Biking Bliss in Lucca

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

A Week in Rome with Kids

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.

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Exploring Rome with Children: A Seven Day Itinerary

Day 1:
- Arrive at the airport and take a car service to your accommodations
- After unpacking venture out for a pizza dinner.

Day 2:
- 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 3:
-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

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- Walk through Piazza Navona
- Stop for lunch at a cafe or pizzaria (make sure it has a bathroom first)
- Tour the Pantheon
- Stroll by Trevia Fountain while enjoying a scoop from one of the many surrounding gelatarias
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Day 5:
- Spend the day at Castel Sant’Angelo
- Plan time for the playground and the pedestrian friendly Ponte Sant’Angelo over the Tiber River
- End the day with Rome’s best pizza from Pizzarium (a short trip away via the metro)
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Day 6:
- Follow the locals to the Park of the Aqueducts to enjoy the playgrounds, and marvel at the remains of Ancient Rome’s engineering wonders
- After lunch and a rest explore as much or little of the Appian Way as your group is up to (we skipped the catacombs, and instead walked the area near the Mausoleo di Cecilia Metella)
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Day 7:
- Begin you day with a brief tour of the Roman Forum
- Head to Palatine Hill for a picnic lunch with incredible views
- Spend your last night in Rome with a meal at your favorite restaurant or pizzaria. Followed of course with just one last scoop of gelato :)
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The Kid’s Top Favorites:
1. Ostia Antica
2. Castel Sant’Angelo
3. The Park of the Aqueducts
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The Five’s 5 tips for a successful week:
1. Arrange a car service from the airport to your accommodation. After a long flight it is worth the money not to have to juggle luggage and kids as you try and secure a taxi or navigate public transportation. We used Bob’s Limousines but Rome Cabs was highly recommended as well.
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2. Consider a rental apartment instead of a hotel. Having a kitchen with fridge as well as a washing machine can really make the difference in making a busy week go a lot smoother. We used airbnb.com and found a lovely apartment for way less than we would have paid at a hotel.
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3. Think about getting around the city from your child’s point of view. Walking through Rome is a great experience. Around every corner there is a new amazing building or view to take in. However, little legs get tired easily and the crumbling ruins of Ancient Rome don’t seem so interesting to children after a while. While the bus service in Rome is extensive we opted to use the metro as much as possible. It is super fast and it gave the kids a chance to get off their feet. Kids ride for free and a seven day pass for us adults was very affordable. Our rental apartment was less than a 5-minute walk from a metro stop which made all of the difference after a long day of sightseeing. Just be sure to avoid the metro during rush hour from about 4:30pm-6:30pm. It isn’t worth the pushing and shoving to get into a car, especially with young children in tow.
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4. Plan ahead for restroom facilities. With three young children we always had someone in our group who had to go. Restrooms were easy to find at the ticketed sights such as the Colosseum and Castle Sant’Angelo, but were sparse in many other areas. Near Piazza Navona we ended up spending money at a cafe just so that we could use their restroom. Of course after the fact we found this great map that some wonderful person put together of “free restroom facilities” in Rome. This would have come in handy!
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5. Stop for pizza and gelato often! Honestly the kids were mostly looking forward to eating a lot of gelato and pizza while in Rome. It really helped that most every gelataria offers some vegan flavors and those like Il Gelatone have several on hand everyday. Having a treat of gelato to look forward to everyday made their little legs work harder and helped keep their attention through some of the more “boring” sights that the adults wanted to check out. We usually try to limit sweets, but on this trip our adage was “when in Rome, eat gelato”.
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The Biggest for Last

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.

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The Roman Forum

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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.

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Palatine Hill

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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.

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The Colosseum

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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 StoryThis combined with the visit helped everyone get a better picture of the importance of the amphitheater in Ancient Rome.

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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 :)

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Rome’s Biggest Playground: Park of the Aqueducts

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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.

ABC’s of Rome’s Borgo District: Angels, Bonci, and Cioccolato

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Beyond the Coliseum and the Forum, on the west side of the Tiber River, we were recently schooled on some of the finer and lesser known family attractions in Rome. From exploring dark tunnels, to sampling the most creative and delicious pizza we’ve ever tasted, to enjoying an amazing vegan chocolate gelato, the Borgo district is definitely not to be missed.

Castel Sant’Angelo

Originally built as the mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 139 AD, the Castel Sant’Angelo is a wonderful destination for kids. From the playground at the base of the fortress to the maze of dark tunnels to explore, it gives visitors of all ages the chance to soak up art, history, and some commanding views from the top. In the 14th century the Vatican converted the structure to a castle (the Pope even has a covered fortified corridor that leads from Vatican City to the castle), and the military fortifications only add to the list of things to explore during a visit.

Pizzarium by Gabriele Bonci
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If you are looking a pizza that is creative, delicious,and reasonably priced, then Pizzarium is the place for you. Chef Gabriele Bonci uses a dizzying array of vegetable (and also meat and cheese) combinations to make the mouths of vegans and non-vegans alike water. The pizzas coming out of the oven are constantly changing and always a surprise; we had the pleasure to sample a pumpkin cabbage pizza as well as a roasted eggplant and basil pizza. While there is no fixed seating, there are plenty of stools available for an impromptu pizza picnic on the sidewalk.

Chocolate Fondant Gelato at Lemongrass
DSC05670-picsayWe’ve had some good vegan gelato while in Rome, but the chocolate fondant flavor at Lemongrass rises above the rest. There were lots of flavors of dairy and vegan gelato to choose from, and combining the fruit flavors (banana, strawberry, etc.) with the chocolate fondant can’t be beat. And given its strategic location between the Pizzarium and Castel Sant’Angelo, there are many opportunities to sample different flavor combinations while in transit between these other sites and/or en route to the Cipro or Lepanto Metro stops.