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Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice with 4 teenagers, 1 kid, 19 days perfect!

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Oct 18th, 2014, 04:22 PM
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Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice with 4 teenagers, 1 kid, 19 days perfect!

And finally six weeks after returning I have put together (sorry a rather long!) trip report of the Rome bit - I hope that it helps some of you who are thinking of travelling to Italy as a large family and with teenagers!

When it comes to family holidays, I tend to border on the very optimistic (some might say crazy) to the challenge of travelling with our large family of seven. But I really, really wanted to go to Italy and as I really felt I couldn’t wait until they all grew up, I decided it was the time to go! Flights were booked well in advanced (when it still was affordable for us to fly) - which meant with an arrival in Rome and a departure from Milan, all I needed to figure out was what to do in between. So I started with the guide books...Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Dorling Kingsley and then started my online research and eventually ended up at Fodors. Here I found the depth of information that I needed and where I must thank all those who have in the past recorded their own trip reports which I poured over and those who made the time and effort to answer my own questions - for they made our trip just that little bit more perfect. And now it is my time to share.

This is a trip report for those who are planning on experiencing with their family the joys and wonders of Italy - predominantly its cities, for this was a city based vacation with a strong history, culture and art slant. This is a report for those who wonder how they can travel with a whole lot of kids, when they range in age from 7 - 16 and you don’t have an unlimited budget to throw at it - and yet of course you also want to enjoy it and remain sane. A trip report for those who want to see the big sights of Italy because it is your first trip and also want deviate a little from the main tourist paths and experience a real feel for the place you are visiting. Unfortunately it is not a trip report for foodies - we ate out frequently but we didn’t seek out and enjoy the true culinary pleasures of Italy (unless you count pizza and ice cream where we did our best!) - our family dynamics didn’t lend ourselves to that sort of trip yet...but we did eat well. Finally it is a trip report for those who want to take a holiday of a lifetime in a country of exquisite beauty and culture and share it with those you love.

Background to us...a family with a 16 year old, a 14 year old, two 13 year olds and a rather feisty 7 year old. We can only holiday in the summer holidays and for us that is around the last 3 weeks of August. We knew that it would be hot and busy and in some cases just shut up for summer but it is what it is. We live in northern England and have spent many summers in France renting gites and last year road tripped through 8 northern European countries, camping - this year though it was a 19 day trip making use of AirBnB apartments and public transport and travelling very, very light with just small daypacks that we decided would be our summer holiday.

Day One - Arrival in Rome:
Finally as it does, the day we were all anticipating with excitement dawned and we were off to Italy! Joys of joy, flying this year meant that we were not facing our usual two day road trip to our destination. Still in true travelling style it involved cars/planes/buses /trains and walking but then there we were in the eternal city - by 2pm - eight hours after we left our house - absolutely brilliant. Normally we would still be battling with the endless traffic in our attempt to get south to where the sun does shine!

Rome - a place that I have wanted to visit, well forever and there we were. We found the airport bus transfers easy to use and the metro system relatively straight forward - certainly not difficult enough to warrant a taxi. Yes we lost the youngest for a moment or two and nearly went the wrong way but that is all part of travelling isn’t it?! We settled easily into our generously sized apartment on the peaceful and beautiful street of Via Margutta in the Spanish Steps area - dotted with art shops and boutique hotels - truly picture perfect. So after a quick refresh out we went; buoyant with enthusiasm for discovery. We drank with gusto from the water fountain outside our apartment, indulged in the most delicious ice cream (coconut for me that tasted exactly like iced creamy coconut!), bounced down the Spanish Steps, expressed our dismay at the Trevi fountain (scaffolded and dry - does that mean we won’t come back as no coins were thrown or that we need to come back to see it?) and arrived at our afternoon destination - the Cemetery of the Capuchins. It contains the skeletal remains of over 3,000 Capuchin friars in a display that is not meant to be macabre, but a reminder of the quick passage of life on Earth and our own mortality. With the famous quote “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be...” which we spent some time discussing the meaning of with the kids although mostly we were all amazed and surprised how artistic one could be with bones?! We were also all intrigued by the well laid out museum above and the wealth of paintings on display, well worth a visit.

By this time were all fading and so it was a slow walk back to the apartment, with a quick stop for some pizza by the slice and a very welcomed cold beer (doesn’t a beer taste so good in hot places - maybe why we seldom drink it back home!). We were finding the heat taxing and we had had an early start that day..and the next morning was an early start to explore Ancient Rome - so to bed we all went.

Day Two - Ancient Rome:
Well the aim was for an early start but after a day of travelling, not much sleep the night before we travelled, the heat, the fact we are on holiday and the not so small reality that we have four teenagers...we didn’t leave until 9am - yes I know hardly a sleep-in but we were in Rome, Rome I kept saying to the slumbering kids and there is a lot to see!

To the Colosseum is was and to say it didn’t disappoint would be an understatement - it was a ‘take your breath away’ moment as we emerged from the Metro. First though it was breakfast where the children had their first taste of a chocolate filled croissant (bordering on too sweet was the general conclusion) while we were energised by good coffee.

