When my sweet hubby walked into the room proclaiming proudly that we will be going to Italy for a trip in a few months I had no idea what kind of adventure awaited us. I had just given birth to our daughter, Ziya, a few months before and was running a few businesses while getting up at night for her feedings. The last thing on my mind was Italy. I had been so caught up in work – driving thousands of kilometers and flying from one side of the country to the other while changing diapers and preparing bottles – that the week break to Europe snuck up on me and before I knew it I had to pack for our flight that was leaving the next day. I had planned to read up on moms traveling with babies on long flights and on all the good traveling tips out there, but as I grabbed a pack of diapers I figured I would just have to wing it.
MAJOR TIP: Get to the airport early and book a bassinet. Also make sure you book bassinet seats for your connecting flight if you have a layover (I ended up with Ziya in my lap for 6 hours on the second flight because I assumed it was booked for the connecting flight as well!).
The bassinet seats are right behing the service gully and the toilets. It has glorious legroom and the bassinet clips on to the wall as soon as the plane is in the air and the seatbelt signs have been switched off.
You can take your stroller all the way to plane door where a crew member will take it to the cargo hold – it will be given to you again as you disembark at your destination. Traveling with children also gives you priority boarding which means that you don’t have to struggle to get space for your carry on luggage in the overhead compartments.
We landed in Italy and quickly made our way to the car rental agencies where we had a car booked. We got a rather nasty surprise when they would not give us a car with temporary driver’s licences. Our licences expired in South Africa just before the trip and we got temporary licences while we waited for our permanent licence cards to be issued (which can be a gruelling long process in SA). We also have international driver’s licences but we were refused a car… so now our trip was getting interesting. A seven month old baby and luggage on public transport! We set off for our hotel in a taxi (which is very expensive – I will give some cheaper tips and options later).
Rome is a fantastic city with buildings as old as 2000 years. We walked from our hotel on the old Roman Road to the Colosseum where thousands of tourists were mingling around taking pictures and admiring the architecture. It is amazing that 2000 years ago gladiators fought for their lives in those walls for the entertainment of jeering roman spectators… Christians were fed to lions here … and it still serves as an attraction today. The building is spectacular to see and right across from it is the Arch of Constantine. You can walk up the road to the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II – the first king of unified Italy. The road to the spectacular monument is flanked by ancient ruins of the Roman forum and the view is worth the walk. Street artists entertain crowds on the sidewalks and there are statues of Roman emperors guarding the walkway to Trajan’s Market. In the immediate vicinity of the Colosseum you can visit over 20 attractions.
TIP: We purchased an ATAC bus ticket which is good for 24 hours since we were only going to be in Rome for 2 days. You activate the bus ticket by inserting it in a scanner when you board the bus the first time. Form there you have 24 hours to travel as much as you like on any ATAC bus in any direction of the city. Children travel free! You also get a great map of the city with all the major attraction clearly marked.We took the bus to Vatican city and gawked at the massive buildings and intricate detail engraved in the stone structures. The great part about visiting Rome is that you can spend the entire day in the city and only pay for your meal and transport. If you wish to go inside you can buy tickets for museums and entry passes for the buildings, but often the best view is standing outside the gigantic monuments and simply taking in the marvel of ancient Rome.
From Vatican city we walked to Castel Sant’Angelo and over the beautiful bridges or Pontes across the Tiber river. Artists (and scam artists) sell art and souvenirs as you walk to Piazza Navona which is probably one of my favourite Piazzas in Italy.
We ate at one of the small restaurants in the narrow streets and listened to street performers creating a nostalgic atmosphere on their instruments while we ate pasta and pizza.
The Pantheon was an impressive building and entry is free so we admired the wonder of the building before moving on to one of the many cathedrals in Rome.
Sant’Ignazio Church does not look like much from the outside – especially compared to the rest of the buildings in Rome, but the inside is absolutely astonishing. The painted ceiling will tempt you to lie flat on your back for a few hours and stare at the work of art above you (but, sorry, they do not allow it. Also make sure your shoulders are covered and that you are not wearing a hat!).
Trevi fountain is probably one of the busiest tourist sites that you will come across in Rome. The space is smaller than the other attractions and yet the flow of people is continuous and you move quickly to the front of the fountain where lovers kiss and people throw money in the water (literally) and make wishes. The crystal clear water and statues are really worth the wait.
The Spanish steps is a short distance from Trevi fountain and from there you can take a walk down the designer shop lined street of Babuino to the Piazza del Popolo where we had a Michael Jackson impersonator entertain us.
All of the above was conquered in a day. We took a bus back to our hotel and had dinner at a restaurant nearby. Dinner in Italy only starts at 20h00 so we were welcomed warmly when we walked in close to ten that night.
