My bike has been languishing in my garage since we moved here almost a year and a half ago, so when my friend Joanna mentioned that she liked to bike along the coastal road in Sounio, I jumped at the chance.
First, though, I had to tune up my bike. Pump some air in the tires, makes sure the brakes worked…as I stood there staring at it, I kept thinking something was off. Until I tried to get on it and realized the pedals were missing!! Thankfully, I noticed the movers had taped this big wad on the back of the bike. I initially thought that was just extra padding, but after unwrapping it I found my pedals inside. Whew!
After getting our kids to school and with the babysitter, we met in the parking lot of the Varkiza Resort in Gylfada, about 40 minutes southwest of my house. We had to ride along the shoulder — not ideal, but it’s pretty much the only way to bike around here. Up a hill (the first of many) and around a corner we came upon a vast expanse of sea cliff and sea. Breathtaking. I’ve driven this road before, but you can enjoy the views better on a bike.
The water here is this amazing shade of aquamarine, simply astounding. Sheer cliffs had stairways and ramps cut into them to aid beachgoers in getting to the water. Joanna and I wished we’d brought our swimsuits. We briefly entertained just swimming in our underwear, but thought better of it. The weather seemed hot in the sun as we pedaled up hill, but it was still only in the mid-70s.
Up the hills, down the hills, we undulated along, pausing to take some photos along the way.
Me on my heavy slow bike. Boo!
Joanna kept well ahead of me; with my heavy bike frame, plodding fat tires, and — let’s face it — less that stellar physique, I was no match for her streamlined racing bike. I was having serious bike envy. She even had special bike shorts with padding in the crotch. Adding those to my shopping list Right Now.
Along the way we passed a one-legged cyclist. I did an honest-to-God double take. What an inspiration! During one section of downhill coasting, a line of flowering trees wafted their intoxicating fragrance mere feet from my face as I carefully hugged the shoulder. And every kilometer or so, we’d pass a beautiful little shrine. They are all over the place in this country. Read about their meaning and origins here.
After going about 10 miles, we turned back and stopped at a seaside restaurant we’d seen along the way. Just a few meters from the water, we had a lovely view from our table as we noshed on Greek salad with bread and taziki.
The way back was a little hotter with more traffic. Joanna says she likes to come here early on Saturday mornings — there are hardly any cars, only lots of cyclists. Last time she came, she made it all the way to the Temple of Poseidon, 50 miles round trip. Yowza! Twenty miles was about my limit today. I can’t fathom going 50…though perhaps if I had a lighter road bike, I could manage it. Maybe I can rent or borrow one and give it a try. Sometime soon, I hope…I didn’t realize how much I missed biking until I got back out there. Such a lovely day! Can’t wait to go back!
Remember back in February when I said I was going to do volunteer to work with refugee children? After three months of paperwork processing, spring break conflicts, and a little bit of phone tag, I finally got started this week. Like I mentioned before, the folks at Caritas run several refugee centers throughout Athens, and they are in need of volunteers to teach English. Our volunteer network at the US Embassy put out a call for willing teachers, and a few of us decided to give it a try. During our initial meetings, they discussed needing volunteers to organize activities for children, as well.
Once my paperwork was processed I was able to pick a location to volunteer in — I chose one close to a Metro stop so I didn’t have to contend with Athens traffic…and parking. We met with the location director last week to iron out the details. I wasn’t sure what to expect…and neither were they. It was a little disorganized, but this is a brand new class, and we’re contending with three different languages, so it’s to be expected.
This particular building houses a handful of families for about 6 months before they are relocated to various areas around Europe. We volunteer in pairs — at another location, both of the embassy volunteers teach English to the adults. The children learn English at a school they attend in the afternoons. But in our location the school is too far, so I’ll be supervising the children and organizing activities that will teach them some English, while my partner teaches their parents in a room next door.
On my first day, I thought I would just get the lay of the land. There are games, markers, and toys in the play room, so I figured I would let the kids pick what they want to play with and I’d observe them. You know, get a feel for how much English they already know, what their temperaments are like, see how well they listen.
