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Trip Report: Normandy, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Greece, Paris with Middle School Boys

Trip Report: Normandy, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Greece, Paris with Middle School Boys

Old Jul 28th, 2007, 10:59 AM
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Trip Report: Normandy, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Greece, Paris with Middle School Boys

We took our 14 and 11 year old boys to Europe for their first time. It was an amazing trip! We had lots of help from this site so here's a brief report.

First, Normandy.....

FYI- -Charles de Gaulle terminal where we arrived and departed internationally was a swarm of people once outside security.

Rented car from Hertz, went well, drove to Chateau d'Audrieu outside Bayeux. About a 3 hour drive- -got a little lost. Chateau d'Audrieu is a country cateau, lots of acreage, very pretty gardens and a pool. Tall treehouse for kids. Grounds very pretty and well-maintained. In the middle of nowhere- 15 minute drive into Bayeux. Had read mixed reviews about it but we liked it alot. We had a 2 BR 2 BA suite, #23. It was perfect for a family of four- -not fancy but huge. Shower wasn't workingin one of the bathrooms, so they gave us room 24 next door to use its bathroom. 3rd floor, no elevator. First night dinner at Le Petit Bistro, thanks to Fodorite recommendations. Made reservation myself on the phone in advance, they speak no English and menu only in French. Very unique preparations- our kids tried foie gras, cold cured swordfish, white fish osso bucco. Desserts amazing. Very very small restaurant and hard to find, in Bayeux. Right across the street from the Cathedral.

A note about the people in Normandy - - really nice and helpful for the most part. We were lost trying to find Le Petit Bistro and a lady stopped and got out of her car to find out where it was and then told us exactly. Our d-day guide said that many of the older people in Normandy still feel very appreciative of what the Americans did to liberate them.

Anyway, next day was all day private d-day tour. Really amazing, moving, interesting to the end, even though it was raining. Our kids are d-day/Band of Brothers buffs so guide showed us house where Winters was taken when he got shot in the foot and bullet holes in wall, etc. That night, the boys had room service and DH and I dined in the hotel dining room, which was EXCELLENT. Service fell off a bit at the end, but food was very good. View out the window with distant fields and...scaffolding as they are doing work on the hotel. Oh well.

Next day left in our Peugot minivan to drive to Mont St. Michel. First, stopped at the Tapestry in Bayeux. To be continued
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Old Jul 28th, 2007, 11:37 AM
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Mont St Michel...

Dragged boys in to see that Tapestry in Bayeux and they and we all actually enjoyed it. The audioguide is a must and it keeps you moving along. This is a quick and easy and interesting stop.

Drove to Mont St. Michel after the Tapestry which worked well except for the food at the way station on the autoroute- -terrible. Arrived at MSM in mid-afternoon. Parked where told to for overnight guests, took a small bag onto Le Mont to our rooms at La Mere Poulard. This was a pretty short walk, which was good, because we did it in a driving rain accompanied by a ferocious wind. DH and I in room 41 on 4th floor (no elevator) and kids in #34 on third floor. Simple rooms and bathrooms, about as expected, clean, bathrooms could use a little bit of new grout. Left hotel to explore the Mont on our own. It was really fun- -somehow because of the rain and wind. Boys could stand outside the abbey on the top and lean into the wind. We did the archeoscope- -a waste of time to me because it is narrated in French and the lights are turned off so you can't read the English translation. 11 year old son liked it. Personally, I would skip it. Loved buying crepes on the street. DH and I loved exploring the abbey. Had dinner at La Mere Poulard (note: their famous omelette is only served at dinner, not at breakfast). I thought the omelette a little bland but the kids loved this and could watch the guy making them over the fire. After dinnner, DH and I hung out in Le Bar, the piano bar at the hotel, gave kids some Euros to go buy souvenirs on own, with a cell phone. Instead, they went out on the shifting sand and leaned into the wind and skated around. Their umbrellas got flipped inside out and they had a blast. Later, though, Le Bar becomes Le Smokefilled Bar and the smoke sort of permeates the hotel. I had worried that our 20 hour trip to the Mont would be alot of trouble for not much payoff, but in fact it was a favorite stop for the boys and the Mont is beautifully lit at night. This despite the rain and smoke and the fact that on our dates, the tide didn't come really very close to the Mont.

