Aboard Delta Flight 237, July 2, 2012

Eli, Nell, and Seth have all written about their feelings on our departure from Rome. I’ve found this difficult to write about. The past few weeks have been so packed with events and emotions that it’s been hard to pinpoint my thoughts and feelings. In many ways, our year abroad was the culmination of travel plans I made back in 1989 – an intended junior year abroad in Florence that I had to cancel due to family illness. The culmination of such a long history of hopes and expectations is hard to encapsulate in words.

But there’s nothing like a ten hour flight to provide the mental space I need.

In truth, it’s fitting that I should write our final blog post (number 104!). Last spring, when we were planning our trip, I suggested we keep a family blog about our year in Rome. Initially, we thought that it would be a great way to stay in touch with family and friends back home and elsewhere. And it seemed like a great format for the kids to learn a new way to express themselves in writing.

But in the end, we’ve found ourselves writing more for ourselves than anything else. The blog has become our journal, with words and images that we want to remember, and I believe that these pages will help keep this year alive for us in years to come.

Our final days in Rome were bittersweet. As Nell wrote in her recent post, we don’t really feel like we are saying goodbye to the city and our friends here, because we know we will be back. Two different Roman expat friends, who have seen many short-term visitors come and go, affirmed this for us, telling us that they believe that we are one of those families that really truly will be back early and often. That makes everything feel a lot easier, though it has not precluded tears from all of us. And we did have some especially sad goodbyes that were most likely forever, including our wonderful housekeeper Maria, who is moving back to Romania. Though Maria has invited us to visit her in Romania, so who knows?

It has been quite a week. Since our return from Toscana on Wednesday, we have cheered Italy in the EuroCup (a tremendous win in the semis and a trouncing in the finals). We have enjoyed lovely goodbye dinners, including a fantastic meal hosted by our friends Shannon and Matthew, carry-in pizza on the terrace with Shannon, Matthew, Andrew, and their kids that was accompanied by a fireworks show at Castel St-Angelo, and Pizzerium pizza on our terrace followed by I Mannari gelato brought by Hisham, Maria, Laith, and Aden.

We’ve also treated ourselves to several great meals out. All year, the kids have heard us raving about the restaurant Roscioli (see Restaurant post). Nell was especially excited to go because they are famous for their tagliolini cacio e pepe, her favorite Roman dish (pasta with a deceptively simple sauce made from sheep cheese and pepper  – basically, Roman comfort food). She loved it – but adored her gorgeous caprese salad even more. Eli, true to form, enjoyed one last great steak. And for our last lunch on Saturday we went to Cantina Cantinari, the little restaurant serving food from the Le Marche regione, which we first tried last August when Robert and Virginia visited from Montreal. I was craving one last seafood fix before heading to the Midwest, and it was perfect, followed by a gelato at I Caruso.

We awoke Sunday (yesterday) to the news that our flight was delayed by 6 hours, ruining our Detroit connection. This was a stroke of luck, in fact, because we were able to rebook for today, allowing us to watch the EuroCup final in Italy. Our landlords, ever generous, let us stay in the apartment, and we treated ourselves to a second last lunch, this time at our favorite Sicilian restaurant. And we had the opportunity to enjoy one last gelato at Il Gelato, which our beloved Rocco wouldn’t let us pay for.

In a journal article or book, it’s customary to end with an Acknowledgments section. As that is the style of writing I know best, here goes.

First, the Romans. Thank you for teaching us that even when things don’t work quite right (or at all), everything still works out okay. Thank you for helping us to see that we don’t need to always be rushing around, or stressing out about being on time (okay, that is one that will be hard to avoid in the Midwest). Thank you for tolerating our weak Italian, correcting us gently (my favorite was when I tried to order lamb and the server laughingly told me that I’d just ordered a hug). Your warmth, hospitality, and generosity are world-class, along with your food, sights, light, colors, and history.

Second, all of our new friends. In a city like Rome, foreigners are always coming and going. For the kids and parents at our international school, expats and Italians alike, it is commonplace for children to make dear friends and then have those friends depart – and for their parents to do the same. Thank you all for opening up your lives to all four of us, despite our lack of longevity in the city. You all made this year especially meaningful and enriched for us. You’ll be seeing us again soon!

Third, our jobs. We are so fortunate to have careers that afforded us the flexibility to travel abroad for a year. And we are equally fortunate to have colleagues who not only helped to pick up the slack, but who so warmly cheered us on. We are excited to see you again over the next few weeks!

Fourth, our students.  From dissertation defenses where our Skype connections failed, to meetings with us when it was late at night Rome time and Seth or I were clearly not at our best… you were all troupers, and we are so looking forward to being in the same time zone with you. We truly can’t thank you enough for being so patient, and we fervently hope that sabbaticals still exist by the time you are professors!

Fifth, our family and friends ‘back home’. So many of you have made such a great effort to stay in touch with us: emailing, Skyping, commenting on the blog or on Facebook, sending snail mail, and visiting! It makes our homecoming so much easier to contemplate – we are so excited to see you!

Sixth, I want to thank my parents. My mom always loved Italy; it was a place that was very special to her. Long before I ever came to Italy, I loved it through her eyes. And though I was never able to travel to Italy with my mom, I thought of her and my dad every day as I soaked up the winter sunshine on our terrace. They would have really enjoyed watching us love this year. Seth’s mom, and our grandmothers Rosie and Sara, would have too.

Finally, I want to thank Seth, Eli, and Nell. I would never have been brave enough to pick up our family and move to Rome if it weren’t for Seth. He is not intimidated by travel… He loves the challenge of navigating new languages and cultures, and cultivating new friendships. I was inspired by his all-encompassing embracing of our year away. And the kids were the best travel companions imaginable, in every possible way. At the end of her family’s sabbatical last year, my friend Stacy described their family as having become a well-oiled machine. I know exactly what she means.

I don’t think we will know what this year really meant to us for a long time to come. Last night, Eli said that maybe he’d take a gap year or a year abroad in college in Rome, meet someone, and get married and move to Rome. That sounds like a good idea to me.

– Jenny

We knew we couldn’t leave without adding a blog post about our favorite restaurants in Rome.

But it isn’t so easy to make recommendations here. In fact, there are probably tens of thousands of pages of books and blogs dedicated to eating in Rome. It’s tricky because the center of the city, where most visitors stay, is not home to great dining. Most of our favorite places are not near the parts of town where visitors are likely to stay. Also, we tend to like osterie or trattorie, not ristoranti. That means the places we enjoy the most are casual places with traditional food, not the more formal haute-cuisine places with white table cloths.

The best dining advice we can offer is to follow the advice of Katie Parla or Elizabeth Minchilli—purchasing their apps is well worth it. They included GPS enabled maps so that you can find great places to eat or drink while you are out and about, even without any service on your phone/ipad:



But whatever you do, don’t trust web sites like TripAdvisor. We have found such sites to be great for hotels, where people share common standards and expectations, but are not useful for restaurants. For example, many tourists may not appreciate the culture of a trattoria and rate a great food place poorly or a mediocre food place well because it feels familiar. It is important to understand the ground rules here. You are not the customer who is always right; rather, you are a guest who is inconveniencing the waiter. No, the place serving the food of Lazio cannot prepare pesto for you, nor can they do the spaghetti carbonara without bacon or salt, or serve the fish before the pasta course. The waiter will disappear after your food arrives. This is not intended to make it “impossible to find a waiter” or ignore you. Instead, they wish to leave you alone to enjoy your meal and your company, and will never offer to bring the check until you intentionally seek them out; to do otherwise would be rude and make you feel rushed. If you are older than ten years of age and show up wearing short pants and order a diet coke, you will be viewed as the culinary equivalent of a barbarian, and may be treated as such. And yes, you may get a menu, but it will be largely irrelevant to what is currently offered. Instead, you introduce yourself to the waiter, chat, and let him (and rarely, her) guide you through the meal.

What follows are the places where we have most enjoyed our meals together! Many of these restaurants have surfaced in earlier blog posts.

