

We changed plans in London, without any problems on either flight or in either airport. Parents with children get to bypass the security lines in Heathrow, which was a lovely bonus.

To make the flight livable, we booked a flight near her normal bedtime, ran her around SFO for two hours pre-flight, brought lots of extra snacks, new toys, books and Benedryl on the flight. The drugs worked wonderfully, she slept nine of the ten hours and my DH and I ate the snacks. Once we landed, our fellow travelers, thankful that that child they were stuck next to didn't utter a peep, finally looked us in the eye and made polite conversation.

At FCO, the airline or airport, who knows which, lost our stroller. (Huge bummer and the first of many items that we lost in Italy.) Thankfully, it was a cheap umbrella stroller and we brought a baby backpack as back up. A taxi waited for us at the airport, arranged for us by Natalia, who owned the apartment in Rome we booked for the week. (More about that in a minute.) Sergio, our driver, was fantastic. He was the perfect example of the Italian driver. We straddled two lanes, whipped in and out of rush hour traffic, and made left hand turns by literally blocking oncoming traffic so that they had no choice but to stop and let us finish our turn. DH sat in front with Sergio, and spent forty-five minutes peppering him with the lamest questions possible. I, as the researcher, had spent months trying to learn as much about Italian history, culture, language as possible and in addition, I spent months harping at my husband to learn something, anything, about where we were going. But no. He claimed he would be interested in Italy once we landed in Italy. So besides watching a few Italian movies and eating biscotti with our coffee in the morning, his mind was empty of info. So here I was, stuck in my first Italian taxi, listening to him make a complete fool of himself, and doing nothing positive to help the reputation of American tourists. But instead of whacking him upside the head, I promised to give Sergio a massive tip, and kept my mouth shut. (Side note: DH and I now laugh at about this incident. He claims that the thrill of travel overtook any common sense and regrets asking Sergio “how do you say, ‘where’s the toilet’ in Italian?”

THE ROME APARTMENT
www.dolceroma.com

I highly recommend Natalia and the apartment we stayed in (Campo dei Fiori). All her email responses were prompt, her website accurately describes the apartment we stayed in along with the extra services she supplies. Her description of the location as "animated" translates into loud. Across the street is a Vino bar that attracts anyone driving a Vespa, or at least is sounds that way, at 2am, listening to them unlock their massive bike chains and then start them up after a long evening drinking. Along with the chatter of bar life, which spills out onto the street, we had a hard time sleeping, with the windows and shutters closed. Only downside to the location. Also, you must pay in cash upon arrival.

Our first dinner was in the apartment and was a spattering of cookies, crackers, packaged toast with butter and jam, all provided by the apartment, free of charge. I know, extravagant, but we were so exhausted that night, we couldn't imagine leaving the apartment. (I wouldn't read this report for dining recommendations.)

More to Come…



mebe is offline  
May 9th, 2006, 05:27 PM
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ROME IN A DAY, ALMOST

Main attractions: St. Peters Basilica and Square, St. Angelo, Piazza Narvona and the Pantheon.

We woke around 10am, made some espresso (with milk-wow, and I thought Peet’s Coffee was strong!) ate more cookies, and studied our map to find our way to the ATM and grocery store. We got turned around once (both are within two blocks of each other and the apartment, a bit embarrassing). The store was small with narrow aisles and full of people - a little overwhelming. Thanks Fodorites for tip about using the gloves in the produce department. Armed with food and cash, we ate our ham sandwiches at the apartment, loaded up supplies in the travel bag, threw the kid on Aaron’s back, and took off for our first day in Rome.

We stepped out of our front door and started walking, without a particular direction. I hate to use maps unless I am desperately lost. The adventure is discovering a city on your own. The streets were narrow and the sidewalks barely existed, or disappeared under a Vespa. We felt much safer with Ada on our back, since we constantly stepped out into the road. Within minutes Ada was sound asleep. Ahhh…The sun shined bright with a light dusting of clouds, perfect temperature, especially for November. The air seemed to buzz with energy. The buildings were different shades of brown, white, yellow and muted orange and they exhaled history. The streets were lined with tiny galleries, cafes and shops; one shop sold only door knobs. We walked by an Italian man arguing with a “friend,” with wild gestures and dramatic, lyrical tirades. It was like DH and I were on a romantic get-a-way, holding hands like newlyweds. I was in love….

