Want to hear something kind of crazy?

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I want to tell you something that is kind of crazy.  I, Melissa, mother of two, have never put both my kids in a car and driven them somewhere all by myself.  And these kids aren’t weeks old, mind you.  My “baby” turned one this spring.

The other crazy thing?  I haven’t driven a car since last August when we moved here.  I haven’t driven in Italy at all.

Back when we lived in DC, I was never a big driver.  When we were in Maryland, I sometimes drove to the metro or shopping or to visit my friends in Virginia, but I didn’t drive all the time.  Once we moved to DC proper, I mostly stopped driving.  I walked Henry to day care.  I took the bus or metro to work.  When we did family outings on the weekends, James would drive.  I did pull shifts–usually the early morning shift (no shocker there)–on our drives to SC, but I could still go months without getting behind the wheel of a car.

I’m a nervous person and a nervous driver.  Not driving much exacerbates this.  Living in cities exacerbates this.

I usually don’t mind it at all.  I have plenty of stores within walking distance.  Public transportation is still a challenge with the two kids, but it is there.  We can get where we need to go sans automobile.

But something happened earlier this month that has me reevaluating my no drivo status.

We visited Lake Bracciano on a weekend.  Although our trip out took longer because of a flat tire, this volcanic lake is only 45 minutes from Rome.  Motor sports are limited, and the lake is a pristine and quiet place.  It is rimmed by three towns to explore and an awesome (and free!) airplane museum at the sight of Italy’s first airport.

Even though the lake is crazy close, we opted to do an overnight so that we could explore more.  Our agriturismo, Agriturismo Il Castoro, sits on smaller, neighboring Lake Martignano.  You have to go down some serious dirt roads to get there.

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Even if you don’t stay there, you can pay a few euro to access the expanse of grassy beach lined with hammocks.  You can pay a few more euro to rent a paddle boat–some with their own slides–or grab some refreshing beverages at the small cafe.

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Because of uncooperative weather (I swear, it is always stifling except when I actually have aqua access), we didn’t frolic in the water.  (Although we did all touch it; Mac was particularly nonplussed.)

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We did enjoy some time swinging in the hammocks and feeling the grass between our toes.

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As we strolled, I could not help but think, I could do this.

I could load up the kids on a random weekday and hit the lake or explore a nearby town or do anything we wanted.  We have fun at the zoo and parks in Rome, and I’m trying to get better about picking off new sights with the kids, but we could just go.

Of course, exploring a new town with the adorable weirdos sounds downright frightening.  I’m not scared of my kids, per se; however, sometimes I am definitely intimidated by them.

But things change.  And faster than I think too.

Not that long ago, I could barely grocery shop with the two kids by myself.  Now we have a produce guy, an egg lady, fish dudes, and I can get around the store with the two of them if I need to.

Not that long ago, Mac refused to move anywhere.  Then I spent HOURS walking behind him holding his hands.  Now I walk beside him and sometimes dash to keep up as he darts off a few steps on his own.  (He still refuses to crawl though.)

At some point, trips with these guys may not seem so crazy.  I need to be ready.

Even if that means getting behind the wheel of a car.  I’m planning to force myself to practice when town empties this August.  Our car is already lightly “Romanized.”  No one would notice a few more scratches.

Deep breath.  I’m an adult.  I can do this.

Other Trip Highlights

  • We hit up Il Castello Odescalchi in Bracciano, site of famous weddings such as Tomkat’s.  The self guided tour involved some stairs, but went over well with the kids.  Shocking to NO ONE, Henry loved the weaponry.

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  • Historic Bracciano is fairly small.  We wandered, checked out views of the lake, and enjoyed lunch outside at Pane e Olio.  Service was slow (they were slammed), but the food was very good.

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Pistachio pasta FTW

Pistachio pasta FTW

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  • We drove through Trevignano, but didn’t get to explore this town.  Unlike Bracciano, which overlooks the lake from on high, Trevignano is down at the water.  Several restaurants on the water looked pretty sweet.
  • We enjoyed an evening wander and dinner watching the sunset over the lake at Il Vecchio Salus in Anguillara.  Although we didn’t go, Anguillara seems to have an expanse of public beach along with a jump park and rides area.

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  • If you have kids or any interest in planes, definitely check out the Italian Air Force Museum.  Fun (oversimplified) fact:  Italians built lots of seaplanes because they didn’t feel like building runways.  This free museum has several hangars of planes to delight the kiddos.  Even though half of it was closed at our visit, it was still worth the trip.  Did I mention it’s free??  Cafe inside.

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Also lots of old cars.  BONUS.

Also lots of old cars. BONUS.

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Other Bracciano Resources

Remind me not to live in the mountains

I was excited about our vacation.  I was excited to explore some new towns.  I was excited to taste some new foods.  But I was particularly excited about the drive.  Picture it: a scenic drive through rolling hills flanked by olive trees and vineyards.  It would be so picturesque, I just knew it.

