I write this from Rome, because when you travel with children, that’s how it works. You sit at a table, listening to the sirens wail, and the motorcycles rumble down the cobblestones. The kids watch The Fairly Odd Parents in Italian, and you sip your Peroni.
And it’s okay. Traveling in Europe is a gift of the very young–the backpackers, college students, or high school tour groups—or the older, child-free set. We are the outliers, seeing Rome with young children, and as a result, we have to make our own rules.
1. Rent an Apartment: We are staying in a 480 square foot apartment in the center of town. (We found ours at www.airbnb.com).
We sleep upstairs, in a loft bed, and the boys sleep downstairs on a fold-out. We paid less than we would have for a week in a hotel, and we have a kitchen, a washer, internet access, and a television. We are a five minute walk from Piazza Navona, and a ten minute walk from St. Peter’s Square. We buy bread, wine, cheese, and fruit from the shop downstairs, and we eat our dinners at home.
Because sometimes? You don’t want to spend 80 Euro while hissing at your exhausted children. You just want to eat.
The view from our apartment:
2. Manage Your Expectations: There’s the Rome you picture in your mind—glasses of wine at sidewalk cafes, leisurely people-watching over espresso. And then, there is the reality that as you sip your wine, one child has lost his shoe, and the other needs to use the bathroom.
Yes, we did eat gelato at 9:30 PM by the Trevi Fountain. A busker played the accordion, and the water glowed and gurgled in the moonlight. I reached over and held my husband’s hand, and we smiled at each other. And then, the older one took a bite out of the younger one’s gelato cone, and chaos resumed.
3. Resort to Bribery: Rome is full of kid-friendly things….musty caves at the catacombs, ancient ruins, and Rome’s answer to Central Park, Villa Borghese. But then, there’s also the things that kids just don’t dig–-The Vatican Museums, shopping, long waits in restaurants.
So, we told the boys that if they behaved during each day, we would have gelato every night. And we did.
Sometimes, when the whine came from that unholy place in my oldest, or my youngest decided it was fun to kick his brother in the shin, one word—gelato— worked its magic.
4. It’s All About Pacing: We mixed up our days. After a heavy day of art and shushing (aka The Vatican), we dedicated the next day to Gladiators, something decidedly more boy-friendly. We took a siesta in our room almost every day, and limited our late nights to only two during the week.
We made a point of doing a completely kid-friendly day at Villa Borghese—playing on the playground and renting a four seater bicycle.
And we resigned ourselves to the fact that the most fascinating part of Rome, as far as the boys were concerned? Chasing pigeons. Over and over again.
5. Plan Ahead, and Chill Out: Rome is full of lines. There’s a line to buy tickets for The Colosseum, and a line to get into the Vatican Museum, and on and on it goes. It was worth it for us to get our tickets early. We had to pay a four dollar fee for our early entry tickets into the Vatican, but then, we avoided an hour long wait. If we hadn’t bought early tickets to see the artwork at Gallery Borghese, we wouldn’t have been able to see it on our trip.
However. Once we did our initial planning, we relaxed. We had a vague schedule for each day, but we left plenty of time for people watching, slices of pizza in the sunshine, and Uno games in the apartment. We left the guidebook at home, and read about what we saw after the fact. That way, we were able to succumb to wonder, instead of glancing at it over the pages of a book.
Each morning, we walked to the corner shop with the boys. Yesterday, the lady behind the counter made my morning cappuccino. Steaming milk frothed in my cup, light, like a dream.
She said, “It’s more than just a drink….it’s an art.”
And that, right there, is Rome.