They are loosely organized by area of the city. We have included URLs where possible; if none is available, an address is provided. Note that all restaurants have at least one closing day a week, and that pizza is usually not served at lunch (exceptions noted). Note also that in most cases, the house wine will be very good (despite being just a few euros for a carafe or bottle; you can also get half or quarter carafes), and highly appropriate for the food served, as it comes from the same region as the food. Lunch is generally served from 1-3pm and dinner from 8pm until early the next day. It is considered polite to make a reservation, even if it means calling just before you arrive. Once you do, you can arrive any time and not worry about being late, because the table is yours for the  afternoon or evening.

Spagna/Popolo (our neighborhood):

Pizza Rustica: Hole in the wall pizza al taglio place (take-out pizza by the slice), easy lunch or dinner. On Via Flaminia just north of Piazza del Popolo, next to the wonderful Castroni fancy foods store (Via Flaminia 42).

Dal Pollarolo 1936: Our go-to place in the ‘hood. Very reliably good pizzas and pastas and salad, and they are famous for their roasted chicken and potatoes (one of Eli and Jenny’s favorite meals). Also open very early for dinner if necessary. http://www.dalpollarolo1936.it/

Ristorante Nino: The area around the Spanish Steps is a bit of a good-food desert, because there are so many horrible restaurants catering to tourists. This lovely Tuscan restaurant is a bit more expensive than our usual haunts but the food is great. Nell lives for their cannellini beans in olive oil, and Eli recommends the fried chicken. Ask to see the Italian menu too because the English version may not have all the specials. http://www.ristorantenino.it/

Ad Hoc: This is one of the few fancier restaurants that we tried and really enjoyed. Not the Roman classics, but very well prepared dishes and a great wine list. Reservations possible by internet. http://www.ristoranteadhoc.com/inglese/home.htm

Settimio all’Arancio: Ristorante with a very good seafood selection and nice outdoor seating. Pricier than most of the others on this list. Via dell’arancio 50-52.

Pizzeria al Leoncino: Crowded with locals, serves Roman-style pizza at both lunch and dinner. Get there at around 6:30 if you don’t want to have to wait a long time to get in. Via del Leoncino 28.

Gran Caffè Esperia: Technically not in our neighborhood, but in Prati right across the river from the Ara Pacis museum. Great café, but what we especially love for lunch is their tavola calda (hot table), which is essentially an upscale cafeteria. Wonderful selection of antipasti , great vegetables and pasta dishes; you pay for however many dishes you try. Lungotevere dei Mellini, 1.

Babette: Another lunch favorite, known for its simple but sumptuous prix fixe buffet and beautiful outdoor dining area. Reserve ahead. http://www.babetteristorante.it/index.asp?id=99&lang=eng


Trattoria da Gino: Classic Roman trattoria, with the nicest waiter in Rome (Mario). Their house special pasta is a long pasta (tonnarelli, a local pasta shape) prepared with peas, mushrooms, and meat of some sort (they will make it vegetarian): buonissimo! Eli swears by their veal steak. Cash only. Reserve well in advance. Vicolo Rosini, 4.

Al Duello: A lovely newish ristorante owned by a young couple – he serves as chef de cuisine, she (Martina) is the maître d’ and sommelier and dessert chef. Warm and very friendly ambience, more upscale than our other haunts. We have taken or sent many out of town guests here and none of us has ever had a dish that was less than great. Their olive oil is truly special. Only 8 tables, so reserve ahead. And let Martina select a wine for you: it will be inexpensive and excellent. http://www.ristorantealduelloroma.com/

Enoteca Corsi: Enoteca Corsi is a workingman’s wine bar that also served a few perfect dishes at lunchtime. It was our go-to lunch spot, but last month it appeared in a Rick Steves guidebook and now it is packed with tourists. But the food is still great, and the daughters of the proprietor, trained sommeliers, are warm and helpful. Best faro soup and best eggplant parmigiana we’ve ever had (other than our friend Pat Mulvey’s). http://www.enotecacorsi.com/

Piazza Navona

Baffetto1 and Baffetto2: Eli and Nell consider this to be the best pizza in Rome. The kids also think the waiters are nice. The grownups don’t entirely agree on either count, but we had great dinners at Baffetto1 almost every Wednesday night this spring with our friends Monica, Patrik, Michael, and Daniel. Baffetto2 takes reservations. http://www.pizzeriabaffetto.it/

A related restaurant around the corner from Baffetto1 (owned by Baffetto’s son), Dal Paino, is also excellent and much less chaotic than Baffetto1.

Ristorante Lagana: This restaurant features food from Calabria, at the tip of the boot in Italy. The waiter, Roberto, is great and we have never ordered off a menu here. Highlights are the copious antipasti, pasta with seafood (whatever is fresh), and the grilled calamari. A little pricier than most of the others on the list. But just tell Roberto generally what you want (pasta, seafood, etc) and let him choose for you. Don’t miss the antipasti, but tell him “just a little” because you’ll get a lot. http://www.ristorantelagana.it/index.html

Orso 80: This restaurant is known for its antipasti. When we go, we don’t order anything else and just waive the menus away. Dish after dish arrives, including a salad with cubes of hard cheese and celery, fresh mozzarella, and grilled and marinated vegetables of all kinds. They usually also include a variety of meat-based antipasti but are always willing to serve us a meat-free spread. So many dishes arrive, they start stacking them on top of each other as the table fills. Totally simple and fun food.

Campo di Fiori

Roscioli: One of the most famous restaurants in Rome, and on every food writer’s top restaurant list, but still remarkably down to earth (if you don’t mind paying 20 Euro for a ball of the most amazing burrata mozzarella you’ve ever had). The front of the restaurant is a cheese and salami store, and around the corner is their bakery.  The cooking is very simple but the ingredients used are spectacular. Arguably the best cacio e pepe (pasta with sheep cheese and pepper, a canonical Roman dish) in town.  http://www.salumeriaroscioli.com/

Filetti di Baccala: Fried cod served in napkins, plus really great puntarella salad with anchovy dressing. It’s not a meal for the health conscious, but once in a while, it’s quite a treat! If you walk back to the kitchen you can buy your fish take-out.  Largo dei Librari 88.

The Jewish Ghetto has several fun restaurants; we like Trattoria del Ghetto (http://www.latavernadelghetto.com/ ) and Sora Margherita (Piazza delle Cinque Scole 30). The iconic food (in season) is fried artichokes; they are squashed and taste like the best chips you’ve ever had. Ricotta chocolate tart is amazing.

This is also the highest concentration of great bakeries in Rome: Forno di Roscioli (best pizza rosso), Antico Forno di Campo Di Fiori (best pizza bianco and sandwiches), Il Fornaio (great cookies and sweets), and the Forno del Ghetto for Jewish specialties (including so-called Jewish pizza, a sweet thick dough with dried fruits and nuts).


Doozo: We really missed Japanese, Korean, and Mexican food this year. Once in a while, we steeled our wallets for a trip to dine at Doozo. This Japanese restaurant is housed in a charming Japanese bookstore and gallery, and diners can choose to either eat in the shop itself or in the lovely garden behind the bookstore. Really, really fantastic food. http://www.doozo.it/

La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali: By all rights, this should be a tourist trap. It’s nestled a block from the Forum and 3 blocks from the Colosseum. But the pasta is house-made and outstanding, as is the service. The perfect spot for a lunch break while touring the major sites of Ancient Rome, with friendly service. http://www.latavernadeiforiimperiali.com/


Mani in Pasta: Simple, bustling, tiny, and excellent pasta as per the name. Remarkably inexpensive given its Trastevere location. Dining room is still fairly empty at 9pm, then the buzz starts as the tables fill. Reservations essential. http://www.lemaniinpasta.com/home.htm

Roma Sparita: Known for its cacio e pepe, which is served in a bowl made from parmigiano. On a beautiful piazza with outdoor seating (and room for kids to kick a ball around). There’s been some drama about the fact that they may be issuing a service charge to foreigners but not to locals, which is problematic. http://www.parlafood.com/roma-sparita-from-hit-list-to-shit-list/

Assinocotta: This restaurant is small and intimate, with an open kitchen. It doesn’t really get hopping until quite late so we only managed to go once this year. But the children still talk about their salads and desserts there (including gelato stuffed into fruits and then frozen: kiwis, figs, strawberries…). http://www.asinocotto.com/ristorante.htm

Via Veneto area (American Embassy)

Cantina Cantinari: On Thursday (dinners), Fridays, and Saturdays, they serve an all fish/seafood menu. We love sitting outside and enjoying the view of lovely Piazza Salustio, and drinking their house-bottled wine from Le Marche. In fact, we chose to have lunch at this restaurant for our last lunch in Rome. A few steps away is Gelateria I Caruso.

