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The Appian Way to a Perfect Family Day – Rome

Baths of Caracalla, a 2,500 year-old road, magnificent villas, and a picnic to boot.. here is our itinerary for the Appian Way day.

Despite having to been to Rome probably a dozen times in my life, I had never visited the Appian Way – probably because it is out of the way. But, I am happy to report that this 2,500 year-old ‘Queen of the Long Roads’ is not only worth discovering, but it is a must-see. And, with a little planning, we found that we could create the perfect day on the Appian Way (no, I never tire of the rhyme).

Now, first off, a little history. This road isn’t just any old road.. it is the beginning of ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Built in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius, it is the first long road that allowed Roman troops to really start conquering all of the lands around them. Extended over the centuries, it witnessed the incredible rise and fall of the Roman Empire, as well as served as more than just an avenue for transport. In 71 B.C., after the slave revolt led by Spartacus, 6,000 slaves were crucified and the crosses carrying their bodies lined the road for miles. Sorry, a little gruesome, but not at all an unusual punishment back in the day.

But, you don’t have to picture that particular scene when you head to the Appian Way. We mainly marveled at the villas, imagined ourselves marching down this road thousands of years earlier (not to our demise), and relished in the undiluted history that graciously embraced us as we went back in time.

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Morning: Rise and shine! We woke up fairly early to avoid spending too much time in the afternoon heat and headed out the door, baby strapped to my body. We caught the bus from our apartment in Trastevere to the Circus Maximus, where we glimpsed a view of the imperial palace atop Palatine Hill before making our way to the Baths of Caracalla. The baths are amazing for a couple of reasons: almost nobody goes there, so you can really walk among the ruins and let your imagination run wild;  it is included in the combo ticket that also allows you to see two villas on the Appian Way (we will get to those next); it is an incredible structure and once served 6,000 bathing Romans a day, who also did their exercise there, engaged in political discussion, plotted against their enemies, and so on.

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Mid-Morning: After seeing some of the beautifully preserved mosaics and the enormous walls at the Baths of Caracalla, we caught a taxi (about 10 Euros) to the old part of the Appian Way (Via Appia antica). There are many ancient buildings you can see along the road, which extends for miles, but since we had a baby and I am a firm believer in less is more while traveling, we limited ourselves to a couple of sights and opted for a more relaxing experience. The ticket for the Baths of Caracalla include entrance to the tomb of Cecilia Matella and Villa dei Quintili, and our plan was to do both of these, but because of Italy’s belief in very long lunch breaks and the heat, we ended up doing just Cecilia Matella, which was beautiful. The truth is, you can see most of the villas and tombs from the road, and there really isn’t a need to buy entrance tickets to any, unless you are dead set on looking at more mosaics.

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Noon: Along the road, there is a little restaurant that also has sandwiches and salads to go. We picked up a couple of sandwiches, bottles of water, and fruit cups, and wandered until we found a good place to picnic. Now, what we ended up doing is not officially allowed, but again, this is Italy. We saw a beautifully manicured lawn filled with statues, benches, and a small villa, and decided to hunker down there for our little picnic. Innocently spreading out our blanket and food, we played with the baby, took pictures, and happily ate before the groundskeeper came and informed us that this wasn’t actually a public space for picnics. It ended up being the grounds to a museum and the Appian way information center, which turned out to be quite convenient. But, what I love about Italy is the groundskeeper waited until we had finished our picnic and even spent time playing with the tot before asking us to pack up. No doubt he saw us earlier, but who can resist a cute little family enjoying some quality time outdoors? Certainly, not Italians. In case you don’t want to kicked out, a little further down the road there is a park, where you can legally picnic and play.

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Afternoon: We leisurely walked down the road, took in some of the sights, and then randomly hopped on a bus (there is only one out there) that took us to an even more random road from which we found a taxi and headed back home.

In a nutshell: The Appian Way is magnificent and if the weather is cooler, you can spend even more time out there than we did. The Villa dei Quintili looks incredible, as do so many of the other sights. So, come with good walking shoes and get ready to explore, wander, and get lost in time. The road is very bumpy (made of big rocks) so I would not recommend a stroller. Baby carriers are the best!