I was picturing Deborah Carr in The King and I singing Getting to Know You. We started out with four little girls and one boy, and as more kids filtered in, I asked them their names and wrote them in English on a name tag. The girls colored; the boys played a fishing game. As more and more children came in, the scene grew more chaotic. Ahmed, my mischievous one, took a lot of my attention as he started pouring through the cabinets for things to play with and/or destroy. I was warned about this one. Soon I had eleven kids in a tiny room, games and toys were everywhere, there was some mysterious black powder on the floor (thanks, Ahmed), and the two-year-old kept trying to escape into the hall. The King and I? More like Kindergarten Cop.
I checked my phone. Ten more minutes. Okay. After getting Ahmed to help sweep up his mess, I came up with a game — Everybody Stand Up and Copy What I Do! I would say very clearly in English an action — touch your nose — and they would follow suit. After about five minutes I ran out of ideas to do. I tried to get one of the oldest boys to help me out, but he wasn’t understanding. He leaned over and conspiratorially whispered, “I only know a little English.” Fair enough, kiddo. We’ll remedy that soon enough.
Time to clean up! I sang my favorite song from Gymboree, Everybody’s Tidying Up, and the kids all took the hint and helped pick up the room. Some of them even tried to sing along! Some of the older kids begged me to let them take toys back to their rooms. I had a feeling that wouldn’t be allowed — hence all the begging for the “new teacher” — and sure enough, it wasn’t. But they eventually got the room in order and I said my goodbyes. Back again next week!
Next time I plan to have a handful of games and activities that will help foster their growing English vocabularies. One idea I had was to write their names in English on large name tags and have them copy the letters underneath each time I come. I’m sure the quiet little girls will love that (they are so sweet and lovely — I want to take them all home!) I’ll have to find some active games for the more rambunctious boys, as well. Incidentally, the most challenging children were the 7-8 year old boys and the 2 year old. No wonder my life at home is so difficult lately! (That, and the month-long solo parenting — that is finally coming to an end this weekend!!!)
Despite the chaos, I really did have a great time. The kids were very endearing…even mischievous Ahmed, with his big grin and bigger hugs. I look forward to learning how to properly pronounce their names (One of the moms was laughing with me at my poor attempts), and the translator helped me learn how to greet the children in their language. A simple “Ach – Lan” or “Welcome”.
This past month I got serious about aerial yoga, purchasing an 8-class pass and attempting to work in all of them in one month. With my schedule, it was understandably impossible (oh, how I long for the days before kiddos sometimes…), but I did manage to get in six, with a couple that trickled into May. And while I still execute many poses with an embarrassing lack of grace, I’m a lot more confident while dangling upside down, and there are a handful of maneuvers that I’ve gotten much better at doing. Because I’ve been practicing so much, the hammock barely hurts my hips anymore, which gives me even more latitude to sink into the poses. Depending on the instructor and level of the class, it can be a deceptively rigorous workout. My whole body is always sore the next day. And best of all, it is so much FUN. I’m the kind of person who has to be tricked into exercise. If it’s at all rote, I get bored and stop trying.
The one challenge (besides gravity) has been deciphering the Greek. All of my instructors know English, and they’re happy to translate if I need it, but I mostly have to look around me to figure out what pose we’re doing next. However, my studio just hired a new American instructor, and if I bring a friend or two, she’ll offer to teach the class in English. I didn’t realize how much better this is for me until we tried it for the first time. There’s so much explanation I was missing in Greek, and it was nice to finally be able to understand what was being said during relaxation.
With the onset of summer in Greece (it was a whopping 94 degrees on Saturday!), I thought it would be fun to get a pedicure. There was a place I’d been to before with friends, and while they were a little more…let’s say, thorough…than I’m accustomed to, overall I was satisfied by the experience.
But this time, I’m not sure what went wrong. The pedicurist laid out her tools, the same she used as last time, but this time around I started to think of them as implements of torture. There was your usual filing and trimming, but the under-nail care…God, I’m breaking out into a cold sweat just thinking about it. Granted, I’ve kind of got a “thing” about toes. You know those foot fungus ads that ran a few years back, the one with the animated germ lifting a toe nail to dive right in? Yeah, that kind of makes me want to vomit when I see it.
