Trip Report: Italy with the bambinos!


Jun 22nd, 2017, 04:40 PM
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Trip Report: Italy with the bambinos!

Hello, all! We have just returned from a FABULOUS two-week vacation in Italy with our bambinos and wanted to share our experience with you all.

First, a little bit about us...
My husband, Ryan, and I used to travel to Europe about once a year prior to having kids. Europe has always been our travel passion, but then the bambinos entered our lives and put a temporary halt to the transatlantic travel. They're not exactly babies anymore - our daughter T just turned 7 a couple of days before we left on this trip, and our son R is 5.5. They have traveled internationally with us a couple of times, but this was their first big leap across the Atlantic.

I happen to be celebrating a milestone birthday this year, and I knew that the only thing I wanted was to go to Italy, with kids. Italy was my first-ever European trip back when I was a teenage, and it was also Ryan's first European destination when we went together about 17 years ago. We were LONG overdue for another visit.

Our kids were only vaguely familiar with Italy prior to the trip. They knew about the Colosseum, mostly because there's a big photo of it hanging on the wall at our favorite pizza place. Except, they knew it as "that really old building where a big chunk fell off". But we got a few books from the library and regaled them with tales of glorious gelato, and they were pumped to go! (Speaking of gelato, I had one rule - the kids had to eat at least one vegetable and one fruit each day, and they could have gelato EVERY DAY! I admit - there were some days where they would literally eat one nibble of a piece of lettuce and insisted they had their vegetable. But I was in Vacation Mom mode and wanted the gelato as much as they did, so I was a little loose on the interpretation of the rule.)

Anyway, our basic itinerary was as follows:
5 days in and around Rome
3 days in Tuscany
3 days in Venice

On to the details...

Day 0
Luckily we had enough frequent flier miles to cover all four of our tickets! But due to the availability of frequent flier seats, we had to fly from Atlanta (our home city) through JFK to Rome. (We did manage to snag direct flights home from Venice, though.) I was curious about how the kids would do on the overnight flight - but of course, they loved being able to watch movie after movie, and they both slept pretty well, too. Phew.

Day 1
Arrival at FCO! We quickly learned that people generally treat you better and have more patience with you when your traveling with small kids. When we got to the HUGE customs line, a customs agent directed us to go through the employee line, which must have saved us about 30 minutes. Nice! However, karma caught up with us when one of our bags (actually, a booster seat) didn't show up and we had to wait in the claims line. Bummer.

(Quick note for the parents about booster seats: In preparation for getting a rental car, we decided to buy very inexpensive but highly rated booster seats for the kids, bring them along on the trip with us, but then just leave them behind rather than drag them back home. This worked incredibly well for us. We got these seats: Renting from the car agency would have been a lot more expensive and probably a lot less clean.)

After finally filing our missing bag claim, we found our driver that we had pre-booked through Rome Shuttle Limousine for €55. Worth every penny! He took us directly to our AirBNB apartment. And now, let me rave about our apartment...

We stayed here:

Loved this place!! It's on Via del Governo Vecchio, about two blocks off of Piazza Navona. The location was perfection for us. Via del Governo Vecchio was very lively, with many popular restaurants, wine bars, and gelato shops, plus a taxi stand very close by. The door to our apartment building was literally right between two restaurants with another directly across the street. We would walk out our door and immediately be in the thick of things! The apartment itself was very spacious and comfortable. I'll admit that the kids had a hard time sleeping the first night because of street noise (their bedroom window was right above the restaurants), but they didn't notice it at all by the second night. I would HIGHLY recommend this apartment!

After freshening up, we headed to the restaurant right across the street - a very popular joint called Cantina e Cucina. We got two pizzas to share, along with wine and espresso. The restaurant also served us complimentary limoncello at the end of our meal. All delicious!!

We spent the rest of the afternoon/evening wandering around Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori, then ended the day with the first of 12 consecutive days of gelato. We went to La Gelateria Frigidarium, maybe a block away from our apartment - I think it had probably the best gelato of all the different places we tried on this trip.

Tomorrow: Colosseum!
Meredith is offline  
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Jun 22nd, 2017, 05:03 PM
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Signing on. I have had a wonderful dark chocolate/orange flavor at Frigidarium. Great gelato.
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Jun 22nd, 2017, 05:04 PM
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Bon gelato haha you are spending day so productive!
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Jun 22nd, 2017, 09:52 PM
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Following along, we are off with our bambini next year!
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Jun 23rd, 2017, 12:12 AM
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on for the ride

great decision about the booster seats

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Jun 23rd, 2017, 09:22 AM
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Looking forward to this. We are doing a similar trip next march with a 4 and 5 year old.
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Jun 23rd, 2017, 10:31 AM
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Another mom of young kids chiming in - so excited to read this report! We've been taking our kiddos with us since my oldest (now 6.5 and a proud kindergarten graduate) was 7 months old. Wouldn't trade the trips we've taken with them as young children for anything <3. We are just back from a couple weeks in SE Tuscany
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Jun 23rd, 2017, 11:14 AM
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Sounds like a great trip. You certainly see the world differently when traveling with young children.

