Rome Tours with Kids

Rome Tours with Kids

We are a traveling family, but we do not travel extravagantly. We don’t do fancy resorts, will spend an hour studying local transport options from the airport to our budget hostel, rather than hopping a more expensive taxi or private shuttle, and definitely don’t do guided tours. This last habit is directed as much by our frugality as it is by our failure to ever find a guide that added much value to the historical sight we were seeing.

But after a decade of my wife and I dragging our 14-year old daughter and 12-year old son to various parts of the globe and trying to instill in them the same appreciation for differences in time and place that we have, we’ve come to know what they like – ice cream – and what they don’t – anything having to do with learning, especially learning directed by mom and dad about architecture, art, or history. So when we decided we were going to take them to Rome, we knew we had to do something different.

Rome Tours with Kids turned out to be a great solution. Our kid-oriented Colosseum tour satisfied my wife and me because it was a tour with a knowledgeable guide who spoke good English and introduced our kids to the wonder of ancient Rome in a fun and educational way. It satisfied our kids because the guide was engaging and conveyed the right amount of information to pique their interest without boring them with details and the tour lasted just long enough to keep them entertained without tiring them out. And because Rome Tours with Kids employs only guides who have passed a rigorous certification test administered by the Tourism Department of the Italian government, our guide was able to draw from a deep-based knowledge of many areas that added to what my wife and I had already learned from our own research.

Rome Tours with Kids also offers kid-friendly tours of the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica, and although we arranged to be reimbursed for the cost of our tour in exchange for publishing this review, we are not biased in whole-heartedly recommending any of the tours offered by this company based on our experience with the Colosseum tour. We would have taken advantage of their expertise for another tour if we were in Rome for a longer period of time. Fortunately, we threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, so it is guaranteed we will be returning.

Colosseum tour for kids

THE COLOSSEUM TOUR

We were scheduled to meet our guide, Francesco, at nine a.m. in front of the Colosseo metro entrance, but we showed up 30 minutes late. We were certain he would already have left since we had pre-paid the tour cost, but Francesco was there, waiting and ready to go. After friendly introductions, he led us past the lines of those “unguided souls” who were waiting to purchase tickets and through the “vomiturium:” the portals that allowed 50,000+ free Romans, foreigners, and slaves to enter the arena and find their seats in less than 15 minutes. ”They didn’t have to go through security,” Francesco quipped in explaining how quickly folks could be seated. It was just one of the ways he easily contrasted ancient Rome with real-life experiences that are familiar to our kids.

Our first stop was the upper level of the arena and a view from the balcony over the streets leading to and the piazza in front of the Colosseum. Francesco explained the significance of the nearby Constantine Arch and pointed out buildings from ancient Rome, the Renaissance and Reformation, and contemporary construction – in explaining Rome’s nickname of the Eternal City. The kids remembered that point as we strolled the streets several days later and found the ancient ruins where Julius Ceasar was stabbed to death in 44 B.C. parked next to a taxi stand.

After viewing history outside the Colosseum, we wound our way back down to the lower bowl of the ampitheater. We stood for a moment gazing with wonder at the magnitude, in both size and legend, of the structure, Francesco said, “I come here just about every day and still feel the same awe. This place does that to everyone on sight, I only add the words.” He then entertained us with stories that combined myth and fact and compared them to modern realities. For example, he pointed out the similarity of the design and capacity of the nearly 2,000 year old Colosseum to most current football stadiums and noted how the seats closest to the action tended to be occupied by the more wealthy.

The original floor of the arena was constructed of wood and is long gone but a reconstructed section gives us an idea of how it may have looked in gladiator times. Most of what is visible now is the underground labrynth of passages where animals and slaves were kept before it was their turn to take part in the games being played above their heads. The basement looks bright and somewhat inviting as a refuge now, with moss growing on the brick walls, but Francesco drew a vivid picture of the damp, dark, and desperate conditions that existed in 80 A.D. He explained how slaves worked the trap door system to bring animals and gladiators to the arena floor to surprise the audience and combatants, or as a complement to one of Rome’s foreign conquests that was being reenacted as entertainment.

In a more philosophical moment, Francesco asked us to imagine what it would be like to have your homeland conquered by the Roman army, then be marched in chains to the magnificent and opulent Rome – which you had likely never seen anything like before. You would be thrown into the dark cells under the Colosseum floor for days or weeks, and then have to listen to the roar of the bloodthirsty crowd as you waited your turn to be forced into a life or death battle. He asked us to think how many thousands of souls had left a piece of themselves behind.

The kids actually responded to this with due solemnity. But the highlight of the tour, especially for a family as competitive as ours, was a trivia contest proxied by Francesco that pitted parents against kids and required us to tally the points we scored for correct answers in Roman numerals. Hint – know your Greek and Roman gods!

We spent most of our time with Francesco in the Colosseum but also visited a few sites within the adjacent sprawl of ruins that is the Roman Forum. It was in the Forum, in front of the Curia, the seat of the Roman Senate, that the kids were awarded their prize for prevailing in the contest: a mini-replica Colosseum and gladiator helmet keychain. It was here that we parted ways with Francesco as my kids, glowing with the exhilaration of victory, placed their gladiator helmet keychains over their pinkies and drew smiling faces as if they had just prevailed in a battle to the death.

Kids Tour of Roman Forum

DETAILS

Our Colosseum tour lasted two and one-half hours and cost €200. This did not include the cost of the entry ticket that allows access to the Colosseum and to the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill complex.

