Archive for the Category »Europe «

  Where Kids Will Like to Roam in Rome – Plus Tips You Should Know Before You Go

In my opinion, it is always a special time in Rome, Italy.

But particularly right now, it is especially festive. The ancient city is the top Italian destination for Easter week, or Settimana Santa, primarily because of the events led by the Pope in Vatican City. Special masses are said on Palm Sunday and Easter, attracting large crowds.

But many of us can’t make it to Rome on Easter, so here are some things to do in one of Europe’s most fascinating and layered cities, with the kids all year round. Rome offers so much for families, but you have to be prepared – the Italians are warm and inviting to children, and hotels and restaurants are welcoming. But the museums are some of the least prepared for children of those I’ve seen in Europe – especially compared to London or Paris, where some museums have special family programs and activities.

Looking beyond museums, I  pulled together a list of things to do in Rome with the family…. some that go beyond the expected sights to see.

Saint Peter's Square

Saint Peter’s Square

Join an audience with the Pope at the Vatican It doesn’t need to be Easter! Bring your kids to see the Pope himself. Papal Audiences are held on Wednesdays (if the Pope is in Rome, of course). Visitors have the chance to see him in St. Peter’s Square and receive the Papal or Apostolic Blessing. The Pope does a greeting in few different languages, including Italian, English, French, and Spanish, and a ceremony consisting of small teachings and readings.  They are normally scheduled to start at 10:30, or may start earlier depending on the heat. In summer, the readings are done outside, where there is usually sanding room if you don’t get tickets. Tickets are free, but be sure to arrive early to get good seats! Visit for more details

Note: It is quite an interesting spectacle, but might not hold the attention of very young children. If you want to see the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, plan to stay longer and get tickets in advance through The kids will like climbing the Cupola, the dome of St Peter’s – what a spectacular view from top!!



Rome Treasure Hunts Get to know Rome in the most fun way possible! A group of Roman tour guides have created games, trivia, and quizzes for families. There are multiple tours, including an ancient Rome tour, a Vatican treasure hunt, and an Ancient Ostia treasure hunt. Most tours last 3-4 hours, and include line-skipping privileges.  Visit for pricing and reservation details.

Colosseum Of course, once can’t visit Rome without going to the Colosseum… and kids will love taking stroll through history. Middle school students may be  learning about ancient civilizations, so that’s a good age to take the kids.

A tour will shed insight about gladiators and the history. Located in the heart of Piazza del Colosseo, the ancient building is host to thousands of tours a day. Tickets cost €15.50 and operating hours are from 9-4, although there may be changes due to weather. Check out for more info.

Roman gladiator school from

Roman gladiator school from

To go beyond the normal Colosseum tour, there is actually an interactive “Gladiator School” for those who like to dig a little deeper. You have to know your kids – do they like participating? It’s a gladiator history lesson mixed with role playing. Here’s the info:


Trevi Fountain from Amore travel guides

Trevi Fountain from Amore travel guides

Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain

Arguably the most famous fountain in the world, the Fontana de Trevi is found in the Trevi district in Rome.

Made of mostly travertine, it is the largest fountain in all of Rome, standing 86 feet high, and 161 feet wide. Children can throw coins into the fountain, but make sure you do it correctly to ensure a trip back to Rome: Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder. Make a wish!

This is more than a quick stop -  there are plenty of dining options and gelato in the square itself.

The fountain was refurbished in 1998; the stonework was scrubbed and all cracks and other areas of deterioration were repaired by skilled artisans and the fountain was equipped with recirculating pumps. And thank you Fendi! In January 2013, it was announced that the Italian fashion company would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain; it will be the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history.




Roman Catacombs

On a hot day, this is the coolest place to be: underground tunnels that served as burial grounds for Romans. Not many bones, but a lot of interesting things to see – and sort of spooky for the older child.

The 40 or so known catacombs are actually outside the ancient walls of Rome. From the first through the fifth centuries,  an estimated 375 miles of tomb-lined tunnels were dug, with networks of galleries as many as five layers deep.

{Pompeii, from

{Pompeii, from


For a quick day trip outside of Rome, nothing is more fascinating than seeing the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

On display are what excavators found…. I didn’t find it gruesome, but there are sensitive remains on display. Be ready to explain to young children what happened. There are casts of human bodies as they were  when the volcano struck.

From Rome, take a two hour train ride to Naples, then at that train station, take a local train to Pompeii. Beware of people trying to take advantage of tourists at the train stations.


–Driving in Rome is nuts. Only for the person who wants to be stressed out. I highly recommend against it and take cabs or public transportation.

–When visiting churches, including the Vatican and St Peter’s, remember to wear conservative clothing – shirts with sleeves and no short shorts.


  Shout Out To My Hometown: Cypress Cruise Director Is Doing An Amazing Job!

Travel makes one realize how small the world can be.

My parents just got back from a wonderful 12 day Mediterranean cruise on Oceania cruise line. It was half-way around the world that they realized the cruise director was someone I went to school with from first grade until high school graduation. It was my dear friend David Shermet! photo

He is bringing the same enthusiasm to his job that he has always brought to the party :) He has been working on cruise ships since 1992, after a few years playing professional baseball.

Congrats David on a job well-done!!!   If anyone knows how to reach him, let me know.

I have interviewed cruise directors before, and you can imagine the unreal life they lead….always having to be “on” before a crowd,  living on a ship, rarely in the same town very long…. If he or she has any family, that individual will get a few weeks at a time to visit, and in between home visits, some cruise lines will pay for the family to come on board and stay for a while. It is a totally different existence, and requires sacrifices. But those I spoke with love their jobs!!

I want to point out the interesting itinerary on this particular Oceania cruise my parents took – Culturally, historically, and spiritually rich. The ship stopped in ports like:

fatimaFatima, Portugal to see the famous Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary..

