12 Tips to Fully Enjoy a Day in Rome Without Children

We’ve been here in Italy for ten months now, and I have dragged my children all over the place.  We went to Rome last February (no blog post, alas), Florence in April (again, no blog post), Venice a half dozen times because it’s so close, and all sorts of smaller cities.  We’ve also traveled to Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Austria.  I love exposing my children to other cultures, to fabulous art, to buildings older than America, to structures older than Julius Caesar.  But, honestly, traveling with any large group of people is difficult, and traveling with seven children ranging in age from teenager to preschooler is even more challenging.  These are not “vacations” we take.  This is family team building, this is educational, this is work.  It’s worth it, oh, yes, but it is still work.

So when friends recently decided to travel on their vacation to Rome, Bill and I thought we would join them, leaving our kids home under the supervision of Fritz who is now 19.  Although I did miss them, it was lovely to not have to work for a few days.  Traveling without children is very different than when you have them along, and here are 12 tips for how I took best advantage of my temporary liberty from the noble labor of parenting:

1. Spend the night. For a full day of fun in Rome, it’s best to begin and end locally. It’s at least five and a half hours for me from my home to the hotel, so we left Friday afternoon and returned on Sunday. As an extra bonus, I did not have to share my bed with a five year old who for such a small person requires such a disproportionately large share.

2. Stay at Italian hotel. If you want to experience Rome, experience Rome. Staying at an American hotel generally means you will have top notch air conditioning, an American style breakfast, and someone to respond to your needs at any hour. Where’s the fun in that? For the best “when in Rome” adventure, stay at an Italian B&B. I do suggest you check reviews to be sure to get air conditioning, but do not expect temperatures to fall below 75 degrees. My favorite thing about Italian breakfasts is the pre-packaged toast, something you just don’t see in America. You can also buy toast at the grocery store, if you opt to stay at an AirB&B and have to fend for yourself. Just be sure to get some Nutella or jam to spread on these extra large croutons.


From the front of Santa Maria Maggiore (our B&B was to the left, not seen in this picture).

3. Take breaks at cafes. If you travel with seven children, as I normally do, sitting and enjoying a cappuccino or a spritz at an outdoor café is problematic. First of all, my family takes up between two and four tables. Secondly, my younger children find sitting around watching people walk by to be boring. Thirdly, café hopping can get expensive when you are feeding a family of nine. But if it’s only two adults, it is not overly expensive, and it is an enjoyable way to rest and hydrate before moving to your next destination.

4. Linger over meals. In Italy, waiters are not working for tips and desirous of quick table turnover to make more money. Americans might feel abandoned or ignored and consider the service to be poor if the waiter isn’t quick to hurry over the instant their glass is empty. Italians take their time with their meals, and do not want the waiter pestering them. If you reserve a table at a restaurant (recommended), they will not kick you out and will be perfectly happy if you sit there until closing time, even if you stop ordering food and drinks. So, do it. Sit. Enjoy the people with you. Savor the wine. Have dessert. Sip some limoncello.

5. Walk. With children, I quickly learn the mass transit system of any city. In Rome, with kids, we bought the unlimited travel tickets so we could get on any bus or the metro whenever we wanted. I did not walk them if a bus was available.  Not only did walking tire them out too much to enjoy what we were seeing, certain young children would beg constantly to be carried, making the walk even less fun for the big people. Visiting Rome without children, my sore feet will attest that we walked everywhere. When you walk, you see things you might not notice from the bus. You stop in stores and other buildings along the way, because, why not? When you walk, you need to take breaks, so you stop in cafes…

6. Use a paper map. Most hotels will supply you with a one page paper map of Rome with main attractions highlighted. These maps are simplified and inaccurate in their depictions of how things might actually look when you are standing on the street, but will give you a general sense of which direction you need to travel. Like walking instead of taking the bus, using a paper map instead of an online map program will cause you to see more things than maybe you intended, mainly because you will go down some wrong streets. That’s ok. Getting turned around or even lost is part of how you learn a city. I do suggest you stick to the mapped areas, though, and do not at all recommend simply wandering around. The idea is to have fun, not risk your safety.

rome 2

Roman ruins


Trajan’s Column.  We weren’t looking for it.  We were just roughly heading in a particular direction and there it was.