Had to leave early the next morning to drive to CDG for flight to Rome. Next posting, Rome.

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Old Jul 28th, 2007, 01:38 PM
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rileypenney: While you were staying at the Château d'Audrieu did your guide show you the memorial to the Canadian and British prisoners of war who were murdered there by the SS a few days after D-Day?

http://tinyurl.com/3arhcy
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Old Jul 28th, 2007, 01:44 PM
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Rileypenny,

Can't wait for the rest - I'm curious to see what your boys thought of all the various countries in Europe!
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Old Jul 28th, 2007, 02:38 PM
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Laverendrye, Wow, we did NOT get shown the memorial. How awful. We had no idea this happened. We checked out your link. Thank you for the history.
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Old Jul 28th, 2007, 02:50 PM
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Thank you for sharing. We just got back a few weeks ago and also really enjoyed Bayeux. Had a great meal at Le Petit Bistro as well. We too got lost trying to find it, and two older local ladies stopped and helped. Please keep writing!
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Old Jul 29th, 2007, 10:25 AM
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On to Rome....

After experiencing CDG airport on our way in and what a zoo it was, we left early enough to leave plenty of time to meet our flight to Rome. First of all, as we were approaching CDG we realized that we had no idea where to return the car and which terminal we would be flying out of. Oops. Luckily found the return, then wandered around CDG for a while. Info kiosk was closed. Finally found a departures board, but we were on an Air France flight operated by Alitalia. Hmmm.....to check in at Air France or Alitalia? The answer (which was long in coming): there is a desk labeled Air France/Alitalia. If you know where to go in advance, flying among EU countries (France and Italy anyway) is relatively easy. The flight was on time, we had no on forcing us to check our carry ons, no lost bags. We were sorry to be leaving France but on the other hand, it had been chilly and rainy there for June. We were looking forward to a little sunny weather in Italy. Our Alitalia flight was pleasant- -not crowded, nice little olive and chicken sandwich and pinot grigio at no charge.

Rome

We had decided on advice of others not to drive in Italy. Glad we did not. Had a driver meet us at Fiumicino and drive us to our hotel, Splendide Royal, on the Vie Di Port Pinciana, near the ancient wall and Borghese. It was lovely. We had requested a small suite for us and standard room for the boys and were upgraded to a huge suite, with the boys' room connecting. The rooms were really lovely, nicely appointed, and ours was huge. We had a private balcony with a view of St. Peters, a sitting area, full dining table, stocked bar, it was sunny and warm. Aaahh... Sent those muddy jeans out from Mont St Michel at about 9EUR a pair. Cha ching. Walked down the street and across the Via Veneto to a simple pasta restaurant and had the first meal that DS the teenager really enjoyed. Decided to let them sleep a little the next morning. Of course, I had a full touring plan prepared with lots of Fodors help, and already, I could see stops dropping off the list. But, even though we only had one real full day to see a million things, nothing is fun with a cranky teen.

To be continued..
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Old Jul 29th, 2007, 11:46 AM
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Rome....

Left out the part about walking the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain after dinner. Great idea to do it at night. No problem with threatened pick pocketing at Spanish Steps. Big, happy crowd at Trevi.

Splendide's breakfast buffet was best so far- -included some hot food. By this time we had gotten used to really weird looking house cured sausages hanging from their twisted casings on wooden dowels, stinky cheese, yogurt and breads for breakfast. After breakfast a cab to the Palatine to buy the combo tickets for Palatine/Colosseo. This was GREAT TIP from Fodorites as when we later arrived and the Coliseum the line for tickets was very long. With our tickets already purchased, we were able to bypass that and go in the very short line marked "Tours". Anyway, back to the Palatine and Forum. This was when, despite the sleep, our teenager began to devolve. The newness and luster of Europe had begun to wear off, the sleeping-till-10:00 was not long enough, and so after walking the Forum for oh about 5 minutes, he asked if he could go back to the hotel. We had a little talk, some gelato and skipped ahead to the Colisseum and things improved. Boys liked Colisseum alot. Then, interestingly, from a list of "maybes", our teen chose to go to Santa Croce en Gerusalemme church to see the relics brought back by Constantine's mother from Jerusalem. You'll find info on Slowtravel about this. I don't know if these relics(cross piece from cross of the good thief, thorn from Christs crown, nails from the cross) have been fully authenticated but it was a good stop. The church itself was beautiful, the relics brought a little bit of history into the boys' faith, or maybe vice versa, and as we left as services were about to start and it was all very spiritual. Not sure I can explain it better than that. Must get free audioguide or you have no idea what you're seeing and where to find it. So, the trick is finding a cab when you leave. Waited a while then walked toward a taxi sign and got one, to the Piazza Navona to see the fountain and have lunch.