Fast forward to actual drive.  We left post-lunch to try to align afternoon nap with the three hour drive.  (This was largely successful until we stopped for gas.)  The drive along the autostrade was uneventful.  Same for the smaller highway.  And then we turned off onto the local roads.

I had just been telling James that I hoped our kids wouldn’t be the carsick kind, thinking about those poor unfortunate types with delicate constitutions who had to stop frequently and clean their cars more often.  I didn’t think that *I* would be the weak link on the team.  But, alas, although I wasn’t sick, I was the one white-knuckling it around the curves and with an uncomfortable pit in my stomach.

First, these are not hills.  I suppose they aren’t mountains, but they have to be close.  Mini-mountains if you will.  Very tall.

Second, for the most part, the speed limit is 60 mph!  And people are doing it!

Third, people did not seem to be behaving as if they were dealing with very narrow, mountainous roads with high speed limits.  We’d come around a blind curve and a car would be parked in the middle of the road, the inhabitants off looking at some flora or fauna.  People would be walking beside the shoulder-less road.  Bikes would be cruising along, seemingly oblivious to the traffic bearing down on them.

It was gorgeous.  I will give it that.  Grape vines turning a golden yellow.  Clouds over the top of a mountain.  But the drive was intense.  And I wasn’t even the one driving.

We reached Volterra in the late afternoon.  Because there was no recognized address, James had punched the GPS coordinates into the navigator.  Unfortunately, the GPS tried to take us on there on a route without roads.  This resulted in some turns down very narrow roads with my saying things like “this can’t possibly be two-way!!!”  But we made it back on track and found our agriturismo down a long and bumpy dirt road.

The sun was setting and we watched it slip over the horizon.  It was, admittedly, gorgeous.  I could almost see putting up with the hassle of these roads for it, I thought.


Then I realized we’d have to go navigate these roads AT NIGHT if we wanted dinner.  We survived.  My hand cramped a little from gripping the door handle all the way.

And then when we emerged the next morning, it was a truly breathtaking scene.  A perfect Tuscan day.  The sun shone brightly.  Clouds looked like they had been placed in the sky as props.  You could see the sheep grazing on the next mountain–even hear them baaing along through some trick of sound.  It was green and beautiful and wonderful.

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So I definitely do see the appeal.  I get it.  Just not for me.  A nice place to visit, but not to live.  I mean, it snows here, people!  I don’t even want to think about the roads then.

We did the monster mash

Bomarzo’s hottest site is Parco dei Mostri (Park of the Monsters).  Also known as the Sacro Bosco, this place–created during the 16th century–is a collaboration between promoter Pier Francesco Orsini and architect Pirro Ligorio.  This place has everything: dragons, elephants, leaning houses, and mystery tour surprises.  What are mystery tour surprises?  It’s that thing where your toddler takes you off the labeled route.

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One of Henry's favorites . . . at least judging by how much he talks about it

One of Henry’s favorites . . . at least judging by how much he talks about it

Stefon-ing aside, this was our most recent Saturday adventure destination.  Selected because my mom raved about this park, it was a convenient distance away (about an hour), and we needed to rev the car to make sure it is ready for our Veteran’s Day excursion to Tuscany (!).  Hopefully this jaunt did the trick.  James is now concerned about the gas being old.  Me: “Gas doesn’t go bad.”  James: “Stay away from the car.”

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It was a gorgeous day.  We went stroller-free.  This was smart because the park is not huge, but has lots of elevation change.

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After learning my lesson at Hadrian’s Villa, we took the picnic with us this time.  Which we enjoyed technically out of the picnic area.  This is pretty scandalous, rule-breaking stuff for me.  Sadly, I am not being facetious.

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The park was nice, but it must have been truly ridiculous back in the 1500s.  A DRAGON?  WHAT??

Henry was a good sport for much of the trip.  But he also enjoyed jumping from things and playing in the leaves.  You know, the usual.

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Since naptime was already good and hosed, we enjoyed some more of the weather at the playground on the way out.  Henry tried to befriend a little boy named Giorgio as his trusted seesawing companion.

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As we pulled out of the parking lot, both kids were totally and completely over everything.  There was much screaming until the magic of the car running finally put them to sleep.  James navigated the autostrade like a pro.  All in all, a pretty successful outing.

Roman Locomotion (as observed by a pedestrian)

This is about how Romans get around on the roads.  Plenty of people walk.  And there is public transportation in the form of buses, trams, and the metro.  I’ll cover that once I figure it out.  The public transportation, that is.  I am theoretically proficient at walking.

Everyone here drives.  EVERYONE.  Your grandmother, your teenagers, families with kids, soccer hooligans.  Everyone.  According to the internets, Rome has almost 2.9 million people.  According to my unscientific observations, 92% of them drive.  “But where do they all park??” you ask incredulously.  I know.  I’m still trying to figure this out.  The best I can tell is they park (1) on top of each other and (2) wherever they can.

