Our first big international trip was just this past summer with a 3 & a 6 year old on a 17 day trip from Orlando to Rome, around the Mediterranean and ending in Paris. We've done trips out of the country before, but never to this caliber.
And if I'm being completely honest, I had some reservations - let's call it the fear of the unknown. I started to make up reasons why we couldn't or shouldn't do this for an unrealistic moment. They're too young, it's too far, it's too long, it's too much. But then the spirit of adventure and logic set in. We got on our first flight, and I left any worries stateside - the adrenaline of travel is form my liquid courage.
We were flying Delta with a connection domestically to start the trip. I chose to do this as opposed to connecting closer to Rome, just so we could limit going through immigration and booking a long layover to match. We also chose to fly Delta because we found an excellent rate, in Basic Economy though. It was our first time flying on this entry level fare - no bags or prior seat selection included - but we also knew we'd have perks being Medallion members (like free bags) that eliminated the cost. Lucky for us, Delta offers family seating, so in the weeks prior to our trip I called and requested assignment as I was traveling with two young kids. The seating is in the very back of the plane, but it worked out perfectly the day of our trip. Both kids were up extremely early and both had outgrown the trick of a rocking plane lulling them to sleep, so I only had to graciously apologize to one row of people for E's pint sized punch. She actually fought it all the way through our dinner time lay over in Atlanta, until take off to Rome; where after a minor screaming fit ensued, she was no longer able to fight sleep.
Our arrival into Rome was pretty self explanatory and not at all complicated. The airport is very immaculate and the ease of getting around is a dream. Really, it was the arrival you'd want in a new country and such a welcoming start to our trip. We hired a driver for pick as opposed to waiting for public transportation or a taxi, since we wanted a secure source to get us to the hotel upon arrival. The service was fantastic and efficient; we were greeted with a sign with our name and led to a Mercedes minivan for our trip through Rome to our hotel, Best Western Hotel Spring House. Both of which I'd highly recommend.
Best Western Hotel Spring House is located right next to the Vatican, a quieter part of town, but still busy. We chose it less because of proximity to major sightseeing hubs, but more because of location - my parents were staying at a nearby B&B and we wanted to be nearby to get together during our trip. Also, there weren't many hotels available to accommodate a group of 4 (in one room). After some in-depth research, the hotel proved to be *perfect* for families. We had to book a family room/suite because of our size, which in this case consisted of dual-level room with two beds and a bathroom not of European size. The top floor loft had one king bed under skylights for some incredible morning sun when we woke; while the bottom floor had a queen, closet space, in-room safe, mini fridge, and a bathroom big enough for a family (with shower only though). Because our rooms weren't ready at arrival and as an act of hospitality, we were comped breakfast during check-in, which was a great added bonus. We prefer to book hotels that serve breakfast when possible, as morning food varieties don't matter much with kids, so we want the option to eat where we're at.The hotel including it for us was a generous gesture that makes recommending them all that more worthwhile. And for anyone questioning the Best Western brand, its not at all what I expected.
Our arrival day was made up of a LOT of walking (10+ miles) and self guided tours! We strapped on the toddler carrier for E and prepared J for a lot of standing, as we purposely left the stroller at home. We made the decision early on in our planning process to bring a carrier and started the research for one with a a higher weight limit that could also be easily be packed. We went with the Ergo, and actually found a reseller on Facebook Marketplace where we paid saved a good chunk of change on a excellent condition carrier that had been lightly used. It would have been worth every penny of full price though because it definitely getting around manageable and traveling with one less items a dream!
We created Google Maps prior to our trip, dropping pins of sites we wanted to see and then mapping out walking tours according to our pins for each of our 3 days there. Rome is very walkable - I knew it was a major city and expected traffic, but major roads are very avoidable if you want to trail down cobblestone paths. We even made it fun for the little ones by providing them with scavenger hunts in the city that the could do. J was equipped with an old iPhone to take pictures (and load games as necessary), scavenger hunts - both city specific and generic, and a notebook, both for doodling and writing his adventures. The combination of activities definitely made the trip unique for him in how he'd see the city.
