This is meant to be a detailed report, but has some information about the trip for those interested.
You can also go directly to the photos:
Pre-trip planning and General notes
We started thinking about this trip during the summer of 2006 and started doing real planning near the end of 2006. It took some coordinating as Suzanne’s parents were to join us for the Italy portion. I don’t think we did anything really special, just lots of hard work, especially when trying to find apartments. For Italy, we decided to rent an apartment instead of getting two hotel rooms. This gave us way more space, including a way so Kyle could sleep and we could still be up, gave us a kitchen so we could make a few meals and keep stuff cold/heat stuff up for Kyle, and was most likely less than two hotel rooms would have cost us. About the only thing we did wrong was trying to plan way too much considering we were traveling with a not quite two year old.
For planning, we used mostly the Fodor’s Europe Forum (which I generally follow), the Grafitti Wall at Rick Steves, and the apartment reviews at Slowtrav.com (since shutdown). For guidebooks, we predominantly used Rick Steves’ Venice and Rome and the Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome (mostly for me since I was very interested in visiting ancient Rome sights). We also took a few things from older editions of the DK Eyewitness Guides to Venice and Rome and from the architectural histories Venice from the Ground Up and Rome from the Ground Up. For maps, we took both the Insight Fleximaps and Streetwise to Venice and Rome. Overall, I liked the Fleximaps better than the Streetwise maps.
I guess the one special thing I did was to enter all of notes about restaurants, shops, etc., in Google Earth. I then converted this to a map and printed it out to take with us. (Along with the notes as a Word document.) This worked out very well as it made it easy to see what was around to eat, shop, etc. and to find particular places. I did find that the coordinates for Venice were a bit off. However, while this was very nice, it was a lot (probably 20+ hours all told) of work (including writing some computer scripts to handle the conversion). You can see the Rome map here.
How Kyle did
I figure some of you will be interested in how Kyle fared. He did remarkably well. He was a bit fussy on the flight over, but did finally get a few hours of sleep before being woken as we went through security in Amsterdam for our connection. He adjusted to the time change very well (better than we expected), though we managed to have him adjust a couple of hours short. This meant instead him getting up between 6:00 and 7:00, his normal time at home, it was more like 8:00 to 9:00. This was great for us. It did take a few days to start eating like normal, but he did. The only really tough thing was eating out. We do eat out here regularly, but he was constantly trying to pull off tableclothes and drop other things on the floor. I think we only had one meal where we all finished together as normally someone took Kyle outside early. Kyle did very well on the flight back, eating nearly all his dinner and stayed in his own seat for the entire flight. It may have been an advantage that we didn’t leave Amsterdam until 6:00, so it much of the flight was “after” bedtime. We really want to give kudos to KLM as they were extremely friendly to Kyle, had very good kid’s meals, and were in general very helpful.
The Actual Trip
- MarburgWe spent the first couple of days in Marburg visiting our friends Joanna and Job and in Gernsheim visiting our friends Christoph, Edith, and Mathilde. We had a very nice time seeing all of them. Joanna was nice enough to have us stay with her, which worked out very well.
- MainzOn Monday afternoon, we headed to Mainz as our flight to Venice was the next day and Mainz is close to airport. Also, we never visited Mainz while we were living in Germany. We stayed at the Hotel Königshof (double with a crib was €82) which was very nice. The room was very large and comfortable. We ate at the nearby Restaurant Calabria (after looking around and not finding much else) and the settled in for the night. The next day, we walked around town, visiting the cathedral, and buying some stuff at the market. For lunch, we came across the Bratwurst Glöcke restaurant (Schusterstrasse 18-20) which had good, hearty German food. (I had Schweinehaxe which I love, but is impossible to get in the states.) Around 2:30 we headed off to the airport (by direct RE train instead of the S-Bahn since it was the next train). The flight was Venice was fine. Lufthansa even gave Kyle a pacifier-leash.
It’s worth a brief comment on getting from Germany to Italy. We had considered a night train, but that would have meant either training to Munich and then changing for the overnight train to Venice or taking the overnight to Milan and then changing in the morning to Venice as there are no night trains direct from Frankfurt to Venice. Also, Suzanne and I took a night train from Vienna to Frankfurt in 2004 and found the compartment small and we hardly slept. When checking prices, the train likely would been at least $100-150 each. On a whim, I checked airfare and came across flights on Lufthansa for $105 each. We jumped at the chance to fly instead of spending 14+ hours on a train. It also worked out well as we could arrive Tuesday evening, get settled into the apartment, and then meet Suzanne’s parents at the airport Wednesday morning.