Anyway, I managed to survive the ordeal, and I figured I’d ask them to take it easy next time. But the aftermath over the past few days left me cringing in the shower as the hot water hit my sore toes, and I had to turn my socks inside-out so the seam wouldn’t irritate them. I got nervous I’d contracted an infection, so a friend recommended I pick up some Bactroban at the pharmacy. It seemed to do the trick…or at least put my mind at ease.
I asked around about this…are Greek pedicures always this painful? I got mixed answers. Some friends said they don’t even like to go to get their nails done in Greece because they are so rough. Others had no complaints at all. It may depend on who you see…and your threshold for pain.
At any rate, I think I’ll be painting my own toes for awhile, thankyouverymuch.
With all of my travelling, I’ve had little time to write about some of the local things I’ve been doing with my time. Between my trips to Venice and Germany, I popped over to the Athens Flea Market to pick up some fun souvenirs for my friends in Gottingen, and I finally got a chance to try this funny little tea and cake shop I’ve been dying to try since before Christmas. We had arranged an embassy meetup back in December, but they were unexpectedly closed so they could decorate for Christmas. Fast forward four months and I was finally coming back!
Little Kook lives up to its name: the décor is definitely kooky! The waitresses are dressed up in elaborate costumes, and there isn’t an inch of wall or ceiling space that isn’t covered with some interesting decoration. There was an entire room just devoted to Christmas.
Looking over the menu, I decided I was more in the mood for savory than sweet, but they had several cakes, crepes and ice creams that I would love to come back and try. I got a savory tuna crepe and a glass of their homemade lemonade. Food and drink were outstanding!
Liam and Violet would totally love this place, and I’m sure many of my friends and their kids would enjoy it, as well. Though with all of the stairs, it is not a good place for strollers and young wandering toddlers. But we will definitely be coming back here after school is out!
Our trip to Germany last weekend went wonderfully — no major issues with travel, accommodations, or misbehaving children. Huzzah! That’s not to say the journey wasn’t difficult. We arrived in Hamburg at 9:30 PM, transferred Violet from the baby carrier to the car seat with wheels, then picked up our rental car, installed the car and booster seats, and started our three-hour drive at about 10:30. I brought my own GPS, and the road to Göttingen was pretty straightforward. I kept myself awake by blasting Michael Jackson (at Liam’s request) and slapping myself in the face a couple of times. And by 2 AM we made it! My friends Christie and Michael had our beds all made up, and after a quick change into jammies, we all completely passed out until the morning.
Interesting observation about the traffic lights in Germany: while they are all still placed on the asinine near side of the intersection, the light would flash yellow briefly before it turned green, thus alerting drivers to prepare to step on the gas. Genius!
Saturday morning my children were up bright and early, per usual. Seriously, you went to bed at 2AM and you’re still up at 7? My children have no concept of sleeping in.
At any rate, we had a lovely breakfast of pastries and donuts from the local bakery, and the kids met their new playmates, Maya and Felix. Maya, nearly 10, loved sitting with Violet and showing off her Monster High dolls, while Felix, age 5, loved dancing around the living room with Liam. They all made fast friends.
The weather was a little colder than we’re accustomed to — we left Greece at 80 degrees, and arrived in Germany to a chilly 45. But we bundled up and headed out to see the little German university town of Göttingen. We took the kids to Thalia, a two-story bookstore with a little castle slide for the boys to play on. Violet snoozed away in the bike trailer/stroller while Michael graciously walked her around in circles outside. Christie and I caught up over hot drinks — mine a bit on the overflowy side.
After picking up a few fresh fruits at the farmer’s market (called the Wochenmarkt), Christie suggested we try a fabulous German street food, Currywurst and pommes. We stood at a barrel and gobbled down all that sausagy and French fry deliciousness — so good!
