Day 1: 7th September: flight and arrival in Rome
As much as we were excited about our trip to Italy, we first had to get through the journey to Rome. A 7:15am flight meant us leaving the house at 3:45am with a just-gone-2-year-old and a 4-month old….
I woke at 1:30a.m. after 4 hours sleep and couldn’t get back to sleep. Tabitha; the 4-month old, woke at 2:30a.m. for a feed, so I quickly got changed and ready to go before feeding her and then held her asleep whilst my husband got himself ready and then put the cases in the car. Then at exactly 3:45a.m. operation ‘Get the Children in the Car’ began. Amazingly Tabitha stayed asleep whilst I put her in the car seat – its never happened before as she usually wakes at the slightest sound. Hetty, however, woke as soon as she was brought downstairs and stayed awake the entire journey to Manchester Airport – a 1hr 15 min car ride – and Tabitha, amazingly, slept the whole way, despite her older sister shouting ‘Tabby!’ ‘Tabby!’ at her to wake her up.
I must say the signage when approaching Terminal 3 is atrocious and it is amazing that we managed to find where we needed to be – it only took 2 wrong turns (!). We had booked meet and greet parking with FHR and it went swimmingly. With young kids that is the only way to park in my opinion. It was only slightly more expensive than normal airport parking so worth every penny.
I’d already checked in online so we just needed to drop our bags and we were ready for security. Luckily that all went without a hitch except Hetty having a mini-meltdown over being parted from her Bunny whilst it went through the X-Ray machine. Oh and demanding to be carried everywhere #shouldhavebroughtthestroller. My husband and I had had a big debate leading up to the holiday as to whether to take the stroller with us or just take the slings. After going back and forth we ultimately decided to not bother with the stroller. It was a brave decision and if you read both blog entires on Italy you will probably realise neither decision would have won – there were times when the stroller would have been a massive inconvenience and times when it would have been a God-send.
Although we had priority boarding we hung back until nearly the end so that the girls were on the flight the least amount of time possible. Shortly after boarding the pilot announced there was a 40-minute delay. I could have cried! But luckily that turned out to not be the case and we were soon on our way. The flight went surprisingly well – Tabitha was due a nap so promptly fell asleep and Hetty played with the new toys that we’d put in her backpack for the first hour or so. She then started getting a bit unsettled so we pulled out our number 1 parenting tool: Peppa pig on the iPad. That kept her entertained for the rest of the flight, along with copious amounts of biscuits 😉
I was worried that Hetty might be a bit scared by the plane landing – I needn’t have been as she loved it so much she kept saying ‘more, more’ and had a bit of a moan when she realised we weren’t doing it again. In my planning I’d thought about the plane journey and the taxi journey but hadn’t really considered the wait for passport control and retrieving our baggage. Luckily both girls did really well despite being very tired and grumpy. We didn’t have to wait long for our baggage and the taxi driver booked through our hotel was there waiting for us with a sign as we exited the green lane.
I had requested car seats but the taxi didn’t have them. There was no point in kicking up a fuss as it wouldn’t have got us anywhere and I was way too tired in any event. When we went to Canada when Hetty was 10 months we just sat her on our knee – yes it isn’t ideal but needs must and it worked out ok. The journey wasn’t too bad as both kids fell asleep but there was quite a lot of traffic as we got nearer the centre. I always like the taxi journey from the airport into an unfamiliar city as it gives you a flavour of real life in that particular instant of the place. We went round windy streets, narrow streets, passed ancient walls and monuments and people going about their daily business. You could tell we were getting near when we passed hordes of tourists clutching at cameras.
We arrived at the hotel around 12:30 p.m. Having landed at 10:55 am which I didn’t think was too bad. Even though check-in was from 2pm our room was ready and we were shown to it by the reception lady. We booked to stay at Residenza Santa Maria in Trastevere – a little out of town but within walking distance of most monuments and much cheaper. I’d booked an apartment as we needed two bedrooms due to having a baby and toddler. I was really impressed with the apartment – spacious, modern and clean. Exactly what we needed.
After getting sorted and feeding Tabitha, we decided to head out and find some lunch. Hetty had been snacking on all sorts of crap so luckily it wasn’t an immediate requirement. We had a little wander out of our apartment and round the corner we found Piazza de Santa Maria which had a large fountain in the middle and a few cafes around. We had a little walk and came across a shop selling focaccia sandwiches so we each chose one and got a margarita pizza for Hetty and went and sat on the steps of the fountain and ate our lunch. It was a lovely introduction to Rome and Trastevere I thought. There was a man playing the harpsichord in the background which really set the mood!