After followed a labyrinth of narrow streets, we turned the corner and spotted the top of St. Angelo through the maple trees the line the Tiber River. The timing was perfect, ( Ada asleep) and I couldn’t believe it. We rushed across the street, with all the other tourists (the tourists were so thick I couldn’t imagine visiting Rome during the summer) passed by the guys selling their purses and luggage on the bridge, pass the old women wearing heavy skirts and dirty head scarves curled into themselves, and zipped our way to St. Peter’s Basilica. I was surprised we had to go through a metal detector, first time for me while visiting a church. (Another side note: first time seeing the Italian polizia: wow…nothing like an Italian man in a starched uniform.)

How do you describe St. Peter’s Basilica? The beauty was immense and overwhelming. Whenever I visit Europe, cathedrals are a must see, even though I don’t belong to an organized religion, because they breath beauty, history and serenity. St. Peter’s lacked the serenity: big and with lots of people snatching pictures. We wandered through with our neck craned to the ceiling uttering “WOW” every minute or so. After forty-five minutes Ada stirred awake and joined in with her family oohhing and ahhing at the cathedral’s beauty. We let her out to walk around – mistake. From her perspective, two feet off the ground, she must have seen nothing by a marble runway. She took off running with a few happy squeals. DH took off after, while I took a few pictures of her great escape, and we quickly B-lined it to the nearest exit. She spent the next half-hour running free, chasing pigeons in St. Peter’s Square while DH chased her. I took pictures, soaked in the sun and marveled at how wonderful my husband was to give me that peaceful moment.

We ate a quick piece of pizza (ham and potato) while walking along the Vatican wall. I reported to my husband that eating lunch while walking, during siesta, wasn’t very Italian.

Our next stop was St. Angelo. Same deal as the square, husband followed Ada around while I took pictures. From the top there are great views of the Vatican and the Tiber River. There was a little museum, but we were avoiding indoor places, since Ada was at that moment too giggly.

PIAZZA NARVONA

It was now late afternoon, we were tired, and I finally broke out the lap so we could wind our way back to the apartment for a break. I don’t know why I bothered with the map, DH and I always get lost where ever we go. Once again, we wandered through tiny streets, peeked our head into shops selling rugs, beads, and sculptures. Finally after 20 minutes or so, we noticed that the streets opened up into a square – AHA! Piazza Narvona, the piazza I have heard raved about, was under our feet. It was filled with artists, tourists and street performers. The afternoon light turned the orange buildings vibrant and welcoming. And the entire piazza was lined with restaurants. We were told not to eat in the piazza if we wanted real Italian food but at that moment, we just wanted to sit down. We picked the place nearest to where we stood, and flipped through the menu to eat our first meal. It was in English and it had pictures! I was a bit mortified because I felt like such a tourist. Thankfully my husband ordered us each a beer and I relaxed and simply enjoyed sitting, watching people and listening to the Four Rivers Fountain. We both ate pizza, Ada had pear juice and we shared a second beer. Our waiter then requested we pay our bill – I’ve never had that happen, even in the U.S. Total cost was 43 Euros.

We wandered around the piazza for awhile. Not the greatest place for Ada to chase pigeons, too many people for her in run into, and a lot of little bits of garbage, cigarette butts for her to pick up and marvel at. Refreshed, we continued our walk, leaving from the opposite side of piazza. Streets were a little wider, more tourists, and a lot of polizia. I was in heaven! I have never checked out so many nicely dressed men. I assume we were near government buildings because of the suits, fancy cars, police, ectera. Ada nodded out again and DH and I morphed back into the childless couple enjoying an evening in Rome. We bought some gelato and meandered to the…

PANTHEON

What I love about Rome, and not using a map, is there’s a wonderful historical surprise around almost every corner. The Pantheon was the highlight of our trip. It’s beauty was so simple after seeing all the adornment at St. Peters. The pillars massive, the “devil’s hole” stunning. It had the serenity I usually find in churches. By the time we left it was dark (sun sets before six, a disadvantage of visiting in November.) and we amazingly retraced our steps back to our apartment. After a few more cookies, and watching The Wizard of Oz dubbed in Italian (except for the musical numbers) we called it a night.