- VeniceWe arrived at the airport in Venice without problems. However, as we pulled up the gate, the pilot announced that the ground staff had been on strike and it would be 15-20 minutes to get the jetway moved. Welcome to Italy! It didn’t take that long, but did take over and hour to get the bags including the carousel numbers being incorrect and them not telling us the stroller was on the oversize carousel. Finally, we grabbed a water taxi (expensive but worth it with the luggage and Kyle) and headed to San Marco to meet our apartment rep.
We stayed at the Ca’ della Torre | 204 apartment (no longer available) with Views on Venice. We got an exceptional deal for a two bedroom (€165/night) which we jumped at. The apartment was fine and it was nice to have two bedrooms and two bathrooms. We even had a canal view out of the living room and one bedroom. Kyle loved watching people cross the footbridge over the canal. The location was overall good, but it was right near Piazza San Marco and, hence, in a touristy location. In fact, one bedroom and the living room overlooked the Merceria. With Kyle, I think it was a good idea to stay there and not across the canal in Dorsoduro which we had also considered. (I think if it was just us or if Kyle was older, we would have stayed further from the tourist center.)
To meet Suzanne’s parents, we took the vaporetto/land bus combination to return to the airport as it’s so much cheaper than the alternatives and we had the extra time. We bought 3 day passes, which covered the trip, though we ended up only using them for two rides as ACTV was on strike on day and we left later than we had planned on Sat morning so the passes had expired. (More on that later.) Suzanne parents arrived with no problems Wednesday morning, though it also took them a long time to get their bags. We took another taxi back into Venice. It was really nice this time as we could actually see something. (It was after dark when we arrived.) Once we settled them in, we headed out and did some walking. It wasn’t horrible taking the stroller, but we got very tired of the steps on the bridges.
We didn’t do a lot of real tourist sights. We did visit San Marco and Jack and I toured the Doge’s Palace (on the Secret Itineraries tour and then on our own for the rest), which was great. We spent lots of time walking. One day we went through San Marco, crossed the Accedemia Bridge, then walked up through Dorsoduro and San Polo to the Rialto Bridge and back to the apartment. Another day, we walked up to Cannaregio and through it to the train station (near which Kyle got to play on the playground). We were going to hop a vaporetto back to the Rialto markets, but they were on strike. Instead we walked back through Santa Croce (stopping by the Frari church). Unfortunately, the markets were closing up by the time we got there. I had been out that morning and spent a couple of hours there taking photos and Suzanne and Mary Lou had been the day before, but Jack missed out. We finished our walk and headed back to the apartment. On Sat morning, the apartment rep was late, so we ended up leaving later than we wanted, missing our train in Mestre. In the end, it worked out okay as we were able to take the next train (only about 40 mins later) and pay EUR 8 (total for all of us) to get new seats. We even had seats together as the train wasn’t busy at all.
Restaurants: We’re not real gourmands, especially with a two-year old in tow. The first night we ate someplace right near the apartment and while the food was okay, the server was very aggressive about service not being included despite the 12% servizio charge on the bill. (“That’s a second tax.” No, it’s not.) The second night we ate at Trattoria da Nino (San Zaccaria, Castello 4668). The food and service were good. For 4 three-course menus + wine and water — €83 incl service. Second night we ate at Chat Qui Rit Self Service (Calle Tron, San Marco 1131). It was kind of neat to pick out your own food and it was okay, but was cool by the time we ate it. Price was good — €74 for 2 plates each (for 4) + water and wine. Third night we ate at the apartment, which worked out well.
- RomeSaturday: Our arrival in Rome was okay. It was a bit confusing and we ended up exiting the station on the side opposite where we really wanted to be. Once we grabbed a taxi (not easy as we were 4 + a toddler + a fair amount of luggage) it was a typically hair-raising ride to the apartment. The driver had no problems finding it, though we were overcharged a bit. (I didn’t quibble so much as there were many of us, we had lots of luggage, and he brought us right to the apartment door on a small pedestrian street.) Our apartment was the Green Apartment at Residenza Giubbonari. (€208/nt + metered electricity which turned out to be €20 for the week) It was very nice and having two bedrooms and two baths along with a washer and a dryer was great. The only problem we had was an issue with hot water, but we solved that by the end of the week. The location was ideal, being only a few minutes down the street from Campo di Fiori. There was a great bar/pastry shop just down the street and a grocery store right around the corner. From there, we could walk almost everywhere (and did aside from when it was raining). Even if we hadn’t, it was less than 5 minutes from the Torre Argentina transportation hub. For dinner, we ate a L’Insalata Ricca which was actually pretty good. (€55 for 4 adults + 1 child + water + wine)
Sunday: We headed down towards the Colosseum and Forum as I knew that Via Fori Imperiali was closed for the day. This was very nice. We walked all the way down to the Colosseum, but decided to wait for an actual visit as the security line was long. We did spend a couple of hours in the Forum, but it started to rain a bit, so we headed out for lunch (a pizza stand) and then headed over towards Trevi Fountain (after a detour to a closed St. Peter in Chains). We walked across to Piazza Navona, with a stop by the Pantheon and Gelateria della Palma, doing some shopping along the way. For dinner, we stopped at the pizza place down the street and ate there. (It was decent, cheap, and close as it was raining.)