Pizzeria San Marco: This is the most American feeling restaurant we’ve enjoyed in Rome. Big menu and, unusual for Rome, composed salads. They also have a more authentic feeling restaurant in Prati, with nice outdoor seating on a quiet street. Another big draw to the Prati location is that it’s around the corner from the Gelateria Gracchi.

Colline Emiliane.
 Some of the best fresh pasta we ate in Rome. This is a small family run restaurant serving the food of the Emiliana region. Few tables, so book ahead. Most restaurants in Rome are closed on Sunday, but these guys are open! http://www.ristorantebolognesearoma.com/


Volpetti Piu: This tavola calda is extremely well known, as it is the dine-in outpost of the legendary Volpetti fancy food store. We enjoyed some great lunches grazing the offerings here. http://www.volpetti.com/vis_dettaglio.php?primo_livello=menu&id_livello=804

Flavio al Velavevodetto: Built into the side of the ancient garbage dump that is now Mount Testacchio, this restaurant has a following in the Slow Food community. The windows look directly out onto some of the ancient garbage (pieces of broken crockery), the pasta is house-made, and the service is warm and accommodating. http://www.flavioalvelavevodetto.it/


Proximal to Vatican/Castel St-Angelo

Da Cesare: An excellent option for Tuscan food, with probably the best fish and seafood in the city. The waitstaff are very professional but also great with kids. 10 minute walk from the Vatican museum, and open for a late lunch and open Sundays. http://www.ristorantecesare.com/

Pizzerium: Our choice for our last dinner in Rome. Pizza al taglio with the utmost inventiveness. The dough comes from a starter with roots in ancient Umbria (supposedly), and it is supple and thick. The toppings range from the simple to the divine – even the simple is divine. At the Cipro metro stop, 10 minutes walk from the Vatican Museum entrance. http://www.parlafood.com/pizzarium-reopens-today-in-rome/


Ponte Milvio:

Siciliainbocca: Beautiful Sicilian restaurant. The room is tiled in sunny yellows and oranges, and the staff is extremely friendly. As befits a Sicilian restaurant, their specialty is seafood. We love the Fritti di Primavera, which is a huge platter of delicately fried tendrils of zucchini and calamari. Eli always orders their grilled sea bass. Their cold antipasti di mare are great. And the desserts are amongst the best in Rome, with a focus on citrus. We chose this restaurant for our bonus lunch when our flight home was cancelled today. http://www.siciliainboccaweb.com/

Da Gnegno: Very downscale trattoria, no menus, 3 choices of primi/secondi, and an admittedly grubby bathroom, but the food is truly spectacular. Each bite is to be savored. Via Prati della Farnesina, 10/12. Have coffee afterwards at Gelateria Mondi!

Antica Trattoria da Pallotta: This historical landmark trattoria (it has been open since 1820) has reliably excellent pastas (especially the gnocchi with sage and butter) and very nice antipasti/desserts. But the real treat is the setting. The restaurant is basically a courtyard with a roof made of vines and winding tree branches. Beautiful on a nice day and a few steps from Gelateria Mondi. Piazzale Ponte Milvio 22


La Mora: This Tuscan restaurant/pizzeria is at Piazza Crati, far from the center of town and the tourists. One of our favorite pizzerias in Rome. The pizza with radicchio (wild endive) is especially great, as is their porcini mushroom, which sometimes appears as a special. Just down the block is Café Cremolata which serves cremolata (crushed frozen fruit), which is a perfect dessert after enjoying one of the thin-crust pizzas. Also nearby are the Catacombs of Proscilla, which is worth a visit.

New to Us:

These are two places that we only visited once, so we really can’t call them favorites. But we really enjoyed them and would gladly return.

Trattoria Da Luigi  is on the Piazza Sforza Cesarini, which is just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Our friends Hisham and Maria took us here for our goodbye dinner, and we absolutely loved it. It’s a solid place with a mostly (but not exclusively) Roman menu and reasonable value given the excellent seafood. The patio area outside in front of the pretty piazza, especially when the weather turns warmer, is lovely and festive. www.trattoriadaluigi.com/index.html

Armando al Pantheon. This family-run trattoria is just next door to the Pantheon. And you’d think in such a touristy area, the place would be horrible and over-priced. But quite the opposite! Yes, the place has a lot of tourists, but also a following of locals who come for the seasonal Roman classics. The food is excellent old school and the service is warm. It is fun to sit and watch the constant, heavy stream of people without reservations being turned away at the door—don’t be among them and reserve ahead. http://www.armandoalpantheon.it/

For my last blog post, I was planning to write about saying goodbye to Rome. But as I started it, I realized it was too hard and sad for me. You probably didn’t know this, but when I make my blog posts, I write them out on a piece of paper and then my parents type it on the computer when I am done. But when I started the blog post that I was going to call “Goodbye to Rome” I barely finished a page. I thought you would probably want to know about how I am feeling about moving back to Madison and saying goodbye to my friends and teachers. It was confusing to me because I had so many feelings about leaving Rome. I was also thinking about the cobble stone streets, the motor cycles, the small streets and sidewalks and all the cars. I have these pictures in my head about things I won’t be seeing every day. So instead, for my last blog post I decided to write a happy blog post.

At the beginning of the year, I thought it would be too hard to be friends with the kids who lived here in Rome. At first, I only played with other kids who came from countries that spoke English. But then I started to play with a few Italian kids at recess. And we all became close friends.

One of those Italian girls is named Costanza. She has a great smile and I knew that I wanted to be friends with her. At the end of the year, her family invited us to come to their summer house in Tuscany. Costanza’s family goes to their house there every summer, and Costanza’s mother went to the same place every summer of her life growing up.

We all really wanted to go, so we made a visit the week after school ended. Before I tell you about what we did at the visit, I will tell you all the people in Costanza’s family. First is her mother, Francesca, then her father Benedetto. She has two brothers, Jacopo and Ludovico, and a baby sister named Bianca. One reason that I am very glad that we made this trip was that I did not have to say goodbye to Costanza at the last day of school. She was a very good friend to me this year.

Costanza’s house is on the coast of Tuscany. The temperature there was lower than in Rome.

Here is what we did.

We arrived at Toscana. We went straight to the beach. We got caught in a traffic jam on our way there, so me and Eli didn’t have lunch because we went straight into the sea when we arrived. Except my Mom and Dad had lunch at a beach restaurant. We stayed at the beach to swim and play games until we were all exhausted. Then later that day, we went to an outdoor restaurant for pizza. While we were eating, a show started, so all the kids went to watch the show. It was like a comedy show for kids. We stayed up late watching. Then the people in the show started dancing and so all the audience started dancing with them.

We spent the next day at their pool, had lunch at a neighborhood farm, and then went back to their house. Then the kids had a big water fight with a hose. For dinner, Costanza’s mom served a lot of foods from Toscana that I really liked. For instance, white Tuscan beans, olives, and a local cheese from the farm that was amazing.

Did I mention that Francesca is a FANTASTIC cook? If you know me well, you know that I only like cakes that are chocolate. For Costanza’s birthday, her mom made a non-chocolate cake. I tried it and I liked it the same as chocolate cake!

The next day, we went to a town nearby called Orbetello. I got my favorite breakfast pastry I have had in my whole life. It was an apple struedel. Then we drove back to the beach, spent a few hours there, and said goodbye and drove back to Rome.

This trip was very special for me and I will never forget it. It was special because at the beginning of the year, I never thought I would make a good Italian friend here. And when Costanza’s family invited my whole family to their summer house, I realized that I had made a good Italian friend here.

– Nell

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When we first arrived in Rome, there were many family debates about which place served the BEST gelato. But this discussion soon ended for the same reason that discussions about politics and religion are often avoided in families: no one was about to change their mind, and each of us defended our opinions with fervor.

Over time—and many scoops of gelato– we came to appreciate a few realities about the limitations of designating any one gelato as the BEST.

First, everyone has slightly different tastes, and a particular style or preparation of gelato might appeal to one person more than another. Second, we have learned that some gelaterias are better at some flavors than others—maybe one really shines with fruit flavors whereas others hit their high mark on nut flavors.