Next: Campo dei fiori and thunderstorms…
mebe is offline  
May 9th, 2006, 05:41 PM
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Really enjoying your report!
TXgalinGA is offline  
May 9th, 2006, 09:25 PM
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A lovely report mebe, truly lovely! I look forward to the next installment.
LoveItaly is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 01:07 AM
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This is a delightful report - and you are an inspiration to motherhood! Please continue.
petitepois is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 03:45 AM
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Great trip report! Thanks for sharing.
moolyn is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 10:16 AM
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What a wonderful trip report! I'm so glad that you are taking the time to post it - I remember how precious time is when the kids are small!

Looking forward to more . . .
LCBoniti is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 10:33 AM
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Perfect. I love your descriptions, mebe. Looking forward to more.

Anselm
AnselmAdorne is online now  
May 10th, 2006, 10:47 AM
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Loved your description of your husband peppering your driver with inane questions....are we married to the same man? I research non-stop and he doesn't research at all. Then we get to our destination and he talks to other tourists or the guy at the front desk of the hotel and "discovers" some attraction that we just have to see...of course, I already have it on the agenda for Tuesday at 2 pm and know the opening and closing hours and metro sop by memory.
missypie is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 10:50 AM
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This reminds me of a trip to Spain I made w/my daughter, SIL, grandchild who was 13 mos old . . . we all had a great time (and we can now laugh at the (few) times when it wasn't so great).

I'm really enjoying your report and can hardly wait for the next installment.

Sandy (in Denton)
sandy_b is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 11:09 AM
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What a lovely report. I'm so enjoying it. Thanks. I wish I had enough courage to take my children travelling when they were young.
kiwigirl is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 11:10 AM
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Hi- I can't wait to read more. We are going to Italy in December with a 23 month old, so I am taking notes!
googie is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 11:27 AM
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Mebe, I loved your report. Our daughter is only 3 months old but we're hoping to go to Italy a year from now. This makes me think I'm not as crazy as my DH thinks I am!
swalter518 is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 11:35 AM
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Very evocatve writing. Eagerly awaiting more.

...the thrill of travel overtook any common sense and regrets asking Sergio “how do you say, ‘where’s the toilet’ in Italian?”

Funny!
bardo1 is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 12:47 PM
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Wonderful report!! We don't have kids yet, but you inspire me to inspire my husband that when we do, we can just take them with us!

Sally
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May 10th, 2006, 01:05 PM
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Thank you for all your wonderful comments. Here's a bit more - I've had to keep Ada locked in the bedroom with me to finish it. Sorry kid, no sunlight today!

Day Two

Another late start to the day, we again slept in until 10 am (at home we naturally wake up at 7 am). Ada adjusted to the time change without any problems and adapted by taking an extra nap during the day (which DH and I loved!) She was aware of being somewhere other than home and followed us around the apartment, crying out if either one of us left the room. We did bring some of her toys and books from home so she would have a few familiar friends. And the coffee table was a perfect height for her to practice her new trick of climbing onto furniture. We ate breakfast: eggs, yogurt, orange juice, incredibly strong coffee, and left our home for another day of meandering. We left in the opposite direction that we had the day prior, but we still ended up across from St. Angelo and the Tiber River. We took a left and walked along the river under the maple trees. Ada fell asleep again, we took a few self portraits under the trees, and took a right back into the city when we saw a group of young teens smoking something under a heavily scaffold building (habit from living in California).

We wound our way through the narrow streets until we discovered Campo dei Fiori. It was toward the end of the market, and fish stalls were already closing up and hosing their area down. But the other colorful stalls were still open, giving us a chance to marvel at the array of items they sold. We saw kitchen gadgets, clothes, underwear, scarves, fruit and vegetables, flowers and spice shops. People sat around where ever they could, talking, reading, eating, all while enjoying the sun. We thought of stopping at one of the restaurants around the square, but decided we still needed to try an “authentic” Italian meal off a side street where the menus do not come with pictures. On our search for a place to eat we stepped into a pharmacy to buy diapers. We bickered about how to change pounds into grams, how much Ada actually weighed, which diapers to buy, while the lady behind the counter watched us and had a good chuckle.