Up first, the motorini.  There are crazy numbers of motos on the road.  They zip in and out from between cars.  They jostle for position at lights, blocking crosswalks.  This seems like the most efficient way for a single person to get around, but also very terrifying.  I have not yet verified, but someone told me that motorini count as pedestrians in the eyes of the law, which contributes to their fearlessness because they have little to lose in an accident.  BESIDES THEIR LIVES.  At least most do wear helmets.  Usually with a cell phone stuffed under it to chat on the commute.

See the motorini gearing up to go?

See the motorini gearing up to go?

They move in herds and they park in gaggles.  You might see 10, 50, or even 100 all grouped together.

Henry is in moto heaven.  I would think he’d get sick of it, but he comments on all of them as we go by.  Easy distraction = I’ll take it.

A small-ish herd of motorini

A small-ish herd of motorini

They also park on the sidewalks.  Most of them are black or silver.  I would think you’d see more individuality for ease of locating yours, if not in color then in stickers or something.  Basically the equivalence of tying a ribbon onto your black suitcase.  But this hasn’t been the case.  I see a few pops of color.  Red, blue, yellow.  And one moto with a Bob Marley sticker.  I guess Italians just remember where they park these things.  So much for my “Dude, where’s my Motorino” movie pitch.

Considerate motos . . . plenty of room to pass

Considerate motos . . . plenty of room to pass

But don’t fret.  There are plenty of cars on the road as well.  Cars are definitely of a more compact nature.  I see a lot of Fiats, Smart Cars, and Minis.  We’ve run across some really adorable vintage Fiats and Minis, but I do not have pictures of them for you because I am the worst.

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Cars park up and down both sides of most streets.  They create spaces where none exist.  They occasionally block sidewalks, particularly when they park on corners.  I’ve had some frustrating moments where a sidewalk is impassable, but it is impossible to get into the street because the cars are parked that close together.

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I’m not entirely sure on the draw of driving.  I know plenty of times you don’t have a choice.  But it seems to take forever.  They just sit in traffic.  Burning through expensive gasoline.

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An interesting phenomenon we’ve observed is their unorthodox approach to going places without actually knowing where they are going.  We’ve been stopped at least three times from people pulling over to ask for directions.  (This also happens a lot with pedestrians.)  There just seems to be the mentality of, well, we don’t know exactly where we’re going, but surely someone will tell us along the way.

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Romans will fit 10 Smart cars in that space

There are a few bicycles on the road, but not very many.  I see more bikes in parks.  Unlike motorini, not many helmets on bikers.

You do see some sci-fi type creations as well.  This is a Renault Twizy, which is battery powered.

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I’ve seen other unusual vehicles as well.  I’ll work harder on snapping photos of them in their natural habitat!

I get by with a little help from my friends

Last week I was having one of those days.  You know the ones.  Nothing was catastrophically wrong, but the little things were adding up.  Our weekly babysitter/tutor cancelled last minute.  Again.  I had a lead on a replacement, but she flaked out after being very promising.  We started getting hassled about our parking situation, which was doubly frustrating because I thought it was taken care of.  We had to get ready for the rest of our stuff to arrive.  I felt like I should be planning something to take advantage of the long weekend.  So, you see, nothing major.  Nothing un-handle-able.  But the combo was bringing me down.  And this was even before I found out that the battery on our car was dead.

The boys and I were at the playground, providing sustenance for what felt like a battalion of mosquitoes.  I started playing the “how can I lure Henry inside” game in my head.  See, to motivate him, you generally need to have a more attractive option to offer.  “Go outside” is pretty high up the ladder.  The only things more motivating are really food and TV.  But food doesn’t always work and TV is generally more hassle than it is worth getting him to stop.

So I’m out of sorts and gearing myself up for a negotiation with a two-year-old.  I surprised myself and decided we should visit one of our neighbors.  A very nice lady with two girls, one of whom would be at school.  She had mentioned a few times that we should drop by whenever.  I hated to show up unannounced, but she offered, right?

She welcomed us in with open arms.  She sympathized with understanding about babysitters and parking.  She made delicious frappuccinos, which was the official end of my whole30 reset.  Henry had a blast with his pal and her new toys.  We were only there about an hour, but I felt like I could breathe again.

While we were upstairs visiting, I got a text from another neighbor asking about lunch or coffee.  She came over while the kids were napping and we had a fine time chatting on the balcony.

This was the day of the playgroup another neighbor and I started.  So that afternoon I got to hang out with three other moms.

The next day, I got two separate recommendations for other babysitters from my gang.

And once we realized that the car was dead, crushing my nonexistent travel plans, other neighbors hooked up our battery to their fancy charging machine overnight, allowing us to go on our first day trip by car.  (Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli.  More on this soon.)

We haven’t even been here two months, but we’ve really met some wonderful people.  On this no-good-very-bad-day, I was grateful for my network and humbled that I even have a network at all.  It also reminds me to work on being a better friend.  We don’t really have the cool toys or the good snacks here, but I need to keep reaching out and being supportive in my own way.