Toilets, Toddlers, Traveling, and Tips (i.e. how we did this crazy crazy thing)

This post began at 4:48 a.m. when Luke finally went back to sleep after being up most of the night just in time for David to wake up in hysterics, waking up the older two boys as well.  So that's this morning.  We'll figure out this time change soon, I hope.  Thankfully, the rest of the day went well since the two littles took great naps, I didn't keel over from exhaustion, and I even remembered to celebrate some St. Joseph today. 

Just a few random shots and answering of questions I received on ye olde Facebook page but first, I want to say thank you.  I was a little bit apprehensive about sharing so much about our trip publicly.  I know we are incredibly blessed and we don't deserve any of this.  I  know there are so many people who would love to travel but can't.  That was us for a very long time.  I was nervous it would come across as too much but at the same time I knew that journaling it would be so good for me to record the memories and time there.  Plus, grandparents.  They really like seeing the pictures.  I figured best case scenario I would be writing for myself and family and most of my non-family readers would check out for a few weeks.  I was so wrong!  I was so surprised by how many emails and comments I received.  The excitement that you all shared with me as you sat through my slideshow was so incredible and touched my heart.  Thank you for that.  And thank you for giving me the motivation to write when many of those nights I was bleary-eyed with exhaustion and likely would have just given in to the bed if I hadn't had the accountability here.  So many of the memories, names, and impressions would have been lost and I'm so glad I wrote them down.  Already, it's starting to fade.

So, yes, thank you.  I really mean it when I said I prayed for you at so many places.  Your intentions weighed on my heart in a good way and it was truly an honor.

The morning we said goodbye to Rome

Now, onto the stuff that you really wanted to know about:
Toilets, water, food, beds, flights, lines, and surviving that with four children.
This will sound like a cop-out but I promise it's not.  Grace.  So much grace.  We, of course, had some hairy moments.  Moments of losing patience and of frustration and short words and tantrums.  But hello?  Normal life, right?  (If anything it happened less because we were constantly on the move and doing things and I had a second parent around 24/7.)

Flexibility = something I'm not normally good at but something that is crucial if you are going to do something like this.  Something that is much easier for whatever reason when I am traveling.  In fact, and I can't believe I'm saying this, I got home ready and raring to do something crazy like this again because there's a freedom for me in letting go of the meal plans and daily routines for just a little bit.  I'm a bit surprised that I'm not desperately craving a return to order just yet.  I'm sure it didn't help to get home to gray, chilly weather and a yard filled with several inches of standing water and rain, rain, and more rain forecasted for the rest of the week.

So, flexibility.  There were things we didn't get to do.  Some big, some little.  We would have loved to have done the Way of the Cross on Good Friday night with the pope.  There was a free musical on the life of JPII that we weren't able to attend.  Brian was hoping to run and he didn't get to, not even once.  We could have stayed hours some of the places that because of the kids we were only able to enjoy for fifteen minutes.  We did our best to build margin into the itinerary and we gave the trip and itinerary over to God many times over.  It made all the difference.  That flexibility and openness made it so much more easier to see and embrace the unexpected graces and gifts that He wanted to give us.  

Our last morning we made one last stop at St. Peter's.  There were Masses going on at every side chapel constantly and in every language.  It was amazing.  We found an English Mass at this chapel of Pope Leo the XIII (I think?) in time to participate.  It was awesome.  The priest even offered a special blessing for married couples at the end...I don't even know why he did but it was so so awesome.

Great (or Not) Expectations

  A total mind shift in expectations was the only way to survive something like this.  This trip we really and truly considered a pilgrimage and not at all a vacation.  (Is there such a thing anyway when you have young children with you?)  That meant we could view frustrations and lines and the devil trying to mess with us as part of the journey rather than things that would ruin the trip.  They were expected and they were things we could offer up and they could be used for our own good.  If we had gone into it thinking we'd be dining on fine Italian food every night or dealing with always compliant, cheerful children or meandering the streets of Rome hand in hand, we would have been sorely disappointed.  We went into this knowing and preparing for a heck of a lot of work. 

Michael finally got to touch Peter's worn foot.  That statue used to have normal looking feet but hundreds of years and millions of pilgrims rubbing the foot later and it looks like that.  Incredible.

The Vittles
We brought five suitcases with us, two people to a suitcase, one small one for toiletries and random things, and one of them completely filled with food.  Peanut butter, honey, tuna, tortillas, refried beans, pasta, and lots of granola bars.  This was our main source of food plus a few grocery runs.  You know that expectations thing?  We had to really lower our expectations on the food front.  That was sorta hard to be in a place where there are restaurants every ten feet that smell deliciously divine at Easter time and then have to be content with your peanut butter sandwich.  But really, it's the only way we could do it.  To feed a family of six at an authentic Italian restaurant would cost at least 60-100 Euros which is verging on and over one hundred American dollars.  Ha!  We went out for a real restaurant meal three times each time going as cheap as possible and not being satisfied with the food anyway.  In hindsight, we probably should have figured out one or two great restaurants to enjoy but remember how Italy is weird with their hours?  Many of the real authentic Italian restaurants didn't open until 6 or 7 p.m. anyway when the kids (and we) were more than ready for bed.  Brian was awesome about making up food at night (while I spent my time here :) for the next day.  Several times we just picked up a loaf of bread and some prosciutto for lunch.  Way cheaper and more enjoyed by the kids than what we would have gotten at the restaurants.  We did treat ourselves to some of the cornetti for breakfast which are like custard or chocolate filled croissants and only cost one Euro.  And we did have gelato for dinner several times.  Which was completely a financial decision.  Completely.

