I very seldom write about things that I do without kids because I am focussed on all things parenting. However, If you read my previous post on travelling without kids, the husband and I like to sneak away for holidays without the kids. Two days without kids is just so so different from just two hours!
I felt inspired to write about our recent trip to Italy because we really enjoyed ourselves, and also because I can imagine that it is somewhat a great place to bring the kids…but maybe when they are able to take long flights and a LOT of walking without whining too much and spoiling the experience. I hope you will find some of the tips useful.
We flew to Rome via Bangkok on Thai Airways because it was cheap and Singapore Airlines was exorbitant. Some people prefer to break up their journey, but when we touched down in Bangkok, the plane took forever to taxi, then we had to take a bus to the terminal. Not a problem. Except that itself took us almost 45minutes. And then because the signage could be a lot better (we couldn’t even find boards with departure info?!), it was like a treasure hunt to find our next departing gate. Then from the gate it was another bus to the plane, and when we landed, you guessed it, bus again! And I haven’t even told you about our return journey…. And trying to navigate the Thai Airways website which looks like it was designed in the 1990s, sigh.
We landed in Rome in the early morning, around 6am and met our driver whom we booked through Rome Shuttle Limousine. It cost us €55 flat to get to the city. We were a group of 4 adults plus luggage, so I wasn’t sure if we could take the normal taxis. 2 of our friends arrived the day before, took a normal taxi, and they have no idea how their fare came up to €75 (but paid anyway). We have heard some warnings about the taxi drivers, so if you are travelling with kids, I would suggest prebooking a transfer for ease of mind. Once we were in the city, I did see that they have MPV taxis which can take up to 6 passengers; luggage is apparently free for the first piece and €1 for each subsequent piece. And the brief encounters that we had with taxi drivers within the city, was all good.
On arrival at the hotel, we had breakfast, washed up and got ready for our tour. We tailored a private tour with CAF Tours for the 6 of us, that came with a driver and a guide, who both spoke English. The guide was a spritely old Italian who had travelled widely, and even could speak a little Bahasa as he lived in Kuala Lumpur for several years! He was nearly 80, but was full of knowledge about the city, and could navigate the long queues at the various destinations so well, which was a blessing in the intense heat. The driver looked like the older brother from Everybody Loves Raymond, and was always in a suit. You do NOT want to drive in Rome yourself.
Our first stop was the Roman Colosseum and the guide had all our tickets ready, so we squeezed past most of the crowds easily. I really can’t imagine how anyone else could have the patience and tenacity to queue for a long time in the blistering heat, just to get in. I saw a parent with a toddler on a back carrier seat in a longer queue, and although it had a shade, it still looked tedious for both parties, and I wondered how much a toddler would take away from seeing ruins after expanding all his energy in the queue? I’m sure if I had brought the kids, I would have shown them photos, clips, maybe even movies (but most are quite gory?) but even then, there is so much history to take in.
On this tour we covered the Circus Maximus, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps (apart from the shops, it didn’t seem so interesting?), Capitoline Hill, Trevi fountain, a short stop at St Peter’s Square, and the Pantheon, and Campo de’Fiori. Yes, we did that all in 6 hours! And we even squeezed in an audience (if you call being amongst a few other thousand people an audience) with Pope Francis and Andrea Bocelli and Don Moen, etc.
It helped that there was a driver and the days in summer are long. We didn’t have to navigate the public transport system or do lengthy walks. I suppose for some people that might be half the fun, but we only had 2.5 days in Rome, so it was a good way to pack in all the sights. We ended the tour on the first day by having the driver drop us off at our dinner venue, and easily cabbed back (together, in a MPV taxi).
The next day, we had a leisurely breakfast, a little bit of shopping in the late morning, then made our way to Vatican City with our driver. Our guide met us there, and again we hardly had to queue to get in. He spent quite a while talking to us about the history and art of the Sistine Chapel before we proceeded through the museum, with him sporadically explaining some artifacts. I say sporadically because there are just SO.MANY. artifacts it’s like they just chuck ’em all over the place! We finally made it to the Sistine Chapel, which was completely mind blowing to think that it’s how many hundred years old and still looks so vibrant (after the touching up)? Eventually we made our way to St Peter’s Basilica, where we awed at the La Pieta, and attended mass. You’d think that since 99% of the attendees were tourists they could at least do the mass in English right? But ok, it was a test of how well you know your mass rituals :)
Even with a driver, there was really a lot of walking to do, and I think only Mittens would have been interested enough and willing to walk to have survived it. I also think a guide would be useful when you have kids around as I’m not terribly knowledgeable in Roman history, and the history is so rich! I doubt I could concentrate on looking after the kids and trying to research historic information on my phone or trying to recall what I’d read and giving them a few hundred “I dunno’s” to all their questions. I would definitely do a guided tour if I had the kids!
