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Rome report (with teens)

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On my previous post (Paris report with teens) I THANKED the Fodor community for all your advice and patience helping me with this trip and I just want to repeat that here. This was our first trip to Rome (and Italy). We are a family of 4 – our boys are 15 and 18. We were coming from a week in Paris, which was our second time there. We were in Rome June 20 – 27.

Rome. WOW! It was everything I’d hope it would be, and then some. I don’t think I could live there, but everyone should see Rome once. It is OLD, incredibly interesting, beautiful, hot, dirty, full of graffiti, busy, and the traffic is crazy. We just loved it. In this report I will mostly give details that I think somebody might try to search for in the future, as I’m sure most people aren’t interested in a day by day run down…

We landed at Rome Ciampino(CIA) airport, which is smaller and much less crowded than the main Rome airport, Fiumicino. We flew in on Ryan Air – which I heartily recommend. They were great. We had packed one small (carry on size) rolling suitcase each with a tote bag for on the plane. That was great. So many families overwhelmed with luggage – what’s up with that?

We were met by our “landlord,” Mauro Sacchetta Cali, who runs Underground Viaggi di Om. He was standing there holding a sign with our name on it, which was really great. He drove us to the apartment (parked a little ways away) and even pulled my suitcase all the way from his car to the apt. We rented 81 Via del Pellegrino, which is just down the street from Campo de Fiori. The web site for this apt is http://www.rome-apartments-for-rent.it/pellegrino/pellegrino.asp. We paid 1150€ for the week, which I thought was a good deal. It was surprisingly BIG! It is in a 16th century building, as are all the buildings in the area. It has two living rooms, comfortable beds (a large queen and two twins), a large modern bathroom and was clean. It is on the European first floor, which means that we were one story up. It was decorated nicely, with new couches and chairs, sturdy tables, plenty of lights, and antique pieces. The windows were great. They open onto the street and we spent a lot of time just hanging out looking down to see what was going on (which was always something!). It was air conditioned and that worked very well. Hot water was on demand, so we never ran out. There was a washing machine (no dryer – it was so hot stuff dried instantly); it is in German but Mauro gave me some instructions. The kitchen seemed well equipped but I did not cook. The refrigerator freezer was large and new. Mauro was really great, by the way. I called him a couple of times and he was helpful every time. He gave us great restaurant suggestions and showed us where the grocery store was and where to pick up sandwiches and pizza. He was 100% reliable. We loved the Campo de Fiori area. Centrally located, but you could still find nice “hidden” restaurants and not feel like you were inundated with tourists. Our street was a busy place. There were voices, motorcycles, cars, and some music. It got very busy at night. I personally loved it, but I did wear ear plugs on the nights we slept with the windows open. With the windows closed, or the air conditioning on, we couldn’t hear anything. When it was time for us to leave, Mauro’s son drove us to the airport and he was just wonderful too. I left a full review of the apt on slowtrav.com.

I will reiterate from my Paris report - If you are a traveler who likes a lot of pampering you will not like renting an apartment. We aren’t the types who ever use a concierge, even when it is available, so this was great for us. You really are staying in someone else’s house, for better or worse.

Before I forget also, I am so glad that we waited until our kids were older to take this trip. Taking small kids to Rome would (in my opinion) be totally awful. Paris might be doable (still awful) but I think Rome would just be impossible. Because they are older it was good to feel that they were (relatively) safe amongst that scary traffic. (You would never be able to let go of a little kid’s hand.) A stroller would be really annoying on those cobblestone streets and in the museums, which seemed to have only stairs. While I saw a lot of kids and young families in Paris, I did not see that in Rome. To sit 2 1/2 or 3 hours at dinner and enjoy conversation with my teens was just such a pleasure (it was a time we will never forget); with little kids it would be a nightmare.

No one in the family speaks Italian, so I worked on some cd’s for awhile before we left. (Mostly I just listened to them in the car!) My youngest son gave me a hand, as the other two members of the family were responsible for the French in Paris. If I must say so myself, I thought we did quite well. The Romans seemed much more willing or capable to speak English than in Paris, but it was nice to be able to speak a little.

We visited all the usual Rome tourist spots and museums. My kids loved the museums and in fact they loved everything about Rome (well, my youngest didn’t like the food, but he’s nuts). We started out with a Context Rome tour, ‘Roma Antica.’ It was super hot in the Forum but we enjoyed it thoroughly. We also did the Context Rome ‘Vatican tour’ later in the week. That one was even better. (Honestly, seeing the Sistine Chapel with Liz explaining it brought tears to my eyes it was so beautiful.) Both tours were well worth the money. I felt very sorry for tourists in those huge groups. We did a trip to Ostia Antica, which was good. (Also, very cheap to do.) It would have been better if it hadn’t been so hot, but oh well. We also had reservations at the Borghese Gallery, but it was our last day and we were a little “museumed out” so we may not have gotten the best experience there.

