We tried to
walk as much as possible. In Rome some of the sites—the Forum, Coloseum,
and the Palazzo del Museo Capitolino—are within easy walking distance of
each other. Florence, a smaller city where most sites are concentrated
in one area, is even more conducive to walking. Since we decided
not to bring a stroller, we either walked slowly while holding our daughter’s
hand or carried her. When this got tiring, we stopped at one of the
numerous cafes. Luckily my daughter is both a good walker and light enough
to carry. This might not work for everyone. A stroller, however,
might not be a very safe option in Italian cities. Many streets—especially
in older sections—are cobblestoned and drivers show little concern for
pedestrians. A front- or backpack might be a better option.
We only took
one train, the Eurostar from Florence to Rome, but I was impressed by the
experience. Trains, especially between major cities, tend to be inexpensive,
convenient and clean. As with most things in Italy children under
4 years are free.
quick search I realized that it would be impossible to find a nice hotel
that offered suites in our price range. When you’re staying somewhere
for a month, it adds up. Then a friend suggested renting apartments, something
I’d never considered. It turned out to be a wonderful tip. There are hundreds
of websites listing apartments and houses in every price range. Most are
on a weekly basis, but some offer daily rentals. We paid $110-235/night,
while the moderately priced hotel suites were at least $250/night. The
cost was only one benefit, though. We could cook, entertain friends and,
best of all, we felt like we were actually living in Italy, not just visiting.
in Italy don’t have AC, fans or even screens in the windows. Thinking
of mosquito-ridden summers in the US, I was afraid we’d be miserable but
it wasn’t a problem. It was very hot in Rome, so we had to sleep with the
windows open, but the other apartments were cool enough to sleep with the
windows and shutters closed. The shutters keep rooms dark and quiet in
the morning and encourage an afternoon siesta.
we stayed in a wonderful neighborhood just outside Vatican City on Via
dei Gracchi. It isn’t too touristy, but there are lots of restaurants
and shops in the area. I shopped at the local mercato—indoor market with
separate stall for meats, fruits, and other essentials—every day and found
that the shop owners remembered me by the week’s end. The few key
Italian phrases I had memorized really helped me there. The rental agent,
Mauro (www.omtour.it), was terrific. He picked us up from the airport
(included in the rental price), gave us a tour of the neighborhood,
gave us a mobile phone to use during out stay (included in the rental
price), drove us out to the Porta Portese market on our first day,
and drove us to the rental car agency.
two weeks in Tuscany at Castello di Montalto (www.montalto.it), a castle
about 20 km. from Siena in the Chianti region. The
castle has one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and cottages that are
rented on a weekly basis. The castle is secluded (3 km. down a dirt
road), peaceful, and well-restored. They have a swimming pool (and
baby pool), sandbox, tennis courts, and bocce court. The owners, Giovanni
and Diana Nunziante, have lived in the castle for over 30 years. They,
like all of the staff, are available but not intrusive. The castle library
is stocked with up-to-date tourist guides and maps as well as other helpful
information about regional festivals, wineries, and places of interest.
The castle was a great base for day trips around Tuscany and a great source
of playmates for my daughter. There were several Danish families
with young children whose stay overlapped ours. They, like many visitors,
were return guests. We quickly felt at home and my daughter enjoyed
playing with the dog, cats and chickens. It was great to stay in one place
for two weeks. We were able to relax, enjoy the countryside and each other.
It felt like a vacation within a vacation, with no pressure to “see
this” or “do that.” The castle would make a great setting
for a family renunion.
we stayed four nights at the Erta Canina Guesthouse (www.ertacanina.com).
This was the most expensive apartment, but definitely worth the price.
It’s in an excellent location—within walking distance of the major sites,
but in a residential neighborhood—and beautifully decorated. The owner,
Francesca, speaks perfect English and was very helpful. She led us
to an American-style supermarket and loaned us Disney videos. The apartment
is well-equipped with a TV/VCR, CD player, computer with internet access,
telephone and treadmill. There’s a lovely, child-friendly garden
and Francesca let my daughter use her children’s outdoor toys. Everything
was perfect, except for the family renting the basement apartment whose
noisy children and television kept us up a few nights. There’s a connecting
doorway (that can be locked) between the two apartments making it
ideal for two families traveling together.
For our last
night in Italy we stayed in a hotel near the airport, The Cancelli Rossi
in Fiumicino, which was a big mistake. Neither the hotel nor the
town had much to offer.
In and Out Part
stores close from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning, so stock up.
You can often get milk and juice at Bars for takeaway. Look for a
sign saying Latteria. Diapers, formula and sometimes baby food
can be found in Farmacias (pharmacies). Fresh fruit, vegetables,
bread, pasta, cheese and meat are abundant and inexpensive in Italy.
You can buy excellent (and cheap) wine and beer everywhere.
cheddar (or any orange) cheese and raisins are another story.