On the third day, we took a train to Florence. We’d heard a lot about dodgy activities at the train station and Rome city as well, so we were on high alert most of the time. I do think that because we were in a larger group, and possibly because we were with a guide, we were less easy targets. But for this simple fact, I think it would be quite tiring to have to be constantly guarding your belongings, while watching out for the kids, while trying to enjoy the sights at the same time.
In each city we stayed in subsequently it was smaller, and safer, and we felt more at ease too. From Florence to Siena to Monticchiello. At Monticchiello, population 90-100, we arrived around 6 or 7pm, and discovered that there was no one at our B&B, and it hadn’t even been locked. In fact it seemed like not much around was locked!
From Florence we rented a car and drove to Siena, stopping at a vineyard along the way. We had lunch at the Antinori vineyard and I saw a few couples with young children (even a mother breastfeeding). We didn’t prebook the wine tour, so there were no slots available, but I think that kids would be able to easily manage a lunch and a tour here. Thereafter we spent one night in Siena (lovely town, highly recommended!), then briefly visited Montalcino, and moved on to Monticchiello (there isn’t even a wiki page on Monticchiello because it’s so small!). We also did a wine tour at Banfi, and they have nice large areas, pretty suitable for children. We would have loved to have had more time to explore each town, but there is really so much to see! Everywhere! We had to skip Pienza, where the famous pecorino cheese is from.
On our last day (sob!), we drove to Montepulciano to have lunch, parked the car once we reached the town, saw a church and decided to walk in, and discovered a few of Michelangelo’s works at this Chiesa di San Bagio. See what I mean, about them having so many artifacts that they’re just all over the place?
After lunch in Montepulciano, we drove to Assisi, which is one of the most breath-taking towns because you drive towards it on level ground, and get to awe at the beauty of this old medieval town, and visit the tomb of a slightly famous saint, St. Francis of Assisi. After spending a few hours in Assisi, we drove about 2.5 hours directly to the airport where we spent the night at the Hilton Rome Airport hotel and dropped off the car with Avis, across the road from the hotel. A few friends had advised to return to Rome city by train on the night before heading to the airport, which is probably doable too, but I didn’t see the point of hassling with luggages and trains again when you can arrive at your own time own target in a car. And to be honest, after a whole trip of quaint hotels and B&Bs, the Hilton was a welcome change, although the service was far below expectations.
The next morning we left the hotel at almost 10am for our 1350 flight. It was a short walk to the airport from the hotel, but arriving at Terminal 3, after a lot of walking up and down and getting very little help (and a lot of attitude) from all the staff there, we realized we had to check in at Terminal 1, wait for the check in to be open, queue again for the tax refund (amidst a LOT of confusion and cacophony from the mainland Chinese, also trying to do the same). That took us almost 2 hours. After clearing immigration, we had to take a bus to the G gate area, and then another bus to the plane after that. Ok, sure they’ve had a fire at the airport in the last few months and everything is a little chaotic, but seriously? I have not taken so many buses on ONE trip ever. And if I had to lug three grouchy kids….well thank goodness I didn’t! I would seriously consider flying out from Milan the next time.
Also if you’re planning on buying duty free goods at Rome Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci airport, and you’re buying liquids like oh, balsamic vinegar? Don’t forget to ask them to seal the bag for you. We totally forgot about this and in transit at the Bangkok baggage check we were asked to throw it away. Yes all 10 bottles we had bought for presents for people. Fortunately the transit desk lady advised us to exit customs and re-check it in, and fortunately also I had a foldable bag with me. So the husband visited Bangkok for all of 30 minutes (or more) and went through customs to re-check-in the bag. Fiumicino now tops my list of most disliked airports, right before Frankfurt (although I have not been to Frankfurt in almost 10 years). Moral of the story, buy your stuff along the way and not at the airport. The cheese at the airport was also almost twice the price, making it almost the same price as what you get here at home.
Sorry for that rant. Here’s a few other things you should be aware of, and things you would love, when bringing kids to Italy:
- There is a lot of walking in the cities
- There is a lot of driving to the smaller towns (although it is manageable if you are hopping from one town to the next)
- The cobble-stone streets are not pram friendly
- As we’re not familiar with the roads, it could be tricky driving, navigating, and handling kids at the same time. On this trip we would have a driver, a navigator, and an extra navigator with Google maps on hand. And with no kids, it was relatively easy :D
- The flight connections and airports were not the easiest, let’s not even talk about child-friendly!
What you’ll love:
- The food is fantastic! My kids enjoy pasta, cheese and beef very much, oh and of course gelato (who doesn’t?), so I’m sure they could be very VERY happy in Italy. In Tuscany we had their bistecca all a fiorentina almost every night, the kids would have loved it! After a week of all Italian food and NO Asian food, I came back and was still raring for more Italian food.
- The history! It’s really history coming alive – even for us adults it was so hard to fathom how (a few) buildings could be thousands of years old, or how even an ordinary B&B could be a few hundred years old. And to visit (so many) sites of religious significance is another thing altogether.
- The vast expanse of open space and breath taking views
If you have survived Italy with your children, I would love to hear about it!