Most of the leaves have fallen here in Lucca. They were pretty spectacular in the trees, but they are now a lot more fun on the ground!
After settling into our new rental for the next two months, we’ve been asked several times, “Why Lucca?” Aside from its surprising concentration of playgrounds (a rarity in Italy), its Renaissance walls (2.6 miles around) have been converted into a paved pedestrian-only biking and walking path. We had a wonderful two months biking in Prince Edward Island last year, so the thought of having access to a place on par with the Confederation Trail was too good to pass up.
Not surprisingly, there are a lot of bike rental shops in town to choose from (open even in the off-season). After looking through others’ experiences on TripAdvisor, we decided on Tourist Center Lucca. Their glowing reviews are definitely well-earned. They were super friendly in setting up a two month rental for us, and as they are a pretty large operation they have quite a lot of bikes to choose from. When we arrived on our first day in Lucca, they had the perfect bikes waiting for us (including a pink bike for Five of Hearts), and the staff really took the time to ensure everything was tightened on the bike and that the seats were adjusted to the proper height.
Biking on the wall each day has been purely magical. Lucca is beautiful on its own, but gliding underneath the elm trees, the autumn sun illuminating their golden leaves, is a truly unforgettable experience. The big biking news for us, though, is that Five Ball is now officially riding without training wheels! He tried it out a little last year in PEI, and it must be true that you never forget how to ride a bike. After a day of practice in Lucca, he was cruising the walls like a pro.
We couldn’t be happier that our typical morning walk routine has now been replaced with a morning bike ride while here in Lucca. The circular route is the perfect length for little legs (even High Five can manage on his own with training wheels), and we’re just about ready to try out two times around instead of one. We know our time in Lucca can’t last forever, but we’re grateful to be Fives on the Pedal once again, if only for a little while.
To be honest we were really very nervous about taking our three children to Rome. They have been begging to see this amazing city for about two years (one home school until on Ancient Rome and they were hooked), and we didn’t want our visit to fall short of their expectations. From the ruins to the many gelatarias they were envisioning a DisneyWorld-esque adventure. We didn’t want to burst their bubble, but at the same time we knew that we had a lot to see in a very short period of time, and that the reality of getting from Point A to Point B would be challenging for little legs. So, we started preparing for our trip months in advance hammering out our itinerary, researching transportation options, and finding a great place to stay. Below we have included our itinerary for the week as well as our tips for a successful trip to “The Eternal City” with children.
Exploring Rome with Children: A Seven Day Itinerary
– Arrive at the airport and take a car service to your accommodations
– After unpacking venture out for a pizza dinner.
– Sleep in and try to recover from yesterday’s busy travel day
– Visit the Basilica of San Clemente (our kids loved exploring the lowest level)
– View the obelisk at Piazza di San Giovanni
- Find a gelataria and start trying some of the numerous flavors. You only have a week to fit them all in :)
-Day trip to Ostia Antica (pack a picnic lunch to take with you, as well as kid friendly distractions for the train ride).
-Take the train back into the city for pizza and gelato
When you mention Rome most people usually picture the Colosseum. This ancient Roman amphitheater is a dominating presence in the city, as well as one of the top tourist attractions. However, we broke with tradition and saved this humongous architectural wonder until our very last day in Rome. It turned out to be a very fitting end to our week of exploring Rome as we started at the Roman Forum and wound our way through Palatine Hill to finish up with a tour inside of the Colosseum. There is no better way to imagine life in ancient Rome then to follow this circuit marveling at temples, palaces, and of course the largest amphitheater in the Roman empire. However, as previously mentioned this section of the city is a major tourist attraction so, below we have listed our tips for enjoying your look back at ancient Rome with out letting the modern day crowds drive you crazy.
The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was a big open area of the ancient city surrounded by temples, government buildings, and shops. Today much of the forum is in ruins making its glory a little hard to imagine. In addition there is very little shade in the area making it a very crowded and hot destination during the warmer months. Since the boys were a little bored of ruins by this point in our trip we let them hang out on the fringes and play while Five of Hearts and Five String viewed the ruins more thoroughly. While the Roman Forum is impressive we all found the ruins of Ostia Antica a lot more accessible and a lot less crowded. It was much easier to get a picture of Ancient Rome in Ostia Antica then it was in the Roman Forum with large tour guides bustling through the site.