So we decided that the search for a BEST gelato was misguided, or at least futile . . .especially with so many outstanding exemplars in this city. But we also had an urge to gather some data, because we are inevitably asked: “What is your favorite gelato place in Rome?”

We wanted to pseudo-systematically evaluate the gelaterias of Rome. And we even (briefly) considered covering a true range or sample of establishments. But life is short and our time here shorter. Therefore, we decided to work with a restricted range. We culled lists from our favorite food bloggers and established dining guides including (Tavole Romane, Katie Parla, NileGuide, Gambero Rosso, Italian Linguini – Tempo di gelato). From these sources and others, we generated a list of any gelateria that made it onto any reputable food writers’ list of favorites. So remember that any place on our list is going to be pretty darn good!

We established a rating scale from 0 to 10. But because we were tasting gelati that would ALL be excellent, we adjusted the scale accordingly. Thus, the lowest score of a “1” meant Good But Not Memorable, the midpoint was Really Good, a “7” was Amazing and by the time we got to a “10” our socks really needed to be knocked off.

We evaluated separately TASTE, VARIETY of FLAVORS OFFERED, SERVICE, and assigned an OVERALL score that did not need to be additive or an average of the other scores.

“Taste” is an obvious category. We decided to also rate “Variety” and “Service”, but not let them necessarily influence our final scores for a few reasons. First, we agreed that there are times when it is good to have lots of choices. Maybe you are with a group and people might like different flavors, maybe you aren’t sure what you are in the mood for, or maybe it is just fun to peruse the case and see the offerings. But we also knew of places that only offer a few flavors at a time, and what they offer is outstanding.

Service did end up being important to us and influenced our gelato experience. It started to factor into our decisions about which place we wanted to go to. For example, there is a really cute Sicilian gelateria right around the corner from our house. We must have made 30 visits there within a short period of time, always ordered from the same lady, and never once did she show a glimmer of recognition or even a smile. A very fancy and famous place down the road, San Crispino, has okay gelato, but the most unpleasant employees we have ever encountered in Italy.  At one point we decided to never give them our business again because it just wasn’t fun and that makes the gelato less enjoyable. In contrast, a visit to Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè has felt like visiting the home of a friend. Rocco behind the counter always offers a warm greeting to our visiting guests, offers us a little taste before we order a new flavor that he thinks might not be for everyone, and even gave the kids a free scoop when they reported perfect scores on their math or spelling tests. Really, shouldn’t gelato always be fun? But we kept these scores separate because there is no notion of “customer service” here, and Italians would take no notice of surly staff—they just go for the food.

Nell was our most consistent taster: after a year here and what must amount to literally hundreds of scoops of gelato, she has never ordered anything but chocolate (with one exception). She argues that her tastings do reflect variety, as she has had Intense Chocolate, Madagascar Chocolate, Chocolate Cinnamon, etc. But because everyone else tasted across the gustatory board, Nell at least was comparing oranges with oranges (or chocolate with chocolate) across establishments. So her scores probably have less noise.

And here are two related “insider tips.” Although it might sound strange, on hot days here, I longed for a scoop of sedano (celery) gelato from Il Gelato. It isn’t an after dinner dessert, but a late afternoon refreshment, and it is wonderful and indeed thoroughly refreshing. There is also an Il Gelato outpost a few blocks from the base of the Circo Massimo on Vialle Aventino—perfect for a sightseeing break. Second, although this post is limited to gelato, we often re-routed ourselves to ensure we passed by Gelateria Corona for granite (a cup full of icy fruit). Corona serves up what we all agree is the best granite in the city. (And we have our friend Monica to thank for clueing us in to this joy).

Here are our results. Happy licking.


Seth’s Top Picks:

1. I Mannari

2. (tie) Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. (tie) Gracchi

3. Neve de Latte

4. Tony

5. Gelateria del Pigneto

Nell’s Top Picks:

1. Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. I Mannari

3. (tie) Tony

3. (tie) Gracchi

4. Alberto Pica

5. Duse

Jenny’s Top Picks:

1. Gracchi

2. I Mannari

3. Corona

4. Mondi

5. Alberto Pica

Eli’s Top Picks:

1. Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. Gracchi

3. I Mannari

4. Tony

5. (tie) Mondi

5. (tie) Fata Morgana

The complete List (Alphabetical; note new locations always open, so check addresses):

Alberto Pica Campo di Fiori

This gelato has a very creamy and thick texture. We loved the pistachio, crème, chocolate, fragola, and limone. But the Rice & Cinnamon was the real star. . .like frozen rice pudding. This is a classic, old-fashioned place and an authentic experience- not fancy or modern, and a lot of fun.

Canova, Piazza del Popolo

Decent but not memorable. Though some in the family loved their chocolate, and a friend craved it throughout her pregnancy. Other flavors are okay. The strawberry is icy- refreshing but with bits of plain ice in it that we didn’t love. Don’t expect any warmth from the harried servers; the place is flooded with tourists.

Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina 29

The mango and chocolate were not special. The pistachio was creamy  and pale, almost white and tasted fresh, as did the hazelnut. The most special flavor was frutta di bosco (mixed berry). Portion sizes were generous.

Duse- da Giovanni, via Eleonora Duse 1e (Parioli)

The dark chocolate was really dark- according to Nell it tasted like a cold bar of dark chocolate. What was really special here was the zabaglione  flavor—which locals came up to us to say we had to try. Spectacular. No tourists at this local place! One of the best, but off the beaten path.

Fata Morgana (Prati, Monti)

Great and charming location in Monti! But very small portions. . .the scoop is so small that we felt cheated. Given the fame of this place, we were surprised that some flavors were off: the cinnamon had pieces of bark that were so large they had to be spit out, the fennel/licorice was a bit too  strong and unpleasant, and the crème was just plain bland. Madagascar  chocolate got good reviews, as did black cherry. We had fond memories of this place from a few years ago, but feel that others have now surpassed it.

Fior di Luna, via della Lungaretta 96 (Trastevere)

A humble, no frills place, still frequented by locals despite being on a very  tourist-laden street. No cones. Crème catalane was low on flavor, chocolate was very good. White chocolate was tasty but not memorable. All organic and locally produced and better than others in this high-tourist, generally poor food area.

Gelateria Corona Campo de Fiori/Largo Argentina

Although known for their gelato, the granite at this place is truly outstanding! They have a range of flavors and all are savory and  refreshing. The gelato was excellent, but truly outstanding and special was the lemon/basil. The pear and cinnamon was also fabulous.

Gelateria Frigidarium Via del Governo Vecchio, 112 (Piazza Navona)

The “Fridgidarium” flavor is crème caramel with pieces of biscotti- and is very delicious, if not cloyingly sweet. This place gives you the option of having your scoop of gelato covered in dark or white chocolate after it has been placed in your cup or cone. The gelato is good, albeit a bit on the sweet side.

Gelateria dei Gracchi 
Via dei Gracchi 272 

Don’t leave Rome without going here. The freshness of the flavors and    ingredients is unparalleled. Especially good at fruit flavors- such as peach  in high summer (which made our heads spin) and the fragolini- little  strawberries—in early summer. The pistachio is amazing and the chocolate won rave reviews for its smoothness.

Gelateria del Teatro 
Via di San Simone 70 (Navona-ish)

Fun and unusual flavors such as sage & raspberry, white chocolate & basil. Winning flavor seemed to be Sicilian orange. Great location and fresh ingredients. Truly artisanal.

Gelateria Origini via del Gesu (Pantheon)

Delicious gelato, but nothing extraordinary. Unfriendly service and the  highest price tag of any of the places we visited lead me to conclude that it  is a tasty treat, but not worth going out of my way.

Giolitti, via degli Uffici del Vicario 40 (Pantheon)

You’ll have read about this place in all of the standard guide books- as    have the throngs of other non-locals elbowing their way to the counter    without having paid first (which means they have to elbow their way back out). Fruit and nut flavors are very good and there is tremendous variability in flavors. When I first started tasting gelato, I thought this place was amazing. . .now I realize that it is not exceptional. There is a lot   of hype. Nell did not love the chocolate and Eli threw away his stracciatella without finishing it.