Having lived in Germany for five years, Christie had completely immersed herself in the language. It was interesting to hear her conversations and find myself somewhat following along. Amazing how much German I can still understand after all of these years! Granted, I could barely speak a word myself, aside from hello, please, thanks, sorry, and the like. But I have a feeling if we ever ended up in Germany, I’d more easily be able to pick it up than I have with Greek. Course, if I actually put any effort into my Greek studies…
Sunday morning we had another fabulous breakfast, this time homemade pancakes with orange-vanilla syrup, expertly prepared by Christie. I remember she always liked to cook back in our college days. Michael’s not too shabby with a frying pan, either. His scrambled eggs and bacon were deemed amazingly edible by my pickiest progeny.
Then we were off to do the most German thing we could think of: Hike up a hill in the woods to a Beirgarten and have brats and beer. This is apparently how Germans most love to spend their Saturday afternoons, at least in Lower Saxony. Liam did remarkably well, especially once we got him a hiking stick…or two. Resembling a cross-country skier, he hiked up with relatively little complaining (for him…there was definitely some griping about the temperature as we started off through the Schillerwiesen, but he soon warmed up…and shut up). Violet slept on my back most of the way. After an hour or so, we arrived at the top for our much-deserved brats and beer. I ordered a huge Dunkel Hefewiessen, one of my favorites. Liam even ate a brat! After Michael painstakingly peeled off the skin. I owe this guy a beer!
When Violet finally roused herself and munched on some bread, we headed over to the nature preserve to see the native “wild” boars. The kids were fascinated…and the boars were loud! Many altercations led to loud squealing. They really do squeal like pigs!
On our way back home, we kept seeing this pretty green plant, and I was told I really must try the ice cream flavor that is made from this plant, Waldmeister. Challenge accepted! It wasn’t hard to talk the kids into stopping for ice cream before dinner. And indeed, Icelust had both vanilla and Waldmeister, so Liam and I were both happy. The flavor was fantastic…and sort of indescribable. It was green like pistachio, but not quite as sweet. Definitely worth trying next time you find yourself in Deutchland! Violet enjoyed her ice cream…and Maya’s. Her adorableness lends itself well to her thievery.
Monday afternoon Christie and Michael suggested we drive over to the Gottingen Kiessee, a small lake and park area where you can rent paddle boats and the kids can play on a playground shaped like a pirate ship. “Sounds great!” I said, “But…we can’t all fit in my rental car, right?”
Apparently renting a car for the afternoon is as easy as checking an app, walking to a nearby car, and driving it to your house. It really is an amazing age we live in! Now I can see how easily they can get by without a car in Europe. Not only can you easily rent a car for a few hours, but the town is incredibly bike-friendly, so most people get around on two wheels when they can. I’m not sure if I would survive as well without a car in Athens. Biking here is hazardous to your health, both because of traffic and pollution. I heart Germany.
The kids loved the paddle boats…though Violet was just a tad hard to handle. Liam did his best to help Michael paddle our boat, but he couldn’t quite reach the pedals. I jumped in there for a bit, until Violet squirmed out of my arms and got a little too close to the edge for my comfort. Seriously, I owe this guy two beers!
We had a lovely mid-day meal at the boathouse restaurant overlooking the water (or Bootshaus, as they call it in German). The kids feasted on schnitzel, pommes and garden peas…and I had the most amazing tomato soup and “schokolade kucken” (which is incidentally my favorite German word, meaning “chocolate cake”). Then they were off to the pirate ship. Ahoy, matey!
Faced with an extremely early rise the next morning to catch our flight, I decided to drive up to Hamburg that evening and stay in a hotel near the airport. I am now an expert at international traveling with young children. No elevator, and our room is on the third floor? No problem! I got this. I can seriously conquer the world now. We arrived home on Tuesday without incident. (And we got to try Turkish ice cream during our layover in Istanbul. Very different from gelato and ice cream I’ve had in Europe — so thick and sticky!)
Thank you to Christie and Michael, and their amazing children Maya and Felix, for being such wonderful hosts and showing us around their lovely German city. Thanks to Michael for taking all of these great photos, ensuring that I’m actually in some for a change! We had a fantastic time. I hope someday soon we can return the favor in Athens!
Ah…Venice. James and I visited during our college days, almost (ahem) twenty years ago, and not much has changed. There are still way too many pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. They still require you to dress modestly in the basilicas. The gondolas are still horribly overpriced. And the canals and bridges are just as magical and quaint as ever.