We had pre-booked tickets online so exchanged our printout for tickets at the Forum entrance which meant we avoided the lines and were straight in. Our first foray into ancient Rome! Although I had read not to expect too much with the ruins being pretty indistinguishable from their original state - we nevertheless found them easy to marvel at and wonder at what had been. We did have a written guide so I was able to share some insight with the children about what we were looking at but I also knew that I didn’t want us to peak too soon as we had the Colosseum ahead and there was a limit to what I knew the children could absorb with any meaning. So we wandered and explored what caught our eye. Latching on to segments of guided talks when they stood near us certainly added to our knowledge so we pretty much got the gist of the magnificence of the time, hard not to. The children are pretty avid consumers of Roman history so they further embellished us with details that they found interesting from earlier research. We were prepared for it to be busy and yes there were certainly many visitors but nothing that detracted from the experience nor prevented us from being able to enjoy what was there - maybe our tolerance levels of crowds is high, maybe we got lucky?

We then made our way over to the Colosseum, where having tickets and a pre-booked guided tour was the only sensible thing to do - even more so in the heat and crowds of August. Joining the ‘Underground and Third Tier tour’ immediately took us to an area of where we had space and quiet to learn so much about the place and the events that took place - it was fascinating. From the dispelling of myths to learning about the construction, we were entranced by what we saw and heard. Our youngest, with her vivid imagination seemed to hear the animals roar and the gladiators epic battles all around her and was convinced she could see blood in the sand! The guide (given in excellent English) was well informed and enthusiastic in her delivery and endlessly patient with the children’s questions. There was more to the Colosseum we could have explored after the tour but our energy was waning and I know it is always best to leave when everyone was still enthused by the place!

Discovering a small cafe nearby that sold us enormous and delicious sandwiches and finding a place in the shade to relax we were ready for the afternoon. Once again through research I had pre-booked a tour and so we made our way to Palazzo Valentini with its multi-media museum that brings to life so effectively the excavation that has been taking place to expose the Roman house/villa that once stood there. Delivered by a very knowledgeable although strongly accented English guide (who took quite the shine to my 16 year old daughter I might add!) and through projection and recordings, history was made real and the marvel of life thousands of years ago was ours for a moment. For over 80 minutes we were all entranced as we shared in the discovery that has been made and speculated at what was once...I so recommend.

Fortified by more cold drinks - including beers for the adults (which as we had already discovered by day two that a lunchtime drink made travelling with five children just that little shall we say...easier!) we stared in amazement at the Il Vitoriano (seriously over the top was the family’s conclusion) and wandered around the courtyard of the Capitoline Museum. We had wanted to visit this museum especially to see the statue of the She Wolf but they have recently changed the admission rules and we would now have had to pay for the five children, so at €81 for what would have been about 30 minutes of viewing attention left in our children we didn’t go in Another reason why we will need to come back! Still it was lovely views from the top over the Forum and a great place to feel a bit of cool breeze.

Then it was time to wander ‘home’ along the shopping street of Via Del Corso where we luxuriated in the evening warmth - good for the body and accompanied by the sights we had seen that day - good for the soul. Home via the relatively well stocked Carrefour for supplies, we settled in for the evening over brimming with what we had discovered and seen that day.

Day Three - Heart of Rome:
A day to wander and discover what is considered the heart of Rome - its historic centre. A wonderful mixture of ancient monuments, churches, palaces, plazas and tiny streets, perfect to explore at a slow pace - which was pretty much the only pace my teenagers seem to operate at! Ideally (according to my research on Fodors) it was to be explored with a famous La Tazza d’Oro coffee under our belt but it was closed - as were many places as it was Ferragosto - a public holiday. Still we found a reasonable place to drink coffee and then followed that up with an ice cream - all by 10.30am - when in Rome and all that! After the refuelling break the kids were agreeable to see anything I took them to!

However they were as enthralled as I was with the Pantheon, which really was as magnificent as I had been led to believe. It was wonderful walking out after our time within and watching the people about to enter and see their amazement in their expressions as they saw the interior for the first time. The light that was flooding through the oculus was so special - I am sure you could spend a day watching as it rotated through the dome lighting up the art adorning the walls.

Then we wandered the streets...past the elephant sculpture on Bernini’s obelisk, into Sant’Lgnazio church - where the children took some convincing that the dome did not exist but was just a huge trompe-l’oeil effect and then rested at Piazza Navona. Here we witnessed the most sweetest of proposals in front of the fountain and decided that a long Italian style lunch was needed - with wine or course. I can’t remember the name but it was off the Piazza, we had a shaded table outside, the menu said ‘nothing from frozen’ and we all enjoyed very much! With everyone now feeling ‘energised’ (although as I am learning with teenagers, their energy levels are decidedly lower than mine!) we continued walking, sticking to the shade in the 30+ degree heat.