GROM (Ubiquitous)

Eli was not impressed with the stracciatella and Nell found the chocolate sub-par. My vanilla was not great, and my sea salt with caramel was disappointing. One winner: Eli said the red grapefruit was very good.  Overall, a standard chain (they are all over the city) that is fine, but you can do a lot better.

I Caruso. Via Collina, 13-15 (Via Veneto-ish)

Absolutely delicious. Not charming and because the word is out, swarming with tourists. But so good that after finishing, we got back on the line to get  another shared cone of strawberry. Nell was disappointed with the extra dark chocolate, which she found not bitter or dark enough. But – unusual for her- she loved my strawberry, which she described as “like a fresh cold bowl of strawberries.” My peach was also outstanding. We never get whipped cream with our gelato, but did here. The zabaglione is fresh whipped rather than served from a machine. Also has the great advantage  of being around the corner from one of my favorite restos, Cantina Cantarni on Piazza Sallustio, which features the food of the Marche region.

I dolci di checco al Carettiere (Trastevere)

Eli was very disappointed in the stracciatella and gave it a zero; but he said the limone was excellent and gave it a 10. We all found our flavors to be very tasty, just not memorable. Still a decent spot to stop for a treat.

I Mannari, via di Grotta Perfetta 125 (EUR-ish)

Nirvana. The gelato here is made by Giuseppe, former gelato-maker at   Tony. He uses few ingredients in this gelato, basically fruit, sugar, and  water. The favors were so clear and fresh. The mango felt like a scoop of fresh mango, same with the clean, pure banana. The buffalo milk fior de   latte was simply outstanding. This was truly perfect gelato: simple, ideal, refreshing favor—and at bargain prices. The owner tells us that he isn’t in this to build a big business and make money because that would sacrifice  his gelato. I ended up dreaming about this place. It is, unfortunately, not so easy to reach for visitors. But for me, this is the best gelato in Rome.

Il Capriccio di Carla Piazzale Prenestino, 30/31 (Pigneto)

I was a bit annoyed because the person behind the counter wouldn’t offer any suggestions about which flavors were best on the day I visited-  insisting that all were excellent. I’d say all are okay. The fruit flavors were good, but ordinary. The lemon was bland and the melon almost too strong.  The real winner here was the pistachio- rich, smooth, with little bits of nuts- I could really taste the quality if the pistachios.

il Gelato di Claudio Torce’ 
Viale Aventino/ Monte D’Oro (Pza Popolo/Spanish Steps or Circus maximus)

This is our modal place. We visited here more than any other gelateria this year. At any given time, Il Gelato features about 80 different flavors. About  twenty of them are in the chocolate category and Nell says they are all winners. She especially likes chocolate/orange, intense chocolate, 100% cocoa chocolate, and chocolate cinnamon. The cinnamon and ginger is amazing. Eli   says that every flavor here is great. I became addicted to the ginger & cinnamon  (zenzero e canella), celery (sedano), salty peanut, and rice (riso) flavors. Jenny says that this place is one of the things she will miss most when we no longer live here.

* Il gelato di Procopio Piazza Re di Roma

A bustling place that has been around for generations serving locals, this is a fine gelato. There are some special flavors (like wild berry and crème or crème of mini strawberry) that have a little too much overrun; but the air does leave the flavors tasty and light. The regular fruit flavors are pleasant and  refreshing. A no-nonsense, good standby.

La Casa del Cremolato  (fruit frozen): Piazza Crati

Not really gelato, but it is so hard to find true cremolato these days. . .and this place really does it right! Eat at Restaurant Mora, grab a cremolato  here, and then go visit the Catacombs of Priscilla a few blocks away. . .what a perfect afternoon.

La Gelateria del Pigneto, via Pesaro, 13

Few places in Rome still make their gelato the way Fillipo does it here. I arrived in late morning before he had officially opened, and there he was, in the small back kitchen working alone and mixing a batch of pistachio by  hand. His entire kitchen is viewable by anyone standing in front of his cash register. I tried his special flavors, mango with chili and chocolate   with chile. They were both flavorful with a nice kick of heat. Then I went  back to try more traditional flavors. His pistachio was excellent, with nice crunch. But his real winner was the canella (cinnamon), which  was amazing. This is a cute little neighborhood place and a fine artisanal gelato.

Mondi, via Flaminia 468 (Ponte Milvio)

Hidden away near Ponte Milvio, a lovely place that also has great pastry   and chocolate. The coffee gelato was a hit as were the featured combos in their own case. I had “Insuperibile,” which was crème, lemon, strawberry, pistachio, and pieces of meringue. The featured combos all looked  incredible. And all the tasters gave this place rave reviews. In a future post, we’ll highlight three of our favorite restaurants in Rome that are very close to Mondi.

Neve Di Latte 
via Luigi Poletti 6

Just behind the MAXXI museum, this all-natural gelateria is a winner. All of the ingredients are organic and fair-trade, many from small farms. Pistachio  and chocolate were amazing, all of the flavors were rich and decadent. . .this  is pretty close to a perfect gelato, and it is extra fun knowing your purchase is supporting small, dedicated farmers and dairies! Worth the schelp- at the end   of the #2 tram.

Petrini, piazza dell’Alberone 16/A

Although this is not a flavor that appeals to me and I have never ordered it, all the locals were requesting banana and the tub kept emptying and getting replaced as I tried to fight my way to the counter. The banana was a pale off white—a good sign because, when you think about it, the inside of the fruit isn’t bright yellow and the gelato shouldn’t be either. So I tried it and it was magical. Smooth, light, and full of flavor. The fior de latte was also cool and refreshing.  Great gelateria with the crowds spilling onto the on the sidewalk to prove it.

Rivareno, via Magna Grecia 25 (San Giovanni)

Excellent, but tastes more like ice cream than gelato. The vanilla    Madagascar was very good. A special treat: the crème all’aceto Balsamico.   Rather than being blended in, the syrupy Modena balsamic vinegar was spooned   and spread across the top of the crème flavored gelato by the server. Still,   the place felt a bit corporate and low on charm. Not a destination type of   place, but worth trying if you are nearby.

San Crispino (Pantheon)

            This place is a lot of hype, mentioned in every guidebook for Rome. I find it all a little too precious, a lot too expensive, and way too unfriendly. Last  time I was there, I think the server was literally scowling at his customers  while his co-worker pretended not to understand any requests in English (is “chocolate” really that hard when you work in an ice cream shop?).  Whereas Neve di Latte proudly lists the locally procured ingredients in   each of their flavors, San Crispino says their ingredients are a big secret that can’t be shared. Whatever. I do think that their lemon gelato is terrific. But in the end, this place is no better and a bit worse than other places. I prefer to take my business and taste buds elsewhere. Plus, they consider  themselves too fancy to offer cones.

Sciascia Café: Via Fabio Massimo, 80/A. (Prati)

Like a throw-back to another time, this dark wood paneled, old-fashioned candy store exudes charm and nostalgia. . .as does the elderly owner who uses the most respectful forms of Italian (expect “arrividerla” instead of  “arriverderci’). I asked the barista which of the seven flavors available  was the best and he selected for me the pistachio and crème. Indeed,  they were smooth, creamy, flavorful, and simple. Great gelato and ambiance make it a charming place to cool off. I really loved my visit here  and can’t wait to go back. It was delicious, fun and comforting.

Tony (ai Colli Portuensi), largo Missiroli 15/16/17 (Monteverde Nuovo)

This place rocks, pulling among our highest scores on a day when we all arrived almost too hot and cranky to be pleased. It was an excellent value at E1.50 for THREE scoops of gelato. Our favorites were the crème, the   ricotta and cinnamon, the Sicilian pistachio, the stracciatella, and, of course, the chocolate. Judging from the long line of locals waiting to get in, and the pace at which all of the flavors were moving, I don’t think we could    have made a bad choice from the wide variety. The gelato was clean, smooth, and flavorful. A clear favorite and everything we could want in a gelato!

Via Gregorio VII 385 (Vatican-ish)

A fancy up-scale place, but the gelato is tasty and some of the unusual  flavor combinations are wonderful. Hits included the Amalfi Lemon and I think   they had the best Madagascar Vanilla that I tasted. A new location is expected   to open in the Center soon.