One big difference for us, though. These two little monkeys we decided to drag along with us. But we came prepared. For weeks before our trip (and years, really — I bought the book when Liam was 2), we read Olivia Goes to Venice. The week before we left it was Violet’s very favorite book. We rented a two-bedroom apartment close to St. Mark’s Square. We planned only one, maybe two outings per day, with lots of time built in to go back to the apartment to rest in the afternoons. And we packed as light as humanly possible for a family of four so we wouldn’t have too much luggage to drag from the train.
And I’d say, all things considered, we had a fabulous time. There were moments that weren’t so great (the line inside St. Mark’s Cathedral that Liam just about lost his shit about, our stupidly overpriced first dinner, our bathroom that reeked of cats), but the weather was fantastic and, what am I complaining about?! We spent a week in freakin’ Venice!!
Although, I do have to say, our first night was a little rough. After four hours on the train and another hour getting the Vaporetto (Venice’s mass transit system) to our apartment, we settled into our rather amusing digs — not a level floor in the place, or curtains in the bathroom…hello, neighbors! — and I set out to get groceries for my hungry family. We were on the first floor, up one set of stairs from a large entry way. I went to unlock the door to the street — it appeared I could just push a button — but the door wouldn’t budge. I monkeyed with that thing for five minutes before I ran up to get James. Then he monkeyed with it for another five minutes before I called the owner. She was a bit perplexed, but said she was sending her husband to come help us. Hungry, tired children don’t wait happily. Neither does hungry, tired mommy. He showed up after maybe 30 minutes, and of course he opened the door just fine! But after some explaining we discovered what had happened: another tenant in the building at locked the deadbolt from the outside when they left the building, apparently locking everyone else inside. Are you kidding me? What are we supposed to do if this happens again?! He just shrugged his shoulders and said to call him. Perhaps I should start saying because…Italy! At any rate, he said he’d alert the other stupid American tourists not to throw the deadbolt. (I might have added the stupid part.) Finally, I made it home with groceries, and my children ate like Gremlins after midnight.
Our first full day in Venice we started at the Doge’s Palace, an easy walk from our apartment. We met a long line, but it moved fast. The kids enjoyed watching the boats, or as Violet called them, “The boatsies.” As per usual, Liam rushed us through the palace, complaining about how boring it was until we got to the Bridge of Sighs and the prison rooms. Then he had a fabulous time traipsing through the dungeons and looking at the shiny armor. Violet fell asleep in the Boba and slept through the whole thing.
Gelato o’clock! Liam ate his vanilla waffle cone while I surreptitiously shot some photos. Violet continued to sleep.
While people watching in the square, I spied an Asian tour group with a tour guide speaking softly into a tiny microphone while the group listened intently on their ear pieces. Very high tech!
Then we were off to see the famed Rialto Bridge! Liam was fairly unimpressed, but he did notice it was just like it was pictured in our Olivia book.
After lunch and siesta at our apartment (I’m so glad we rented close to everything!), we let Liam lead us around the streets until we got hungry for dinner. We landed in a piazza and we chose a sleepy restaurant with tables outside. The kids chased pigeons while we waited for our overpriced meal. Seriously, 75 Euros to feed four people! The restaurant was called Al Burchiello, and looking back on Trip Advisor, the consensus was average food at inflated prices.
Wednesday morning we stood in a very long line for the San Marco Basilica. Liam was actually pretty good standing in line…until we got inside and he realized the line continued pretty much through the entire church. And then, oh the complaining! There are signs all over the basilica requesting silence, but that had no effect on my increasingly impatient eight-year-old. (Violet was, of course, sleeping this whole time.) Faced with another line at the stairs to the roof, we almost skipped it. But I remembered that was really the best part of the basilica, so after some bribery and threats of abandonment, we made it to the rooftop. There we could wander freely, and it was as if a pressure valve had been released. Smiles on everyone’s faces. (Well, except Violet, who was…yes, still sleeping)
Gelato o’clock! I know. This is turning into a thing. Our guidebook suggested a trip to the Naval History Museum would entertain young children, so we decided to walk along the shore and check it out. Violet woke up along the way. It turned out to be a rather small museum, but with a lot of huge boats. No lines and very spacious, so the kids had a great time.