We stopped for pizza at a cafe by our hotel, gelato by the Pantheon, marveled at Trevi, watched street performers in piazzas, got lost various times which all ended up being beautiful detours, and finally ended up in the Jewish Ghetto around dinner time. I had received a recommendation to dine at Ba'ghetto Milky -it looks like a dimly lit small cavern upon entering and was fairly empty, which was a welcome sight for hungry & exhausted travelers. The restaurant is meat free, offering minimal fish options, which was a bit of a surprise but also a fun change of pace (to not force our traditional selection). I ordered a fettuccine with truffle sauce and have been dreaming of it ever since; European portions are not nearly as generous as American but not was the perfect amount! Chris got a local fish dish which was delicious but quite honestly not as impressive as my pasta. And the kids ordered an eight slice pizza to share - and finished it themselves if it’s any testament to our day! Yes, we were famished, but the food was more impressive than our need to devour it and hands down we will recommend this restaurant over again. Plus, the neighborhood is up and coming district, full of rich history and stories you don't always hear about Rome - if you can carve time to get to know it personally, absolutely do.
We didn't mind the walk now that we had indulged so opted on the two mile venture back to pass spots we hadn’t yet. It was also an excellent excuse to pack in more calories in the form of dessert cannolis, a first for the the kids (and which they loved it)! We also had some beautiful views of the sun setting in Rome and a chance to enjoy the carousel in the square by the Castel D'Angelo. The unique beauties of this cities, how do I even start to explain the emotions they evoke? Rome by foot was worth every blister and leg cramp we had after the first day.
We decided to book both our tours of the Colosseum and Vatican in one day, since we had the unpredicatability of travel on our other two days there. We booked both with Angel Tours, off a recommendation, and the tour operator easily accommodated our requests and made two tours in a day feasible. We started on what ended up being a private tour at the Colosseum and ventured to the Roman forum before ending slightly before lunch. We hopped in a taxi and grabbed a bite to eat near our hotel, so the boys could change into pants (no knees for visiting the the Vatican) and headed back to meet our guide for our small group tour.
Were back to back 3 hour tours a lot? For exhausted travelers it could be. But was it worth it? Even more so. Both our guides were very knowledgable and attentive to our kids, keeping us engaged and sharing the treasures of these gems. Having an actual person to guide versus an audio recording is also the only way to go. We could ask questions to learn as they explained; and many times we were surprised with how much more we learned. Best of all, they save you a lot of time, which is worth the extra money. Otherwise, you face lines to buy tickets and lines to get in and lines for just about everything else. And this was at the end of May, which isn't even their peak holiday season yet.
We ended our day of tours with dinner in Trastevere, a neighborhood off the beaten path. We wanted to explore Rome like a local and only wish we had a little more time here, but an evening stop made up for a whirlwind day. We had fantastic dinner outside at Trattoria da Gli Amici - or Restaurants of Friends as it literally translates to. It was a cute little cafe with outdoor seating in a lively piazza. The restaurant next door even provided music for us to dine by - along with a few street musicians who came by our table to perform for spare change. The food was superb, as we ordered just about everything off the menu to build a family style meal of sharing. Bread is always served on the table and the bottles of wine at the price of American glasses were refreshing on this warm evening out. And if you need any more of a recommendation here, the restaurant does incredible things with its staff - they employ veterans and those with special needs that typically can't get jobs anywhere else. What charming people to meet and humbling to know you crossed their path & gave their job a purpose. We were the lucky ones that evening which was simply stated, perfect.