As you have probably read already, the fountain was closed. Too bad. Ate lunch outside at a cafe right on the Piazza, which we had been warned not to do but it was just great. Food was good, fun to watch activity in the square and the kids could get up and go peruse the vendors' wares while waiting to be served.

After lunch, the kids just had to go back to the hotel. They needed down time. It worked perfectly because the hotel was right by the Borghese and we had 3:00 reservations to enter the museum. So, we dropped the boys and enjoyed the museum on our own. Yes, you need to have a reservation and get there 30 minutes early (at least in high season). There is a fairly long line to wait in to pick up your tickets and another to check your bags, as nothing may be taken into the museum. I'm really glad we made this stop- -the sculptures were amazing. We had an audioguide, which was good. Went back to hotel, got boys, went back to the Borghese to the park area outside and rented a 4 man surrey and had alot of laughs. The brakes were really loud and squeaky and we went down hills too fast and had a great time. Planned Capuchin Crypt after this but DS2 suddenly decided he didn't want to see bones. DH and I had dinner alone at Giarrosto Fiorentino near the hotel. At first, I did not like the restaurant because it was a little brightly lit and not as nice as I had hoped it would be. I felt I had asked the concierge for something a little more romantic. But, the food was all really delicious and the service was wonderful, so we left happy. Kids had room service and watched movies. Next day would be our half day private tour of Vatican/St. Peters, after which we would leave Rome for Positano.

Bottom line on Splendide Royal: a good choice, with some issues. First, the room was the best we had on the trip and the location by the Borghese worked well when we split up to do the Borghese. The breakfast was great. The hotel was beautiful. The front desk needs more staff on duty as we had to wait longer than we should for the price we paid every time we went to the desk. There was confusion when we asked for directions to the restaurant they chose for us, and nowhere in the room was information about how to dial the front desk. Also, for others wanting to stay close to the core sights, there is probably a better choice. I would stay there again and recommend it, but this was the most expensive hotel on the trip and my expectations for the front desk service were high.

Vatican/St. Peters private half day tour:

We requested this day and time from the Vatican on March 1 (for late June). We got the time we requested. When we arrived at the Vatican there was a HUGE line snaking around the wall of people without reservations waiting to get in after the pre-reserved tours. Our guide said that they might wait as long as 3 hours to get in. Our guide told us that it would be crowded in the Vatican and this was a mighty understatement. The place was beautiful and the sculpture and painting and mosaics and tapestries were amazing and it was PACKED. We had chosen a private tour so that the guide could tailor commentary to the ages of our kids and so that we could move at our own pace. While I don't have anything to compare it to, I think that this was a good idea. I wouldn't want to be in there with a huge tour group because I think I would spend alot of time just trying not to get separated from the group. If we were only adults and were with a small group, I think that would be fine. The Sistene Chapel was all that I had hoped it would be. Such an amazing sight but in all honesty, being in that room shoulder to shoulder with literally hundreds of other people really detracts from the experience. I have read that the Vatican has been trying the reservation system and other means to reducing overcrowding and I can tell you that they need to keep working on it. St. Peters was just spectacular and DS1 and Dad climbed the dome (the report: about 50 minutes total time, not as claustrophobic as the duomo in Florence, a great time for DS). DS2's legs were too tired, he was hitting the wall so we went to a cafe just beyond the edge of the square, had some lunch and gelato and waited for DH and DS1. The cafe was Cafe San Pietro and our guide told us it would be a good place to sit down and wait and meet and it was. Right by the cab stand so after the tour, back to the hotel to grab our bags and meet our driver for the trip down to Positano. DS1 liked the tour, the dome, has an interest in art and did ask some questions but sadly, DS2 (age 11) didn't really like it. Didn't like all the crowds and said there were too many dead popes! Oh well! I liked it!

I hope the coin in the Trevi works because there is so much else we need to see. I think with kids needing down time, a family should try to spend at least 2-1/2 days in Rome.

