Family Travel: A Mom Amok on Rome with Kids

St Peter's Piazza

Hanging in Rome's St. Peter's Piazza.

Favorite thing in the world to do? Travel, hands down. And we still do a fair amount of it, though there’s no denying that having two kids has slowed us down more than a little. We know we’d be traveling more and very differently if we didn’t have kids. But we do, so we adapt.

It’s with that in mind that we’ve decided to start a new family travel series on Shiny Brite. We’ll interview parents who’ve taken recent trips with their kids and find out how things went — what made the destination great, or not so great, for families, and the places they loved while they were there.

We want to be inspired! And we hope you’ll find the interviews helpful and inspiring, too.

Up first, Nicole Caccavo Kear, from A Mom Amok. If you don’t know her blog, you should. It’s funny, very New York, and super-relate-able. She’s a mom I get. And I know from reading that she recently took her two young children to Rome. I couldn’t wait to hear more about it!….

Here’s a little about her….

Nicole, the woman behind A Mom Amok, is a born n’ bred New Yorker who lives with her darling, dastardly children and the slick-talking Southerner who got her into this mess of motherhood. She writes regularly for magazines including Parents, Pregnancy, American Baby, and TimeOut NY Kids as well as websites like New Parent and Mamanista.

So, how old are your kids?

“Primo” is 5 and “Seconda” is 3.

How often do you travel with them? How much of a priority is it for your family?

When our second small fry was born three years ago, it put a serious crimp in our traveling style, which wasn’t terribly impressive to start with. Since my husband is from East Tennessee, we make a few trips there every year, sometimes do beach trips at the Outer Banks and have been to California a few times, too, but two little ones under the influence of jet lag is a pretty powerful disincentive, not to mention how freaking much it costs to fly four people to fun and exciting places. So, since we live in New York, we usually satisfy ourselves by exploring the different parts of our great city, within whose reach you can basically see the world.

Tell us about Rome! How long were you there?

In August, we took the kids to Italy for two weeks — we spent a week Rome, then a week in a beach town called Terracina, about an hour south of Rome.

Why did you choose those places?

My mom was born near Rome, and her sister has a great apartment near the Pantheon there as well as an apartment in the ancient center of Terracina. I’ve been to Rome at least a dozen times, starting when I was a kid, and when my son was just a year and a half old, we spent a month there (when I boarded the flight back to NY, I had my daughter in-utero). So it’s an important place for me, and our family.

But the real reason we chose it was we had free lodging and free tickets (seven years of saving airline miles finally paid off), and that was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

How was it?

What can I say? I laughed, I cried, sometimes at the same time. We had moments of true magic, like taking a midnight dip in the ocean with our son, and hundreds of other revelers, while fireworks boomed overhead on my husband’s birthday (which happens to be a national holiday in Italy). We had moments of pure misery, like dragging our three year-old, in the heat, through the hordes, through the Coliseum, while she yelled “I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE!!!! I HATE THIS DUMB PLACE!” Then we had a lot of in between. It was absolutely exhausting but like parenting, totally worth it.

What made Italy a great place to visit with your family?

You don’t get more kid-friendly than a place where it’s OK to eat pizza for every meal including breakfast (for reals, it’s called “breakfast pizza”) and where ice cream shops open at the crack of dawn. The thing that’s really different about the way you roll with kids in Italy as compared to the U.S. is that there’s not much entertainment that is specifically engineered just for kids – like Chuck E Cheese or playgrounds or kids’ meals – but, the tradeoff is, kids are welcome just about anywhere. Italians understand that kids come with the family package – so you can take them to restaurants and to church, to the piazza and the bar for cappuccino and if they have a shitfit, everyone’s like, “Well, he’s a kid, what do you expect?” Such a relief.

Was there anything that didn’t work for traveling there with your kids?