Places We Couldn’t Get to This Year. . .maybe next time:

Al Settimo Gelo 
Via Vodice 21

Bar Cristiano, piazza Eschilo 84-85

Cremeria Aurelia, via Aurelia 389

Fassi, via Principe Eugenio 65/67

Gori – Piazza Menenio Agrippa, 8

via Vestricio Spurinna 97/99

Il gelato di Gatto, via Luigi Capuana 30

Chatting with the chef/owner of I Mannari

I cajoled our friends Maria, Hisham, Laith and Aden into visiting I Mannari after dinner (okay, it wasn’t that hard to do). . .it was so close to their home and they had never been there!

Last week at dinner, I told my Dad something that I thought would surprise him– and it did. I told him that even after talking about it for so many years, I never really believed that we would actually go live in Rome. Even while we were getting on the airplane in Chicago, I still didn’t believe that we would actually be living in Rome. I thought probably the plane would crash land and we’d have to come back to Madison. So even though my parents talked about this for so long, I actually felt surprised when we arrived here.

I thought that I would never really be living here because when my parents first started talking about it, it seemed so long away. It felt unrealistic. I never started thinking that we were really going to live here until we actually arrived at our apartment on via del Babuino.

When I brought my suitcase into my bedroom, then I thought “well, this is my room.” I felt nervous. It felt kind of like a whole new life. I was worried that I wouldn’t understand things here and what school would be like. It was so strange that I didn’t even really think to myself about whether I would actually like it here or not. But I did think the year was going to be a fun experience even though I had no idea what it would be like.

At first I missed my friends and Michael’s Frozen Custard. In Madison, you just go see people by walking down the block to their house. But here, everyone was in apartments instead of houses and I couldn’t walk anywhere alone. It was okay though, just different. One of the first things I remember noticing was that a lot of adults here smoked cigarettes and that really bothered me to smell it everywhere. The two things that I was most excited about were pizza and soccer.

Now I can’t believe the year is over. I am really sad to leave Rome and wish we could stay here, but I hope that saying that is no offense to the Madison people.

I am sad because I have met so many very nice people here. Waiters, gelato tenders, and the kids at my school were very nice. I have made a lot of friends here this year and it is really hard to have to say goodbye to friends. It was my hardest day all year when I had to say goodbye to all of my friends here on the last day of school.

Rome is now my favorite city in the whole world and I want to come back here every year to visit. And I want to stay a week at the least each time, but maybe longer.

My happiest things have been: meeting all my friends here and trying all kinds of new foods that I love. I have loved traveling and having new adventures in new parts of the world. I also loved getting even more into soccer here and learning about all of the Italian and other countries’ soccer teams.

Learning Italian was really fun, too. When I learn new things in math, I like to look for patterns. And this year I learned you can do the same thing with Italian. As an example, in Italian there are three kinds of verbs. So once I know if the third letter from the end of the verb, then I know the pattern of how to use it. The verbs all end in -are, -ire, or -ere. But once you know the word and the rule, it is very easy to figure out what form it has to be (like in English we just say eat and use the same word for I eat, you eat, we eat. But in Italian the verb mangiare changes depending on who is eating). But some verbs are just weird and don’t follow the pattern and you have to remember them, like essere or avere. And the endings tell me whether something already happened or will happen, so that is easy, too. It is hard when I don’t know the word for something, but if someone tells me I can usually remember it. I really like learning new languages.

I feel that I have more knowledge about other places in the world. And when I hear about different places, I will remember seeing them or know people who live there or have families there. I have liked lots of different languages, and I have tried to learn at least a few words in each place we visited. We have had lots of problems traveling and now I feel like a confident traveller and I think I will always like to travel a lot when I grow up. But not for business, just for vacation.

I am super glad that my parents took us on sabbatical. It has been really, really fun being in Europe. Honest. I liked speaking in Italian, playing soccer almost every day at school, how outgoing and friendly Italian kids and grownups are, how late dinner is here, that the food was not “fancy” but really good. I liked EVERYTHING and will miss everything except the cigarettes and one kid from school.

It is ironic because now that we are leaving Rome, I feel like I spent most of my life here. Like I did when I was leaving Madison.  I don’t remember what my room looks like in Madison, and my bedroom here feels like my room. And my friends here, I feel like I have known them my whole life. I still want to go back to Madison, but I wish sabbatical could last another year or two or maybe three. It is hard for me to believe that I won’t stay living in Rome.

— Eli

One of our motivations for maintaining a blog this year was that we benefitted so much from reading the blogs of other families who had spent a sabbatical year abroad. We felt a need to return the favor.

In writing these reflections, we acknowledge that we were atypical in that we began planning this sabbatical many years before we actually took it. Also unusual about our experience was that we decided to dis-save this year (sorry, college and retirement funds), and use whatever financial resources we could to make things go smoothly. Part of that reflected that we had been saving since our last sabbatical, seven years ago, to have a financial cushion for this year. But part of it also reflected our belief that anything that helped ease us into the year, prevent stress, and avoid tearful evenings during our limited time away, was a wise investment.

1. Because we could, we took a full year. Often there are hard constraints on the length of a sabbatical—what percent salary cut a family can afford, spouses’ jobs, cost of living, etc. But if it is feasible, we are strong advocates of making the move for a full year. We have met many families this year that originally planned half-year visits, and they all regretted not planning a full year. It often takes several months for children to settle in, make friends, find favorite restaurants, feel like their room is their own. Second, it takes time for children to become sufficiently integrated that they do not feel like the “new kid.” It also takes adults a while to really find the people who end up clicking as family friends. Our observations are that children end up having a lot more fun when they attend a regular school or day care program with peers during a year away (as opposed to staying with parents all day). It provides an entrée into a new culture that wouldn’t otherwise be available to a visiting family. Best of all, because of an odd legal loophole, people paid in US dollars who stay outside of the United States for over 330 days do not have to pay any federal income tax!! That has helped make this year much more financially feasible for us.

2. We started language/culture exposure early. A year and a half before moving to Rome, we signed the children up for a very casual Saturday morning Italian class. They really enjoyed the games and food. The point wasn’t to learn much Italian—in fact, our kids left the US overconfident about their abilities. But that was the real benefit of the class. With all the worry they had about leaving their friends and arriving at a new school, one thing they were not worried about was communicating in a different language. This alleviated a great deal of worry for them and made the transition much easier. It is true that once we arrived, they realized how difficult it is to communicate in a non-native language. But at least they were familiar with the sounds, could greet people and introduce themselves, order food in restaurants, say please and thank you, and answer simple questions from friendly adults. All of this helped them a lot socially. At the very least, it is good to arrive knowing how to introduce oneself and say “Can I play, too?”

3. Think about the stuff. Packing up one’s house is a tricky maneuver. On the one hand it is good to get things cleaned out early, especially if someone else will be living in your house. We were very glad that we did not wait until the last minute. It was easier for our children to leave their bedrooms when those rooms were no longer filled with cozy memories; starting to pack things up many weeks in advance helped them slowly adjust to leaving. Still, packing up a house can also be distressing for kids and bring up a lot of anxieties about the upcoming move. Here, we tried an experiment that ended up working very well for us. We slowly started to pack the children’s rooms up removing a few items every weekend and filling separate boxes in the attic with items to be saved versus given away. For each child, we made a box for keepsakes with large labels that read “Eli’s Special Things” and “Nell’s Special Things.” One day, Eli came to us very, very upset because he couldn’t find something that was important to him in his room. We took him to the attic and showed him the box, and he stared at it, and dug around looking at his favorite stuff all tucked away. He felt extremely satisfied. Then, about a week later, Nell was in tears believing that we had thrown away one of her beloved stuffed animals. Eli turned to her and, in a very reassuring and upbeat voice, told her not to worry. “In the attic we each have a box where our special things are protected,” he told her happily, “it even says “Nell’s Special Things.’” Then he took her upstairs to confirm that her favorite belongings were safe and would be here when we returned. Everyone lived happily ever after, and not another word was spoken about stuff that would not accompany us to Italy.

4. Given our children’s ages, we tried to make the destination concrete. This is an expensive undertaking that is not always feasible. But a year before moving to Rome, we visited over the children’s spring break. We looked at neighborhoods and schools, saw some sights, and ate a lot of gelato… We thought that the kids might be less anxious if they could concretely picture things like the school playground or have some memories of parts of the city, making it seem more familiar. Indeed, that seemed to work.