That long line at the airport was immigration, not customs. There's never a line at customs. It comes after you retrieve your luggage, and then you just walk out the gate that says "nothing to declare". (Unless you have something to declare, of course, or unless they stop you because they suspect you do.)
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Jun 23rd, 2017, 04:31 PM
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Ah, yes, "bambini"... my apologies! Clearly I didn't sharpen my Italian skills too well on this trip.

And yes, bvlenci - you are right, of course. It was the immigration line, not the customs line.

Day 2
We woke up early in the morning ready for our tour of the Colosseum and the Forum! We decided to do a private guided tour with Rome Tours With Kids:

Loved this tour! We paid €200 for the tour, plus our entry fee into the Colosseum and Forum. Our tour guide, Marta, was fabulous. The tour was about two hours long (perfect for the kids) and focused on all kids of stories that grabbed the kids' attention. Marta did little games and quizzes for the kids - and rewarded little prizes accordingly - and she also had the kids do a scavenger hunt in the Forum. It was really great, and I would highly recommend it!

Next, we sadly parted ways with Marta and continued to wander in the area around the Forum, down Michelangelo's staircase, past the Vittorio Emanuele monument, and over to a restaurant recommended by Marta, called Taverna dei Fori Imperiali. We had prosciutto and melon and a few different pasta dishes. The food was fabulous! But there was a weird moment where we saw the owner get in a bit of a spat with an American family who were asking for a table. From what we saw, we didn't think the family was rude at all, so the owner's reaction was a bit surprising. Other than that, our meal was very enjoyable.

Next, more wandering around the Imperial Forums, and then we caught a cab back to our apartment for a solid afternoon nap. A busy morning in the sun plus jet lag had finally caught up to us!

Once we were suitably rested, we walked from our apartment over to the Pantheon and spent a little bit of time exploring. Then we found a restaurant about a block away from the Pantheon and had probably our most disappointing meal of the trip. No idea what the restaurant was called, but I do remember we saw it had lots of positive reviews on TripAdvisor. Oh well - our mistake for eating too close to a major attraction, I guess.

More wandering and exploring after dinner, as we visited the Trevi Fountain. Then we ended the night at Giolitti, a very famous and very crowded gelateria near the Pantheon. It was very tasty (but not as good as the Frigidarium right near us!)

Tomorrow: More Rome exploration!
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Jun 24th, 2017, 11:54 AM
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Day 3
We had a very lazy morning and didn't leave our apartment until close to 11 a.m. Wandered around the corner from our apartment and found a great spot for breakfast called Ristocaffe, right on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. We had a quick meal of pastries, cappuccino, and fresh fruit. Then, hopped in a taxi up to Piazza de Popolo.

From Piazza de Popolo, we strolled down Via del Corso and did some window shopping, then took a little detour over to the river. Our son is obsessed with anything transportation-related, so he loved watching a few small boats float by on the Tiber.

Then we made our way over to the Spanish Steps and soaked in that atmosphere for a little while. I do love the Spanish Steps, but the peddlers who shove roses in your face and wave cheap toys in the kids' faces seemed especially aggressive here. I did love, though, how our daughter quickly caught on with just saying "No!" whenever one of them would come nearby.

Lunchtime hunger kicked in, and we found an AWESOME little spot right near the Spanish Steps, called Pastificio. What a find! The restaurant serves up two kinds of pasta - when we were there, the choices were gnocchi in a red sauce, or pasta (I can't remember exactly what kind) in a greenish sauce (never figured out exactly what it was). You choose which one you want for only €4. If you eat in the restaurant (standing room only), then water and wine is included. We tried both dishes, loved them both, and of course stayed for the wine. This is a perfect, quick, inexpensive lunch - highly recommended!

All filled up, we headed up to Villa Borghese. It was a bit of a walk, uphill no less, but the kids were troopers. Once we got to the park, we decided to rent a 4-person bike for an hour. This was so much fun! I want to say it was €12 or so... but I can't remember for sure. Ryan and I pedaled, while the kids hung on for dear life - and we explored all of the different paths that wind through the park. It was really a lot of fun!

Then, back to our side of town for a little relaxation and afternoon drinks! We went to a wine bar called Mimi e Coco less than a block from our apartment that we adored. We enjoyed great outdoor seating with fabulous people-watching while sipping on a couple glasses of wine for us and Fanta for the kids. (Fanta was their special treat - while Mommy and Daddy had wine with every meal, the kids were allowed to split a Fanta. They were in heaven.) Mimi e Coco serves complimentary bruschetta, so we were in heaven, too.