We then decided to have a steady walk to the Pantheon as it was only a 15 minute walk from our hotel. Hetty walked a little bit of the way but then she wanted to be carried. After a little bit we put her in the sling and she was happy enough in there whilst we walked the rest of the way. It is surprising how this massive ancient structure can creep up on you, but it’s true. Mainly due to the fact that there are very tall buildings extremely close to it. This spoils the effect a little but luckily to the front there is a nice courtyard space, including obligatory fountain to enable you to not only enjoy and take it in, but also get far enough away you can fit the whole building into a picture! Andrew and I were very moved by the sheer size of the Pantheon and even more so when we went inside and saw the incredible structure that is its concrete dome. It’s free to enter and very vast so it’s ideal to take children into. It wasn’t overly crowded although busy.
Next on the list for today was the Trevi fountain: a further 10-15 minute walk from the Pantheon. Again this enormous fountain creeps up on you due to the buildings being so close, however sadly on this occasion the space in front is not as ample. As a result I felt a bit underwhelmed and unable to appreciate the fountain to its full potential. You can’t stand far enough away to get the whole fountain and statues into a photo and it was so overcrowded it was hard to even have a good look at it. We managed to stand to the side of the fountain and be able to take a good look at it but to be honest I felt like I couldn’t fully appreciate it. It didn’t help that whilst we were there it started to rain, so the crowds plus umbrellas were not very easy to navigate!
The rain did put a dampener on things if I am honest although it didn’t stop us continuing on to the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately when we got there the steps were cordoned off due to maintenance, so we couldn’t even sit on them. I was starting to get very hot and fed up (we were both still carrying the children in their slings including a backpack) and we were all very tired due to the early start so we decided to head back to the apartment for a re-group. We were now however approximately a 40-minute walk away. Andrew filled up our water bottle at one of the several fountains dotted around Rome.
I needed to feed Tabitha and as this was my first time breastfeeding in public in Italy I was a little worried and self-conscious. Stupid I know, as I feed in public all the time in the UK. However I was trying to find somewhere indiscreet to feed and we decided on a nearby fountain as there wasn’t many people around. However as soon as I sat down lots of people seemed to appear and when I finally plucked up the courage to start feeding, Tabitha decided she didn’t want to feed and started kicking off which drew more attention to us. Because of this I started getting very stressed out, plus as Tabitha hadn’t had a feed in a long time, particularly when considering the heat, and the fact we were all VERY tired, my back was killing from carrying Tabitha/Hetty/backpack all the way and we were at least a 40-minute walk away from the apartment as well as needing to carry Tabitha/Hetty/backpack all the way back. Oh and did I mention it was also still raining. We needed to change both girls’ nappies which we duly did at the side of the road and then decided to start walking back to the apartment. Hetty refused to walk which meant either carrying her on putting her in the sling which she was refusing to do both. I was ready to give in and call a taxi (#shouldhavebroughtthestroller) but then we swapped and I took Tabby whilst Andrew put Hetty on his back and we power walked all the way back to the apartment. I was extremely grumpy and tired by the time we got back but we survived (just!). We quickly got the rooms set up for bedtime, after realising I’d left the adaptors, tea bags and Hetty’s hair bobbles in the other suitcase at home that I’d initially tried to fit our stuff into first of all but then transferred everything (bar those items) into a different case, Andrew went and grabbed some food for us from a nearby cafe and we got the girls in bed with only minimal tantrums/tears/calpol/teething gel. By 7:30pm we were sat in quiet. Andrew went out in search of adaptors, water, milk and fruit and luckily managed to get everything reasonably quickly within a short walk of the apartment. We then went to bed and I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow!
Day 2: Colosseum, Palatine Hill & The Forum
Amazingly both children slept well, so although we were all still tired we had at least had a reasonable nights sleep. First stop was breakfast at the hotel which was nice, especially the locally made pastries with old Roman recipes.
We then headed off to the Colosseum and despite my aim to get there nice and early we ended up arriving just as everyone else seemed to! Luckily Hetty walked about half of the way there, but that meant we were walking at a very slow pace. We spent a brief moment outside the Colosseum to take the obligatory selfies with the Colosseum in the background however most, if not all, came out horribly due to Hetty looking the wrong way or having her eyes shut. I think in the best photo she had one eye closed!
Luckily I’d booked tickets online the day before we came to Italy so we didn’t have to queue with everyone else. The queue was ginormous and although we had to queue with the other online-bookers, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the normal queue! I was very worried how Hetty would do in a place like that and although it wasn’t perfect we coped (again with food as bribery!) and had a nice time. I had to breastfeed Tabitha whilst inside and Andrew had to change a poonami but we managed! The Colosseum was very impressive and although it would have been nice to do a private tour and see the underground part and the third level (we didn’t want to attempt it with two young children), it was still impressive nonetheless.