We really enjoyed this tour and feel it is worth the cost. It was a high-quality tour with an engaging and knowledgeable guide. It was probably the highlight of our time in Rome. This is an introductory level tour, however. I consider myself an armchair historian and at several points during our tour we passed by informational signs or sights where I ordinarily would have stopped. I realize this was the trade-off I made for a fun and enjoyable experience for our family. The company does suggest the content of the tour is tailored to the level of the tour participants, which suggests that the tour can be as deep or shallow as your family wants. Our own guide, Francesco, was always willing to answer any questions I had about sites or things that were not part of our tour specifically, which is evidence that the engagement level of your family will dictate how the tour proceeds. As a bonus, the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine Hill entry ticket can be used on consecutive days (but not for the same attraction), which allowed me to go back the next day to Palatine Hill and linger over this amazing time in history.

Rome Tours with Kids

Hosted

The writer of this piece was hosted by the destination, which means that they did not pay for their experience. They also were not paid by the destination, which means that they are free to express their honest opinion of the experience, which they do here. We just thought you should know.

The Dark Legacy of the Shining Path in Ayacucho, Peru

The Dark Legacy of the Shining Path in Ayacucho, Peru

“So… where are we going, exactly?” I asked, or at least I think that’s what I asked, in my halting Spanish. The bus we were on had been more crowded than any we’d experienced anywhere in the world, but now we were just about the only ones left on it. A large building surrounded by high barbed wire fences loomed ahead of us. The dirt road we had been following became more of a suggestion than a direction. Dust clouds seemed to move across the barren ground of their own accord. Karina answered, “Wait until we get there. It will be easier to explain.”

“There” was a broad field in a valley, pocked with holes the size of cars, and marked on one end by encroaching houses and on the other, an austere concrete tower. As we followed Karina down a path between rows of houses with walls crowned with broken glass, nails, or other painful deterrents, the mood was bleak. We wondered whether we should have perhaps asked a few more questions before leaving the house with this small young woman we had only met a few days earlier. She stopped next to a small chapel overlooking the valley and began to speak.

The field known as the Ollado or Hoyado, where the remains of hundreds of men were found.

The field known as the Ollado or Hoyado, where the remains of hundreds of men were found.

“Over there, on the other side of the valley, there was a military prison. In the days when the Sendero Luminoso (or Shining Path) terrorist group was based here in Ayacucho, the military would round up men whom they suspected of being involved with the group and put them in this prison. There, they were tortured and beaten to try to get them to give up information about the movement. But most of the men had nothing to do with Sendero. A great majority of the men who were imprisoned were Quechua speakers. Most were never heard from again after being imprisoned.

“The military came in with great force to the area, and they were under great pressure to stop the Sendero Luminoso movement. They arrested more and more men. The wives and mothers who were left behind started to ask questions. They banded together, as much to support each other as to demand answers, and created the Asociacion Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados, Detenidos y Desaparecidos de Peru, or ANFASEP.

“What ANFASEP pieced together from stories told by some soldiers who served in the military prison, is that the military, realizing that they could not rationalize all the prisoner deaths that they had caused, built an incinerator to dispose of the bodies. When the first one proved ineffective, they built another. But even then they could not incinerate the bodies fast enough, and they simply dumped the bodies in a large hole in the valley.

“A few years ago, a construction crew found human remains while they were digging to build a home in the valley. They alerted the authorities, and ANFASEP, to see if this was what they feared. ANFASEP and others excavated the site, which is now marked by a pattern of depressions in the earth. THey dug and found a few bones, but not the numbers they expected. By chance one day a man who lived in the area said that when he was a boy he had seen the military dig a very large hole near the concrete tower that still stands today. When they dug there, they found the remains of nearly 500 people.

“Today the survivors are still trying to find out exactly what happened to those who were lost. Last year, survivors were invited to take a look at the remains that had been retrieved, to see if they could identify clothing or other identifying marks on the remains. But of course this was not a foolproof method, as clothing also deteriorates, or it might have been shared, or the survivors may not remember what their loved ones were wearing when they disappeared 20-plus years ago.”

I noticed tears forming in Karina’s eyes.

“My mother and my aunt and I were able to identify some clothing that belonged to my father and my uncle last year, and now we are waiting for the results of DNA tests, which should come next week.”

There were now tears in my eyes, too. I had known Karina was involved with ANFASEP, but I didn’t know that it was because her father was one of the disappeared. I looked at my daughters. I wasn’t sure they had understood all of what Karina was saying, but I was sure that Karina’s tears had alerted them to the gravity of the situation. John and I quickly recapped Karina’s story for them. As we walked back up toward the dusty field where we would catch the bus, we walked in silence.

This was raw. This was recent. This was hard to process. This was during my lifetime, and I had no idea that this had occurred, and most likely with the silent approval of the United States, which was still trying to stomp out communism wherever it appeared in the world. It was one of the most difficult days of our entire trip, but also one of the most moving.

Walking across the Ollado (or Hoyado)

Walking across the Ollado (or Hoyado)

To get to the site of the mass burial, known as the Ollado or Hoyado, take bus 13 to the prison complex, which is nearly the end of the bus route. Walk past the prison and head down the road that leads downhill. Take the first road on the left toward the valley, where you will find a small chapel on the left side, and the valley in front of you. Looking to your right, you will see a field marked with square dug-out areas, and a concrete tower.

For more information visit the Museum of Memory, run by ANFASEP, which is about 8 blocks from the central square in Ayacucho. Ask at the tourism information office on the square for directions and hours. Be advised that there are some very graphic depictions of violence in this museum and it may not be appropriate for younger children.