One of those {happy} gelato dinners

Doing it this way, we were able to keep our food budget less than double what we would've spent on groceries had we been home (we spent roughly $300-350 or so for the two weeks). When you're on a trip to a place like Rome with six kids that is pretty excellent.

Getting Around
I mentioned it in another post but some friends lent us a BOB stroller and it totally saved the trip.  We were going to just bring a cheap umbrella stroller and it would never have worked.  Luke wasn't keen on the Ergo anymore and the walking was way too much for David to do.  This stroller could easily navigate the bumpy cobblestone streets and could fit two children in the front, a bag underneath, and once in a great while, a child riding up near the handle.  And it folds up super easy.  So we used that everywhere.  We took it on the subway (folded up) and the train and into churches and to the Vatican.  (It did have to be checked at St. Peter's down below since strollers aren't allowed in.)  There were only  a few times when it was hard to navigate on a narrow sidewalk and Brian sure got a work out with all the steps he carried it up and down and the three flights of stairs to bring it up to the apartment but it really was a trip saver.

So everyday found us loading up a backpack with food for the day, several collapsible water bottles that we'd refill at one of the many public fountains, sunglasses, the little first aid kit (yes, really), and sometimes if we had lines to wait in, some crayons and coloring books.  I was kind of drill sergeant about those of us who were walking holding hands on the streets and especially in the crazy subways and at the stations.


The Potty Scene
I really don't know how this worked.  I mean, we did the normal thing of making sure everyone went before we left in the morning and all but it wasn't an issue except for maybe me!  I decided that if Luke wasn't completely potty trained and confident by the week before that we would just have to go back to diapers and start over when we got back.  (He has been my hardest.  He's also been my longest to nurse and I actually am beginning to think there is a connection.)  So he was in a diaper and was easy.  The only time it was hard with the others was during the Good Friday service which was very long and we almost had a couple mini breakdowns but at least the bathroom was very accessible and the guards very helpful.  And then the Canonization.  We limited the drinks the night before and during the night and they didn't have to go once which I was so so so grateful for because those portapotties were like something out of a horror flick.  I had to use them a few times.  During the Mass we had an empty water bottle handy and that is one of the best things ever about having boys.  Only one person ended up using it while covertly covered with the blanket.  I guess my children are either chronically dehydrated or just inherited the large capacity of their father because they don't go all that much.  Either that or that grace must work with bladders, too.

Also, can we take a moment and recognize the fact that the Italians (or at least Romans) have very different toilet standards than us Americans?  About half of the toilets didn't even have seats and that was just normal.  Our apartment also had a (non-functioning) bidet.  I still don't truly get how anyone really uses one of those or why they would want to.

We passed by the place where we camped out that night before the canonization and Brian decided he had to get a better picture.  

Our backs may have hurt but the view of  Castel Sant'Angelo was pretty stellar.

Our Pad
After looking at all the options, getting an apartment was by far the most affordable thing to do.  Much more so than hotels, hostels, and even the convents.  We finally found a place that didn't charge extra for each head every night (that was nearly doubled the cost.) and it was as close to the Vatican as I could find.  Having an apartment we were able to cook our own food which equaled mucho cost savings plus we had our own bathroom and a washing machine (which is a story unto itself).  We had one bedroom.  The older three boys shared the one bedroom, while Brian and I shared the sofa bed in the living room and Luke slept on a cot in the hallway.  Well, Brian and I were supposed to share the sofa bed but halfway through most of the nights somehow Luke took his place and Brian found his way to the cot.

Our place.  We were on that third floor with the beige windows which don't have screens.  It was slightly terrifying.  The apartment situation was...interesting.  Not at all what we expected.  I had to sign an agreement saying we would not post a review online without approval which tells you a whole lot.  But the location was incredible.   

We were just a few blocks from the Vatican, maybe a five minute walk.  This was the view from our roof one night when Brian found the door unlocked and snuck us up there.

A Spectacular Husband Plus Other Random Things
There is no way - no way - I could have done this without Brian being amazing.  He went above and beyond in planning things, taking care of things, and carrying hundreds of pounds of kid and gear all over Rome.  He is my hero.
I made sure the boys took vitamin C everyday and Airborne on the plane.  Before we left we downed lots of purple smoothies with elderberry and besides John Paul having a sore throat and cough, I think we escaped any of us getting very sick which is a pretty big win after traveling so much.  Especially when one traveller is a thumbsucker and oh so much public transportation.  
My sister and a neighbor were wonderful and took care of the chickens and Maggie for us.
Maneuvering through the airport with all the luggage is tricky and we must look ridiculous but that's okay.  It definitely takes a lot of coordination and help from the older kids.
We did very very little in the way of shopping besides getting religious items.  We're not big shoppers anyway and that stuff adds up fast.  I did come home with a few scarfs from the street vendors and some bottles of wine.  I do wish I had prepared a list of things to get beforehand, though.  I'm already realizing that there were things I should have picked up.

