Day 24 – Paris By Train, Bus and Boat

eiffel towerThanks to a couple of great ipod applications we were able to add the public bus to our modes of transportation.  The bus is my preferred mode of transport at home since I love being above ground and feeling like it’s a safe cheap way to get anywhere in the city at any time.  Of course it’s not great if you are in a time crunch, or if you’re dealing with midtown traffic during the holiday season, but for the most part I never tire of watching the city go by while I’m on my way.  The ipod app showed us the best route to get from our apartment to Trocadero via one bus line.

We found the right station with the help of a nice elderly Frenchman.  The buses and the Metro in Paris do things much more efficiently and just plain better than we do in NYC.  First of all at both the Metro and bus stations the arrival time is given for the next train or bus.  This alleviates all stress, people hanging over the edge of the platform in anticipation, and makes you able to make a different choice if there is a delay.  Secondly, they have designated bus lanes separated by a median so that the buses never get stuck in traffic and cruise along with total punctuality.  It’s such a pleasure.

Our ride to Trocadero was a total tourist treat.   (For anyone visiting New York City I would recommend the M5 bus for a similarly great ride)  We went through the 7th Arrondissement, past the Eiffel Tower, over the Seine to Trocadero.  Continue reading

Day 23 – Paris (Bread, Chocolate and The Ferris Wheel)

samothraceOur first full day in Paris was an experiment in family travel – specifically how to squeeze in what the adults want to do yet placate the kids.  We hit a pretty good balance.  We started out on the Metro with our 3-day passes and headed for the Louvre.  Unfortunately the weather was unseasonably cool and threatening rain but better too cool than too hot I think.  Besides, a legitimate reason to shop in Paris is always a good thing.

We walked down the Rue de Rivoli and entered the Louvre through the courtyard towards the pyramid.  The girls immediately spotted the Ferris wheel in the Tuileries and that became the perfect bribe to get them to stay in the Louvre long enough to feel like we’d taken in some substantial art viewing.  We descended through the pyramid into the Louvre with barely any line and got our serious cool multimedia audio/video tours.  Continue reading

Day 22 Bonjour Paris! (The ultimate side trip)

eiffel in the distance

When we initially started planning our trip we thought we would go to London, Paris and then Italy for a week.  As things shaped up and we were offered the villa in Tuscania we reworked our plan to just fly in and out of Rome and do driving trips around Italy.  But, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we really, really wanted to take the girls to Paris for a few days.  My husband lived in Paris for six months in college; we’ve been to Paris at least 5 times together and more separately.  It doesn’t matter, the appeal of Paris is boundless and to be so close and not make the trip seemed insane.

So, once we arrived in Italy we began to plan for a few days in Paris and lucked out with a great fare on Air France and a cute apartment via vrbo.com in the 6th arrondissment.  On the 22nd we drove my mom to the Rome airport to go back to New York, and headed to our Terminal for our flight to Paris.  The girls were nervous on top of being sad to see my mom go.  But, being the seasoned travelers they have become they settled into their seats with Leapsters ready, ipods charged, and headphones on.  Immediately they got a kick out of the little drink holders that fold down in front of the food trays.  They also loved that the announcements were made in Italian, English and French.  And the meal had an apricot tart and baguette.  (And this was the airplane food!) Continue reading

Day 21- Tuscania, Taking Time to Smell the Sunflowers

stopping to smell the sunflowers

stopping to smell the sunflowers

Today we did our usual day of rest following the insanely packed day at the Vatican.  We walked through Tuscania, still with map in hand, to find some new stores and routes that we hadn’t yet explored.  We then hit Lake Bolsena again for some serious downtime and relaxation.   The nice thing about being here for an entire month is not having the pressure to do everything and see new things every day.  Instead, being in Italy has begun to feel like a normal place to be, as if we had decided to rent a house upstate for the summer.

Of course what makes it extra special is that this house happens to be in a walled city steeped in history of ancient Etruscans, the Roman Empire through the construction of a modern Italy.  There are little old ladies and men hanging out on their benches in the morning and in the afternoon.  They go inside for riposo, I guess because the hanging out together on the chairs and benches qualifies as “work time” – from one to four you have to go inside and eat lunch to chill out.  I love this group of old timers who watch everything and everyone coming up and down the steep cobblestone hills, making sure that you belong there and are not trespassing through.

There is just a completely different rhythm to life here, and it’s hard to adjust initially.  Continue reading

Day 20 Rome and The Vatican (so that’s where all the marble went)

under the basillica

St. Peter's Basilica

Here’s the one thing I refuse to do on a trip to Italy with kids – wait in line.  So far we have been incredibly lucky.  We have made advance reservations whenever we could, we encountered no lines anywhere else like the Duomo in Florence and the Palazzo Ducale in Venice because we went late in the day.  We used our Roma Pass to glide by everyone at all the major archeological sites in Rome, and so for the Vatican I ordered our tickets on-line and printed them at home.  We had our two o’clock reservation time so all we needed to worry about was lunch.

The only real snags we’ve hit on this trip have been with restaurants – either not being open at all or not seating people without reservations.  This time I was determined that we would eat somewhere great in Rome.  I don’t believe that you can’t have a bad meal in Rome.  I’m from New York; I know that great restaurant cities are full of mediocre restaurants of all price ranges.  Continue reading

Day 19 – Tuscania and a Day of Rest (with incredible views)

view from miralago

view from miralago

After exhausting ourselves in Rome and getting home very late we slept in on Sunday and decided to have a relaxing local day by Lake Bolsena.  We called ahead to make a reservation at Da Paolino al Miralago restaurant in Montefiascone a city perched high above the lake on verdant cliffs.  We have learned our lesson about not calling ahead in Italy.

We arrived at the restaurant, which from the road looks like a little shack at the edge of the street.  The kitchen is across the road with the other half of the restaurant.  Then we entered the small structure and saw before us an enormous panorama of Lake Bolsena and the neighboring hilltop towns and gardens.  They seated us right by the window and we watched the platters of food being served to the Italian families seated all around us.  They gave us menus that had Italian printed on one side and unfortunately English printed on the other.  I’m wary of any restaurant that has an English translation.  Nothing that was being eaten at any of the tables all around us was on that menu – nor on the Italian side either. Continue reading

Day 18 – When in Rome (Let Your Inner Tourist Shine Through)

colosseum

colosseum

Here is my philosophy on being a tourist:  You will not fit in.  You will not pass as a local.  You are a tourist.  Grab your camera, spread out your map and get on with it.  Living in Manhattan makes you privy to all sorts of bad tourist behavior from all ends of the earth.  More often than not tourists will stop right in the middle of the sidewalk for no apparent reason, or try and act New Yorker-y by crossing the street against the light and miss getting killed by a second.  But, I happen to think as annoying as these actions (or lack thereof) can be it’s really all right.  If you’re going to come to New York then by all means gawk at everything, but don’t think you will blend in.  You just won’t.

I sometimes wish I wasn’t from New York so I could have that experience of coming to the city for the first time.  I don’t even remember the first time I went to any of the museums or major sights.  I think it would be awesome to have that first WOW upon driving into the city and seeing the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty.  Flying into New York at night still gives me a tingle of excitement and it has to be the greatest lit up skyline on the planet, but that tinge of awe is always tempered by the settling, ho-hum thought that I am home.

I had that feeling of wow the first time I came to Rome over 20 years ago, Continue reading