Monday: Monday was our Vatican day. I realized it would be busy, but the schedule worked out best. Jack and Mary Lou had reserved an official tour for the museums at my suggestion which worked out excellently as the line to get in was way long (and tours get to bypass it). Suzanne and I elected not to go as we had been in 2003 and weren’t sure how Kyle would handle it. While they were on their tour, we visited the Trionfale market (not as nice as its square is now a construction zone and it is spread along the street), did some shopping, and checked out some spots for lunch. After meeting up with Jack and Mary Lou, we headed to Da Vito e Dina (Via degli Scipioni, 50) for lunch which was excellent both in terms of food and friendly service. (€57 for 4 adults + 1 child + water + wine) After lunch, we headed back to visit St. Peter’s. Suzanne was a bit unhappy at having to check the stroller as Kyle proceeded to fall asleep in her arms. After a fairly brief visit, Kyle did some running in the Piazza and then we headed off to do a bit more shopping. We walked back to the apartment, going by Castel Sant’ Angelo for some nice evening shots. Dinner that night proved to be an adventure as we managed to trip the circuit breaker (the block had lost power the night before so maybe it was related) and the stove kept tripping it when it was reset. Eventually, we managed to work with one burner and get dinner done.
Tuesday: This was our day to visit Ostia Antica. We managed to figure out how to get the “express” bus to the station since it would have been a good walk. Doing the subway/train out to Ostia was as easy as I remember. The only thing was that our 75 minute tickets barely covered the time (we had ~5 mins to spare). Also, to get from the station at Ostia to the ruins, you have to take a pedestrian bridge with many steps on either side over the highway. Not normally a problem, but a bit of a pain with the stroller. Speaking of the stroller, it was a real bear to push along the “main” street with it’s large stones. When I was pushing it, I had to keep my eye out for smoother spots to go (like grass, dirt, etc.) We ate our packed lunch at the cafe (not sure if this was kosher or not) and finished up about 2:00. We headed back to Rome, but continued on the subway to the Spanish Steps. After that, we did a bit more shopping, stopped by the Ara Pacis (since we were walking by, quite interesting) and headed back towards Piazza Navona for dinner. We ended up at Ristorante Montevecchio (Piazza Montevecchio 22A) based on a recommendation from the Rick Steves boards. The food was excellent and the service incredibly friendly, even with our “barbarian” (the nickname they gave to Kyle after we suggested they not give him a ceramic plate as he would likely knock it on the floor). The owner constantly fawned over Kyle. It was a but pricey, but was the best meal we had on the trip (€100 for 2 antipasti, 5 primis, bottle of wine, 2 bottles of water + €20 for a generous tip). After that is was back to the apartment after a long day out.
Wednesday: This turned out to be a short day. I had planned to get up early and head out on my own a bit, but the sky looked ominous. We all headed out to do some shopping. As we neared Upim (a department store) the rain started. We killed some time there, but it was still pouring when we left (luckily we had rain coats, umbrellas, and Kyle’s stroller cover), so we managed to find the (packed) bus back to the apartment and settled Kyle down for a nap while Jack and I got pizza down the street for lunch. After the rain stopped, Suzanne, Mary Lou, and Jack headed out to find a few nearby stores while I stayed with Kyle. For dinner, Jack and Mary Lou went to Der Pallaro (Largo del Pallaro, 15). They said the food was good (and plentiful) and it was reasonable (€25(?) each for a multicourse menu + wine + water, but it’s a “what we’re serving is what you’ll have” place.) Suzanne, Kyle, and I ate in.
