Testing the city’s transport
Another hands-down hit was a circuit on an open-top bus. Perfect when energy levels started to flag mid-afternoon it meant we could sit back, cool down and take in some of the big sights, including the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus and the Vatican.
To top it all, as we approached Piazza Venezia and the gleaming hulk of Il Vittoriano, pondering which of its many nicknames, from the wedding cake to the typewriter, was most apt, a hundred rainbow-coloured Fiat 500s zoomed past, tooting away. What more could any transport-loving bambino ask for?
Embracing, even sometimes subverting, the clichés of a Roman holiday seemed to be the order of the day. Aboard the top deck of the sightseeing bus and awaiting departure, we got a pleasant whiff of orange blossom and spotted the ripe fruit within reach in the treetops – not something mentioned in the audio-guide.
A photo op with a bored-looking gladiator was shunned in favour of a good mooch around, including half an hour spent deliberating over Vespa-based fridge magnets at the kind of stall I’d normally march right past.
Gorging on gravity-defying gelato
Tucking into a gravity-defying double scoop of blackberry and lemon gelato, on the other hand, was a plain and simple pleasure, an Italian essential – although I was surprised that William managed to polish off the lot.
There was still space for dinner, of course. We descended on Piazza Navona – not the place for hidden culinary gems or hole-in-the-wall local favourites maybe, but pretty good for fountains and people-watching and perfect for a runaround on the cobbles in between courses.
The night sky was lit up by what looked like UFOs – little plastic LED toys, flogged for a couple of euros, fluttering down like sycamore helicopters and entrancing all the kids nearby. A beguiling modern spectacle set against an ancient backdrop.
But then Rome has a habit of effortlessly conjuring up memorable scenes: en route to dinner we had raced past the Pantheon and, through the grille above the enormous closed doors, glimpsed the great hole in the centre of the dome and a disc of starry twilit sky beyond.
However magical, a jam-packed weekend away can somehow still entail an awful lot of hanging around, at hotel check-in desks, in restaurants, at the airport – enough to test the patience of weary travellers of any age, and certainly make me hanker for the comparative ease of the Eurostar to Paris.
Don’t underestimate the allure of flying (or of snacks) for kids though. A new series of children’s books by Captain Rob Johnson, a BA pilot-turned-author and father of two, doesn’t make that mistake, with plenty of detail about flying a plane as well as an introduction to a different European city with each title. Something to pack on your next mini-break.
British Airways offers flights to Rome from £39 each way from both Gatwick and Heathrow. Pilot Ollie’s Amazing Adventures: Rome and Pilot Polly’s Amazing Adventures: Madrid by Captain Rob Johnson are available now. Explore more of the Italian capital with the Rough Guide to Rome.