Down we went along the beautiful and relatively quiet Via Coronari and on to Via Giulia where we went looking out for the old jail (I find the children’s enthusiasm for wandering is definitely piqued up when we are ‘searching’ for something that I know will be of interest - prisons being one of those things apparently!) and through to Campo de’Fiori - where the kids were mesmerised by the street cleaning vehicle ‘sweeping’ up a pigeon - nice, hmmmm. Finally to within throwing distance of where Julius Caesar was murdered (the kids knowing enough now of Roman history and how the buildings/places have been covered up by time to know that nothing is as it was!) and finally on to Largo di Torre Argentine - Cat Sanctuary. Where the kids got an extra-ordinary amount of pleasure at seeing the cared for cats in the ruins and commiserating with each other about missing their own cats at home! It was a lot of walking but nothing that frequent rests with a cool drink, or a stop in the shade with a drink from a fountain didn’t make manageable even in the heat of August. As a family we seem to like it when we are relatively aimlessly wandering within a city, taking time out to enjoy what each others discovers. Sometimes having no fixed agenda is the most relaxing of ways to spend one’s time.

We did however consent to bussing back to the apartment - I wasn’t getting too may more steps out of the family. Having an app that told us ‘live’ which Rome bus was going where certainly helped, especially when we could actually track our journey whilst on the bus and see where we could get off. However Sienna with the endless energy of a seven year old was still bouncing - so we left the others to relax and off together her and I went exploring just for a bit more - down the road to Piazza del Popolo, which was stunning in the evening light, with people out everywhere and finally back to the supermarket for supplies for dinner.

Another full day...and a relatively early night in order to I muster everyone’s energy levels up to take on the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s tomorrow!

Day Four - Vatican City:
After a quick counter style stop for coffee and sweet pastries at Canova on Piazza del Popolo (a place recommended and thankfully open as I don’t think I could have taken on the Vatican without a coffee kick!), we jumped on the Metro and made our way to the Vatican City. I guess one of the words to describe the Vatican and the St Peter’s would have to be excessive - it was over-the-top, mind blowing, enormous and with the crowds to match! After two Holy days where the Vatican has been shut, we knew well in advance that Saturday would be shall we say, extremely popular and it was. So much that the guy giving out the audio guides in the Vatican Museum offered Sienna the chance to sit behind his desk with him instead of coping with the crowds!

Thanks once again to advice on Fodor’s we had planned well and had reservations for the first entry which made it all that much more acceptable. The queue outside honestly stretched for well over a one km - right around the wall and nearly all the way back to St Peter’s - I have no idea how long they would all be standing there but it was in full sun and it was not moving at any pace. I was tempted to ask why they hadn’t considered making a reservation - as any research into visiting the Vatican makes you aware that is the sensible thing to do! Anyway...it was not our reality, thank goodness!

What was reality for us, was the incredible interior although we knew the compromise travelling as a family was that viewing had to be taken at seven year old’s pace and so we took that into consideration and narrowed down what we could see to: making discoveries in the map room, marvelling at Raphael’s use of colour and animated story telling and then making our way to the Sistine Chapel - which once again provided that amazing ‘wow’ moment as you entered and your eyes adjust to such a spectacle. With a fair bit of prior research I knew what would be of interest for the children and they enjoyed searching and finding the figures, stories and artistic techniques that I had told them to look out for. For many reasons a dream come true for me and hopefully lasting memories for the family. Before the Chapel though we all enjoyed the unexpected delights of the contemporary section which was magnificent with paintings/sculptures from Matese, Bacon, Gauguin, Kandinsky, Chagall, Klee, Dalí etc etc - all ignored by other visitors and tour groups in their rush to the Sistine Chapel, so we had the space completely to ourselves - getting delightfully up close to the wonders.

We knew about the tour groups using the ‘escape’ door to enter St Peter’s but also knew that we were in no rush and were happy to wander the rest of the museum and pretty much to ourselves. A lovely chance to soak up the atmosphere and reflect on what we had just seen. Then just when you think it is all over you leave via the Bramante Staircase - the most wonderful spiral staircase I had ever seen, where I went completely overboard on taking photos...once again it was mostly deserted and only occupied by my children. Apparently it is a double helix which escaped me somehow but meant Sienna spent a long time trying to run up and down to get to the other one - to no avail! It really was a highlight and I would have had regrets to have missed it.

Then it was on to St Peter’s where we did have to face a long queue but in a fast moving style and where we were once again left speechless as we entered through the doors! The idea to build something so simply enormous is such a testament to the control of the Catholic church of the time - it speaks of absolute power and strength and dominance that we can’t imagine today. We were defeated by the long lines to climb the dome and the waning energy of the children and called it a day at the Vatican!

Avoiding all the restaurants close by we found some stalls selling fantastic street food by the Tiber with good coffee and indulged in a spot of people watching under the trees! Just what we all needed.

Walking back to the apartment we stopped off at the Ara Pacis, which is housed in a wonderfully modern building which although looked enticing, the worn out children only wanted a foot soak in the cool fountains of the surrounds. Which in fairness on such a hot day was bliss before we headed back for a late afternoon of rest...and a meal cooked in the apartment.