7. Take a guided tour. A good guided tour is worth every penny. I have done guided tours with kids, too, and with good results. But usually with children, a guided tour means no escape when a kid is bored, needs to use the restroom, or is on the brink of a meltdown. Without children, adults can get the most out of a guide.


I was surprised and delighted to see this picture, which I love, in the Vatican.  I really didn’t know it was there.  When you look at art, and don’t expect to actually ever be able to see it, you don’t really pay close attention to where it is.


Not a great picture with my phone, but the afternoon sun in the Basilica of St. Peter’s is pretty cool.


Swiss guards.  I had to take their picture, but I felt like a dork.


The spot in the square where Pope John Paul II was shot.  That is his coat of arms.

8. Splurge on something. Maybe you want an expensive souvenir. Maybe you want to eat at a top notch restaurant. For me, the splurge was to take not just a guided tour, but a private guided tour of the Vatican. When your guide only has to please two people, she can quickly figure out what you know, what you like, and what you want to see. You don’t have to listen to other people’s questions and comments. You don’t have to wait for other people to finish looking at something before you move on, and you don’t have to feel guilty about spending more time on things that interest you. But if tours aren’t your thing, maybe get that $90 bottle of Chianti instead.


Private tour guides will take your picture for you.

9. Do things your kids roll their eyes at.  Let’s face it: the mother of a family of nine cannot expect to please everybody all the time.  Sometimes, you will have to force children (or the husband or yourself) to participate in things that happen to be unappealing.  Yes, we are going to go into this church.  Yes, I know it’s the sixth church today.  No, I do not promise it will be the last church.  And I’m sure my children will not agree, but I really do hold back on suggesting things because I know they are on the brink of mutiny.  But, with no children along, the frequent stops, the multiple churches, the museums, the long coffee breaks, the indecision over which refrigerator magnet to buy, the long dinner with old friends…all can be done without a chorus of complaints.

10. Sit down and relax at a church you want to enjoy.  This churches in Rome are free and have some of the best artwork.  Pay, if you want, to enter the many museums which also house many wonderful pieces, but there is so much to see without spending a dime.  So much, in fact, that many churches will absolutely overwhelm you.  The best way to take it in is to just sit down for a bit.  Now, sitting on the floor is frowned upon, and many churches do not have pews or chairs set up for just chillin’, so, the best way to do this is to go to mass.  Especially if the mass is in Italian and you don’t happen to speak much Italian, you will have the opportunity to stare at the walls and ceiling for 30-45 minutes and not feel overly guilty about not paying attention to the readings and the homily.

11. Be spontaneous.  My kids drive me nuts with expecting a minute by minute agenda.  And heaven forbid I decide to do Thing C after Thing A and hold off on Thing B until later…or add in Thing D because it’s right there.  Even my teenagers balk when plans change and have a hard time with flexibility.  Without children, I only have to worry about myself and my husband and we are both capable of adapting plans on the fly.  In Rome, it is not unusual to pass by a church every few minutes.  Bill and I, more often than not, went inside.  I don’t know all the churches in Rome.  I don’t have memorized all the locations of every piece of artwork in Rome.  If you randomly go into a church in Rome, you are bound to see something interesting.  Yesterday, we were walking up the side aisle of just another random church.  Bill nudged me and pointed ahead.  “Is that…Moses?” I asked.  Yes, yes, it was Moses, carved by Michelangelo for Pope Julius II’s tomb.  Oh, and right next to it were the chains that held St. Peter when he was in prison in Jerusalem.


