Our journey to the Eternal City got off to a bumpy start.
After roughly an hour on the plane, the pilot came on the overhead speaker to instruct us to deplane and wait nearby while they fixed something. Apparently there would be some welding involved. Yikes!
We had already had a long journey by this point: we had driven to the SFO Holiday Inn Express the night before so as to stay close to the airport for our 7am flight. Did you know you can find Park & Fly hotels that include parking with your stay?
At one point, they had us all line up again to board, but it was not to be. We got help getting rerouted via Montreal (instead of Toronto) and crossed our fingers that our bags—and our gate check strollers and car seat—would be coming with us. But when we were in Montreal, we learned that there was no record of any bags attached to our reservation. In Rome, we went to the carousel with only the faintest hope that any of our things would be there. (They weren’t.)
So it was a rough start. We filled out all the forms, spent about two extra hours at the airport, and hoped that the bags and strollers might be located while we were in Rome, but part of me feared they were gone for good!
A bright note? Blacklane limousines had offered us a ride with their service earlier this year and I had taken them up on it for a ride from the airport into the city center. I can’t tell you how nice it was to walk out of that (in a bit of a daze) and find our name on a sign. The driver had waited for us all those hours (plane delay plus the luggage debacle), car ready with carseats for the kids (especially nice with ours MIA).
We had reserved an apartment near Camp de’Fiori—upon Rachael’s recommendation—and it was perfect for us! We immediately recognized the small square the door opened onto: there, across the way, was a sign reading “Filetti di Bacala.” This was the spot Aron and I had gone in circles searching for on our last trip to Rome so that he could snag some freshly fried salted cod from the cook in the back. They were closed for the August holiday or else I’m sure he would have tried it again.
Luca, the AirBnB host, met us at the door and warmly welcomed us in. It was a long walk up, but the apartment was awesome. A one-bedroom with a large terrace that looked out over the rooftops of Rome. He had set up a baby cot, showed us how to fold out a sofa bed for Hudson (which we ended up laying on the floor just in case), and left us with a bottle of wine.
We were perfectly situated around the corner from “Il Campo,” known for its daily produce market, and envisioned bringing provisions up to cook in our small kitchen and having dinner on the terrace.
(That never actually happened, but it totally could have!)
When it was time to hit the road, we bee-lined it to a gelato shop. Carapina was just around the corner from our apartment, and it was some of the best we had on our entire trip. My benchmark flavor is pistachio, and theirs was amazing. But it really was the other flavors that wowed us: pine nut that tasted like just toasted “pignoli”; mint so fresh, without any relation to peppermint extract whatsoever; and watermelon still bearing flecks of black from the seeds.
Though we spent most of that afternoon on tasks like picking up some clothes at Zara and seeking out an open pharmacy (tricky on a Sunday) for diapers, that gelato went a long way toward snapping us into vacation-mode.
Some of the best street food are pizza bianca sandwiches you can buy by weight, at shops marked Forno. This one, with smoked mozzarella and ham, is from Antico Forno Roscioli.
That first night passed quickly. We took a spin around our neighborhood, looking at the nearby Pantheon (a nearly perfectly preserved domed church built in 27AD) and beautiful Piazza Navona. We ended up at Cul de Sac for dinner, where I was eager to order cacio e pepe, and a big plate of melon and prosciutto.
We took it slowly the following day, ambling around the historic center and pointing out items that would be familiar from Hudson’s This is Rome book.
Before we left, we started reading Miroslav Sasek’s beautifully illustrated This is Rome
Aron was thankful for anything that made Hudson excited enough to walk or run on his own (like pigeons, fountains, steps, and the promise of that last bite of ice cream cone) because, without our strollers, his shoulders were getting overused.
We ended up back at Piazza Navona where we chose to stop at one of the restaurants sitting on the square so we could let Hudson run between the tables and the fountains (one of those I’d usually be hesitant to visit for fear of it being too touristy), and had our first pizza. As we were gearing up for the trip, I’d told Hudson we were going to a wonderful country where he would get to have pasta, pizza, and gelato every day. (And I think he did.)
We had just bought Hudson those clothes he’s wearing and Skyler the dress she’s wearing. Within the hour, his was covered in chocolate and hers in poop. We realized we either needed to buy more clothes, plan on doing daily laundry, or find our bags!
Note: Downstairs in the restaurant where I took Skyler to clean her off in the sink (and dry her clothes with the hand-dryer) was a friendly female attendant who spoke to Skyler in excited Italian the entire time I was there. She didn’t pause! It was hilarious! I caught a few phrases like “bellissima” and “dentini” (about her new little teeth), but for about 10 minutes I just triaged the poop situation, nodded, and smiled. It was just one of the many times Skyler was fawned over (and just one of the most comic).