With energy recharged we spent the evening and sunset up at Villa Borghese Park where we listened to the youngest child and rented a large pedal bike thing for six of us and raced around the gardens for an hour. It was completely not on my ‘schedule’ of things to do which in many ways made it even more fun as it was such an unexpected laugh. Although having a token steering wheel in front of you and not being able to actually turn nor brake was a bit of a mind bend! The park was also beautiful to explore at dusk - with the setting sun and peacefulness within it as night took hold.

We finished with an evening stroll down the Spanish Steps purchasing a laser pointer on the way for one of the boys - as you do, from the many street vendors, undertook a bit of window shopping of the very upmarket shops that surround the area and looked in awe at some very beautiful young people parading the streets dressed up to the max, out for a night on the town - all very Italian stylish.

Day Five
With our wonderful time in Rome up we prepared to head south to Naples. One last stop though was to Fabriano - the paper shop established in 1256 that Leonardo Di Vinci used to frequent - how very cool is that! We ‘ached’ and ‘oohed’ over the very beautiful notebooks and pens and all sorts of delights but travelling light as we were, we had to resist. Part of the essence of this trip with the children was to aim to carry with us very little - in order to enjoy the simplicity of a life with less possessions. We were severely tested to forget that idea in this shop!

Back to Rome Termini - where the old ‘don’t believe everything you read’ rang very true. Because if I were to believe what I had read - we would have been robbed ten times over! In fact we had a very relaxing time with coffee and food and free wifi until our train was ready to depart. It was certainly no more chaotic that Euston Station (London) and certainly not at all threatening!

And that for us...was Rome. The excessive, magnificent, historical, grand, fascinating, intriguing place that it was. Next it’s down South to Naples...and hopefully a trip report about our experiences there to follow...

Photos if you want to see of some of the places mentioned: http://jaxandco.smugmug.com/Rome
JaxandCo is offline  
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Oct 18th, 2014, 05:35 PM
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I enjoyed your report v much as I'm making my way to Rome with kids similarly aged.

The link you provided isn't working though? I'll check back in to follow up in a few hours!
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Oct 18th, 2014, 06:53 PM
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>>>Then just when you think it is all over you leave via the Bramante Staircase - the most wonderful spiral staircase I had ever seen,
Apparently it is a double helix <<<

That exit staircase isn't the Bramante staircase. The Bramante staircase (from the 1500's) is stone and in a part of the museum that you didn't have access to until recently which I think requires a special tour. The exit staircase that is the double helix is from the 1930's and designed by Giuseppe Momo (may have been based on Bramante's). Here's a pic of the Bramante staircase.

http://www.viator.com/tours/Rome/Ski...XTENDEDVATICAN

>>>Via Margutta<<<

The Audrey Hepburn apartment from Roman Holiday (via Margutta 51)?

You got a lot accomplished with such a large group and the heat.

Your pic link doesn't work for me. It says page not found.
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Oct 19th, 2014, 04:37 AM
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Sorry - I think I have sorted the link - that will teach me for trying to upload this at midnight!

http://jaxandco.smugmug.com/Rome/n-LGp3w

That is interesting kybourbon - as it seems to be universally described as the Bramante Staircase on so many websites. I stand corrected (and better informed) and maybe one day will see the 'real' thing! Thanks for that.

We have been meaning to watch Roman holiday with the kids (have bought the DVD) so now even more reason to do so - although we didn't stay at number 51!
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Oct 19th, 2014, 06:51 AM
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I'll be traveling to Rome in the Spring with my husband and two kids. Yours sound like a resilient bunch and especially in the heat! I am just starting to research our trip and feel a bit overwhelmed already so it's nice to be reading trip reports.
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Oct 19th, 2014, 06:51 AM
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ky - you have solved something that has puzzled me since my last visit to Rome 18 months ago. I hunted high and low for the Bramante Staircase and kept being directed to the one at the entrance/exit to the museums, but it didn't look right to me. Now I know why!

Jax - 5 kids in Rome in August - you're a braver woman than I. You certainly packed a lot in but had a realistic idea of what you could achieve which obviously helped.

Having taken our kids [older than yours] to several italian cities, including Rome but not Naples, I'm looking forward to your next instalment. i hope you didn't lose any of the kids there!
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Oct 19th, 2014, 11:55 AM
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I didn't realize that the Capitoline Museums now charged for children. It's one of the few public museums in Rome that does, and the change must be very recent. The Capitoline Museums is a municipal museum, and Rome is very short of money. That must be the reason.

Another (national) museum in Rome that has a collection of ancient art on the same level as (although a bit smaller than) the Capitoline Museums is Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. I took my nine-year-old granddaughter there in late July. It was her specific request; she had seen it a few years ago and remembered the ancient Roman jewelry. She's been reading a lot about ancient mythology, and recounted to us many of the stories represented by the sculptures. Admission to Palazzo Massimo is only €7, kids under 18 are free, and the ticket gives you admission to three other museums, over the course of three days. Quite a bargain!