Since we did not have a car we had to change our itinerary a bit. Instead of driving to Venice we decided to go South to Pompeii. We took a few busses to the station and then a train to Napoli and a metro train to Pompeii. Again remember that children travel for free. Most of our day was spent traveling but we arrived early enough to visit the Pompeii ruins on the same day. At the ruins you can take an audio tour and see the town that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The ruins show the marvels of a city that was far more sophisticated than we expect. Stunning mosaic work cover the floors and glass cases hold casts of the bodies dug up in the rubble including a dog, child and a few adults – the real bodies is in the museum in nearby Naples. Pottery line the shelves of a storage display area and the huge excavation cover 67 hectares with a stadium and temple, piazza and houses. The area is not very wheelchair (or in our case stroller) friendly, so we had to carry Ziya for parts of the tour. Our Doona stroller has wheels that fold in underneath and made the trip much easier when we had to carry her up stairs or over rough terrain. (See the link for more info on the Doona stroller – https://simpleparenting.co/car-seat/)
The town of Pompeii really comes alive later in the afternoon when people come out for dinner and walk the streets and meet in the Piazza in front of the church. The big Catholic church in the piazza is also the only church where I got kicked out! Being a pastor’s daughter I have never been asked to leave a church but apparently they did not like my shoulders showing when I walked into the church, so we ended up at a restaurant in the corner of the square with some of the best pizza and pasta we had ever had.
Our hotel reception suggested that we go to Vietri Sul Mare and then take a bus to Amalfi, so we hopped on the train and set off for the Amalfi coast. The train stopped in Vietri Sul Mare and we were in love from the first moment. The small town on the cliffs with the black sand beach and it’s ceramic shops stole our hearts. We spent the day playing with Ziya in the ocean and browsing the little shops before taking a bus ride to the town of Amalfi. The bus company operating in this part of the country is called SITA bus and tickets can be purchased at tobacco and ceramic shops. The bus ride was quite an experience! The narrow road winding around the cliffs make is almost impossible for two busses to pass each other and before every corner the busses hoot to warn oncoming traffic that they need to wait for the huge vehicle to pass before coming around the bend. You could fit a matchstick between the busses passing each other on the road while scooters and small cars dart past as fast as they could. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Lemon trees and vineyards are grown under shade nets against the steep cliffs and houses light up the dusk settling around the coast. It is a wonder world. We ate dinner in Amalfi and took the dark bus ride back to Vietri Sul Mare before boarding the train to Pompeii. Ziya slept soundly in her Doona all the way back.
We decided to head back North to Florence as we checked out of our hotel and pushed Ziya in her stroller to the station a few blocks away. The train ride is expensive but it would bring us close to Pisa and Rome for our flight back so we hopped on the train and headed for Naples where we transferred to Business Class and headed for Florence. Business class tickets are only a few Euro’s more than the normal tickets (and it was the only seats available on the train) but it was worth the extra price. We had more space – and with Ziya in her stroller we found it more comfortable.
Florence has many museums and stunning buildings – much like Rome. It also has a world class steakhouse close to the train station. By the time we got to Florence Pieter was craving meat as a man can only eat so much pastries and pasta before he needs meat. We had a delicious meal at the steakhouse where they sell all kinds of meat types and cuts including Kobe and Wagyu beef – selling at up to R3000 per kg ($240 per kg).
We strolled around the city for half a day and visited a local market and admired the beautiful buildings – including the spectacular Florence Cathedral on Piazza del Duomo. The buildings have intricate detail all over them and it is worth seeing.
Our next stop was Pisa. We arrived in the rain with no definite plan of where we were going to stay that night. We were planning to head to the coast but lugging our bags around in the rain was not the experience we were hoping for so we booked a hotelroom overlooking the river and settled in. Numerous people told us that Pisa has the cathedral and the tower to see and nothing more. I did not expect to enjoy this town so much. The narrow streets and restaurants were cosy, there is a beautiful park and contrary to popular belief – there are more than one leaning tower in Pisa. We roamed around the town until close to midnight and found some street musicians making beautiful music as people laughed while having dinner parties with friends. The magnificent leaning tower of Pisa is definitely something for the eye and the detail on the Cathedral next to it is even more impressive. We took silly pictures and enjoyed the cooler weather. This was probably one of my favourite towns in Italy.
Our last night we spent in the small town of Orbitello. It was cosy and cute with not much going on – exactly what we needed before our trip back to South Africa. We left the next morning to get to Rome and took our last bus and train rides to the airport. By then we were experts in public transport and moving a baby around. We arrived early at the airport and this time made sure that we had bassinet seats on both our flights before checking our bags and kissing Italy goodbye.
While this trip was not what I expected, it turned out so much better than we had planned. We learned that not all things need to be planned to the last detail. I learned that Ziya is perfectly happy when she is close to us and has a plastic cup to play with – she does not need a room full of toys. I learned that I can pack light and still have everything I need – the joy of traveling with a baby is that the diapers make space as they are used up and her clothes are small and can be washed and dried overnight if needed. Kids are much less fearless than we are. She did not fear the bus and the train rides – in fact they make great places to sleep. The plane rides are never as bad as we expect. Last but not least: if you have an open mind for new adventures you will see things and go places you never imagined.
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