For dinner, we went to a place called Grappolo d'Oro, just a few blocks away from us and near Campo de Fiori. Sooooo good! I had baccalla alla romana, Ryan had veal ossbucco, T had asparagus lasagna, and R had meatballs. (T is our adventurous eater. She'll try just about anything at least once. R, on the other hand, ate either pizza or meatballs/meat sauce pretty much every single day for lunch and dinner. At home, I'd insist on more of a variety - but I have to say, the meat sauce was ridiculously amazing pretty much everywhere we went!) Anyway, at Grappolo d'Oro, everything was outstanding!

Finished off the day with gelato at Frigidarium and then crashed in bed with full bellies and full hearts.
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Jun 25th, 2017, 01:34 AM
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bilboburgler is offline  
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Jun 25th, 2017, 07:40 PM
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Love the report! I'm taking my kids next May so your details are helpful! Was the Colosseum tour too long for kids with the heat?
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Jun 26th, 2017, 07:16 AM
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Brubenow - the length of the Colosseum tour worked out really well for us. While at the Colosseum, we managed to mostly stay in the shade, so the heat didn't affect us too much there, I don't think. But once we got to the Forum, which was probably the last 30 minutes of the tour, we were in full sun and the kids were reaching the end of their attention span. Our tour guide Marta could tell the kids were losing interest, so we wrapped it up right on time - they definitely would not have tolerated any more! So overall, the two-hour total was pretty much spot-on for us.
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Jun 26th, 2017, 02:11 PM
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Ok that's helpful thank you.
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Jun 26th, 2017, 05:13 PM
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Day 4
Today we took a day trip to Orvieto! I mentioned earlier that our son loves anything transportation-related, so we knew we had to find a reason to take a train somewhere. Ryan and I also are kind of obsessed with European trains, so doing a train ride was a no-brainer! Logistically it didn't make sense for us to take a train when moving to a new home base, so we decided to do a day trip out of Rome instead.

Ryan and I visited Orvieto 17 years ago, but I didn't remember much about it other than the gorgeous duomo. I'm so glad we went back! The train ride was a little over an hour, I think, and inexpensive at only €23,40 one way for all four of us (€7,80 per adult ticket, €3,90 per kid ticket). Both of our kids loved the train ride, as well as the funicular ride from the train station up to the town of Orvieto!

We spent the next few hours checking out the duomo and wandering through the streets. We especially loved stopping in Emilio's meat shop to sample some good stuff. We bought about 6 grams of different kinds of meat for €6, I think. Emilio gave us a mixed bag of prosciutto, wild boar jerky, and I'm not sure what else... but oh, it was mouth-watering good!

Next, we decided to climb the Tower of the Moor. It cost €3, and you can choose to take an elevator part way up, but you have to walk the rest of the way, maybe 200 steps or so. Both of the kids started off very enthusiastically... but as we got closer to the top, they both started getting very nervous about going all the way to the top and seeing the view. We eventually convinced R to go all the way, so he and I went to the top while Ryan waited behind with T. The views were amazing!! But R was not excited to be so high up, so we didn't linger. Meanwhile, Ryan and T were waiting for us a few steps below the top. T was really upset - she was scared to go to the top, but also didn't want to not go to the top... after a dramatic minute or two of waffling, she finally agreed to go to the top. And time was not on our side, because unbeknownst to us, it must have been 11:59 and 59 seconds when we stepped outside up at the top of the tower because we weren't out there but a second before GONG right in our ears as the clock struck 12. I mean, the bell was literally right next to our heads, and it scared the daylights out of all of us! My poor kids - they both screamed and ran back down the stairs. No more climbing bell towers for us for a good long while!

Then we had lunch at Caffe Montanucci, where you can order a variety of salads, pastas, and other yummies at the counter. After walking off lunch, we took the bus back to the funicular station but had some extra time before heading back down to catch our train. So we walked through the park just behind the funicular station - I don't know what this park is called, but it has so many great views over the cliffside. We also found a small playground there, which made the kids happy. We also found a snack bar selling popsicles, which made the kids REALLY happy.

Then, back down the funicular, back on the train, and back to Rome!

For dinner, we went to Pizza Baffeto, right up the street from our apartment. We had three delicious pizzas among the four of us - probably the best pizza we had on the whole trip! The only downside was that the service was a little weird, and the owner would not let us pay by credit card even though we had seen other people pay by card. We had heard that the service could be gruff, though, so there were no surprises. I would definitely recommend this place for the delicious pizza!