Um, yes. The entire air travel part, with specific emphasis on jet lag and the red-eye flight (which needs a name more befitting of its awfulness, like Red-Eye-Popping-Out-Your-Skull-from-Exhaustion Flight). The unending misery of taking that flight when my son was 18 months old has been seared in my mind since, and guess what? It was just as bad four years later.

Those kids didn’t get in a sleeping state of mind until it was three hours ‘til touchdown, and then only because I figured out a way to let them sleep on the floor of the aircraft under my seat and the seats in front of me. Once in Italy, the kids wouldn’t go to sleep ‘til 1am every night, and might have slept past 8am, had the church bells next door not began to toll like they were trying to wake the dead.

So, nasty but necessary jet lag aside — all told, would you recommend Rome to other parents?

Absolutely. Besides having the best food ever, and being really welcoming to kids, Rome is also great to visit with children because well, you can take them to buildings that are 2000 years old, and say, “Hey, lions used to eat people here. How cool is that?”

Also, Italy excels in the production of something which is critical to all parents, and that is coffee. So even after the red-eye flight, you can perk yourself right up by downing a perfectly-foamed cappuccino in 30 seconds. Bliss.

Where are you thinking of taking your kids next?

Good God, I’m still recovering from Rome. We are thinking about taking them to Los Angeles, where we used to live for a few years before we got married, and where my sister-in-law lives. There are In N’ Out Burgers, the beach, and of course – if I lose my mind and become a total masochist – Disneyland.

Keep us posted! But first, for parents considering Rome, give us three kid faves from the trip — the places your kids loved best and that you’d tell other families not to miss.

La Cremeria: You know what people say about sex and pizza? Even when it’s not so great, it’s pretty good? I emphatically disagree on both counts but I DO think it’s true of gelato. Even lousy gelato is better than American ice cream, which is already better than no ice cream at all. No matter where you go for gelato in Rome, your kids will be happy, but our go-to spot was La Cremeria, which was conveniently located in the shadow of our favorite attraction in Rome – the Pantheon. Primo’s favorite flavor was pistachio and chocolate and Seconda liked rose and lemon. Me, I preferred nocciola and bacio. You just can’t go wrong.

The rooms of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, downstairs in the church of Il Gesu: Yes, this is an off-the-beaten-path spot, but I discovered it a few trips back and it is one of my favorite places ever. The church of Il Gesu is pretty lovely but, in a city of churches, nothing spectacular. The attraction is the simple little chapel room downstairs, located just in front of the rooms where Saint Ignatius of Loyola used to live. The little chapel room was painted by an incredible artist, Andrea Pozzo, who was a master of perspective. In the 1500s, this man knew how to paint three-dimensionally, so that the angels and cherubim look like they are coming out of the wall, and the corners of the ceiling look like rounded domes. Not for very young children, but my son was absolutely entranced. (Yeah, he’s a keeper)

Piazza Navona: Everybody loves Piazza Navona – it’s a huge ellipses-shaped piazza with three fountains, two churches, tons of shops, restaurants and cafes and dozens of street performers. My kids ADORED the street performers, and these are kids that pass through Times Square and Grand Central all the time, so it’s not a novelty to them — but these performers are, I think, pretty freaking great, and do stuff I’d pay to see. My kids’ favorite was the Charlie Chaplin-type clown, but there’s also marionette theater, stilt walkers, musicians, and all sorts of crazy stuff. But the main draw here is really the piazza, which used to be a circus in the BC days, and is absolutely mammoth, perfect for kids to run around in.

For more of Nicole‘s adventures with Primo and Seconda — and to LAUGH, which you will — keep up with them at A Mom Amok.

Thanks, Nicole!

the fountains of Rome

When in Rome.... Enjoying the fountains.

More Shiny Brite interviews:

Karen, from A Child Grows in Brooklyn, on a few of her favorite things

8 Questions for a Kindergarten Teacher

Meet Brigitte, owner of Lulu’s Cuts & Toys and Lulu’s Then & Now

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