We found our restaurant. It was on a side street; lots of outside seating, full of Italians and there was a family with a small child already eating. Perfect! Then I couldn’t remember if we were supposed to just sit down, or wait to be seated. The waiter ignored us while he scurried around attending to the other patrons. Finally, after a minute of standing there like idiots, DH asked a couple if we could “just sit anywhere.” In perfect English they replied “of course!” Another minute passed and the family with child left and brought over their high chair for us to use. We ordered only the first course (in Italian, but the waiter answered us in English), and thankfully, I wrote down what we ate. DH had ravioli with seafood and I ate tagalli (sp?) with zucchini flowers along with a liter of mineral water. Both were good but very rich and gave us stomach aches later in the day.

Overall, the restaurant experience was stressful. I expected to be an expert once I left after months of constant research and reading other people’s trip reports. Yet the reality was I would only gain experience by living through my own experiences. I gave myself a hard time for being a “travel novice” and not fitting in perfectly into Roman culture. I took a lot of deep breaths and tried to enjoy making mistakes and not fitting in. But it was hard, and I now regret I didn’t relax and enjoy each moment for what it was, which my husband, who did no research, did without a problem.

By the time we headed home, to give Ada a chance to sleep lying down, the sky was overcast and heavy with moisture. Within a few hours, the rain started, light but constant. I was stir crazy in the apartment and told DH we were going out to dinner, in the rain. Unfortunately, I only brought one umbrella and no rain jackets (except for Ada’s) so we all cuddled together as we set out on the adventure of eating another Italian meal, something simple. Of course we didn’t use our map and ended up in Piazza Narvona again. It was beautiful at night, the fountain lit up; people still out walking in the rain, the streetlights cast a warm glow. We can’t eat here again! But the fountain created a blue oasis, and the murmur of other diners lured us into staying. We sat outside under layered umbrellas right across from the fountain. The waiters were friendly and laughed at Ada who had fists full of broken bread sticks keeping her entertained. We felt comfortable enough to practice ordering in Italian and a few other simple phrases, other than “grazie.” Our entertainment was watching the waiters chase off the peddlers who tried to sell us umbrellas or red roses. The meal was overpriced but the ambiance was ideal. For 70 Euros we shared a mixed salad, individual orders of chicken and potatoes (perfect!) ½ liter of wine, still water, tiramisu and gelato. I wrote in my journal “Yikes! Expensive dinner, but at least I’m not burping up repulsive tastes like I did after lunch.” The sky dumped water on our walk back to the apartment. I wished we had “seen” more that day, but life slows down while toting around a toddler. I woke up to the sound of thunder and lighting, parked overhead and shaking the windows. But no Vespas! I thought of the ancient Romans sleeping through similar storms and went back to sleep.

Day Three: The rain continues…


We began Sunday morning with Ada drumming against the shower stalls, yelling with pleasure at the echoed rattles. I shut the bathroom window in an attempt to not disturb our neighbors. We repeatedly told ourselves that the rain wasn’t ruining a day of sightseeing, that we expected rain, that is was Roman rain, therefore more meaningful, ectera, ectera…Ada spent most of the day running around the apartment, jumping on furniture, laughing at us telling her not to jump on the sofas, beds, tables and so forth.

The rain let up by mid afternoon, and we immediately took off. The air was fresh and wet and we were thrilled to be once again walking the streets. We went back to the Pantheon and Ada ran around the square. But too many people and she ran into a few; not a problem with the Romans, but the other non-Romans weren’t pleased. Back in the backpack.

Side note: it’s true that most Romans love children. Where ever we walked they patted her on the head, smiled, said “bella” and other complements (I assume!) in Italian and some in English, usually commenting on her blue eyes.