5. To help promote buy-in, we gave the kids some choices. Many families that we have met this year at our kids’ international school have been struggling with children who are not happy about having been forced to move. At the beginning of the school year, the elementary school principal met with the parents of all of the new kids. As the daughter of a diplomat, who had to move a lot herself as a child, she had great insights. One of the things she told the group of parents was really helpful. She reminded the adults that we had chosen jobs that we loved that involved international travel, we were advancing our own careers by opting to spend a year in another place, we were fulfilling our dreams of living in Italy, or we had finally gotten that sabbatical we so wanted. And even though as parents we told ourselves about all of the benefits that this experience would confer for our children, these were still OUR dreams and fantasies, not what our kids had signed up for. She reminded parents to chill out, be patient, and not be surprised if our children are less excited about it all than their parents.

We had thought about this type of issue a bit before leaving Madison.  While the option of going away on sabbatical wasn’t up for a vote, we tried to think of constrained choices to give the kids to give them some sense of control over what was happening. For example, we narrowed the list of possible schools down to ones we liked, and let the children provide input into the final decision. That sense of ownership actually helped a lot. If there was one thing the kids LOVED about this year, it was their school. We gave the kids some choices about our home, allowing them to help pick the final apartment once we had narrowed it down to two choices we liked, and allowed them to choose their sleeping configuration (they had really wanted to share a bedroom this year, probably for comfort). We each brought one large suitcase for the year, and we gave the kids a lot of latitude about what they chose to put in their own bag. First we helped them make a pile of everything that they ideally would want, and worked with them to make sure they made good choices that fit (and ensured that they would have some underwear!). We advised, but their own hands took stuff out of the pile of things to be packed and into the storage bins. There were no tears while packing.

Since we had chosen our sabbatical destination, the kids asked if they could choose some of our trips. So we allowed each of them to select a destination for their birthdays, and their Fall Break destination. We had planned on London, but they really wanted to go to Paris for the entire break rather than travel around. So we showed them how to peruse travel web sites and let them set our activities. It worked out really well, especially since it was a destination that we already knew well as parents. They really enjoyed both the trip and the feeling of being in the driver’s seat. For other cities, we found more limited ways to help them feel involved, such as selecting hotels once we had made a short list, or rank-ordering restaurants we might try to visit based on recommendations by food bloggers.

We think activities like this gave them some authorship over the year. Admittedly, this might be too child-centric for some people’s parenting tastes. But we considered it to be in our own self-interest.

6. We laid the groundwork for a smooth landing. This was another expensive decision, but a good investment. About a month before we moved, Seth made a two-day trip to Rome as an add-on to a conference trip. During that time, he set up infrastructure. He opened our bank account, set up our cell phones, applied for annual metro cards, mapped the route to the children’s school bus stop, found the nearest grocery store to our home, turned on utilities, internet, etc. He took pictures for the children of our street, our closest gelato place and chocolate shops, the nearest playground. When we arrived as a family, almost everything was working, and we didn’t need to spend a lot of our time with the kids waiting on long lines and running dull errands. It helped get us off to a fun start.

7. We may regret this later, but we let a lot of things go this year. The adults in our family were getting a treat, a real respite from the regular demands of our daily professional lives. So we thought the kids deserved a break, too. And we told them so, waiving a lot of the rules that we normally follow at home. This year, the kids are allowed to order anything they want to eat or drink from restaurant menus. The kids wanted a break from violin practice—what the heck, it was a sabbatical, so we allowed them to take the year off. We’ve allowed more TV time, more desserts, more electronics, later bedtimes, more impulse purchases. . .all with the idea that it is a special year for all us. We think of it as a way to mark this time as a special epoch.

8. Invest in eReaders. We were a bit dubious about introducing the children to Kindles. But English language books are incredibly expensive and hard to find in places where English is not the native language. Plus, books are very expensive to ship home. Back in Madison, we shuttle books back and forth to our local library every week and we worried about what it would be like not to have that resource. So we decided to buy each kid a Kindle as a buon viaggio gift. Best. Idea. Ever. We don’t know what we (or they) would have done if we couldn’t simply download new books for the kids. . .and all of their favorite books from the year now only weigh a few ounces. Best of all, a lot of the child classics are now free downloads.

9. We made a decision to budget, and then not worry about money for one year. We had a very funny (in retrospect) and humbling experience a few months before our sabbatical began. We had spent hours figuring out the most we could possibly spend on rent in Rome, then stretched a bit more to “treat” ourselves. But when we began looking at real estate, we realized that we had been living in Wisconsin for too long! Our estimates were so far off that realtors all wrote back saying they had absolutely nothing to show us. So we took the view that our daily lives are pretty inexpensive in Madison relative to what they would be in bigger US cities. Given that, we decided to just live in the moment and stress about finances before and after– but not during– the sabbatical year. We reasoned that we only had a year, and we didn’t want an apartment that required us to spend time on a bus or in a car commuting, or having breakfast in a dreary room, or not being able to walk and get a good coffee or gelato or bread. Sabbaticals are special, and so it did not seem worth it to us to cast a shadow over the time by sweating a little debt for one year; we decided to just make great memories. We’ve uttered not a word to each other , or even focused much, about our daily expenses this year. That said, our friends are welcome to join us for beans and rice next year, because our major austerity measures kick in on September 1st!

10. There are many other topics that we wish we had thought more about ahead of time. It is worth considering how much travel is right for your family (too little and you don’t take full advantage of your location, too much and you miss integrating into local social life); How much effort will you make to avoid using English (kids will follow adults’ lead in their comfort level); How can you maximize meeting other parents, even if it cuts into work time?; How can you best find babysitters (Hint: students studying abroad are not allowed to work and often welcome extra cash, local high school students know the lay of the land, and student teachers are young, energetic and in need of cash); How frequently you can accommodate guests so that you can have fun visits and share your experience, but still be available to accept invitations from locals?

But our take home message is simple: If you’re in a job where you have this sort of opportunity, grab it and worry about the details later! Or, as they used to say in Rome, carpe diem! For all of the planning, work, expenses, and anxiety, we feel that our family got out of this year every single thing that we had hoped for.

We hope that some of these thoughts and suggestions will smooth your future paths, and welcome additional ideas from others who have taken a family sabbatical.

And for those of you on the fence about whether you can really pull it off, we offer an unequivocal yes—just do it. . .go!

– Seth & Jenny

Nell, Kim-Kim, Costanza, and Darcy signing each other’s yearbooks.

June has been a wildly social, frenetic, and satisfying month. We decided not to plan any travels in June so that we could enjoy our time in Rome. That turned out to be a very fortunate decision.

One thing that we did not anticipate was the intense flurry of social activities happening at the children’s school. Birthday parties seem to be taken very seriously here. But nearly all of the families flock from Rome as soon as school ends. Italian families head to their beach villas in in Toscana, or Sardegnia. The UN families get their leaves and are eager to have their children visit families back home. And international business people often send their children to visit grandparents or to camp. Because of this, children with birthdays in June, July, and August all throw their birthday parties in the first half of June.

Nell waiting to get her teacher Cristina’s autograph

A custom here is that parents rent a “party bus” that picks the party-going children up from school and takes them to the party destination. Often these festivities are held way outside of the city center. So we’ve been spending gobs of Euros on taxis to pick the children up. One weekend, we rode the metro back and forth across town shepherding the kids to their various events . . . our combined subway time was almost enough to have flown to North America. Fortunately, many local friends have been gracious enough to offer a helping hand to our auto-less family, and delivered or picked the kids up for us.

Eli collected signatures on his soccer ball.

In the meantime, Eli and Nell had a blast—and we did not see very much of them. They go off to school in the morning, then take a party bus from school to a birthday event, then are picked up by another family for a sleepover, and are then shuttled to another party the next morning! It’s really been non-stop festivities and fun, and an especially nice tradition that many kids invite the entire class to their birthday parties (and sweet that some kids choose very intimate 2-3 friend parties instead).

Hugs from Eli’s teacher, Ms. Curria.

As birthday parties began to wind down, the last day of school approached. The kids moved in opposite emotional trajectories across the day. Eli started the day excited and eager to get to school. But Nell was very sullen and moody in the morning. She was so quiet that one of her only utterances was a melancholic “I’m going to miss this place” as we all sat in the bar near the kids’ bus stop having breakfast.  Her eyes looked so sad that we knew the impending goodbyes were on her mind.