Everyone there was so kind to our children, but they especially loved the baby.
Another bakery stop. This one handed Hudson some free cookies!
Later that day, while the kids were napping, Aron decided to take a gamble and return to the airport to see if our bags happened to have arrived. Though the airline discouraged this, it paid off! He spotted one of our strollers sitting beside a carousel and then found the rest of our luggage elsewhere. It was such a relief!
We changed into fresh clothes, grabbed our strollers (woo hoo!), and—after pausing for yet another round of pizza bianca at Forno on Il Campo di Fiori—walked across the Tiber River into the Trastevere neighborhood.
We walked around Trastevere, a now-trendy neighborhood with picturesquely narrow and winding roads, and people-watched before stopping in Piazza Santa Maria to listen to music.
It was around this time that we started to realize that we were really missing out by not taking part in the Aperativo hour—everyone was sitting around sipping Aperol Spritz and eating little savory snacks before dinner. We vowed to start joining them.
We sought out Pizzeria Dar Poeta for dinner but couldn’t find it—it must have been closed for the holiday. Funny thing: I thought Aron and I had skipped the Trastevere region on our last visit, but then I discovered that Dar Poeta was the very place we stopped for takeout on that trip! This would suggest to me that we may need to stop using the same guidebooks.
As it turned out, I think we may have stumbled upon something as special (if not more!): Ferrara is an Enoteca cum Osteria off Piazza Trilussa. We were beckoned inside by (a) the Michelin sticker on the window and (b) the sight of a family with children eating inside. Later, we observed other families make the same sort of impromptu decisions to sit down and stay someplace upon seeing us with our two kids.
That night we found ourselves back at Carapina, which I never saw in any guidebooks but which remains my favorite gelato. I discovered that it’s a transplant from Florence that just opened this past spring by its master gelataio Simone Bonini. I missed this stuff, later.
Before we left, Aron and I bought a few new books and toys for Hudson to discover on the plane and throughout the trip. He was especially excited about the child’s camera
Most are blurry shots of pigeons and statues, of cobblestone streets and shoes. It’s fun to see what really grabbed his attention. And there are a few gems:
This is my favorite shot that I discovered upon downloading it.
We never made it to any museums. (Is that totally awful?) Aron and I took comfort that we’d been to the city once previously, without kids, and that we’d definitely return again and let ourselves be content to wander. This is the compromise.
But thankfully, the whole city is like a museum and it’s one of the best things about visiting Rome with children, in my opinion: just turn a corner and suddenly you’re looking at Trajan’s column and zipping taxis and mopeds. Everyone wins!
I bought a parasol to keep over Skyler and I while I was wearing her in the sun it was immediately clear we’d need two.
Mornings are easy in Rome: you can stop at any cafe and step up to the counter to stand beside (and sometimes elbow in next to) lively groups of gentlemen sipping their cappuccinos. Order one there and it will usually cost you around one Euro for the same.
We chose however, one day, to spend quite a bit more for the supreme pleasure of sitting over cafe lattes, thick hot chocolate, and nutella-filled aragosta at the justly famous Cafe Sant’Eustachio. I shared more about that visit, here.
We had promised Hudson could throw a coin in the fountain of Trevi (which we knew he’d love for its combination of mythical figures on horses and fast-flowing water more than its La Dolce Vita reknown).
Unfortunately, the enormous 18th century fountain was was under construction (something I later learned costs well over $2 million and is funded by Fendi as the nearly 3000 Euro that is tossed in daily is donated to charity). When we visited and they simply placed some of the fountain water aside in a basin for anyone still wanting to throw a coin over his shoulder and ensure a return-visit to Rome. The one upshot to the construction? They had built a path for viewing that let us get right up close to the fountain’s giant statues as they were being restored.
Still full from our pastries, we passed up a visit to nearby (famous) gelateria San Crispino and instead caught a taxi up the hill to the Borghese Gardens. From what I understand, Villa Borghese and its gardens—donated by the Borghese family to the city—serve a similar function for Rome that Central Park does for New York. There are playgrounds and wide open spaces for picnicking; families were biking and taking children on (slightly run-down) carousels. (By the way, does anyone know who this lovely lady on the left is? She was surrounded by photographers.)
Rachael had suggested it would be a good place for Aron and I to take turns with an audio tour inside the Museo e Galleria Borghese (a treasure of Renaissance and baroque art that requires pre-booking) while the other played with the kids outside. But feeling pressed for time we instead chose something Hudson would love and took a quick spin on the little train that drives around the fringe of the park and stops at a beautiful overlook—just long enough for everyone to hop out and take selfies with the Vatican in the distance.
(Speaking of the Vatican: no, we didn’t go this time. But that was a hard call—it’s incredible—and if you’re hoping for some thoughts on visiting, check out this travelogue.)