You'll have to make another trip to Rome, for sure!
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Oct 19th, 2014, 01:30 PM
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Fabulous photos! Thanks for sharing.
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Oct 19th, 2014, 02:18 PM
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bvlenci - yes I think the change was very new. I had researched quite thoroughly and it had not come up in anything I had looked at...understandable but it just meant my scheduling hadn't left enough time in the day to see it and justify the entrance fee.

Yes Palazzo Massimo was on our 'list' to visit - the morning we departed as our train wasn't until 1.30pm...but it was not to be (hot, tired, hungry children maybe!) - so another one of the many, many reasons to return.

annhig - being realistic was the only way to 'survive' this trip. I learnt that immediately!
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Oct 19th, 2014, 07:12 PM
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>>>I didn't realize that the Capitoline Museums now charged for children.<<<

Their website says under 6 free and citizens of Rome under 18 free.

http://en.museicapitolini.org/inform...ta_e_riduzioni
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Oct 20th, 2014, 07:39 AM
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bvl - the change took place on 5th October and seems to apply to all the civic museums of Rome apart from a few free ones.

concession no 25 looks useful - if you are a single parent with 1-2 children you get 1 full-pirce admission free, so Jax and her husband could have split up [for entrance purposes] and got in cheaper that way.
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Oct 20th, 2014, 03:08 PM
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annhig - yes that would have helped! The problem being we had left it so late in the day with the idea just 'dip' in for the last 40 minutes or so - that spending more money on admission wasn't very appealing. Although it dis teach us a lesson - that things to change and therefore so do your plans and that is the reality of travel - as we certainly learnt in Naples! We will definitely give the Capitoline Museum the time it deserves next time!
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Oct 20th, 2014, 04:51 PM
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Is the single parent concession meant to be just that: a way that single parents can more easily afford the entry fees? Not to be too prissy, but maybe it's just as well you didn't know about it! Maybe next time there will be other concessions or Rome cards, or free days, etc.

I am looking forward to your Napoli report because I distinctly recall trying to talk you out of it -- at least at first -- but you seemed pretty clear eyed about going, and I ended up hoping you would indeed have a great time with your family in a city I really like a lot. I'll be especially interested to hear what your teens thought of it in the entire scheme of things.
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Oct 21st, 2014, 11:39 AM
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Nice photos, Jax. Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Oct 28th, 2014, 04:42 PM
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And now we are in Naples...

Day Five - Rome to Naples

One of the seeds sown in our minds to undertake this trip, was an experience in Germany last summer when we met a lovely Italian woman at her restaurant, who implored us to travel as a family to Italy’s south - “The sun, the warmth, the colours, the food, the people!” she exclaimed - “Go and enjoy”! So to the south we definitely wanted to go and although we only able this time to dab our toes into it we were delighted to be finally heading that way. We were also delighted by our first Italian train experience! To have a train departing on time was great, to actually have it in the station with plenty of time to get on it and settle in to our seats was fantastic BUT to be directed to where your carriage was by signs on the platform was just brilliant. Anyone who has had the dubious joy of British railway travel will share in our frustration in not quite knowing where to stand on the platform to wait for your carriage, consequently finding that when the train arrives you have about 200 metres to race down the platform to actually get to the right one - nightmare! With comfortable seats, Wifi that worked and travelling at 300km per hour we got to Naples in comfort and in no time! Although we did notice that the countryside flashing past us looked very inviting...for another time.

Then there was Naples, with Mt Vesuvius looming over it large and the glinting blueness of the sea framing it - we had arrived in the Italian south! When planning out our itinerary, Pompeii featured large on everyone’s wish list - it was one of the ‘must sees’. Coincidently we also watched the three documentaries about Naples - two based on food and one based on manufacturing and the stories they told of the city made us intrigued. (We ignored the one we watched about the rubbish problems!) So we decided we would go to Naples, to which I found conflicting advice about. We looked into Sorentto as a base - (as many suggested it would be more suitable for a family) but apart from struggling to find a suitable apartment, we were all keen to experience Naples and the reality and rawness of what the place offered. I have travelled extensively but our children have only travelled in northern Europe - where things are pretty orderly and considered. It felt time to show them that the world is a big and different place to what they knew and Naples seems a good introduction.

We booked a fantastic and spacious apartment on the edge of the historic centre - entered through a shared courtyard and up three flights of stairs, with wonderfully high ceilings, shuttered windows and balconies hanging over the streets. Surrounded by other apartments whose lives they contained spilling out onto the street - it was brilliantly real and just as we hoped. The man who checked us in gave us detailed insight into the best places for pizza and sfogliatelle and a complete rundown on the Italian state of affairs with a particular slant on the downtrodden role of the Italian male - at this point I left my husband and him to it!

After the usual negotiation of who has which bed (complicated by the very specific and random needs/desires of the seven year old) we set forth into the heart of Naples in search of what else but pizza! What we discovered as we explored was a city that was noisy, alive, real, chaotic and a complete bombardment of the senses - plus very, very warm!