 

 

 

 

Like a Virgin – in Tivoli

Entering Tivoli is like entering a more magical and peaceful world, especially if you are taking a day trip from the hustle and bustle of Rome. I am not even sure a day does it justice, especially if you are traveling with kids, since there is so much to see. This would even be a great two-day trip from Rome, so you can relax and really enjoy all of Tivoli’s beautiful sights.

Tivoli

Like a virgin, you ask? Well, in beautiful Tivoli, you can experience what only the nobles once experienced on their grand tour through Europe : dining in the shade of an ancient (2,000 years old) Temple of the Vestal Virgins. But, don’t worry, here you don’t have to take any vows of chastity (Vestal Virgins who broke their vows were buried alive, but no need to think about that during lunch).

The train to Tivoli from Rome takes about one hour. When you arrive, trust me, it is easier to just walk into town (we attempted waiting for a bus and got caught up in a senior citizen row as they tried to find a bus driver willing to transport us all – apparently the drivers were all private hires and not for the general public). If you arrive around noon like we did, then I suggest first treating yourself to a scrumptious meal at Sibilla, an almost 300 year-old restaurant that has served everyone from dukes to princes to authors, and countless other luminaries from the past. Though not budget, the restaurant surprisingly isn’t that pricey compared to Roman restaurants and delivers an ambiance like no other. We ordered their special ‘tapas’ platter (just many small dishes to try) and two glasses of wine, and felt more than satisfied as we climbed into the temple and took pictures (the entrance was blocked, but we just moved the rope and, of course, nobody stopped us).

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Villa D’Este: From there, we walked to the famous Villa D’Este and its magnificent gardens and waterfalls (a UNESCO world heritage sight). There are many steps, so I wouldn’t even bother bringing a stroller here (as many places in Italy, where the cities are all on a hill). I strapped the baby to my chest and we descended into the gardens, where we enjoyed incredible views, and relaxed in the shade.

Villa D'Este

Villa Adriano: Hadrian’s Villa is another top sight in Tivoli, though you will have to take a bus to get there. This 1,900 year-old villa was a country escape for Emperor Hadrian (who knows what went on inside, but feel free to let your imagination go wild.. it probably will still be tamer than reality). Emperor Hadrian was one of the Five Good Emperors and left a lasting mark on Rome, perhaps most notably with the rebuilding of the iconic Pantheon. Check out my Perfect Day in Rome with Trajan and Hadrian for another itinerary idea.

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Villa Gregoriana: Unfortunately, with a baby on me and after an already long day of sightseeing, we didn’t get a chance to visit this park. But, it looks beautiful from the photos and I will definitely go when I return. Probably all three of these would be too much in one day (especially with a kid), but this would be a great inclusion in a two-day trip.

Grand Waterfall

In a nutshell: Tivoli is a must-see. With the incredible gardens, majestic waterfalls, and unforgettable dining experiences, you will be able to understand why the emperors and popes chose this area as an escape from everyday life.

Rome: A Family Day with Trajan and Hadrian

Trajan’s Forum, the temple of Venus and Roma, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Pantheon – spend a day with Emperors Hadrian and Trajan as you discover Rome.

I love themes. I feel like they add structure to an otherwise chaotic sightseeing day. So, depending on how much time you have in Rome, you can use this as a one day guide or do it easily in half a day, following another perfect day itinerary in the other half. With a baby in tow, I decided to make this a one day tour, leisurely making my way from one sight to the next and taking ample coffee and water breaks in between.

Trajan and Hadrian are part of what is known as the ‘Five Good Emperors,’ but that certainly doesn’t mean they were sweethearts during their reign (i.e., Hadrian had his chief architect killed because he disagreed with Hadrian’s design for a new temple). But, compared to their predecessors, they emerged with a better reputation. Plus, they were great conquerors as well as helped take care of the poorer Romans, so we will accept them for what they were.

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Morning(ish): Hearing that the museum at Trajan’s Forum wasn’t very crowded, we took our time before heading out, since we didn’t fear long lines. And, we came to discover there were NO lines, because most people head to the Roman forum and forgo this archeological treasure. The best part of the museum is that it is built within the markets, so at every point you can walk out amongst the ruins virtually alone and take wonderful photos of Rome. Almost every emperor wanted to build their own little forum and this was Trajan’s, majestically capped with Trajan’s column, which depicts famous battle scenes from his epic triumph over the Dacians (modern day Romania) as it towers almost a hundred feet above ground. We wandered through the stalls, where ancient businessmen would sell their wares, climbed up through the various layers, and took panoramic shots over the market and Rome.

