At the February half-term, we took our family to Rome in search of some much needed sun and exploring. We hadn’t been to Italy yet, so we were excited to check out a new country, learn a bit of a new language, and most importantly, have some fun outdoors. Rome delivered.

As a photographer, I always feel the pressure to have great photographs of our adventures. But even before I started my professional business, I felt this pressure as a mother. Mums are always told to “enjoy these moments, they go so quickly,” and that “the kids grow up so fast, treasure these moments.” To me, this always meant that I needed a photo to remind me of how much fun we’ve had. And this stressed me out when we traveled.

City breaks, and specifically Rome for me, present a unique version of this challenge. The environment is a bit chaotic with loads of people and a limited ability to find a space to contain the kids. I’m usually so busy trying to figure out the direction we need to go, observing the area we are in for safety hazards, and making sure a child hasn’t walked into the path of a moving vehicle, it’s difficult to stop and frame out the perfect photo let alone lift the camera to my face.

So I realised pretty quickly that if I was going to enjoy our holiday trips, I was going to have to find a way to manage the self-imposed perfect photo stress. And as is my nature, I came up with a strategy to do it. More about this strategy in a bit.

First, how about a peek into our trip to Rome?

Quick run down of our trip:

Where: Rome

When: 11-16 February 2017

Accommodation: AirBnB

Travel: Flights with EasyJet from Gatwick to Fiumincino in Rome, Italy

Activities we booked in advance: Hop on/Hop Off Bus Tour for 72 hours with CitySightSeeing Roma through Get Your Guide

Book that made the trip: Mission Rome: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure by Catherine Aragon

Our Rome story: We earned over 60 points in our Mission Rome scavenger hunt; Jack loved the gluten-free pizza, pasta and gelato we found (and found easily!); You get the best tips from kids you meet on the bus.

Scavenger Hunt Fun

I won’t go into the full story here, but we have discovered the joys of scavenger hunts when we travel. For our trip to Rome, we used Mission Rome: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure by Catherine Aragon. It’s part of series that we discovered when we picked up the book about London.

While planning our activities, we got the boys involved by letting them choose which missions we’d go on each day. The first mission was the Colosseum. At the Colosseum, we had to find the marble seats where the important people sat as well as a giant cross that was on the spot where the emperor’s box used to be. Between the spotting missions and the audio tour, the boys had a blast learning about gladiators and Roman construction techniques.

 

Each day we set out on a new mission. Day 2 we discovered the Papal crest at the Vatican and sent postcards from St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

That night we threw coins in the Trevi Fountain and ate gelato.

After 4 days, we had earned over 60 points in our Roman Missions. The boys (and I) felt very accomplished. But we also had managed to see loads of what the city had to offer and actually interacted with it. I call any trip to a church that keeps children engaged a success.

Food

Our eldest son has Coeliacs Disease, which means he cannot eat gluten (wheat, barley, or rye). So we headed to Rome fully prepared for a food challenge trying to feed him. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to find gluten free options in a city based on pasta and pizza. Our first night, we ate at Pizzeria San Marco in Via Sardegna. The staff was incredibly kind and helpful from the moment we walked in the door asking about gluten free options. Jack had a tasty pasta bolognese that he described as “really good,” (and in 9-year-old boy speak, that means it was a hit). But we also learned that gelato is made with gluten at this restaurant. When we tried to order that for dessert for Jack, the waiter told us that wasn’t a gluten free option. So instead, Jack discovered Panna Cotta, which has become a new favourite.

After learning that gelato is not normally gluten free, Jack was a little bummed and I was worried about the rest of our trip as gelato stops were a regular part of our plan. Again, the Romans surprised us. When we went to the Trevi Fountain on the third night, we found a gelateria that offered gluten free ice cream AND gluten free cones. Jack decided right then and there that Rome was his new favourite city.

Throughout our week, each time we looked for a place to eat, we easily found a restaurant that offered gluten free options including pizza, pasta, and chicken dishes. All five of us were able to get our fill of the deliciousness Rome had to offer.

Friends on the bus

One of the best things we did before coming to Rome was to purchase a 3-day pass for the Hop on/Hop off CitySightSeeing Roma bus. I had read about it on another blog post here. Not only did the bus take us everywhere we wanted to go, it also had an audio tour that the boys loved. Best of all, on our second day of the bus, we met two lovely boys a bit older than mine who were sitting behind us.

Our new friends were just finishing their trip in Rome, and were happy to give us tips on what they liked best. Several of the places they mentioned were already on our list, like eating pizza and gelato and going to the Trevi Fountain. But their favourite part of the trip was a place we hadn’t thought much about, Villa Borghese. Villa Borghese is a huge park that was a short walk from where we were staying. The boys told us about how they hired a bike that their entire family fit on and how they had ice cream and watched the sunset. They had spent a whole day exploring Villa Borghese and it had been the highlight of their trip.

Since we had one day without the bus to take us around the city, we decided a short walk up to Villa Borghese might be a good way to spend that day. And it was.

We started our Villa Borghese experience about mid-morning after a quick detour to the Spanish Steps. When we made it to the park, we decided to figure out how the bike hire worked. It turned out we needed cash, so Steve went to find the nearest cash point while the boys created an outdoor kitchen in a quiet spot in the park. I happily drank my coffee and ate “grass soup.”

By the time Steve returned and the boys had completed a successful grass restaurant launch, it was time for lunch. We walked down to the Piazza del Popolo for pizza and gelato. By 1 p.m., we were ready for a bike ride.

I can’t remember the last time I spent so much of an hour laughing with my family. Don’t get me wrong, we laugh together, just not for such a continuous period of time. In our hour, we made it around almost all of the park. We rode up and down hills easily enough thanks to the supplemental motor that would kick in as we pedalled. We even had a race around the Piazza di Siena with a personal best of 2 minutes.

On our bike tour, we located a playground that looked pretty fun. So after returning our bike, we walked back to have a free play.

By the time we were done, the boys decided this was one of the highlights of our trip. So thank you, bus friends, for an excellent tip!

Why Pick Rome
• There are so many amazing, cultural sites to see, you can easily fill a week
• Rome was a very family-friendly city with loads of kid-friendly spaces (piazzas, parks) and family-friendly places to eat.
• Roman people are incredibly kind. From the owner of our AirBnB staying a little longer to give us tips on where and when to go places to the waiters and staff at the restaurants on the piazzas keeping the street-salesmen at bay, we always felt very welcome wherever we went.
• Rome in February had great weather and minimal crowds. It was the perfect escape from the wet and cold of London at the end of winter.

So you can see from the post, I have no shortage of photos to remember what we loved about our visit to Rome. And the best part was I spent very little time getting the pictures. I didn’t spend more than 10 minutes at any one time taking photos, and we even managed to keep all 3 children safe and with us the whole time! Want to learn how I did it? Remember that strategy I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Well, I’m teaching a workshop on how to use that strategy in the evening on 29 March. The workshop is free, but I only have 10 spots available. So if you are interested, send me an email and reserve your space right now! I’ll send you the details.

Email Karen