We were fascinated by the streets so narrow and deep and yes with washing hanging everywhere. We explored the main cathedral with its intense baroque style and stopped to investigate shrines (including a sizeable number with skulls) that seem to be around every corner. We marvelled at the pizzerias and cafes haphazardly hugging the slivers of pavement of the tiny roads and quickly became customed to the non-stop beep beep of a vespa racing by and jumping out of the way in time. Yes it was dirty with the expected rubbish scattered everywhere but it was oh so real and alive. We were all entranced by the energy and vitality.

The pizza was delicious and cheep, the shaved iced fruit that followed in the street perfect and the evening espresso a treat - we loved it all and the kids seemed to fit in and feel right at home in the buzz of the place! Considering they are rural kids, we were impressed how easily and wholeheartedly they embraced the atmosphere.

Back home to the apartment (thank goodness for google maps to direct us there - the only way we would have ever made it!), with the doors and windows wide open in an attempt to capture some of the night coolness we enjoyed listening to the drama of domestic life happening around us - pleased for a change that it was not our family!!!

Day Six - Naples

As I mentioned, ever since we have thought about going to Italy this summer it has been a frequent question from the children - “Will we go to Pompeii?” I always assumed we would - a fascination that we all shared and one of the reasons we decided to visit Naples. However the more I read on Fodors and the more I talked to people the more I realised that just maybe Herculaneum might be the better option for us this time? Smaller, less crowded and more importantly better preserved so that the past could be brought easier to life in the children’s minds. So we made the collective (and it felt like brave) decision that we would miss Pompeii (on this trip!) and explore Herculaneum instead. And so was it as wonderful as everyone said? Yes and more!
First we needed to walk back to the central train station, through the streets alive with the daily markets, eyes darting every way as we took it all in, the sounds, the colours, the smells. Then it was a stop to pick up the sfogliatelle (which was enjoyed in small amounts as very rich) from the place we were recommended and then on the crowded and hot Circumvesuviana to Herculaneum (Ercolano Scavi) - where as to be expected we stood the whole way there! Soon though it was another ‘wow’ moment as we finally glimpsed the ruins which really were amazing - you seriously can not really get your head around that life existed there one day and then it was gone the next - and what you are actually seeing is as it was - no Dark or Middle or Renaissance or Industrial influence on it all - just a real stand still moment in time - nearly 2000 years later. The way that you can see how it has been dug out of the hillside really made it clear to us the impact and the extent and depth of the eruption...just incredible.

We joined a tour in English that was organised by the ticket office (which we definitely found always enhanced our experiences) and learnt so much as well as shared in the obvious love and passion our guide had for the history of the place. We then explored on our own, marvelling at the mosaic floors, the rich frescoes, the urns still standing and inscriptions that made us really feel connected to the time that is represented. It is something else to be sharing lunch under the shade of the wall of a ruined Roman villa! It is fair to say we were memorised - which is pretty impressive for four teenagers and a seven year old in 30 degree+ heat! I have to say thank you to the kids for sharing so enthusiastically this experience with us.

A slow walk back up to the train station made doable by street side offering of shaved ice and syrup - a complete energy booster and thirst quencher (the kids still talk about them!). Then it was back on the Circumvesuviana (which was as still as hot and crowed!) to Naples. Then a walk back to the apartment from the train station through the left over debris of the street markets, gathering up diner supplies as we went before cooling down in the apartment - thankful that swimming in that tantalising sea that we glimpsed today awaited us tomorrow!

Just a note re the differences of teenagers coping with it all and Sienna (the youngest at seven years) who decided that she would be happy if ‘next time’ we don’t come back to Naples as she found it smelly, noisy and broken! I explained that life is like this in many parts of the world and it is important that she experiences it - to which she replied - “I understand but I am just staying don’t expect me to live here when I am grown up, OK”!!!

Day Seven - Naples

Today was a beach day with swimming definitely on order! The kids had been troopers about dealing with the heat and not being able to swim everyday (since city experiences and swimming don’t seem to be a natural fit in Italy!) It was my main worry about under taking this trip when I knew how much they all loved the water and also how warm Italy would be...but I was hoping it would all be worth it.

However we did have some swimming opportunities in the itinerary and today’s was on Procida. I chose this over the more famous Capri and Ischia as we felt that they would be very crowded and that was probably not the best experience for such a large family nor for my sanity. So forgoing what I know would have been beautiful places to visit for the smaller and less popular island of Procida we headed there and thankfully it was brilliant!

With a fast paced walk down to the Naples main ferry terminal around 7.30am, we booked tickets for the service we wanted and enjoyed pastries and coffee at the port side cafe, marvelling at the size of the cruise liners in port - the kids could hardly believe that they were actual boats and could actually move! The hour long ferry journey presented us with a spectacular view of the coastline of Naples with Mount Vesuvius and in the distance the glistening outline of fabled Capri. Although the view into the small port of Procida was equally as eye pleasing - with its pastel coloured houses tumbling into the sea and the fishing boats gently bobbing in the harbour.