Moses and friends


The name of the church is San Pietro in Vincoli which means St. Peter in something or other…what might that translate to?  Let’s see…

12. Stay up late.  Rome comes alive long after the typical American mom wants to be home in her PJs.  Commonly, dinner begins at 8 pm or later, especially in the hot summer.  While Bill and I were sweltering during an afternoon tour of the Vatican, Italians not involved in catering to the tens of thousands of tourists would have found themselves a shady spot to eat a leisurely lunch and take a midday rest.  Once the sun goes down and things are a bit cooler, the Italians take to the streets, and the sidewalk tables are full.  Children are not left at home, and it is very common to see children of all ages out at 10 pm.  You could head back to your hotel, but if you followed my advice and stayed at an Italian B&B, you might find that the restaurant under your window is in full swing until quite late.  It’s much better to just be a part of the noise instead of letting it bother you!


Just be sure that all the fun you have is on the up-and-up.  The Grim Reaper wants to remind you to be good.

Kandersteg and environs

Next summer, if the boys go back to Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC), I will go for the whole week as well.  Switzerland is beautiful.

My Men Minus George (MMMG) left on Sunday, June 25, for their week at camp.  The Girls and I and George (TGIG) went on Friday the 30th, which was Peter’s birthday.  A nice break in the steamy weather here in Italy gave us a chance to bake cookies which we brought to share with the troop in Peter’s honor.  I would have baked them anyway, but it was lovely to not work up a sweat while doing it.

TGIG were on the road by 8 am.  By lunchtime, we were in Switzerland, so we made it official with a meal and a look at the gorgeous alps, except for Jenny who stayed in the car and read her book; I don’t think she noticed the mountains.  I had forgotten to tell my bank that I was traveling, so my card was declined, and there was no ATM at that stop anyway.  Not having Swiss cash or a functioning credit card made life a bit harder later.



I had tried to obtain information about the route from my husband who traveled with people who had made the trek in previous years.  He gave me very little intel.  At one point, when the Garmin was insisting that I drive down a road that led into a factory, when one teenage navigator had her nose buried in a book and the other teenage navigator was just shrugging her pretty little shoulders, and when I had just about given up hope of ever finding the cursed train ferry, I had less than pleasant thoughts about the man who had been a CAV SCOUT and the best he could offer me was to follow the signs for Loetschberg…signs which were not in evidence at this point.  But eventually, we did find the train ferry.  And it’s a pretty cool thing to drive onto a train and let it take you through a mountain.


The ferry we took runs from Goppenstein to Kandersteg and lasts about 15 minutes.  There is a 60 minute ferry that goes all the way from Iselle, Italy to Kandersteg, but it has a limited schedule.  See ferry schedules here, if you are interested.  That ferry spares you the crazy Garmin drive-down-a-non-existant-road scenario.

On arrival at KISC (after yet another Garmin misdirect down a footpath), we had just gotten our luggage into the room when I found out that my husband was in the hospital.  New blood pressure medication, no food, no caffeine, a bad night’s sleep and several hours of manual labor in the hot sun combined to give him a killer migraine and when the local doc took his vital signs and saw his BP was dangerously high, he decided to call an ambulance and have him checked out by others.  I left the kids with the troop, spent 10 minutes following Garmin up a narrow, winding mountain road and – again – to a non-existent path, spent 10 minutes retracing my way and forcing Garmin to accept a more traditional route to the next town, and finally found what I thought was the hospital.

Unsure of the building and really unsure about parking, I espied an elderly man heading for his car and looking at me with mild interest.  I was driving my big American van, and I was blocking half the drive in my indecision.  I got out and was able to confirm that this was indeed the hospital, that this was indeed the parking for the hospital, that parking did indeed cost money which you paid at a machine he indicated, that the machine only took cash and only took Swiss cash, and that this super kind man was indeed willing to give me enough change to last me 2 hours.  Yes, only a few hours into my Swiss adventure, and I am panhandling auf Deutsch!

Bill was fine.  IV fluids and pain killers were all he needed.  I got to spend the majority of my time there contacting Tricare and getting them to fax over a promise to pay, otherwise, the hospital wanted payment upfront.  As it was, Bill had paid for the first doctor already and the Tricare form that came over didn’t mention “ambulance,” so I had to pay for that as well.  I am very grateful to all my German teachers in high school and college, as well as my summer working in Germany, which made all of this that much easier.