So if your child is a picky eater, you may want to bring a supply with
you. Since we couldn’t find four of my daughter’s “staple”
foods and she doesn’t eat pasta, we had to get creative. Luckily
most restaurants served Macedonia di Frutta Fresca (fresh fruit salad),
pizza, and of course gelato. These were sure bets when dining out.
is a highlight of most vacations and a real pleasure in Italy.
Most Italians love children and welcome them in restaurants. We never
received annoyed looks from other diners or waiters, even when my daughter
was noisy or wandered among the tables. On our first night there, an Italian
woman at the next table offered my daughter part of her focaccia appetizer.
Although many restaurants don’t have high chairs or baby-changing areas
in restrooms, the staff is usually very accommodating. At one restaurant,
the waiter, concerned for my daughter’s comfort, piled several cushions
on her chair.
most restaurants tend to serve dinner late by American standards (around
7:30 pm), bars, cafes and pizzerias often open earlier.
Also, restaurants in tourist areas usually open earlier for dinner, but
I’d avoid them. A few experiences we had in restaurants near tourist
sites were unpleasant. They tended to be fairly expensive, often
with poor service and mediocre food. Look for places off the main
streets. We found a superb trattoria in an alley near the Trevi Fountain.
If possible, eat where the Italians eat .
Seeing and Other Forms of Entertainment Part
it, the sites that draw visitors to Italy—the churches, museums, fountains,
and ruins—aren’t as interesting for little ones. We tried to
focus on one site each morning, followed by lunch out and naptime.
There’s only a two-hour time difference between where we live (Dubai)
and Rome, so we got our daughter on an Italian schedule before vacation.
This worked out well because she slept during the midday siesta hours when
many things are closed, and was able to stay up for a later dinner out.
and churches we held our daughter up (horizontally in the Sistine Chapel)
and talked to her about the paintings or sculpture. This helped keep
her interest longer and gave me a new way to experience art. It was
exciting to share this with her.
In and Around
This outdoor market in Trastevere was our first stop. It’s hot, crowded
and not really worthwhile, except for the cheap toys. We picked up
a baby stroller and doll for my daughter that kept her occupied for much
of the vacation.
This is free, with no line, and lots of open space and places to climb.
We missed this one because the huge line didn’t seem to budge. You
can pay extra for a tour at the green kiosk across the street, and you
don’t have to wait in line. Tours leave at 10:30, 11:30, and 12:30.
Buy your ticket early because they sell a limited number.
This is free and walking distance from Piazza Navona.
Fountain Also free and a big tourist spot.
City Museum/Sistine Chapel The line can be two blocks
long on weekends, especially Sundays. We went around 9:00 am on a
Monday and had no wait. The museum is hot and crowded. They move
everyone through small corridors with areas roped off, so it takes a long
time to get through. The Sistine Chapel—everyone’s destination—is
at the very end.
San Pietro We didn’t make it to the Basilica because we went
on a Wednesday morning when the Pope has his outdoor address and the Basilica
Sant’Angelo This is right on the river with a great
playground/grassy area in the moat. It’s well-maintained and popular
with Italians. Good for a soccer game. There’s a museum in
the castle and a lovely bridge over the river. They had a literature
festival with stalls selling books, food, drinks and trinkets. Summer
is a popular time for outdoor festivals—often free—but many start later
in the evenings.
The towns in Tuscany were wonderful, but they all started to look alike
after a while. Most had a few piazzas, one or two museums, lots of
shops (especially ceramics), places to eat, and narrow cobblestone
streets, often on a hill. We visited Siena (very hilly, but worthwhile),
Cortona (great views), Arezzo (great shopping), Castelnuovo
Berardenga (nice playground), and San Gusme (best restaurant,
La Porta del Chianti).
The Uffizi Like most sites in Florence, there were really long
lines to get in. You can avoid this by going the day before and buying
a reserved ticket for a bit more. It’s not a particularly child-friendly
museum with much of the art inaccessible—too high or grouped too closely.
My daughter set off the alarm in one gallery by trying to walk behind one
of the metal barriers. I ended up leaving with Annie after thirty
minutes when she had a toddler meltdown, but my husband stayed since it
was his first visit.
Michelangelo This is a long hike up hundreds of stairs if
you start at the bottom by the river. Our apartment was about one-third
of the way up and still we had to stop to catch our breath. You get
a beautiful view of Florence and there are a couple of cafes to rest in
before the trek down.
This was another site seen only from the outside because of long lines.
Maria Novella This was the loveliest church I saw in
Italy. It’s cool and peaceful, with no line.
small children for a month can be difficult; this is true whether you visit
a different city or a different country. It’s not Disneyland, but
with a bit of effort, Italy can be as enjoyable for children as for adults.
the chance to experience life, not prefabricated kiddie fun.
this vacation as a preview to life in Italy. We’d decided to
move to Rome in a couple of years, and our month in Italy reaffirmed this
desire. The reasons Italy attracts so many visitors—the food, wine,
culture—are among the things that draw us as well. The main attraction,
however, is the people and their approach to life. Each day is like
a vacation, to be enjoyed and savored.