We headed over to the beach we had been recommended - Chiaia, in a taxi that went down streets that were impossibly narrow (think bending in both wing mirrors to squeeze by) and along streets that we couldn’t tell if they were two-way (such was the weaving all over the road of the traffic) and then finally we were in the sea - clear and warm and welcoming.

We spent about six hours swimming and relaxing, the volcanic sand being particularly comfortable to lie on and enjoyed the view and the people watching - hard not to when everyone seems to stroll continuous past as part of the beach experience. The kids enjoyed swimming the length of the beach to the cliffs to jump off and the youngest grew increasing confident with the small waves and more proficient at sandcastle building - childhood joys.

When the sun lowered behind the cliffs we walked down to the village of Corricella, a warren of pastel houses and narrow lanes linked by scalantinelli or staircase streets. Simply one of the most drop-dead gorgeous places your are ever likely to see. Parts of the films ‘Il Postino’ and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ were filmed here and just by chance we ended up dining at the restaurant where the filming took place. The owner delighted in showing us his photos from the time and explaining his involvement as an extra in the films - wonderful. The food was delicious and generous and I have to say at that moment we really felt like the luckiest family ever - sitting in the warm evening sun, sea lapping in front of us, good food and wine and sun kissed children surrounding us...it all makes those very long work days well worth it.

Then it was a wandering walk back to port where there we watched an outdoor evening mass taking place with a full choir and caught the ferry back - this time taking taxis back to the apartment - it had been a long day! Apart from the family’s fair English skin feeling the effects of the sun...it was a pretty perfect Procida day! Even Sienna had now decided that Naples definitely had some merits!!!

Day Eight - Naples

A relaxing and late start to the day - after a morning trip to the markets - we were especially enjoying the value that we were getting with regard to the fruit! I also had work to complete (the joys of being on a holiday when you still have a business back home to manage) and some downtime for the kids who were in need of a break from actvities and the heat. After lunch we decided to explore Naples in more detail, with a few plans and a general sense of ‘let’s wander and see’.

Sienna had used the word ‘scrappy’ often to describe her feelings of Naples! She had a point - there was plenty of rubbish, dilapidated buildings and a general rundown feeling to the place. To us it is all part of the, I guess ‘charm’ and the acknowledging of the difference between our own lives and that of others who share our world. However we all agreed with Sienna and her ‘scappiness’ view when we visited Piazza del Plesbiscito. The historic square, small in scale when compared to say St Peter’s (Rome) yet it had a similar layout and proportions and with the obvious potential for ‘grandeur’. Except - it was boarded up and graffitied, grey with age and deserted - even though it borders one of Naples’ most affluent streets. I don’t know if it is in the process of being restored or if work is halted as Italy holidays through August but it certainly was, well scrappy!

Not scrappy thought at all was Cappella Sansevero (the Veiled Christ) which was magnificent, really amazing. I was really looking forward to seeing this statue and its famously realistic marble veil and we were all entranced. Hard to comprehend how this was achieved as were the preserved human arterial skeletons downstairs - remarkable. A definite highlight.

Also ‘remarkable’ but in a ‘wow, that is a different way of doing things’ was sending a parcel home with our guidebooks from Rome and the hoody tops that two of the kids had mistakenly took with them on the plane when we were leaving the cold of the UK (and since we haven’t dropped below 28 degrees so far - they were proving slightly cumbersome to lug around in our small backpacks!). 40 mins later we managed to get the Post Office to sell us a box (involving three members of staff to discuss how they should go about this) and after two lots of form filling and one payment by ‘cash only’ it was sent it on its way. Still there was air conditioning by the counter which was welcomed! Although later there was a very light rain which cooled things down beautifully - no umbrellas for us - we all enjoyed the relief from the heat it brought. We were really finding Naples quite warm and muggy although for me rather like my childhood in Auckland, New Zealand!

Then it was another long wander through the tightly packed streets that had come completely alive after 7pm with people conducting all areas of their domestic lives out on the pavement on our way to the ‘famous’ Pizzeria da Michele restaurant. I was really looking forward to only having two choices of pizza to contend with as it would make our usually long winded family decision process straight forward.

And it was shut - as was the Archeological Museum today (well that was actually open except for the Pompeii section which kinda defeated the objective for going as far as we were concerned) - holiday time in Italy. Shame it coincides with our only holiday period! Having said that when Sienna told the owner of the restaurant that we did eventually eat at which was perfectly wonderful, that Naples was ‘noisy’ he smiled and replied - “Not at the moment - 50% of the people are away on holiday - come back in September to hear it being really noisy!” Sated we wandered home with plans to try the Museum again tomorrow and then to head off snorkelling over a Roman ruin for the rest of the day...well that was the plan.