Back down the hill, we caught a ride to the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a lovely little medieval church where you can find Boca della Verità (“The Mouth of Truth”), which you’re most likely to know of from a scene in Roman Holiday. For Hudson, it was the most fascinating part of This is Rome. The legend says that your hand will be bitten off if you tell a lie. He was equal parts excited and nervous to put his hand in its mouth and wanted to wait in the 30-minute-line (!) to pose with it.
Once at the church, it’s a relatively short walk to the colosseum and the Roman forum—Ancient Rome. And no matter how many pictures you’ve seen of crumbling columns and that most-famous arena, those first glimpses are breathtaking.
We chose to delay our visit there a bit—hoping to visit just before closing when the sun would be less high and the crowds thinned.
So we looked out over the site, and then instead visited Piazza del Campidoglio, a piazza that sits atop Capitoline Hill with a bronze replica of a second-century statue of Marcus Aurelius atop his horse. There, one can visit the Capitoline museums, filled with classical art (including the real equestrian statue).
A little-known tip: walk around the right of the Palazza die Conservatori, up the path to door 4 (I believe, but double-check with someone there) to head up to the cafe. You don’t need a ticket for this but you’ll be graced with incredible views.
But here’s what not to do:
I had read that the forum closed one hour before sunset. Sunset was at 8:25pm that night, so I assumed that as long as we were there before 7 we could walk through the forum. We took our time at the cafe, made a few wrong turns finding the entrance, stopped to take some pictures by the colosseum, and slowly ambled up the giant (marvelous) old stones to the entrance at the far end. As Aron was about to step up to the ticket counter at 6:15, the gate closed and we learned that the last entry is 45 minutes before closing. Ack!
You can see most of the buildings from the road and appreciate the magnificent arches outside of the forum, but this was obviously disappointing—this was the highlight for me of our last visit to Rome and I was excited to return.
I think, in retrospect, I would prioritize Ancient Rome and head there straight away.
This, by the way, was the one place we found strollers fairly cumbersome. We had wondered about how they’d do and, happily, most of the cobblestones posed little challenge! But those larger stones were almost impossible to traverse with a stroller.
Still, we were really grateful for them any time they allowed us a nap on the go. Hudson, for example, fell asleep just as we were leaving the forum and stayed asleep in my arms throughout a cab ride back to Campo de’Fiori only to sleep a bit longer still in a reclined stroller while Aron and I placed orders at Obikà, the mozzarella bar.
I remember, when I was living in New York, that Obikà opened a kiosk inside one of the skyscraper’s courtyards in midtown. We actually never went, but always meant to. It was one of those Italian transports that Italians we knew were very excited about. I could see why. It sparked quite a mozzarella obsession for Aron that we happily indulged the rest of the trip. (Sidenote: there’s now an Eataly in Rome.)
We sat down during Aperitivo hour (around 6-9pm), and you can practically assemble a meal of snacks around a cocktail. It’s a great way to have an earlier dinner with kids, or avoid starving while waiting for dinner at 10. At this point, we were eating around 8 (when the sun went down) and the kids were in bed around 10:30pm.
But because we finished dinner relatively early on this occasion, we decided it was a good night for a stroll north toward the Tiber where we sought out Gelateria del Teatro. It’s worth finding.
Our last day in Rome came far too quickly.
By the time we actually did shop the market stands in Campo de’Fiori, we felt like we were really hitting our stride.
Hudson, for example, was just becoming a pro at using the city’s water fountains (did you know that you can drink the water throughout the city? Sort of odd how rare tap water is at restaurants there, then.)
I was so sorry to leave, even if I was excited about our next destinations.
We had been cautioned that Rome could be too overwhelming with kids—too much sun, too many mopeds, too many crowds—but we were fortunate to get comfortable weather and to find the city a little more empty than usual, likely owing to the number of locals gone on vacation. I think it could prove more challenging depending on how ambitious one wanted to be (we obviously did very little dedicated sight-seeing), and how your children get around. A newer walker, not content to sit in a stroller might be tough, as could be the older, more independent child with more likelihood to wander. Of course, at that age you also get longer stints at restaurants and more interest in history, so that would be nice!
A note on our departure and renting a car: We rented a car from Hertz, to be picked up at Termini, the Roman train station. The rental desks are in the station (and it’s helpful to bring along a printout of the exact location to show a taxi driver), but the cars themselves are stored in a carpark down a busy road. Ideally, you can drop someone with the bags to wait at the carpark while the other runs up to sign and fetch the rental agreement. We started at the station and, even though we packed as lightly as possible, wished we’d done it the other way around.
Also, it took a long time! Whatever your estimate for leaving the city, double it. And finally, it was tremendously helpful to have a GPS device for finding our way out to the Autostrada.
Next up: the Hill towns of Tuscany & Umbria.