Bringing Baby to Rome

Everyone who knows me knows that Rome is my absolutely favorite city in the world to visit. I never tire of seeing historical wonders on almost every street corner, getting lost in the narrow old cobblestone streets, visiting museums so awe inspiring they make me want to quit my corporate job to become a sculptor. And I’m not even mentioning the food. Those little hidden trattorias with the dim lights and tiny tables that serve homemade Italian food that is to die for. So when my work asked me to travel to Rome for a few days of meetings, I wasn’t exactly unhappy.

One thing had changed though since I last set foot in bella Roma: this time I had a baby in tow. Strollers are no match for crowded, narrow cobblestone streets. Never mind that drinking wine in a trattoria while eating rum babas until late at night is not the best activity for a jet lagged baby. This time, I would have to do Rome differently.

I arrived in Rome on a beautiful late afternoon. The airport formalities behind me, I set out in search of a taxi. The airport was crowded and it looked under construction. I had difficulty navigating the seas of people so when an official looking man with a clipboard and neck badge approached me regarding the taxi, I took him up on his offer.

That was such a rookie mistake, I’m still shaking my head thinking about it. I must have missed the part when the man said it would be a shared taxi. Baby and I got crammed into a minivan that dropped off people to hotels in all corners of Rome. We were last to be driven to our hotel. The trip took a miserable two hours. By the end my usually happy go lucky baby turned into a very cranky screamer (never mind his seriously ticked off momma). Here’s lesson #1 for traveling to Rome: shared taxi – just don’t do it. It doesn’t cost any less than a regular taxi. The guys selling the rides look very professional and are extremely pushy. Resist the urge. Go find a normal cab.

Lesson #2 for traveling to Rome (or indeed most large European cities) with a baby: know what you’re getting in terms of hotel room. Rooms in most moderate hotels in Rome are small. Like really small. In my simple 3.5 star room I barely had enough space to place my baby bjorn travel crib, suitcase and folded stroller. On the plus side, many hotels in Europe have a fridge and proper kettle in the room, which makes it handy to warm up and store milk bottles.

Ok so far I’m not exactly making a glowing case for traveling to Italy with a baby, so here is some good news: most Italians LOVE babies. Baby boy got attention, people cooing, making faces, playing peek a boo, literally everywhere we went. People opened doors and helped with bags. Even crazy Rome drivers stopped when we were crossing the street.

The other good news: Rome has a bit of everything, including attractions for children. Given that my baby is still on the small side, my favorite activity was taking him to the parks. The number of parks in Rome, is truly surprising and I’m not talking little patches of grass on a street corner, but actual large, wooded areas with playgrounds and walking paths. I used this handy list of Rome playgrounds. My favorite is of course Villa Borghese, which in addition to green spaces, fountains and playgrounds, has a nice zoo. For walking, it is hard to beat the shaded trails of Villa Ada.

Villa Borghese

Unfortunately I couldn’t play with my baby all day during my visit to Rome. It was a work trip after all. I had meetings and baby needed a sitter. My hotel recommended the babysitting services of an agency called Stella Cadente. I can’t say enough good things about how that arrangement worked. The nanny assigned to us arrived early, spoke perfect English, was warm, friendly, hands-on and my son clicked with her right away.  The price for two days of sitting (about 18 hours) was €260.

On my last day in Rome, I took baby for a walking trip in the old city. Navigating with the stroller worked out well, except when it came time to cross the street via a pedestrian underpass, which of course was only accessible by stairs. Fortunately, as I said above, Italians tend to help women with babies so there was always someone nearby who offered to help with the stroller. I also must note (and emphasize) that I brought my bob revolution jogging stroller with rubber tires. Baby would have had a very bumpy ride on any kind of plastic wheels, like those of an umbrella stroller.

Finally, before I leave Italy and this post, one word about buying baby food. Difficult. Most supermarkets will have a good selection of purees from one particular brand called Mellin. That they did not look appetizing is an understatement. To Mellin’s credit though, you can really expand your baby’s taste buds.  In addition to standard veal and chicken purees, rabbit purees, ostrich meat and horse meat purees are also available everywhere.

The flavors of Mellin

Unfortunately for Mellin, my son cannot endorse the purees. He refused to eat anything after the first bite, despite the different flavors I bought.  I found Elite supermarket to have the best selection of baby food, where I found Hippo organic brand purees as well as teething biscuits. I was also able to find something at Tuodi. Carrefour and Punto had the least selection. After two days, I gave up on the purees.  My baby had what I ate in the restaurant: seashell pastas with tomato sauce, fish and potatoes and couscous with chicken and vegetables. It was very tasty and I am sure baby was much happier too. Buon Apetito!