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Mid-Morning: After the leaving the museum, we wandered across Via Fori Imperiali (the main road) and gazed upon the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Roma (across from the Colosseum, towering above the Roman Forum). No need to go inside the forum for this, we just took a look and tried to imagine it when it was built: the front of two temples back to back, Venus facing the Colosseum and Roma facing the forum. This was Emperor Hadrian’s vision, as he was also an architect, and also the building that led to his architect Appolodorus‘ death (note to self – never disagree on building designs with an emperor, ‘good’ or not).

Tempel der Venus und der Roma und Turm von Santa Francesca Romana

Noon: As I was sightseeing with my very Italian mother, this was about the time I was forced to sit and enjoy a coffee break. Relaxing and people-watching are as important to experiencing the Italian way of life as wandering through ruins, and why not do it with a real view? Though they are pricier than other coffee shops, we sat outside one of the restaurants directly across from the Victory monument, and looked at this more modern-day, gleaming white, Roman style structure while sipping some cool drinks and taking the baby out to play. Drinks usually come with a few snacks, so we also packed in a few carbs before heading on our merry way.

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Afternoon: I could never, ever, ever get tired of looking at the Pantheon. The most perfect building in the world, one which has inspired architects through the ages, it is also the most preserved of any ancient building still in existence. Initially commissioned by the great General Marcus Agrippa under the reign of Augustus, it was actually rebuilt by Hadrian after one of the several fires of Rome destroyed it. So, you are gazing upon the newer version, but don’t worry – it is still almost 2,000 years old. We walked in, enjoyed the cool air and the perfect symmetry, before heading over to another carb-lovers delight: gelato at the world famous Giolitti gelateria. (Ok, you need to know what my husband has now dubbed ‘the giolitti’ or ‘pulling a giolitti.’ You will find here that many Italians do not obey lines.. so go ahead and try to stand in line for your gelato with the Germans and the Swedes, while you watch hordes of families walk right to the front. Then, learn quickly and ‘pull a Giolitti’ yourself to really get the Italian experience. It’s wrong, I know, but feels oh so right).

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If you like Nutella, try the gelato version of it, and then basically don’t eat for the rest of the month because God only knows how many calories that puppy has in it. Oh, and definitely ask for the panna (whipped cream) – even as a non-lover of panna, I find it tastes amazing.

Mid-Afternoon: After a good gelato cool down, make your way to Castel Sant’Angelo (a bit further away, so you may want to take a bus or cab). This was also designed by Hadrian and finished by his successor to hold the ashes of the late, great Hadrian. It was later usurped by the Catholic Church (as was the Pantheon, hence why it was preserved). If you are tired, just take a look from the outside. If not, enter, climb the stairs and enjoy a nice view of St. Peter’s Basilica.

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A Perfect Day With a Baby in Rome – Galleria Borghese

This is the first of my Perfect Day in Rome series, which can also be found under the ‘Perfect Day In’ tab at the top.

There are so many amazing sights in Rome that sometimes it can get overwhelming. Depending on how much time you have, you obviously need to prioritize what you want to visit. However, I strongly recommend putting the Galleria Borghese at the top of your list, as you will find room after room of priceless art, including Caravaggio’s more controversial paintings that were initially commissioned by the Vatican but then not used because of how he depicted certain biblical characters (Caravaggio was famous for using prostitutes and fishermen as models, rather than nobility). That didn’t bother Cardinal Scipio Borghese, however, who filled his magnificent palace with some of the most incredible art the world had ever seen.

Now, it’s on display for you to enjoy.

We found that this private art gallery isn’t as easy to enter as the others, so you will have to do a little work by reserving tickets ahead of time on their website. You can also call to reserve your tickets, which will save you the online service fee, but you will likely get frustrated when nobody answers, which is often the case. So my suggestion is to cough up the extra dough, reserve several days ahead of time, get there a bit early, and make it a perfect start to a perfect day by entering stress free.

Getting to the Galleria Borghese can also be a bit tricky because it isn’t around the major tourist sites. However, you can try your luck with the Roman bus system, ride a bicycle, or cab it. If you are with kids, I suggest a taxi. Riding a bicycle in Rome is a bit like Russian Roulette and you don’t really want your Roman holiday to be your last holiday. Buses function, but don’t count on them being on time and they are often very crowded.