From the Roman Forum you are in great position to walk up one of the seven hills of Rome. Palentine Hill is the most central hill and as such it was home to to many temples and palaces. It is also the suppossed birth place of the two famous twins, Romulous and Remus. The Younger Fives immediately fell in love with Palatine hill and had a blast running up and down the shaded paths as we explored the ruins of ancient palaces as well as the gardens and fountains. At the very top of the hill we found a shaded area with wonderful views of the city. We settled on the benches for a picnic lunch and would have been content to stay all day if we didn’t have more on the agenda. The only negative aspect of Palatine Hill is that the ruins are not well signed at all. If you are truly interested in exploring this area in depth you might want to pick up a good guide book and map before you visit.
After tearing ourselves away from our picnic spot we didn’t have a long walk at all to reach the Colosseum, in fact it was all downhill. Since we had already purchased our tickets at the Roman Forum we didn’t have to wait in line and we breezed right into the massive structure. The museum style exhibits on the second floor were well done and they kept the kids interested. However, it was hard not to rush through them in order to get our first view of the inside of the amphitheater. Even though the structure was built 72 A.D. and the seats and floor are gone it is still a staggeringly impressive site. However, after taking the view from several different angles there isn’t a lot more that the site offers, especially for kids. We found that the attraction of visiting the Colosseum is more about being able to appreciate the scale of the building and how well it has held up overtime. Upon returning home from our visit we had the kids watch a few documentaries on the Colosseum including the BBC product A Gladiator’s Story. This combined with the visit helped everyone get a better picture of the importance of the amphitheater in Ancient Rome.
Five’s Tips for visiting the Colosseum area:
- Buy your tickets at the Roman Forum and skip the lines at the Colosseum. We purchased ours at the entrance off of Via dei Fori Imperiali and had less than a 5 minute wait. Kids enter for free but you do have to request the “free tickets” for them in order to get through the gates.
- Pack a picnic to enjoy on Palatine Hill. The garden and shades are lovely as well as the view and the crowds thin out the farther from the Forum that you get.
- Be prepared for for the Forum and the Colosseum to be crowded. We visited in the off season it is was still packed with tour groups. Street salesmen, tour promoters, and men dressed up as gladiators will all be vying for your money as you walk through this very touristy area.
- If you want to see the the lower or upper levels of the Colosseum you need to spend the money on a tour. These areas aren’t covered by the general admission ticket.
- Your ticket covers one entrance to the Colosseum and to Palatine Hill/Roman Forum. The ticket is good for 2 days so you can split up the sites. However, if you leave the Forum to grab lunch you won’t be able to enter again without buying another ticket. You should plan to visit the Forum and Palatine Hill together.
- There are bathrooms and water fountains at the Roman Forum entrance on Via dei Fori Imperiali as well as at the Palatine Hill Entrance on Via di S. Gregorio. The map also showed restrooms at the Palatine Hill museum and at the Colosseum making this whole area a very friendly place for kids with small bladders :)
After a few days exploring the dizzying array of sites in Rome, the Younger Fives were ready to run free without having to worry about traffic or throngs of people passing them on both sides. Il Parco degli Acquedotti (The Park of the Aqueducts) is an ideal place for families to enjoy a natural refuge while still soaking up the marvels of ancient Rome.
Fives’ Facts About The Park of the Aqueducts
* Aqueducts in the Park: The park contains the remnants of two impressive aqueducts. One, Aqua Claudia, was finished in 52 AD and spanned 69 kilometers. It could provide all of Rome’s 14 districts with water, and the volcanic ash used in the concrete made it very durable. Acqua Felice, on the other hand, was built in 1586 by Pope Sextus V. It is 24 kilometers long and was the first new aqueduct of early modern Rome.
* Getting There: The park is easily reached from the Guilo Agricola stop on the Metro’s A line. From there it is a 4 block walk SW out of the subway station to Via Lemonia. From there, turn left and walk along for a few blocks; you can enter the park anywhere on your right. For pictures of the route and a map, we used the information from Ron in Rome.
* Playgrounds: We found a large, impressive playground (the biggest and best we’d seen in Rome) just outside of the park on Via Lemonia, a few blocks from the intersection with Via Guilo Agricola. It also has carnival type attractions for kids, a restaurant, and several food vendors there.
* Nature: The park’s fields, meadows, and open spaces give a welcomed break from the stone and pavement of Rome. The kids enjoyed playing at the edge of a stream going through the park, and they were mesmerized by the park’s small waterfall (between the Acqua Felice and the farm fields, in the span between the playground and large church that provides a handy reference point while in the park).
* Rome’s Aqueduct System: At its peak Rome’s aqueduct system spanned about 800 kilometers in total length. It supplied Rome with over 300 million gallons of water every day, which is 25% more than the current daily water supply of Bangalore, India.