We then intended to do Palatine Hill and the Forum but after a walk to find the entrance we were met with a long queue. With a tired and hungry toddler we decided to give it a miss for the moment, and so carried on walking past the entrance and up the hill in search of somewhere to eat. What we didn’t realise was that the hill led up to a dead-end. At the top was a church which we went in to in order to get out of the heat and have a brief rest. It was a lovely church and very nice and peaceful. We then had to walk all the way back to the bottom by which time we were all fed up and tired. We headed in search of food and headed up some steps to the left of the Colosseum. We happened upon a cafe after not very long and went inside to have some lunch. We really did drop on as although it was quite touristy the food was good and the cafe was very comfortable. We were sat next to a group of British people who chatted to us whilst the kids slept for a rare nap at the same time. Everyone seemed to then leave so after the girls woke we sat and ate in a very relaxed environment: Hetty on Andrew’s knee and Tabitha had a stretch out on the bench cushions next to me. I was also able to feed her without any other customers around us.
Batteries recharged we then headed to the Palatine/Forum entrance and luckily the queue went down very quickly. It was a very hot day and carrying the children and backpack was taking its toll. We walked up Palatine Hill to the top and it was very picturesque. Hetty had a lovely time running around the area and I took some pictures. We weren’t able to look around all of the ruins unfortunately due to the heat/Hetty not tolerating it but what we did see was well worth it. We then headed down to the Forum and as we were looking around an interfering woman took it upon herself to tell me that Hetty was burning or more specifically ‘her scalp’. I was horrified and mortified in equal measures until I checked her over and she was fine. She had sun cream on but her face was red just because she was so hot. Her scalp however was fine. I suspect she probably had an issue with her being in a sling and needed to put her oar in but it really upset me and made me feel like a crap mother.
I tried to not let it affect me but we decided shortly after to head off as I was now paranoid the girls were too hot. We walked the rest of the way back to the apartment and by the end my feet were killing me. Andrew dropped us all off at the apartment where we could cool off with the air con and he went to get us some Gelato from a cute little place not too far from the apartment, where they make their own. It was scrumptious and a great first sample of Italian Gelato for Hetty!
After a shower and a recharge of the batteries we headed out for tea at a local cafe which went surprisingly well to say that Hetty hadn’t had much of a nap. We even braved staying for desert and the Panna Cotta went down a treat 🙂
Day 3: Vatican City
This was our third and final day in Rome, therefore we decided to tackle Vatican City. We were all exhausted and it was set to be the hottest day yet but we didn’t want to come to Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel and St Peters Basilica.
As our feet were in shreds we had the ‘ingenious’ idea to get one of the ‘hop on off off’ tours which would take us to Vatican City and then take us home again via other sites if we wanted to get off. The only problem was the nearest stop to us was a 20-minute walk away in the opposite direction to the Vatican. The Vatican Museum was a 40-minute walk away so we decide saving the extra 20-minutes would be worth it, plus the tours also sold skip-the-line tickets for the museum. Amazing!
Again despite ideally wanting to be up and out early it didn’t quite go to plan. We walked to the nearest stop for the tour buses and found a man selling tickets and duly purchased a one-day pass for the bus for us both and skip the line tickets for an eye-watering cost of 94 euros. ‘It’ll be worth it’ we told ourselves.
We then followed his directions a little further in order to find the bus stop and luckily a bus was waiting. We showed our tickets to the lady on the bus and she gave us a one-day pass for the hop-on hop-off bus. We took our seats and plugged in the earphones to listen to the guide as we went round the various sights. The Vatican was the first stop on the bus so we duly disembarked and made our way to the Vatican. I needed to feed Tabitha so we stopped within sight of St Peters Basillica so I could feed her and we gave Hetty a snack and all put suncream on as the sun was starting to really wam up. In front of us were some street performers: a flutist playing some classical music and a person dressed as if they had no head, but some glasses and a hat left in place. It was nice to sit and people watch and take a moment to absorb the surroundings. Once Tabitha had been fed we then walked the rest of the way to the Vatican Museums which was another 10-15 minutes. Had we realised we had to walk so far anyway, we probably would have just walked from the apartment.
As we reached the museum we saw an epically long queue and walked right past it – smug in the knowledge that we had skip the line passes. We got to the front and went to the correct entrance for those with ‘partner’ or group/online tickets, to be told we needed to exchange our tickets for the correct one at the hop-on hop-off ticket booth near St Peters square. I was so annoyed and upset, but too tired to get angry. I was exhausted – my feet hurting and in quite some pain from the previous two days efforts.