Via Corso was our next accidental destination. I had studied the map enough to know that at the far end was the “wedding cake” (I can’t remember its real name) and sure enough, there it was glinting white in the distance. Finally, a new site to explore! The traffic was much heavier, sidewalks wider and lots and lots of people – a bit overwhelming compared to the quaint streets we usually explore. The monument is expressive and the marble stairs are very slippery when wet. Aaron took that moment to take a break from the backpack, and I had the pleasure of climbing with twenty lbs extra and the fear of slipping and breaking both of our necks. We gawked at the large horse statue (and how anatomically correct someone sculpted its “parts” and wandered around on the top for a bit. It was our first time seeing the Forum and further away, the Coliseum. The Coliseum was the main reason I wanted to stay in Rome. I watched a lot of History Channel programs on its grim history, and I love nothing more that learning about the gore or our past. But that adventure would have to wait another day. It was already 4pm, and it began sprinkling.

There has been a lot of advice about how to cross the street in Rome; a dangerous experience, but so far for us, no close calls. But our experience was limited to two lanes. Leaving “the wedding cake” to get back to Via Corso, we faced five lanes of taxis, Vespas, tour buses and other cars speeding around a corner at a ridiculous speed. We had a crosswalk, but no light. No problem, we thought with our bloated egos, we will cross when the Italian man standing next to us. He went, no traffic, we went. Out of no where, four cars and a Vespa are coming at us without any regard to our existence. The man apparently was not Italian, because he turned and ran half way back to where we started, panic stricken. S**T! That was our first thought, but we stayed, let the Vespa fly by, then the taxi, then walked in front of the last two cars who slowed so as not to hit us. No horns, no yelling “what are you thinking stupid tourists!” Nothing but understanding that it was our turn to use the road. Sergio told us during our taxi ride “it’s all about respect” and at that moment, I understood. The people standing at the corner, watching us, shook their heads either at our bravery or our stupidity.
mebe is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 02:57 PM
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Oh mebe, what a precious trip report! And hearing the thunder and having the rain as the Romans did..too true.

I will imagine that your family will take a lot more trips as your daughter grows up..and what beautiful adventures you will have!!
LoveItaly is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 03:22 PM
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Thanks for sharing - what a wonderful trip and report.
fun4all4 is offline  
May 10th, 2006, 03:45 PM
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More, more! I am really enjoying your writing style- both your adventures and your musings on them!

I totally relate to the dining stress after doing all the research! Mine was the stress of trying to speak French in Paris for the first time. I actually have a much better vocabulary and reading knowledge of the language than my DH (although by no means anything great),but he was somehow joking around in French with everyone we met, while I was paralyzed for the entire trip- afraid to ask where the bathroom was. Maybe because for him it was just communication where for me it was something I had been researching, dreaming of, practicing for months and I ended up feeling like I was on a stage and my "performance" wasn't matching up to my dreams. Just pondering... Back to your post!
BlueSwimmer is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 11:06 AM
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Blue Swimmer- EXACTLY!

Googie and Swalter518 - if you have any specific questions or worries about trekking you kid around, please ask!


I looked up the "wedding cake" and its offical name is Victor Emmauel Monument.

Here's some more -

(Same Day)
Back at the Pantheon, we stopped at the Salumeria (raved about by Rick Steve’s) for dinner. DH bravely asked in Italian if they accepted credit cards and the woman behind the cash register said no. Okay, no problem; we have 6 Euros and two ettos of a salami, tomato and basil Panini was 5 Euro. But when we ordered, in Italian, the man behind the counter gave us 2.5 ettos and wrapped them up before we could say a word. Total cost: 9.25 Euros – UH OH. I burned with embarrassment. Plus, I still had Ada on my back and I kept bumping into people with the backpack in the narrow store. DH and I huddled together in panic and he went back to the woman behind the cash register and attempted to explain our dilemma. She asked “quante?” and DH showed her all the coins we had and I said “seis.” She smiled, with an annoyed look in her eyes and said “okay” and took our money. Dumbfounded she didn’t tell us to search out the nearest ATM, I fumbled out a “mille grazie” instead of a “grazie mille,” and we left in humiliation. Our egos bloated with confidence a few minutes ago now completely deflated, carried us over to the Pantheon, and we ate our Panini under the pillars while Ada roamed around in between bites of sandwich. We vowed to return to the Salumeria and pay what we owed, plus buy a bottle of wine.