Thursday: Today dawned with nice weather. It was my morning to have some alone time (somewhat in “payment” for planning the whole trip and being the “tour guide”). I headed off towards the Forum. It wasn’t open yet (which I knew) so I took a walk up to and around the top of the Capitoline Hill and then “toured” the Imperial Forums. (You can only see them from the street, which covers a good portion of them.) My Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome proved incredibly useful for making sense of the ruins. (I thought this book was excellent for seeing the remnants of Ancient Rome. I has far more detail than any traditional guidebook, e.g., 100+ pages on the Forum.) Once 9:00 rolled around, I headed into the Roman Forum (“the” Forum) and spent some time there. I met up with everyone else in front of the Colosseum, which we were now going to visit. Buying the tickets at the Palatine Hill ticket office proved a great suggestion as while we had to wait for security, the line for the tickets, which we bypassed, was quite long. Funnily enough, the Colosseum proved to be one of the more stroller-accessible sights as there is an elevator between floors. We had an enjoyable visit. After that, we headed up to the Palatine Hill. I wasn’t planning to, but everyone was interested in seeing it since it’s included in the Colosseum tickets. Kyle got to run around a bit and the Cryptoporticus and Romulus’ hut was now opened (it was closed in 2003), which was cool. However, even with my archaeological guide, it was still hard to make heads or tails of the place. After spending a while there, we headed back down the hill and up Via Cavour to Santa Maria Maggiore (after a quick cafe lunch) and a visit to Santa Prassede (very impressive early mosaics). For dinner that night, Suzanne and I ate at Il Grotto del Teatro de Pompeo. We had an excellent meal here in 2003, but this time it was mixed. Also, they charged a coperto (“for the table”) which they’re not supposed to do by Italian law anymore and they tried to overcharge us for our water.
Friday: Our last day in Rome. It was still kind of rainy. Jack, Mary Lou, and Suzanne wanted to head out to Coin, so we hopped the bus back to the train station so they could catch the subway out to the store. Unfortunately, on the very packed bus, Suzanne had her wallet stolen, so we had to deal with the drama of that. It wasn’t a huge deal, though I had just given her a €100 bill to break at the department store and we ended up with no credit cards. (I still had an ATM card on a different account.) While it was stressful, we survived. We were going to hit the Palazzo Massimo museum first, but they were closed until 2:00 for a strike. Suzanne, Mary Lou, and Jack headed out to Upim while I went back to the apartment (in a bus with a leaking window in the rain) to do a final few things related to Suzanne’s wallet being stolen. I headed back towards the train station, where we were to meet, stopping by Santa Maria degli Angeli for an enjoyable visit. After meeting, we headed back for an enjoyable visit to Palazzo Massimo and then walked back to the apartment, stopping by the Vittorio Emanuele II monument for some photos and a booth for some prints. Dinner was at Pizzeria Baffeto (the one right near Campo di Fiori). The pizza was great and reasonable (€55 for 3 pizzas, 2 pastas, water, wine). Afterward, it was time to repack.
Saturday: Jack and Mary Lou had a 7:00 car as they had a 10:00 flight. Once they left, we finished our last minute packing and cleaning. At 10:00, the apartment rep came by so we could “check out” and all was fine. Our car came at 10:30. (We had to walk down to the Piazza.) They even had the car seat for Kyle that we requested. After taking a detour to pick someone else up (who had moved hotels and then gotten another service to the airport), we had a somewhat harrowing ride to the airport. (Mary Lou said that a women whom they shared with berated the driver, in German mind you, for reckless driving.) We arrived in plenty of time and had no problems checking in. The flights back were fine, though we arrived late (8:45 pm at JFK) and we quite tired. All in all, it was a good trip, but it’s hectic traveling with a two-year old.
- Gelato: I didn’t say too much about gelato above, but we did eat it every day or night but the first in Venice and we missed one night in Rome. In Venice, the only places of note were Michelangelo (San Marco, Salizada Pio X 5168, at the foot of the Rialto Bridge), which was good and Il Gelatone (Cannaregio, Rio tera de la Madalena 2063, on the Strada Nova). We tried to visit La Boutique del Gelato, but we went after closing one night and then the next day we went back at 5:00 and they were closing up (sold out?). In Rome, we ate at several Blue Ice’s as there were two right off Campo di Fiori. They were actually pretty good, but each one has different flavors. Della Palma was good with many flavor choices. One real highlight was Alberto Pica’s (12 via della Seggiola off of Via Arenula). The chestnut there was amazing. Cremeria Monteforte was also quite good, especially the cinammon. Their strawberry was perhaps the best we had. (Kyle’s flavor was strawberry, so we had that wherever we went.)