Tomorrow: Vatican!
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Jun 26th, 2017, 07:19 PM
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This may sound silly, but was there any security at the train station? I'm unsure about taking the train from Rome vs. renting a car or booking a car service. I wish the train stations had similar security to the airports.
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Jun 26th, 2017, 09:56 PM
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brubenow, you need to chill about the whole security thing. The good news is that the mass killers of the USA (white right winger loony males) do exist in Europe but not to the extent that they do in the USA.

Honestly trains are very safe and far safer than traveling by car. And of course, you are more likely to die due to errors in the train system than say terrorism.
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Jun 27th, 2017, 02:34 PM
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Brubenow, I don't think it's a silly question at all. No, there was no security at the train station, in terms of going through an x-ray, having your bags checked, or only allowing ticketed passengers beyond a certain point. There was a police presence, though.

I totally understand the worry, especially when traveling with kids. We just tried to remain super-aware of our surroundings and avoid huge crowds if we could - I think that's the best you can do, other than stay at home!
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Jun 27th, 2017, 05:22 PM
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Day 5
Today we're going to the Vatican! We started off at the Vatican Museum, with tickets we bought a couple weeks in advance of our trip. We had a 9 a.m. start time, which was the earliest that was available at the time we booked. Buying tickets in advance is a HUGE no-brainer, as the lines to buy tickets were pretty crazy.

In addition to our two adult tickets, we also bought a ticket for T along with the kids' audio tour. Because R is under 6 years old, he was free. We did not need to get him a separate audio guide. The kids' guide cost an extra €5 - it comes with an MP3 audio device and a scavenger hunt map. My kids were really into it for the first few pieces of art on the scavenger hunt - they liked spotting the art but really weren't interested in listening to the accompanying audio. And then after a few pieces of art, they lost interest in the scavenger hunt, too. I think they were just a little too young for it - they were more interested in exploring freely rather than following on with the map, which was fine by me. I thought it was more fun to roam free, too.

Somewhere in the midst of roaming, we stopped at the cafe that it's in the middle of the courtyard for a cappuccino and a quick bite. Then it was on to the Gallery of Maps, which is my personal favorite part of the museums. We especially liked spotting the Italian cities that we would be visiting later on the trip.

Next up: the Sistine Chapel! It was very impressive, of course, and offered a chance to sit and quietly contemplate. My kids especially liked the sitting part. Then we followed a smart tip from Rick Steves and exited through the door at the back right that is usually reserved for tour groups. We had no problem walking right through - no one was monitoring the door or anything like that. Exiting this way puts you right in front of St. Peter's rather than having to walk the long way around. Major time and energy saver!

St. Peter's never fails to impress. The kids' attention span was starting to wane, though, (as was mine, quite frankly), so we did a big loop through the interior and then headed out to make an obligatory stop at the Vatican Post Office to drop some postcards to the grandparents.

By this time, as we were making our way out of St. Peter's Square, it was probably about noon or a little after. The line for St. Peter's literally wrapped around the perimeter of the entire square - I have never seen so many people lined up for anything! We thanked the travel gods (and the real one) for the good sense to go through security at the museums in the morning.

Then we headed back to our neighborhood on foot - it was surprisingly closer than I thought it would be and only took maybe 15 minutes or so. We stopped for lunch at a place on Via del Governo Vecchio (our street) called Da Tonino that was absolutely DELICIOUS. Pasta amatriciana for me, pasta e fagioli for Ryan, and pasta with meat sauce for the kids - all of it scrumptious.

It was a tiring morning, so we went back to the hotel to rest and relax for a couple of hours. Then, since this was our last day in Rome, we headed back to our wine bar Mimi e Coco for wine/Fanta and bruschetta and to wile away the beautiful Roman afternoon...

We took a pre-dinner walk over to Piazza Navona to visit it one last time, and then headed over towards Campo de Fiori to eat at Osteria da Fortunata - another FABULOUS restaurant! (We really knocked it out of the ballpark with our restaurant choices on this day.) I had sliced roast beef on a bed of arugula, Ryan had veal, and the kids shared gnocchi. We finished up with a slice of ricotta pie. Aside from the wonderful food, the other great thing about this restaurant was the lady sitting in the corner rolling out pasta. My kids loved her, and she was kind enough to let them each have some dough to roll out on their own. They loved showing her their pasta shapes, and she was generously complimentary of their work.

Tomorrow: Goodbye, Rome Hello, Tuscany!
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Jun 27th, 2017, 08:27 PM
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There is a "no one beyond this point without tickets" control at the Termini trains station. No bag checks, though.

It used to be (might have changed now, haven't been in a couple of years) that if you rented an audio guide at the vatican, you had to leave an id. It was one of the reasons you couldn't leave the Sistine Chapel thru the group door to St Peter's, bcs you had to go back and return the audio guide and collect your id. How did you solve this problem?
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