Afterward we found much better and affordable food in the Castello neighborhood at a restaurant called Al Canton. My pesto was outstanding, and even better was the chocolate torte.
That evening I took the kiddos on a little walkabout. They had a blast chasing pigeons in the square. It was probably their favorite thing about our trip to Venice. We made our way to the harbor, then wandered our way along the Grand Canal. Eventually Violet fell asleep on my back, and Liam and I wandered our way to a…you guessed it…gelato stand. Third of the day for my little ice cream addict! It was lovely wandering the city as the street lights flickered on…until we got to St. Mark’s Square. Then we were accosted by dudes hawking these flying, spinning glow sticks. I told Liam to tell them, “No Grazie.” He had to say it about five times as we crossed the square. I really thought it would be like magic to walk through the square at night. So annoying!
Thursday morning we sprung for the two-day Vaporetto passes (an astounding 30 Euros a piece!) so we could more easily get around Venice and outlying islands. Liam kept calling them “busoats,” combining “bus” and “boat.” This kid cracks me up.
We popped by the Guggenheim to see my very favorite painting in the whole wide world, a Rene Magritte masterpiece called The Empire of Light. I first laid eyes on this work back in ’99, the last time I was in Venice, and I was completely entranced. So much so that I came back home and painted it on canvas for myself. Family and friends may recognize it from the walls of my houses — regrettably my version is currently in storage.
James is not so into modern art (putting it lightly), so we headed to a nearby church that was featured in one of our favorite films, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We had fruitlessly searched for it twenty years ago, before Google made everything so easy to find. Lo and behold! Hubby looks so happy!
Back on the “busoat” and to the Jewish Ghetto we went! Interesting piece of history here, dating back to the 1500s. You can read about it here. Interesting history for me, as well — I’m almost certain I stayed at a hostel in the main square when I was here in college. The kids, of course, could care less about the history. Time to chase pigeons!
On our way back to the apartment we stopped for yet more gelato, and I discovered my favorite flavor: Kookie Tango, a mix of vanilla, chocolate, caramel and sugar cookies. Divine!
Energized, we decided the line for the climb to the top of the Campanile didn’t look too long. Let’s do it! Violet kept pointing and asking if it was going to fall down, like in her Olivia book. Predictably, she fell asleep before we made it to the top. And — a welcome surprise — there was an elevator straight to the top! The views were amazing.
After dinner, I took the kids on another walkabout. We came upon some gondoliers tying up for the night. As we watched them, one of them playfully took his oar and tapped Liam’s foot. Everyone around us laughed, including us. Violet couldn’t stop shouting “Gondola!” every time she saw one.
Friday morning as we headed back through St. Mark’s Square, we saw a huge cruise boat sailing past the square in the lagoon. As we looked through the clock tunnel, it looked otherworldly next to all of the Venetian architecture.
We took the “busoat” out to Murano to watch a glass blowing demonstration. Liam totally dug it. Violet slept through it.
Thankfully Violet slept through all of our glass souvenir shopping, too. Liam got reprimanded for picking up a very heavy piece of art…marked 350 Euros, yikes! Ok, time for lunch! We found a little Italian place along a canal — two orders of lobster gnocchi and fries for 50 Euros. A cover charge for the table, plus a charge for bread and bottled water…it all adds up. Sheesh.
For our last evening stroll, I took the kids back to St. Mark’s Square while James started packing our things. After chasing pigeons and each other, we wandered over to hear the bands play. Two bands across the square from each other would play classical music and more modern medleys, one after the other. Each had a piano, violin, bass, and clarinet player. Liam asked if I’d like to waltz, which he’d learned how to do in school this year. Eighteen years ago I sat in St. Mark’s Square at midnight with my college friends watching adults in fancy dress waltz to the music, and here I am now waltzing in the square with my eight-year-old son. “Mommy, now I have to spin you!”
Saturday we bid Venice farewell and, as the Italians would say, arrivederci. We took a “busoat” to the train station, and the kids and got to ride in the very front. Violet hollered, “Rialto!” as we passed the bridge. Liam peppered me with questions about the sinking city. What a great send off!
