Happiness is sucking cacio e pepe off your fingers and sipping a glass of house red from a tumbler glass over lunch with your daughter, listening to her favourite parts of the last three hours (drinking from the fontanella at Campo Fiore and the Four Rivers Fountain) articulated, of course, in her melodic newly-British accent, and retelling to her — now for the fourth time today — the fairy tale of Romulus and Remus, the brothers who founded Rome.
But to get there — to that delicious meal and those delicious memories — required a little preparatory work, as do all great expeditions.
By now we all know how the acts of planning and anticipating a vacation actually increase the happiness you retain post-voyage. These rituals are doubly important when traveling with young children, because the durability of their memories is directly proportional to how colourful and interesting you can make their experiences, and how you reflect together on your special trip.
Kid-1 and I chose Rome for her half-term break because October portends the end of gelato season and it would be a a shame to wait another six months for the good stuff. Oh, plus there’s 2,000 years of history, tortellini, legendary art, cavatelli, oodles of stories, farfalle, scientific marvels, orecchiette and gnocchi here.
When in Rome, you must adventure. And all adventures come down to learning, living and retelling good stories. I had a lot to learn.
For the weeks before our departure, I read Conde Nast Traveller, Ciao Bambino, Wikipedia, The Guardian and Rick Steves. I spent hours staring at Google Maps. You can see by this mix that I am neither an art nor history expert. But it didn’t matter because this was a trip to learn and not to conquer.
Come on, Rick Steves? Aren’t you supposed to be British by now?! Rick Steves has been a personal (if virtual) travel buddy since college. He has a flair for pointing out the intrigue, deceit, science wonders and even touches of magic in history. Yes, carrying his books is an immediate Yankee tell. But so is that funny accent I’m sporting. So yes, I did cary his Rome guidebook throughout our travels.
After booking what I could in advance (Borghese Gallery, Vatican Museum, tour guide, Gladiator schools and dinners), I filled in the remainders with highly-ranked gelato shops and walking tours. The schedule looked like this:
Piazza Navona, Campo Fiore, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain & Spanish Steps
Shower / bath
Lunch & Nap
Piazza Navona, Campo Fiore (repetition is good for young minds)
Gelato & walk around Trastevere
Shower / bath
Guided Tour starting at Spanish Steps, ending at Colosseum
Climb St. Peter’s Basilica cupola
Shower / Bath
Coffee and Pastries
One final note. The best travel hack I’ve learned is to discuss — and take notes on! — the best things you have learned and seen and done at each meal. Kid-1 and I did this three times a day, reinforcing all those juicy stories and exciting memories we had just created. It was from those scribbled notes on our hotel’s paper that I constructed the Adventure Letters I emailed to her each night.
Here begins our Adventure Romana, filled with salacious stories of scandal, murder, betrayal, art masters and architect rivals, and too many gelato stops for me to count.