After arriving back from cruising for a week, we had one more full day planned in Rome. We scheduled this purposely so we could explore any new parts we missed, or go back and see the things we loved one more time. We opted to move hotels this time, and stayed near their financial district at Best Western - Hotel Artdeco. Though the room was spacious and the bathroom generous, this one fell short of the family feel we had at the previous hotel. We were fortunately near many shops to pick up groceries as needed. Which came as a blessing in disguise, as J had a stomach bug manifest that very morning. So after we checked in, Chris offered to stay behind (since he had a chance to explore Rome in a past life), so J could rest. E and I made way with my parents to have lunch in the city center and then walked over to visit the Spanish Steps. E, in traditional Italian fashion, ate a pizza on the steps as we took in the sights and sounds around us. And after a few hours of exploring and a scoop of gelato later, we headed back to check on the boys.
Thankful for some well heeded advice and medicines to match, J was feeling better and was ready to explore. So our long awaited trip to Villa Borghese was our next stop. We booked our hotel here, due to its proximity to the park and the fact that we had mapped out a day to check it out exclusively (obviously plans had changed). So we made the 20 minute walk over, exploring Italy on foot again, and arrived to the Italian version of Central Park. It was full of life, with skating lessons being taught, a playground full of children laughing, a train passengers to explore, and visitors strolling the tree-lied park on a mild June afternoon. We spotted tandem bikes for rent by the hour and we knew we had to explore in this fashion.
The park is full of pathways that lead everywhere - beautiful fountains, a gallery, another hidden nook or even right to the zoo. Due to our late afternoon arrival and to our kids' dismay, we were not able to visit. But had plan A worked out, we would've spent some time exploring to indulge in this park even a little more. Once we rode every crease & crevice and realized we were ending in the prime spot for the kids, we returned to the playground and let them run more energy out on the playground and play some arcade games situated nearby, with some county-fair like rides.
Our dinner plans took us back to Trevi fountain to the twice recommended Vineria Il Chianti. We gathered that the proximity to the tourist hot spot to may take away some of its local charm, but the raving reviews were enough to lure us in. There is a small courtyard on arrival where you can dine and people watch in the piazza. But if you prefer a more intimate setting, the restaurant itself is situated in a charming villa with dim lights and hidden rooms, including a tea light lit hallway that resembles a runway to the bathroom. The menu was full of amazing feasts that it made it hard for us to decide on just one, so we didn't. We had a beef steak with enough servings to feed 4, a pasta with Bolognese sauce, and the kids had the most fantastic wood-fired pizza for our one last goodbye to this Italian deliciacy.
We ended our evening's adventure with another goodbye to gelato and a trip to drop off some postcards for friends back home. We couldn't find a more loving souvenir for the kids to give then sending postcards back got friends. We tied it in with the objective of getting J to practice his penmanship and spelling by sending mail to his friends back home - a thoughtful souvenir for them, a fun activity for him, and a wonderful memory for all of us. And before we departed Trevi's sight, we hopped back over one more time, with coins in hand and wishes to be sent. We kissed our metals, threw them over our shoulders and hoped we'd soon be back to make more of these memories.
How do I even start describing how amazing this place is? It was mentioned Italians are proud people, hesitant to speak to you if you don't know their language and relatively inhospitable once they realize you are a foreigner. I didn't find any of this to be true. We had nothing but wonderful, warm interactions with everyone we met. It's everything you see out of a movie, with big boisterous greetings and dinner tables full of love. No one ever felt like a stranger and these welcoming gestures left us wanting more. From the gentleman working in the gelato shop giving E candy as she patiently waited for her cone to be filled; to the reserved waiter having a staring contest with J until he laughed. These people have left an impression on my kids and have so much more on me.
Italy has been all I dreamed of and more. There's not a magical age to do this nor know when to start. Too young? There are families literally everywhere, so no, we're not the only crazies walking around with a sleeping tot on our back. We decided what was right for us and now was perfect. Plus, now that we started, we have opportunity to keep coming back; there will be no "what if" dialogues, because we have and now we're on for more. We love this place already and if we didn’t, our last couple days have solidified our desire to adventure more.