Day Four:

I woke up with a sore throat, stuffy nose and clouded head. I spent the morning sleeping, Ada continued her shower drumming and DH took care of us both. We didn’t leave until 1 pm. We backtracked to the Vatican to buy stamps and send our postcards. I read somewhere that if you want your postcards to arrive within the same six months of your return, do not sent them through the Italian post. Apparently international postcards have the lowest priority and get sent when they postman feels like sending them. No luck finding the post office, or a “Pope-a-ner,” which is a bottle opener with a picture of the Pope on it that I heard discussed on NPR. The shops sold devotional items, and I don’t think a “Pope-a-ner” is considered devotional. (When I told a Catholic friend of mine about it, she gasped in horror)

TREVI FOUNTAIN

Ada chased more pigeons, we ate a forgettable lunch (I really have no clue what we ate or where) and decided to make the day worth while by tracking down the Trevi Fountain. Using a map, (I didn’t have the stamina for wandering) we made our way past Piazza Narvona, The Pantheon, back to Via Corso and followed the signs that say “Trevi Fountain” with an arrow pointing in it’s general direction. The Trevi Fountain is another example of Rome’s magic; at the end of an average street stands a massive fountain attached to the side of a building. The delicious blue water beckoned me to jump in and splash around, but I restrained myself because my frivolous act would be witnessed by a massive swarm of tourists. DH and I declared we would never visit Rome during the regular season if Rome was this congested with people during the “off-season.”

To get down the steps to the pool of water I had to duck and weave through people taking pictures, tossing coins over their shoulder (watch out, not all the coins make it) and the hawkers selling roses dipped in fountain water and these strange plastic doll heads whose eyes bug out when you squeeze them. At some point, the patience disappears, and with a few polite “mi scusi” I nudged my way through to the bottom. It was surprisingly peaceful next to water. The roar drowns most human noise and the crowds did thin toward the sides of the fountain. I looked up and saw DH’s annoyed face in the crowd of people. I guess the guys with doll heads wouldn’t leave him alone and people pushing against him were making him claustrophobic. (Warning: this is a thief hot spot for obvious reasons) I hurried my way back up and we wandered away from the crowds and took a few pictures. We forgot to throw coins, but since Ada slept through the experience (and she LOVES fountains) we knew we were destined to try again. We laughed at the fountain’s hectic frenzy of people, bought some gelato and strolled home using our favorite route.

We attempted to visit Santa Maria sopra Minera, the only Gothic church in Rome just behind the Pantheon, but Ada chose to wake up, saw the rows of lit candles, pointed and expressed her joy with a “ohhhhh, light!” loud enough for all to hear and for all to glare. Alright, we get it, kids not welcome, and we left.

DINNER…

Natalia, the apartment owner, recommended an authentic Italian restaurant. Two older women, I think sisters, make a big pot of something and you sit down and eat it. That’s it. Whatever they make is delicious, so you are generally happy with what you get. Plus, one of the sister’s names is “Ada” so of course we had to go. They’re only opened a few days a week for lunch and dinner is served at eight. DH obsessed about this restaurant and made it his mission to eat there. Eight o’clock is Ada’s bedtime, but we ignored her schedule, fed her early, and went off to hunt down this “ultimate meal experience.” The main road (via Vittoro Emanuelle) roared with loud traffic, so I had the brilliant idea of cutting down a quieter side street for a more “relaxing” stroll. We wandered around in circles (this time actual circles) for twenty minutes or so until we finally found the correct street. Then we walked up and down the street a few times looking for a sign (no sign) then for an address number, until we determined the restaurant must be behind the only door on the street that lacked an address. A woman walking by confirmed we were standing in front of the right door and so we stood there and waited… and waited and waited… It’s eight sharp, the door should creak open and two little Italian women with head scarves and toothless smiles should now warmly welcome us into their kitchen, right? Nope. Hungry and frustrated and Ada now protesting we gave up at 8:15 and decided one of them must have been sick. It didn’t occur to me until later, that on Italian time, dinner at eight may have meant eight-ish or when the sauce was done cooking.

