Having visited Rome no less than four times, Monica Woods decided it was time to see it with a fresh pair of eyes: those of her four-year-old son. Here she discovers what Rome has to offer for a family holiday.
Early spring in the eternal city. A weekend escape, a chance to get reacquainted with bella Roma. The Trevi Fountain, Campo de’Fiori, potent espressos, gelato galore, paper-thin pizza – all the usual must-sees and dos, but not the usual companion by my side.
This time, I’ve got my four-year-old son in tow – it’s a getaway for just the two of us, an altogether different kind of mini-break.
Looming ruins, huge cobbled piazzas, narrow winding streets, cascading fountains – Rome stops you in your tracks whether you’re a first-time visitor or back for the umpteenth time. But on this occasion there was something special about slowing down, shifting expectations and sharing a child’s wide-eyed view.
No doubt it helped that we’d been ploughing through an abridged Roman Myths in the weeks before, surreptitiously priming William for this surprise trip. He couldn’t wait to see Romulus and Remus, St Peter’s and the Colosseum and, more unexpectedly, the Tiber (to decide whether it was a match for the Thames, it turned out).
On the fountain trail
The Trevi Fountain might have been undergoing restoration – a €2.5 million project funded by Fendi – with clear plastic barriers surrounding the famous façade and access restricted, but of course the hordes were still out and William didn’t know any different. He wasn’t even deterred by the stand-in fountain, more of a puddle than a pool, erected so that you can still toss in a coin and wish you’ll return one day (preferably when the scaffolding is down).
That became the first stop on an inadvertent fountain trail – Rome has no shortage, featuring everything from fish to turtles, frogs to gods, and the fact they flow with drinking water makes them even more appealing to thirsty sightseers. The chance to fill our water bottles, sip and splash, plus count up loose change and skim over the basics of currency exchange (sort of) before lobbing coins in, kept us both happy.
From the Fontane delle Tartarughe to Bernini’s Quattro Fiumi, a fountain-based itinerary works well as a leisurely way to take in the city with kids – who could resist the drama of the sculpture above and the treasure twinkling in the watery depths below?
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.