Both kids were asleep in their slings so Andrew said he would go on his own, so off he went power walking whilst I stood in a grump outside whilst watching tons and tons of tour groups disappear the way we were supposed to be going. It took him close to half an hour I would say and he came back looking how I felt and the guard let us straight in. Andrew then mentioned that as he was going past the queue one of the people working for the museums saw him and said he didn’t need to queue as he had a child. So we didn’t need the skip the line tickets after all. I was so annoyed! But to be fair, it’s not like we knew that in advance and were about to risk having to queue for hours with the kids anyway. But hopefully this will help someone who goes with kids: either to save them queuing or at least to save some money!
We got through security with no queueing luckily – if a few tour groups show up at once sometimes the queue backed up a little. Andrew was so tired I told him to go straight to the cafe and get a drink/lunch for him and Hetty whilst I went off to see the thing we came for: the Sistine Chapel. We aren’t knowledgeable in the art department so the rest of the museum would have been completely wasted on us but we wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. Having Hetty with us we weren’t sure if we’d be able to see it but decided we would try to do it separately. I went to start my power-walk to the Sistine Chapel, to find that I needed to exchange my ticket AGAIN at the ticket offices at the entrance of the museum. It would have cost 16 euros, so we overpaid by 13 FOR NO REASON!
Off I went, power walking my way through the museum via the ‘shortened itinerary’ route. I don’t know if this is a new thing, because my research suggested the minimum time to get to the Sistine chapel was 40 minutes but it took just 15 minutes. I did have to keep stopping when I came across various tour groups loitering in the corridors and slowly walking and bunching up around the doorways. There was a small-ish queue to get in the chapel but it went down very quickly. Once inside you are ushered to keep moving by guards and told to keep quiet. It was busy but I was expecting nose-to-nose and it wasn’t that bad.
The ceiling was very impressive and I quickly spotted the ‘Creation of Adam’ depiction right in the centre. I enjoyed looking at the masterpiece and it was moving to be in the presence of such a famous artist’s work. After a short time looking at the ceiling I then exited the chapel and made my way back to the restaurant to meet Andrew who was just paying for some food. He was surprised to see me so quickly seen as I told him I’d be at least an hour but I was back within around 35 minutes. He quickly ate his burger and left to go see the Sistine chapel whilst I had some pasta and Hetty finished her chicken nuggets and chips. Andrew returned around 40 minutes later, stating that apparently the shortened route to the Sistine chapel had been closed but luckily a guard let him through as he was on his own. There is a baby change in the museum, but it is a tiny room with no actual pull-down mat to use so you still have to change them on the floor!
After that we all got changed out of our long trousers and tops covering our shoulders and headed towards St Peters via a small detour to get some ice cream at a nearby cafe. By now the temperature was very hot and the girls were looking very red faced. We reapplied sun cream to everyone and got into the queue to get into St Peters. You don’t have to pay to get in but you do have to go through security and despite it being around 3pm it was very busy. I was struggling in the heat as there wasn’t any shade in the queue but Hetty seemed OK and Tabitha was fast asleep in the sling. We were waiting around half an hour in total and as we got near the front a guard spotted us and let us to the front which was nice, although I wished he’d seen us earlier!
I have to say the inside of the building is so much more impressive than the outside. We saw the Pieta statue by Michelangelo which had a big crowd around it and then headed further inside to the Basilica which was very impressive. We had an obligatory selfie and then headed out as the girls were fed up and so was I if I was being honest: tired and very very hot. We walked back to the bus stop to get on the hop-on hop-off bus but realised due to the time we didn’t have any time left to get off at any other stop before Hetty needed her tea and to go to bed. The journey took an age but we finally made it and luckily missed a big downpour of rain in the process. Whilst on the bus we met a lovely couple with a young child from Israel who told us a lot about the area they were from.
On our walk back to the apartment from the bus stop we came across a street seller selling some art and one piece caught Andrews eye so we bought it for the reasonable sum of 30 euros. Then we grabbed a quick pizza at a restaurant near to the apartment before a shower and bed for the little ones.
Reflecting on the day we felt that we’d massively overpaid for the experiences we had but nevertheless we were glad we had done them. We had just about survived sightseeing in Rome with two very young children in over 30 degree heat without a stroller. Maybe we took on too much doing all of those sights, especially when we had to carry both girls for the majority of the time. Yes, it was stressful at times but we saw some amazing sites, we have fantastic memories and photographs for the girls for when they are older. Next stop: Sorrento!