Up the road we found an almost empty trattoria and the checkered tablecloths invited us in. We took a seat in the back corner and relaxed. We ordered a ½ liter of wine and two courses. Ada immediately transformed into the fussy toddler. She sat in the high chair until she almost squirmed out. Then on to Dad’s lap: one one-thousand, two one-thousand; she whines and reaches for me, okay, hand her over the table to Mom’s lap: one one-thousand, two-one thousand – louder whines; okay, I’ll take her outside. The table right behind me is now taken, so they shuffle their chairs to let us out; once outside --“DA-DA…DA-DA!” Back inside onto his lap, more shuffling of chairs, and I squeeze myself back to the table and to my freshly arrived Pasta Ametricana (sp!) We hoped the food would occupy her, but she spit everything out. The restaurant is now completely full (we’re the only tourists) and we are only half way through dinner. Chugging the wine did not drown my anxiety. I glared at my husband since it was his idea to order two courses, but even that tried-and-true tactic didn’t relieve my tension. Second course arrived; I ordered the chicken and potatoes again (not as good as Piazza Narvona) my husband ordered tripe (he says it tasted really rubbery half way through; the image of a cow’s stomach didn’t help) and we ate as quickly as possible. Ada somehow whacked her self in the eye in the midst of a back bending protest and the restaurant filled with her wails. People turned to look, saw that her wound wasn’t squirting blood, and went back to drinking wine and socializing with their friends and family. I, on the other hand was hot with stress and ready to leave. We asked for the check, the waitress, a lovely woman, brought it, we paid (forgot to leave a tip), and our neighbors shuffled their chairs to let us out. No nasty looks, no relieved signs at our departure and even a few warm, understanding smiles.

We learned our lesson. You do not take a toddler out to dinner during their scheduled bedtime. The parent’s timetable adjusts to the child, not the reverse. If your child is miserable, you will be, too.


Day 5: The Forum and Colosseum

The Forum was a twenty minute walk from out apartment. For this area of Rome two perhaps three days are needed, at least for history fanatics, such as myself. We saw only half of what we wanted (with regret we skipped the Palatine Hill, Trajan’s Column/Forum and the Mamertine Prison – I enjoy prisons almost as much as cathedrals.)

Beautiful blue sky, nothing but ruins sprawled in front of me – I was in love all over again. I tried to absorb as much of the Roman marble and brick my mind could handle, but I knew I wouldn’t fully appreciate the scope of life and death in just a few hours. Ada missed it all; her focus was three feet off the ground, picking up rocks, chasing a pigeon and navigating Roman roads made of large flat stones, at the quickest speed her little feet could manage. DH and I had the freedom to relax and stroll leisurely. We watched a Gardner snake weave in and out of a brick wall and Ada climb on pieces of fallen marble columns. We ate lunch (brought with us) and changed a diaper at the Basilica of Constantine; Ada and a little German girl, same age, poked at each other while we chatted with the parents. We saw many families, European and America, with small children, vacationing in Rome.

At the Colossuem, Ada passed out in the backpack, we dodged the guys dressed as gladiators, and the “tour guides” luring tourists with promises of skipping long lines for a fee (If you want a tour, follow a group around once inside. It’s hard to avoid them)

The Colossuem was a bit of a let down. Perhaps I was too historically burned out or maybe my expectations were too high. Yes, it’s impressive but I didn’t feel the emotional pull I wanted. Walking around in the stands, looking in, I imagined crowds of Romans roaring for the blood of some poor guy being chased by a tiger or gladiator riding a chariot. I imagined the floor filling with water and naval ships reenacting battle scenes. But the experience was detached. I wanted to be in the center looking out at the crowds; I wanted to feel the desperation of the victims and the adoration of a victorious gladiator. The view is almost the same whether you are downstairs or up but they did have an interesting exhibit (that we were too bleary to enjoy), a bookstore with lots of fun trinkets to buy and its worth skipping the stairs to ride the glass elevator.

On our way home we found the Cat Sanctuary and took a break to watch them wander around. It’s a fascinating place, even if you don’t like cats, because it’s like someone cut a gigantic square out of modern Rome (it’s next to a major intersection) and exposed a bit of ancient Rome still living underneath.


Next: our last day in Rome and the drive out of Rome (was that really my idea?)
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