While reading an article written by a friend’s son after their recent trip to Cuba, I was reminded of a summer not too long ago when I visited my beloved Italy in the company of my then young niece and nephew (4 and 9 years old at the time). It was their first experience travelling abroad, or boarding a plane for that matter—that would explain why Emily asked if I was driving the plane, and if so, could she sit in the front with me? Or why Matteo requested that I bring him to the Colosseum to watch the gladiators “fight the lions” the moment we arrive!
Oh, the joys of being so young and innocent; to never be afraid to say what’s on your mind or do what your heart desires, that precious time when you can simply be ‘who and what’ you want without fear of being ridiculed or judged, so sharing this experience with Emily and Matteo was a comical delight.
We began our journey with a stroll to the magnificent Trevi Fountain. This masterpiece takes on heroic proportions, especially when illuminated at night. As I stood there taking in its splendour, the kids tried climbing into the fountain because they believed people threw coins in there so children could collect them to buy ice cream, and judging from all the happy young faces smothered in chocolate, it wasn’t hard to understand why—there is a gelato shop on every corner.
When I explained that the tradition is to throw a coin into the fountain and make a wish, they threw theirs in and stood there anxiously waiting for their wish to come true. In truth, legend dictates that if you throw a coin into the fountain it will ensure your return to Rome, but I figured at their age they would hope for a new toy or some sugary treats.
Minutes from the Pantheon is Piazza della Maddalena, where we opted to dine alfresco at Ciro’s next door. Emily must have felt the magic of La Dolce Vita because she began dancing unabashed in the middle of the square to the delight of a local musician. When we called her over to eat, let’s just say she made it known that she preferred to dance under the star lit sky. But after one bite of her margarita pizza covered in fresh mozzarella, she happily obliged.
A trip to Rome would never be complete without a visit to the Vatican, so the next morning we headed there bright and early. When we entered St. Peter’s Basilica, the children turned to me and stated matter-of-factly that they were going to look for Jesus because this was his home and they wanted to say hello to him – in person, but first Emily decided to put on an impromptu dance performance, on the marble floor, in the middle of the cathedral.
After a few minutes, they returned with a look of defeat on their faces and declared that they could not find Jesus. I explained that though this was Jesus’ house, he lived in heaven with their grandmother. Emily’s disappointment gave way to tears – likely caused from jet-lag and exhaustion – but a delicious gelato from one of the ice cream shops located outside the Vatican cured her blues. Gelato turned out to be an underlying theme while in Rome, thankfully the walking helped burn off all those added calories.
We slowly made our way past Castel S. Angelo – oh my God, the views– and crossed the Tiber River towards Piazza di Spagna. The famous Spanish Steps provide the perfect setting for Instagram-worthy family photos and aerial views that lead onto the crowded streets of the most exclusive shopping boutiques in Rome.
After a quick respite, we descended into the square where Fontana della Barcaccia sits at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Here, Emily decided to cool off with another ‘free drink’ at the monumental fountain, as onlookers simultaneously yelled “Ma, NO!”
There are over 2000 fountains in Rome that provide clean drinking water and Emily made sure to sip from every fountain in the Eternal City. Unfortunately, it turned out that this show stopping fountain wasn’t one of them – I prayed to every saint that she would not get sick! That experience aside, the fountains are a great way to keep everyone in the family hydrated from the heat, so carry around refillable bottles and save money, too.
Directly in front of the Spanish Steps is the famed Via dei Condotti. In Roman times it was one of the streets that crossed the ancient Via Flaminia and allowed people to reach the Pincio Hill. Via dei Condotti is now lined with designer boutiques and historic cafès like Antico Caffè Greco, considered to be Italy’s oldest after Caffè Florian in Venice. It was there in front of the Gucci boutique, while I marvelled at purses, that Matteo held out 5 Euros and asked if he could go inside to buy me something special. My heart swelled at this act of generosity. If only he knew that 5 Euros couldn’t even buy me a button in there, but it could purchase an espresso at Caffè Greco so that’s where we headed to next.
As we continued on towards the Flavian Amphitheatre, Matteo marvelled in delight at all the SMART cars he thought were purposely little so children could drive them. Once outside the striking Roman Colosseum, the children shyly posed with gladiators before heading inside to watch them “fight the lions.” But to their dismay, we arrived a few centuries too late!
In the portico of the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, tourists gather at La Bocca della Verità to place their hand inside the legendary ‘Mouth of Truth’ where legend states that if you lie, your hand will be bitten off. No amount of coaxing could get Matteo to place his hand inside the mouth. He LITERALLY believed it would be bitten off. That had me wondering if I should purchase a few replicas to sell to parents back home?
Rome offers many modes to getting around; including a wonderful horse drawn carriage ride, but my favourite way to get around Rome and take in its beauty is on foot. Every turn leads to a picturesque piazza filled with cafès and trattorias that spill onto its atmospheric streets. It was during one of our strolls down a cobblestone path buzzing with people dining alfresco, that Emily nonchalantly walked up to a table with diners and took fresh bread from their basket. At once we began scolding her, but she stood tall and said in her defense, “the bread is put on the table to share with people who are hungry!” Thankfully, the couple found her to be so endearing that they graciously invited her to have some more.
To seek respite from the city, the next day we headed to the scenic town of Frascati, on the Alban Hills that make up part of the Castelli Romani. The town is home to many impressive Roman villas that Matteo wanted to purchase for me with his Canadian Tire money – if only that were a possibility. The town is filled with venders selling beautifully handcrafted jewellery and goods, and many restaurants that serve local wine and porchetta (savoury, boneless pork roast) sandwiches that everyone devours on one of the outdoor picnic tables that line the town looking over the valley towards Rome –I guarantee it will be the best porchetta sandwich in your life!
Roman bathrooms also proved to be quit memorable – how befitting considering the ancient Romans perfected indoor plumbing. One of the funniest moments came when Emily entered a bathroom and set eyes on her first bidet and joyously yelled, “Zia, they have a sink just for me!” You can see how a 4-year old might find that incredibly exciting, that is until she gets older and discovers what a bidet really is and I remind her of that time in Rome when she washed her hands in one…lol! Another thing that puzzled the children was why toilets in Rome didn’t have seat covers, so every time they found a bathroom that had one, they ran out yelling, “Zia, this one has a cover! This one has a cover!”
The children absolutely loved their time in Rome. Watching them marvel at our rich Italian history, as they experienced a new way of life was an enriching experience we will treasure forever. So when they turned to me on our last day and asked, “Zia, can we live here?” I realized that the magic of La Dolce Vita had casted its spell on them, and I began secretly hoping that the coins they threw into the Trevi Fountain would ensure their return to Rome* one day.
Francesca Spizzirri is known as Travelista73. She is a magazine writer, freelance journalist and social media influencer whose passion for life, travel, food and wine has led to many extraordinary journeys. You can follow her adventures through her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.