Anything I'm forgetting to talk about?  This is the absolute longest post ever and I'm not even sure I answered your questions.  So throw more at me if you want.

And back home again.  I can assure you that by the end of that flight none of us was looking that smiley anymore.  We did okay, though.  Our flight had at least four priests, a bishop, and Cardinal Collins from Toronto on it!  Now that is the flight I want to be on if something goes wrong.

Other Notes from the Trip:
-Brian meeting and befriending Jurgen from Bolivia who also has four sons and owns a vineyard and wants us to come visit someday and "maybe our families can become friendly."  We were next to him during the canonization and then ran into him again at the tomb of Catherine of Siena.
-So many things in the grocery store and markets are sold by weight (in kilograms), even the pasta and bread.
-John Paul on the flight:  "They really do a great job on this meal!  If you don't compliment them, I think I will."
-I just love when the boys all match.  Love it so much.
-We got more looks and comments about four children than I ever get here.  Almost everyone asked if David and Luke were twins.
-John Paul went up to the bishop on the plane by himself and asked him to bless the crucifix he bought.  It was awesome.  He also had the greatest conversation with the woman next to him who was from Poland and had met JPII.
-John Paul mesmerized by the John XXIII movie I put on for him on the flight home.
-I am so humbled by the gift of this trip and am so excited to see what God will do with each one of us through it. 

Linking up with Leila for {pretty, happy, funny, real} and Jen for some 7(not at all)QT...


  1. Thanks for the inside story on how you managed the journey. This reminds me of the "behind the scene" clips after movies. I think the Bolivian connection is a hint of a sequel. Love and hugs to all.


  2. ah. i just continue to love every moment of this trip. Do you have pics of the inside of the apartment? Are my questions just getting weird at this point?
    Love ya

    1. Haha, no, I don't! I meant to take some but never did. It was filthy and most of the things didn't work. It looked awesome in the online photos, though! Thankfully, we were really only there really to sleep. But the location was awesome.

  3. So loved reading the extras. I keep meanign to write up travel tips for our road trip, you certainly learn tips and great to share with others.

  4. Having a husband who was not always so great with huge personal sacrifice on trips (really, there aren't many who are) I have to say your husband is awesome. I think your children must take after him because they seem to be good campers, too. And I think you guys look like an Italian family! Welcome home, and thanks for taking our intentions.

    PS I have decided to retire in Assisi. ;-)

  5. I am so impressed. We just keep putting off trips because the kids aren't old enough. And we're intimidated by going to a place where English is not the primary language, anyway. But I know we've got to get over that b/c I want so badly to see some of these places.

  6. I think my knuckles would be less white if there were a priests, a bishop and a Cardinal on my flights eh!!

  7. What a fun recap of your trip - great pics! I think it's great that you forced yourself out of your comfort zone and did this trip. Our big trip was hard, too, but worth it in so many ways. And the bathroom much harder with girls.

    On a different note, I really like your hair cut - it's shorter than usual and it's adorable!

  8. Wow! I can't imagine traveling that far with so many small children... only through God's grace, and even then.. yikes, haha :) I've taken a couple of flights with my 18 month old and it's just so exhausting! It sounds like it was totally worth it though.

  9. Oh my word, what a trip! Your boys will remember this forever, re-telling stories around the dinner table years from now. Such a blessing for you all. That photo from your apartment is gorgeous. And...I don't see anything wrong with gelato for dinner. :)

  10. I loved reading all your Rome posts, it was so much like being there, thank you so much for sharing. Gelato + boys in white shirts??!! You are so brave, maybe I need to train my kids better, I have one boy who constantly uses his shirt as a napkin. I went on a trip to Europe in high school and we went to a beach. Your description of the beaches there in your earlier post was spot on, so I guess they haven't changed much. I still remember that trip very fondly, so I'm sure your family will treasure the memories from this one.

  11. Just amazing. And I love the idea of gelato dinners! YUM.
    And aren't Italian scarves beautiful? I bought one in Italy in 2007 - to this day it is my very favorite and in great shape.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  12. Amazing Mary! And super impressed especially re: the vittles -- makes me think we can travel on a budget. Thanks for sharing and letting us in on the trip of a lifetime!

  13. What an awesome and amazing gift of being able to travel for a cannonization! Free bathrooms in Itay were a bit scary - without worrying about littles having to use them. When I was there, I was all about filing up waterbottles from ancient drinking fountains.


Thank you for visiting and reading! I love hearing from readers so if a comment box on a post is turned off, it's because Blogger is terrible about filtering spam. If you'd like to send me a message, please use my contact page. Thank you!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.