As a side note, it is very helpful to have your medical insurance phone number saved to your phone in the event of an emergency.  And tell your bank you are traveling, and put that number in your contacts in case you forget to call beforehand.  And get cash as soon as you cross the border.  It’s the little things that make life that much easier.

Back to Kandersteg.


This was the view from my room window on Saturday morning.  The creek closest to my building is very clear.  It joins up with the larger stream just past it, which is blue and very swift-moving.  The rules state: no swimming, and it’s understandable when you stand there and see it and hear it crashing by.  Upstream is not too far to the right of this shot, and the clear water falls down the mountain, crushing the rocks and taking on all those minerals, adding color.  The low clouds were blocking the majority of the mountain face.  It was cool and gray most of the day, and a welcome respite from the Italian summer.


My peeps


The parking lot near where the boys camped

KISC has hostel type lodging as well as campsites.  I stayed at the Old Chalet.  The first night, our room had 12 beds.  The second night, the room slept 8.  But we had the room to ourselves, unlike a youth hostel.  We had to make our own beds and bring down the dirty linens at the end of our stay.  We had to clean the rooms.  We had to share a bathroom, dormitory style.  The Kanderlodge has two twin rooms with a shared bath between them.  It costs more, and was booked when I tried to make reservations.  I will make reservations much earlier next time.

There are many many other places to stay in Kandersteg, and the area is a hot spot for hikers.  Everywhere you turn, there is a sign marked “Wanderweg” – denoting a hiking path.  The streets are filled with large groups of people all carrying packs.  My big boys went on several hikes, including overnights in huts way up high on the mountains.  And elevation sickness was one thing that the docs were considering when they looked at Bill.  Kandersteg is at 1174 m (3851 ft).  One hike my boys went on climbed to 2735 m (8973 ft).  Another guided hike goes up to 3293 m (10,804 ft).  You do not have to be a scout to go on the guided hikes offered at KISC, and I plan to go on one next year, with or without the girls.  They also have instructions for hiking on your own, but they do ask guests to fill out a form saying where they intend to go.  It’s nice to know that somebody will come looking for you if you get lost.  (I got lost on a hike once…)

These are pictures Bill took on a hike before I got there.

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On Saturday, after the troop left, we went to the same place that Bill had hiked in those pictures, but we took a cable car up the mountain instead of walking for an hour, carrying a 40 pound kid.  The cable car wasn’t cheap for our family of nine – 156 CF, but it saved our backs.  There is a Swiss Travel Pass, which would cost 197 euros for three consecutive days (226 euros for non-consecutive days within a month).  Children aged 6-15 ride for free with a parent on many things, including trains, and I think this cable car was one of them.  The Travel Pass is definitely a great idea if you are traveling by train throughout Switzerland.  Three days of train travel for 197-226 euros is great.  If we go next year, I will have to look at what sorts of things I’d like to do and see if the the Pass is worth it.  If I travel by car, though, much of the deal is lost.  And next year, Katie will be 16, and would require her own Pass, which is slightly less, but not much.  There is also a Half-Fare Card which gives you 50% off all public transportation and kids under age 16 are free.  That’s only 109 euros, but I don’t know how long it is valid.


The cable car


The cable car

At the top of the hill was the Rodelbahn.  This is what I came all the way to Switzerland to ride.  No way was I going to let those boys come home and tell me about it.  This link has a video showing the whole ride (all the way at the bottom).  Slideshow below of our experience.  I almost fell out the first time down, and spent most of the time telling my kids in front of me to go faster.  Ten adult trips cost 30 CF, and ten kid trips were 20 CF.

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After the Rodelbahn, we did the 20 minute hike to the Oeschinensee.  This was also in Bill’s slideshow above.  Bill, Fritz and Billy went rowing on the lake in their first trip.  On this one, we just ate some ice cream, skipped rocks on the water, and laughed at the girls who were communing with the cows.

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We hiked back to the cable car, rode down to the parking lot, and picnicked in the van.  Then, off to the town of Thun.  Peter had wanted to see some castles for his birthday, and Thun has one, Schloss Thun.  We toured it and walked around the downtown area for a bit before heading back to Kandersteg.