So, with all that being said, here is a rundown of our perfect day in Rome at the Galleria Borghese.

Morning: We reserved our tickets via the gallery’s online booking system for 11 a.m.  I am not a big fan of having to be somewhere early in the morning, especially now that I have a baby. (Check out my ten tips for traveling with a baby to find out why). So, after leisurely waking up at about 8 a.m. and feeding the little one, we headed out to our favorite nearby cafe for a cappuccino and a cornetto. We always sit down to enjoy our breakfast (it usually costs extra), but you can also do as the Italians and enjoy your espresso (simply called cafe in Italy) and sweet treat at the bar to save some money.  Afterward, we stopped by a little grocery store and picked up the necessities: a bottle of screw-top wine, a baguette, some cheese nibs, fresh olives, fruit cups, a bottle of water, and some plastic cups and plates. Since we stopped bringing the stroller around Rome when we realized the elevator in our apartment wouldn’t fit it, we brought a backpack for the food and blanket and the tot traveled in our Ergobaby.

Mid-Morning: Finally, around 10:15 a.m., we grabbed a taxi and made our way to the gallery. Since there are strict reservation times, I didn’t want to chance being late, so we ended up being very early. That was fine though, since some street musicians were around to entertain us and we could gaze out on to the expansive Borghese gardens while waiting. About 15 minutes before our reservation time, we went in, showed them our printed out tickets (there are many internet points where you can pay a small fee to print your ticket or you can use your hotel), and gave our backpack to coat check. We then entered the gallery.

Going Through the Gallery: Carrying a baby was easy, but if you have smaller children who can walk, I would suggest holding their hands the WHOLE time. The statues here are not encased in glass, so better to keep curious little hands occupied. When we entered, we made our way through the gallery with everyone else who reserved in our same time slot. However, afterwards, we realized we could have quickly made our way to the end when entering and then walked back through the gallery to the beginning and been alone the whole time, since the exit is the same as the entrance. When we go back we will probably try that, as it would be amazing to have the gallery rooms to ourselves. Still, they limit the people, so it is never as crowded as the Vatican museums.

Beware of swooning as the palace itself is magnificent. A few of the must-sees include:

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Bernini is the master of Baroque and you will find his creations all over Rome. While his name may not be as familiar to you as Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, you will leave with an unforgettable impression of his work.

Afternoon: Upon leaving the Gallery, we noticed a trolley parked outside and hopped in. Of course, we had no idea where it would take us, but eventually the conductor came by to collect 3 Euro per person and took us through the gardens, which are enormous. This is super fun for both kids and adults, and a welcome relief for your feet after the museum tour. The conductor officially makes only a few stops, but remember, this is Italy. You can always make a little request and if you are nice enough, they will usually grant it. I wanted to go near a little lake in the garden where we could rent boats, so he dropped us off nearby and told us we could just hop back on when we were finished.  So, we made our way to the lake, spread out our blanket and food, and enjoyed our lunch under the shade of trees. Afterward, we left the baby with my mom, and my hubby and I enjoyed a romantic little boat ride for only 5 Euros (you get about 20 mins, which is more than enough since the lake – rather pond – is small). On our way out, we noticed there was also a restaurant nearby, so if you don’t feel like a picnic, this is another option. Enjoy the rest of the park – there are statues and temples everywhere. For kids there is also a carousel, gelateria, and playground.

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Late Afternoon: ahh… we were gloriously tired, so we took a taxi back to our apartment to enjoy a long nap and read up on some of the amazing art we had just had the pleasure of viewing.

Evening: Relaxed from our nap, we freshened up and headed out for dinner. After being in Rome for several weeks, we discovered our favorite ‘dinner’ was actually an aperitivo. Many restaurants offer an aperitivo, which is usually a free buffet with the cost of a drink, and you can taste a variety of food on the cheap. Another plus for families with children – this starts at 6, so you can eat early, eat a lot, and enjoy a lively atmosphere with the locals. Afterward, we went to one of our favorite gelaterias, Flor, which is on Campo di Fiori, and then made our way to Piazza Navona, where we gazed upon another Bernini masterpiece, the Fountain of the Four Rivers. While devouring our gelato, we quizzed each other one which rivers each of the statues represented and then later Wikipedia’d it to find out who was right (I’m pretty sure it was me).

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