Porto, Portugal for some port tasting….

Bordeaux, France for some wine tasting…

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium…

Bilbao, Spain to see the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim among other things…

American Cemetery in Normandy, France, overlooking Omaha Beach

American Cemetery in Normandy, France, overlooking Omaha Beach

and the historic Normandy, France military cemeteries. My parents booked this cruise about a year in advance, with Normandy being the big draw. They have  always wanted to visit. So you can imagine how lucky they were to avert  the government shutdown  – It closed Normandy’s American Cemetery and Memorial just ONE DAY AFTER they visited.

Normandy Memorial

Normandy Memorial

There is nothing they could have done had the site closed before they arrived – they couldn’t have waited it out because they were part of a cruise itinerary. Even though they bought trip insurance, it would have only reimbursed for the cancelled shore excursion, and they would have had to pay to take the same trip again to see Normandy.

You never know what is going to happen when you book travel far in advance. It is always a risk to travel… but it’s a risk that many of us as are happy to take. And some of us, like my friend David, even make it our lives. :)

***Photos courtesy of… my mom :)


  Europe on Sale! Only Lasts a Short Time

Venice, Italy

A photo from my very first trip to Europe… and I’ve been hooked ever since.

With the rising price of oil, and anticipation of airlines passing down the extra costs to us, you might want to check out these fares to Europe on a couple airlines like Air France and Lufthansa. Seriously – some of these round trip prices are hundreds of dollars cheaper than what I just paid for tickets to Hawaii!!

Here’s the deal… you have to be pretty spontaneous. This is a case where waiting until the last minute to buy those spring break tickets pays off:

–You have to purchase the tickets before April 13, and at least 2 weeks before departure date.

–Only good for departures between April 13 and May 14. You can stay a m three months. This is why spring is a great time to travel – before the summer crowds, and deals on airfare.

Now here are some prices:

– NY to Barcelona – $277 each way based on round trip.

–Boston to Madrid – $298 each way based on round trip

–NY to Milan – $326 each way based on round trip

–Chicago and NY to Paris – $383 each way based on round trip

–Miami to Madrid – $298 each way based on round trip

****Comparing fares to travel to Europe this summer, prices are almost double! On United, Chicago to Paris is $1208 round trip on travel June-August. Los Angeles to London – $1125!

For more – visit – ask about discounts for children if you are traveling with them.

Delta is also having a sale, but the prices I saw are not as low.

Europe is gorgeous in spring. If you can swing it, happy travels.

  Caught the First Bug of the Season..But Still Traveled

Thank you TLC. While I have been sick as a dog for the past week and a half, the cable network took me on a nice little journey. Spending most of the time in bed or laying on the couch with no energy to even read, I could easily enough escape in television. So, my kids and I watched endless hours of one of our favorite shows: “Cake Boss.”

If you haven’t seen it, the show follows a family run bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey, “Carlo’s Bake Shop.” The main subject is cake artist Buddy Valastro, who struggles every episode with his “friggin fondant” and to come up with the perfect cake requested by his clients. These cakes are not your usual Betty Crocker – but true masterpieces.

Along the way, he has to contend with his Italian family, who are also part of the bakery and feel the need to intercede on every project. (Think loud Italian mother who gestures with her hands and thinks she always knows what’s best.)

A new string of shows takes the family on location to Italy – which is the journey I vicariously have been taking while I have been sick. One of my favorite lines from the trip: “They don’t make tomatoes like this in Joisey.” On another episode, the family digs into it’s roots, and goes back to the house where the mother was raised, looking for ” la famiglia” history in Italy. It is a touching episode.

Coincidentally, I have begun the process of researching my own family tree – with the intent of traveling back to the towns, cities, stomping grounds of my ancestors. Genealogy travel is a big travel trend these days – and if you are looking for a meaningful journey with your children, this is a fantastic project to teach them about from where your family came.

However, it is time consuming, overwhelming, and can be costly if you don’ t plan correctly. Thanks to the internet, some family records may be found online. But the first thing you should do is talk to a relative most familiar with the family line you want to research. Get all the names, places, marriages, births, etc you can – AND if you can, double check with another relative. My great aunt’s memory had both my great grandmother and great grandfather coming from Sicily, when really one is from Milan.

After that, it gets complicated… The most famous way to research is to visit the Family History Library in Salt lake City, Utah – notorious for the thousands of records on film there.

You can visit the library’s website, as well as some other libraries that even have started cataloging info online. Other libraries that cater to family searches are:

–Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind.

–Newberry Library in Chicago, Ill.

–New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston.

I could go ahead and list a number of other genealogy centered websites to help you with your search – but there is one helpful website with all that information for you -one stop shopping. That is

The bummer is even after all this time and research, you still may not have enough to go on just from internet surfing. Many of the records you may need are in your country of origin. At this point., some people may give up. If you do decide to go to the country yourself, you should know how to speak the language, and understand how to research abroad.

Don’t worry – there is another avenue that I advise, that may not cost more than trying yourself. You can hire an accredited genealogist. Sure, it may not be as satisfying as discovering the birth certificate of your great great grandfather yourself, but it will save you frustration and time. Then you have more to go on should you want to visit – and many of these genealogists will take you on the tours. A good site to find a genealogist who specializes in your country of origin is They offer genealogists who specialize in every country.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from digging up his or her roots – the research can be fascinating, and once you start, it is sort of obsessive.

I don’t recommend you travel to say Ireland expecting to just show up in a town you  heard your great uncle talking about and expect to find anything meaningful…so the research is imperative. And interesting. Who knew that my great uncle was killed by the mafia? Thanks to a different boss on TLC,  I am more eager than ever to take my own sentimental journey….maybe you will too.