Next stop, Positano (at about 90 mph)...

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Old Jul 29th, 2007, 05:49 PM
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bookmarking to read later. doing a trip with our two boys 14 and 10 in Sept/Oct so am looking forward to having a read. Any child specific / boy tips please let me know. debs
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Old Jul 30th, 2007, 01:52 PM
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Positano:

Our drive to Positano actually took longer than expected because of traffic leaving Rome and traffic in the Sorrento area. It actually took over 4 hours, despite the fact that we were driving very fast on the Autostrada. I'm very glad that we did not drive a car down there. At many times you are winding along a narrow road and all of a sudden a huge tour bus is coming at you and you're just positive that you'll sideswipe each other. I would have to look away as we passed these cars. Plus, the drivers in the Sorrento area and on the Amalfi Coast drive pass each other when there is no way they can see whether traffic is oncoming. The road is very curvy and narrow.

We arrived at our hotel and enjoyed it from beginning to end. It was the best hotel experience of the entire trip. The hotel was The Poseidon, and it was located about halfway up the hill. Our rooms were #16 (a suite with huge king bedroom, separate sitting area, which had a pullout single in the sofa, private balcony with a great view, and huge bathroom), and #2 (standard double, also very nice with a balcony just as large as #16's but a small bathroom). We checked in, made dinner reservations for both nights, then went out on their terrace, which serves as the pool, pool deck, bar and restaurant. We enjoyed cocktails and snacks while enjoying an incredible view of the town and ocean below. The weather was perfect and the service at the hotel, from breakfast to cocktails to dinner and beyond, was always above expectations. We decided to enjoy dinner at the hotel's restaurant the first night, which was outstanding. We ordered way too much food, which the waiter recognized when our boys retired back to the room early and left almost all of their fresh fish untouched. So, the waiter offered to cancel my husband's entree fish, keep the boys' fish warm until we finished our starters, and we happily complied. The restaurant is on the terrace and the lights of Positano sparkle below as you dine by candlelight. Musicians playing, fresh snapper, wonderful.

We were all completely exhausted from the drive and having been up early the day before and so, as derelict as it was, we decided not to go to Pompeii the next morning as planned and instead to go to the beach and lay on beach loungers all day and overeat, etc. I have wanted to go to Pompeii all my life so I can't believe we did this, but man, did we ever need it. Enjoyed a great breakfast buffet, best of the trip. This day was a religious holiday in Itally and we were treated to a marching band through the streets and then later in the town square. After breakfast, we took the 330 stairs down to the beach. Note: beach is very pebbly/rocky and we did not heed others' advice about taking closed beach shoes and they really are a must have here if you want to go in the water. Lounger and umbrella were 10-12 EUR each, with beach service. Bought inflatable air mattress and floated around on back looking up at beautiful Positano, had lunch at Bucca di Bacco on the beach- -excellent. We ordered pasta with anchovies, mussels, gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella, linguini with vegetables,fries, rice balls and more and our kids tried all of it. Not saying they loved all of it but they tried it. It is shaded and a really nice view over the beach and ocean, boats. Then rented a boat for a while, shopped a bit, and yes, walked up those 330 stairs. Then to the pool.

Another note on Positano, not a great place for those with bad knees. They have taxis but they are not always available and don't have access to the lowest reaches of town. Don't wear high heels.

For dinner DH and I dined at Le Terrazze down by the beach while kids enjoyed room service. Le Terrazze was good but there was a wedding party going on at the time and our service was slow. The restaurant is right over the water, romantic. Then we walked back up through town to the hotel. There was alot of activity going on in town so we grabbed the boys and strolled the town, shopped, ate gelato, then went back to the Terrace at the hotel to watch the town fireworks at midnight in honor of the holiday. During fireworks, the restaurant served cocktails and snacks and even brought out small blankets for the guests when it started to get a little chilly.

Next morning we will drive back to Rome to meet our one week cruise. Our itinerary is definitely convoluted. We knew that going in and almost skipped Positano, but I'm so glad we didn't. When planning this trip, we asked each boy to name one place they wanted to go on the trip and one chose Normandy and the other Greece- -about as far apart as you can get in Europe. Also, no one wanted to do a 14 day cruise. So, we're back to Rome to catch the ship to Greece and Naples....

Positano was a real highlight and the Poseidon is a gem.
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