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I spent much of the ride back to Kandersteg on my phone looking for a Catholic Church and mass times.  This might have been done that week before we traveled, but TGIG were very busy watching The Paradise and Call the Midwife.  Finding a Catholic Church in Switzerland is not as easy as it is in Italy or even Germany, but I did see that there is a parish based in Frutigen (where the hospital is) that offered masses in three different locations, including a Saturday evening in Kandersteg.  The website seemed to be up-to-date, and the timing was perfect, so we headed there.

I did not get a picture of the cute little church in Kandersteg, but I wish I had.  This link has a picture if you scroll down to the fourth photo.  It’s as if the Calvinists begrudgingly allowed the Catholics to have a building, but they insisted that it be far away from everybody else so when Almighty God rained down His fire and brimstone for praying in front of crucifixes and worshipping Mary, only the Catholics would get it.

Average age of those in attendance was about 75.  George had fallen asleep, and one woman fetched a cushion for his head.  She asked what language we spoke, and when we left, she said “Goodbye!”  Very nice people.

They did one of St. Paul’s readings and the Gospel – that’s it.  I feared it was a Saturday daily mass, but looked it up and they did do the Sunday readings (nice that I understood the readings and could confirm if they were right or not).  Not sure why they skipped the OT reading and the Psalm.  Whatever.  We did the best we could, God.

Sunday morning, we went to Spiez.  I got this great shot with my cell phone.  It’s the old church from the tower of the castle.


We got to Schloss Spiez before it opened at 10 am, so we walked down by the lake: Thunersee.  It was misty with low clouds preventing a clear view across the water, but I liked the mysterious effect.  Down by the shore, we met some women walking their dogs and they apologized for the gray weather!  They told us about the ferry across the water to another place we intended to visit, but we decided it was too expensive for this trip.

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The castle was nice.  There was a hands on area for the kids.  I really liked the weighted buckets to show how much work was involved in providing a family with water for the day.  Ten trips with the two buckets back then – but today, a maid would have to haul water for ten hours straight to meet modern (presumably European) demands.


Buckets weighted to show how much work was required for fresh water

After the castle, we again picnicked in our car and then we headed for the St. Beatus Caves.  The legend is that a monk, possibly Irish, came to the area and killed the dragon from the caves where he then established his hermitage and evangelized the locals.  The caves are fairly extensive, and we opted to self-guided rather than take the 75 minute long guided tour.  The kids would not have tolerated that.  Outside the caves, there was a cute playground for the kids with a dragon slide and a fortress.

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Our last stop was the town of Interlaken.  It was a Sunday afternoon, but there was one touristy shopping section open and bustling.  The big boys wanted Swiss army knives, and I wanted some chocolate.  We then hit the road for the 5+ hour drive home, where we arrived without incident and were very thankful that we had nowhere to go the next day!

Dining Out Auf Deutsch

The same scenario has repeated itself multiple times in multiple countries.  The Reitemeyer family goes out to eat at a German-speaking restaurant.  I’m in the front and I ask for a table for nine.  I speak in German, because I can.

“Is a menu in German ok?” the waiter asks, and I say it is.  And then I think to myself, “Oh.  I wonder if they have an English option?” But it’s too late.  I’ve committed to a German menu.

Now instead of one illiterate child, I have seven.  Only unlike George, to whom I can say: “chicken, spaghetti, or pizza,” these other kids know that there is lot more than that on those five pages.  So, I spend the next ten minutes translating “pickle,” “onion,” and saying things like, “this sandwich has some sort of meat and some sort of cheese…are you feeling adventurous?”  They never are.

Finally, everybody figures out something to eat, and we manage to order it with my kids opting to point more than attempting to pronounce the words.

Shortly thereafter, never before, somebody else walks in to the restaurant.  The same waiter, speaking in impeccable English, asks if they would like a menu in English.  And then all the kids who happened to overhear this turn and give me that look instinctive to all teenagers conveying shock and betrayal.  Yes, they suspected I was a cruel and evil person, but now they have proof!