The family and I spent a our spring break in Italy this year, flying directly to Rome from Athens, spending the weekend sight-seeing, then taking a four-hour train to Venice to stay for the week. We finished back in Rome for a day to catch our plane home.
Rome and Venice are such incredibly different cities, I’ve decided to devote two separate posts to our vacation. First up, Rome!
Let me start off by saying I was told by many that Rome and Athens had similar traffic and crowd issues, but this was not what I found. With far fewer motorcycles buzzing about, I found Rome to be refreshingly absent of the typical traffic nightmare that is Athens. Of course, we were there for the weekend, so it’s very likely that, like in Athens, traffic is much better on weekends. Still, the streets seemed wider and more accessible, at least where we were staying. Our two-bedroom apartment was near the Borghese Gardens, coincidentally just down the street from the US Embassy.
Staying in apartments in Rome and Venice, which I found on booking.com, was probably the best choice I could have made for this vacation. We had a lot more space than in a hotel room, and for just about the same price. Plus we could heat up our leftovers (in theory — microwaves don’t seem to be a “thing” in Italy), plus we could feed our picky kids from the grocery store rather than repeatedly eating in restaurants.
We started Saturday morning bright and early with pastries from a nearby bakery, then a walk over to the Borghese Gardens to see about getting a timed ticket. We’d be here the whole weekend, so we figured we’d get a time later in the evening or in the morning on Sunday.
For. To. Laugh.
We were greeted with a sign that said, “Tickets for the museum are sold out until April 19. That was a week and a half away! I guess that’s what you get at spring break in Italy.
We did have a lovely time wandering around the gardens, vaguely headed toward the nearest Metro stop at the Spanish Steps.
Refreshingly (and relatively) free of tourists for a Saturday morning, we stopped to snap some photos.
Liam was already in a mood.
Next up, St. Peter’s Cathedral! Which was a complete circus. The line stretched all the way around the square, easily a three hours’ wait.
The kids quickly tired of walking around the square and dodging tourists, so after a not-so-brief and embarrassing meltdown, we went on to Plan C…
Castel San Angelo fortress! Which was so much better. The line was reasonable, and there was plenty of space for the kids to run around. Plus, the views of the surrounding area were spectacular. Violet especially thought so — she wanted to peer into every single port hole we passed.
Liam particularly enjoyed spying the secret entrance for the pope, though he was disappointed we couldn’t walk through it. The kids also enjoyed the playground in the moat — a welcome, kid-friendly respite from all the sightseeing.
That evening we had a wonderful dinner at Pizzeria San Marco near our apartment. The fried artichoke appetizer…I’m seriously drooling just thinking about them again. My pasta was excellent, and while the pizza was a bit too greasy for my tastes, James thought it was really good.
Of course we had to visit the Colosseum while we were here! The lines were unsurprisingly long, just a week before Easter Sunday, so we sprang for the “skip the line” tickets. Liam actually did pretty well on the guided tour, but once Violet woke from her snooze, she wanted nothing to do with the group. Our tickets also included Palentine Hill and the Roman Forum, but with kids ready to mutiny, we decided to skip it. It pained me to have had paid that much just to walk around the Colosseum, but we’ve discovered that unhappy kids=unhappy parents.
Time for gelato! For lunch! Yes, parents of the year!
Refreshed, we mosied around Trajan’s Market, and as we came upon the impressive Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, Liam pointed up and asked, “Can we climb that?”
Hell yeah, son! Let’s do it! And by god, he climbed every step without complaint. Apparently climbing is ok, standing in line incites fury. Noted. Violet enjoyed running around the broad marble veranda at the top. And it was free.
No embarrassing outbursts from Liam, mostly due to our promise to take him to Hard Rock Café for dinner if he was good. He was so good, we even bought him a shirt. Violet, on the other hand, was a handful. I can’t wait until she’s bribable.
The next morning we caught the train to Venice. Liam was so excited to ride the train! For, like, the first hour. Then he was like BOOOORING! Time for the iPad! We bought lunch on the train, an expensive and largely unsatisfying experience. We resolved to brown bag it on the way back.