Day Nine - Naples

Well we were supposed to go snorkelling over Roman ruins at the Phlegraean Fields near Naples - it was a treat we were all looking forward to but things conspired against us...firstly the sun that we spent far too long in on the island on Tuesday had left the children shall we say a bit sensitive and there was no way they could endure another sun beating. Secondly since the Naples Archeological Museum had been shut the previous day it needed to be fitted in on this day instead - leaving us very little time to get out to the snorkelling area by public transport. So we made the collective decision that on this trip snorkelling wasn’t to be...next time definitely!

The Museum was fantastic - the frescoes, mosaics and statues were just incredible and a complete highlight...however after two hours the kids had hit museum overload so we finished up and went home to rest through the afternoon - as I said before the heat of Naples really was intense! I definitely recommend anyone planning to visit though to check opening times of all sections before if they can as due to staff shortages/funds they do shut down parts of the museum at times.

To finish off our time in Naples we had decided to do the Napoli Sotterranea Tour which takes you underground into the aqueducts of Naples that have been there since Greek time and were used as bombing shelters in WW11. Unfortunately my husband took charge of the navigation and got a little confused and paid for our entry to the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore (situated near to where the tour was) - as they too advertised underground Roman tunnels. Thinking it was strange that it was unguided and finished in ten minutes we suddenly realised that we were in the wrong place and raced to the other one (with the people who has sold us the tickets confused by our early departure yelling after us in a mixture of French and Italian, “You haven’t seen everything yet!”) We eventually caught up with the English tour. All best laid plans and that...certainly was the theme of this day.

Another fantastic experience - especially the 10 minutes squeezing (and I mean squeezing) through tiny tunnels by candle light which led into beautiful pools of turquoise water, followed by entering into the basement’s of people’s homes to see the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre that the houses had been built over - quite incredible. Although the kids were rather intrigued by the wine in the cellars that the nuns used to make to make women pregnant - actually so was I!

Then it was home through the snaking streets, we had begun to get a little more orientated but still mostly relying on our phone apps - the city is not an easy one to navigate, nor is being constantly nimble to move out of the way of scooters crammed with families (although definitely adding to our enjoyment of the Naple experience) and back to our apartment where were ‘lulled’ to sleep by the drunken rows of our neighbours and spontaneous outbreaks of fireworks! Classic.

One thing we had begin to see more clearly as the days went by was that holidaying with children is just parenting in a different location, albeit a more picturesque one and where drinking wine at lunchtime is acceptable! All of their little personality peculiarities are still there as of course is their need to eat and drink (and rely on you to provide it) and the petty squabbles between themselves. Of course holidaying is enjoyable but as I have learnt - you can’t expect the little bits of life not to get in the way when you are away - it is all still there just happening in a new place! So the bottom line is that as we continued on our travels we did go far slower than I thought possible to see and visit the things we planned - between nourishment requirements, tolerance of the heat and the endless personal needs. At times it even seemed like it was one continuous move forward (and sometimes backwards) to the next place that the children could eat and drink at! Time between ‘fuelling stations’ in the heat is very small!

Still we made it out of Naples that next morning with ice coffee in hand (after an enormous breakfast and a comprehensive lunch prepared for the train ride) and then settled into enjoying the continuous drinks and snacks provided by the ‘luxury’ of travelling business class (perks of booking well in advance) and headed for the art and relative calmness of Florence.

So would we recommend Naples as a family destination in the heat of summer? Well yes - to those families who are seeking to travel and explore - certainly not to those who want a relaxing holiday experience - I am sure Sorrento would be much better. But it was right for us - the older kids really, really enjoyed it. The found the atmosphere more alive and exciting than Rome and they liked experiencing living as a Napoleon. They loved the history, the perceived threat of a volcano hanging over them and the noise and chaos and even the roughness of the place, and having their eyes opened to a different way of living. It was better than they expected even if the heat for them was hotter than they had ever felt. They continue to speak with much enthusiasm about Naples - it really was completely the right decision as a destination for our family.

Photos to follow!
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Oct 29th, 2014, 09:44 AM
  #16
 
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I really enjoyed your account of your time in Naples. I've been anxious to get there, and even more so after reading this. I'm so glad your kids enjoyed it so much. Sienna sounds like a hoot! Thanks so much for sharing!
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Oct 29th, 2014, 10:21 AM
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hi Jax,

just loving your report so far - my visits to Naples have been limited to a day trip about 40 years ago, and half a day last February, when I swear that the same heaps of rubbish were still there! It was very scary looking into some of those unlit streets at night, as we walked back to the railway station in the dark.in the end we had to accost a local to help guide us to where we needed to be!

it sounds as if the spring/summer would be a much better time to visit, though rather warmer.

looking forward to reading about Florence and Venice.
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Oct 29th, 2014, 11:34 AM
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Really enjoying your report and looking forward to the rest of the story!
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Oct 29th, 2014, 04:38 PM
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and some photos...

http://jaxandco.smugmug.com/Naples
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Oct 29th, 2014, 05:21 PM
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Wonderful report! Thanks for taking the time to provide one.

May I ask for the name of your Rome bus app? Thanks!
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