Our basic routine was we’d go out sight seeing during the day (trying to get an early start – but, you know, teens) and then get back to the apt. about 4:00. We’d have bread, cheese, and wine, clean up, and maybe even take a nap or play cards. Then we’d head out for dinner about 9:00. We took one day off from sightseeing completely. We basically did nothing. I went to a department store; it was boring. The kids vegged out all day. We just grabbed food and cappuccino at Campo places. It was great.

We walked nearly everywhere. It was so fun to look at all the great buildings. We took little side roads even when it was longer. We took a cab the first day we were there because we were tight on time to meet our tour. It was cheap. (You have to go to a taxi stand to get a cab.) We also took a cab to the Vatican the day we did that tour because it was beastly hot out and with four of us it just seemed easier than the bus. In general, we avoided the bus because it was so hot. We preferred to be outside and free to stop, rest, walk in the shade, or whatever. We just loved the drinking fountains all over. After nearly dying of thirst in Paris, this was a VERY good thing. The old streets are very narrow and so you have to be watchful of cars and motorcycles. The closest thing I saw to a disaster was a tourist who almost got her foot run over by a truck backing up in Campo de Fiori. There were times when we’d have to duck into a doorway to make room for a passing vehicle. You do need to be careful.

Our favorite restaurants were Pierluigi (Piazza de Ricci - very close, need reservations), Al Fontanone (46 Piazza Trilussa) and Da Gildo (31 Via della Scala) (both in Trastevere). We also ate at Insalata Ricci (85 L. go dei Chiavani - very close, good, cheap), La Carbonara (in Campo de Fiori - nice atmosphere and very close by, quite good food, lots of tourists), Hostario Giulio (19 via della Barchetta - decent). Maura recommended a restaurant called Al Ciack at 21 Vicolo dei Cinque (also in Trastevere) which looked great but my youngest son panicked when he looked at the menu. We would have loved to have eaten there. The other restaurant we missed that has RAVE reviews everywhere is Al Bric, which is between the apt and Campo de Fiori on the right hand side of the street. For some reason, we never made it there either.

Our biggest restaurant crises would always occur at lunch, when we'd invariably be in some really touristy location and suddenly the kids were STARVING. So some of those lunches I'd just as soon forget. (Especially the one with the spoiled NYC kid wickedly badgering her parents the entire meal for a $500 Fendi handbag. She did get the credit card though, and off she went!)

We bought cheese, wine and bread every day from a shop on one of the corners of Campo de Fiori. Also bought fruit there in the morning. We liked the baked goods at Il Fornaio, 5/7 Via dei Baullari. Gelato was good everywhere and we spent about 10€ per day on that.

Mauro had told us to just walk around and look for restaurants that were crowded with people speaking Italian. Well, the ones that fit that bill best were the McDonald’s! HA! I know, because I visited every one of them to inspect their facilities. The museums had OK bathrooms too although sometimes they felt like mass chaos because there were too many different cultures trying to figure out how to wait for a stall. (Lots of different strategies - stand in line at the door, stand in front of the stall, barge ahead when a door opens...)

My youngest son is a picky eater. He liked the crepes, croque monsieurs, fish and rotisserie chicken in Paris. But in Rome he quickly tired of pizza (which he doesn’t like anyway – I know, he’s weird) and he was already sick of fish by then. But he was a good sport at the restaurants. My other son is the exact opposite – he would order and eat anything. So he thoroughly enjoyed the eating experience. We have lots of excellent Italian food here at home, but this was just different enough to feel very new.

We used the Rick Steves tour book, which was just OK, not great. Don’t bother to buy his Mona Winks book – waste of money). We also had with us the Eyewitness book which had some good information too (but too heavy to carry around). We had the Great Eats in Italy book (I just ripped out the Rome section), which was hit or miss. The best thing I brought along (aside from my Fodor tips of course) was a “Rough Guide” map of Rome. It is made out of waterproof (make that sweat proof - this was important!) paper and had every street on it. It was great.

It was brutally hot in Rome. We froze our water bottles at night and refilled them during the day. It was a lifesaver. I felt very sorry for those hordes of people in those big tour groups. They seriously looked like they were on death marches. In that kind of heat you really need to set your own pace. You could see virtually any kind of clothing in Rome. So be comfortable, but don’t forget the church rules and try not to look like you are on safari (even if you might feel like you are!).

I loved Rome. I loved the Italians. I loved where we stayed. The only other area I saw that I would consider staying in was Trastevere. We are not “fancy” types, and so the posh hotels on Via Veneto held no appeal for us. I have never been anyplace where I have heard so much TALKING. It was great. It certainly is a whole different way of life than ours - where you have to pick up the phone or get in the car to go visit anybody. For my teens our rather boring suburb with its nasty strip malls and isolated neighborhoods will never look the same I’m sure. I guess that’s why one travels though.

My youngest son had a regular film camera (!) but he took the best pictures because he shot just ordinary things he thought were interesting (cops with semi-automatic weapons, cute dogs, interesting parking jobs…) But, if you want to look at my pictures go to:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?mode=fromshare&conn_speed=1&Uc=x43zpxh.a24c1pbp&Uy=eq9zhi&Ux=0

Thanks for reading.

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