Friday, November 5, 2010

Planning for Italy with Sam

Besides the new deck and trying to make a baby using an egg-donor, my biggest project is planning our spring trip to Italy.  I've always enjoyed the process of planning a vacation, and this one is especially exciting.

The first thing I had to do was to get a new passport. I lost all of my important papers, including my birth certificate and passport, during the Great Moves of 2007-2008.  I was very worried when I read on the Los Angeles County web site that it might take up to 14 weeks to get a certified copy of my birth certificate, but they got it to me in just one week. The passport was fast, too. Huge sigh of relief!

I also double-checked Sam's passport.  She went to Mexico when she was three months old so this is all old-hat for her.  I'm glad I checked because a minor's passport is only valid for five years.  We'll need to renew next year. Put that in the tickler file now!

Next, I asked Facebook to help.  I got lots of advice, and I compiled it all into a Word document (thanks, friends!).  I also asked a couple of real, live friends who gave me invaluable advice.  Based on all of that, we decided to stick with two cities for a ten day trip: Rome and Florence.  We'll also spend at least one night on the road in between, exploring the Tuscan (or maybe Umbrian) countryside via automobile.  I'm as excited about that part as I am about the big cities.

Now we need to book accommodations and flights. A quick search on Expedia told me that there are plenty of good flight options, so I started researching hotels and inns, figuring that availability might affect when we fly.  But then I realized that I needed some good maps and guidebooks before I could figure it all out.  Today I received Rick Steves' Rome, Florence & Tuscany, and Italy guidebooks, plus Streetwise maps of Rome and Florence. (I love those Streetwise maps for the US, so I'm hoping they will be reliable overseas.)

The first thing I did was open the Rome guidebook to the chapter on "Rome with Children."  It begins:
Sorry, but Rome is not a great place for little kids. Parks are rare. Kid-friendly parks are rarer. Most of the museums are low-tech and lack hands-on fun.

The good news for kids? Pizza and gelato.

As much as I like Rick Steves, this was a little bit offensive to me. Does he have kids? Or is my kid weird? My kid goes to parks and eats ice cream all the time. I'm confident that she will be utterly fascinated with just strolling the streets, and even with the art. Sure, we can't count on spending four hours straight at the Vatican Museum, but I can't believe that any of us will be jonesing for a playground.

Here is the first sentence in the next paragraph:
Rome's many squares are traffic-free, with plenty of space to run and pigeons to feed while Mom and Dad enjoy coffee at an outdoor table.

Sounds like a heavenly break from sightseeing to me. Actually, it sounds like New York without the cars. And Sam absolutely loved New York, including the walking, the subway, the buildings, and just being in a new, totally foreign environment.  Oh, and yes, especially the pigeons.

Anyway, we'll get into the sightseeing planning later.  Now we want to focus on getting inexpensive hotels in good locations for both cities - ones with private bathrooms and elevators and air conditioning, and maybe, if we're lucky, a little bit of ambiance. But really, we just want a comfortable place to sleep and watch videos and rest. I think we're going to try to hit Rome first because it will be hectic, then have a lazy day or two getting up to Florence, where I'm thinking the pace will be a bit slower.

Like I said, I love planning. I love trying to figure out all of these little details to make the trip as great as possible.  Planning doesn't mean scheduling every little thing, but it does mean being prepared.

Next up, I'll start working through Rick Steves' Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary, which has been sitting hopefully on my bookshelf for eight years.


  1. Wow, that trip is exciting. Forget Steves, I've got a couple of ideas for "Rome With Children". These are obvious famous spots which you may already have researched, but the ones I can think of that would be particularly fun for kids are:

    1. The Forum, which is the excavated remains of ancient Rome. It's acres of steps, columns, and bushes. Very cool.
    2. San Clemente, a church that is 3 churches one on top of the other. You can walk down stairs into the (well-lit) basement, which is another church, and so on.
    3. The Colosseum, site of ancient gladiatorial combat (and... pep rallies? concerts?) An amazing structure. You can't go just anywhere; there are limited observation areas, because it's ruins and some of it is unsafe, but still fun and I think it's near the sites. Search out the stray cats!
    4. Trevi Fountain. Probably the best fountain ever. A wonderful plaza.

  2. Yes, the Forum, Colosseum and Trevi Fountain are all on our list and I don't see why little kids wouldn't love them all. I'm looking forward to the stray cats. I don't know about San Clemente but I'll look it up. Thanks!

  3. Amy,

    When I stayed in Tuscany a number of years back, there were tons of little cottages and apartments for rents, just 15-20 minutes outside of Florence. We stayed in a 1 1/2 room place above a barn, right on an old olive farm - and I bet that would be a lot more fun than a hotel. I remember the sun rising over the green hills, and the unique smell of the country side - and still being only 15-20 minutes by car from Florence.

    Might be worth checking into - I always find that staying at a hotel for more than 2-3 days with the kids is challenging, and I can just see how much fun my little ones would have at a place like the one we stayed at.

    This web sites offers these types of rustic accommodations, and some seem to be very cute, and very affordable at the same time...