More hugs from Eli’s PE teacher, Ms. Lisa.

Many parents show up at the school on the last day to say goodbye to the teachers, and we had been looking forward to that. But it turned out to be an intense morning. Thankfully true to the stereotype, southern Italians are extremely warm and effusive people. Just as we walked into the school building, Eli’s Italian teacher, Ms. Ana-Maria made a bee-line for us, and in the most touching and heart-warming way, started telling us about how sad she was that we were leaving, about how wonderful Eli’s Italian is “. . . .his pronunciation, it is just beautiful, beautiful . ..,” how we had to help him continue his Italian, what a great experience this has been for him and how glad she was to have him as her student. I literally got a lump in my throat, and then we were all hugging. And then we saw the school librarian, Ms. Viola, whom Nell became very attached to this year. And again, as we were saying goodbye, Ms. Viola became tearful about saying goodbye and so did we.

Nikos, Eli, and Laith

But then we walked up to Eli’s classroom, and the affection being displayed was so lovely and not at all what one would see in an American school. The boys all had their arms around each other. And as kids were being picked up they would run over to Eli and hug him, then begin to walk out of the room, then run back and hug him again. And this was repeated so many times that the parents gave up on trying to get their children home because they were all hugging and some crying, and telling each other how much they would be missed. And although it might sound like a mess in the re-telling, it was all so sincere and affectionate and, frankly, lovely to see a culture where boys are encouraged to be so emotionally demonstrative and expressive. Everyone felt very loved.

Arrivederci, Ambrit.

In Nell’s classroom, the children had each made her lovely going away notes that were so sweet and thoughtful. There was much merriment in the room . . .apparently when the children were seated in a circle to watch a presentation on the SmartBoard, the teacher had accidently left Nell’s report card open on her computer.. .so it was broadcast for all to see. Although we won’t receive her grades for a few days, the word from Nell’s friends is that she got excellent marks this year. . .and many of the comments on her goodbye cards reflected this purloined information. Nell had regained her composure by the time we arrived and was having a great time running around the building having people sign her yearbook. And it was especially nice that the parents of her dearest friend have invited us to spend a few days at their beach house next week. So Nell appreciated not having to say goodbye to that friend yet.

We made our way out of the lobby, stopped by so many parents and children and teachers saying goodbye and wishing us well that I told jenny if I had to say one more goodbye I was going to burst into tears. But then just as we were leaving the building, this all caught up with Eli and he had a good cry. We stood outside the school for a while as he was thinking about how much he has enjoyed his friends this year and how much he will miss them. It was hard to say goodbye, and great to have made such great connections!

Lunch at Da Gino afterward to try to cheer everyone up!

We then headed for a celebratory lunch at one of the children’s favorite restaurants, Da Gino. There, we all toasted each other on a great sabbatical year and offered the kids special recognition for so many of the things they accomplished. We celebrated Nell and Eli’s having integrated into a new culture and new school, having learned to get around in another language, having braved and excelled on the soccer field, having formed such rich friendships with genuinely delightful children, and having become truly inquisitive world travellers.

Then we went home and had a nap.

– Seth

Back when we were first learning to use the nasone.

Rome is normally very expensive, but one of the best things in the city is free! I am talking about the drinking fountains all around Rome, called nasone.

Why are these fountains called nasone (or “big noses” in Italian)? It is because these fountains have long, bent tubes or spouts coming out of them that resemble long noses.  You can put your head under the spout or fill up a water bottle. But the “noses” also have little holes on top. So if you put your finger in the spout, water shoots up out of the spout (like a whale’s blow hole) and it is an easy drinking fountain.

Most of the nasone were first installed in 1874.

They are useful for refilling water bottles.

Most tourists don’t know that the water coming out of these fountains is drinkable. It is especially surprising how good the water tastes. It tastes good and is refreshing because it comes from the mountains, through aqueducts and a mix of springs around the city.

Teaching Zach, Gaby, and Sam to use the nasone when they visited.

Some people think it is a waste of water to have the fountains running all the time. But it is good because people do not need to danger the earth by buying new plastic water bottles all the time.

There are more than 2,500 nasone in Rome.  Most are in the historical center, but you can still find some on the outskirts.

A special naso on Via Margutta, around the corner from us.

I like them because when it is really hot out and I am thirsty, I can wet my head under them and have a drink. My favorite place for nasone to be is when it is right near a gelato place. So if I get stuff on my hands, I can wash it off. And it is always good to drink after you eat gelato.

Nasone are useful for dunking kids in.

There are also more than 90 fountains that you can drink from around Rome. One of the most famous is the “broken boat” fountain near our house in Piazza di Spagna.

— Eli

The nasone and the water are owned by the city of Rome. That is why they all have SPQR written on them. It stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus (“The Senate and People of Rome”). But my Dad keeps saying that it means Sono Pazzi Questi Romani, which is Italian for “These Romans are crazy.” It isn’t true, he is just being goofy.

On Mondays my after-school activity is choir. The choir I do is for grades 2 and 3. At the end of the year, the choir goes on a special trip.

At 9 in the morning we went on a bus and drove to a school where we were going to perform a concert. I thought it would be in a lunchroom or gym, but it was in a little courtyard under olive trees. After that, they gave us ice cream, even though it was only 11 in the morning.

With Darcy, Eve, and Tatiana in the hull of one of the ancient boats.

After that we took the same bus to a boat museum on Lake Nemi. In Ancient Rome times, one of the emperors, Caligula, built these huge boats in the lake, with marble floors and mosaics and gold.  They were apparently party boats of some kind. The boats sank long ago, and years later they were found at the bottom of the lake.

So in the museum they used to display those two boats. But during World War 2, someone came in and put a fire in the museum so the boats aren’t there any more. But there are pieces of the mosaics and anchors and other parts of the boat to see. In the museum, since it is always empty, Mrs. Short, our choir teacher, had us perform a song that was particularly sad because the boats were burned. It’s called The Swan. She posted a movie of us singing in the museum to YouTube. Here is the link if you’d like to listen to us sing.

Then we took the same bus to Lake Albano, which was once a volcanic crater and is also where the Pope’s summer castle is. We had lunch on the beach, and then we went in the lake to swim. It was very cold and the sand was very mushy so people were screaming and shouting. In some places the sand was sticky. My friend Darcy was wearing Crocs and they got stuck in the sand and I swam under and found them.

We stayed in the water for about an hour, playing. My teacher, Mrs. Short, went in the water too. Then we got out to dry. They had real beach chairs and beach umbrellas. So then me and my friends just lay there and sunned ourselves. Then we sang a concert on the beach in our swimsuits.

After that we got dressed and the grownups brought us more ice cream!

I was looking forward to this day so much, and it was even better than I expected!


8 July, 2012

It’s the second to last week of school for the kids, and I’m feeling some pressure to get as much work done as possible before they are home and work essentially ceases until we get back to Madison. But the weather is spectacular; hot and breezy and the seagulls circling all around our terrace are crying out just one thing: beach, beach, beach. And our friend Reka is calling too, offering to drive us 45 minutes out of town to the coast near Ostia for some oceanside sunning and lunching.

I know I should work. But then again, how often can we play hooky and go to the beach? In Madison, that would take a plane flight (or two). So we metro out to Reka’s house and we drive down a road lined with umbrella pine trees and fragrant bushes to the coast.

Reka, Seth, seafood, sand, and sea.

Romans we know like to denigrate the local beaches. They prefer the more sightly sands north of here, in Tuscany, or south toward Sperlonga. So we were pleasantly surprised by how nice the beach here is! As we’ve found elsewhere in Europe, there are restaurants and clubs lining the sands where one can rent an umbrella and deck chairs. And the restaurants are real restaurants! In tempting us to join her today, Reka told us that the spaghetti a la vongole (with clams) was particularly good at this beach restaurant. And I don’t know if it was the sea air or the bracing wind or the dip in the sea, but it really was. How fun to walk from one’s beach umbrella to sit in a real restaurant with wine and fresh seafood, all without getting the sand off one’s feet?

Afterwards, we drove back with Reka to the kids’ school. But instead of heading right home, we decided to try to find a gelateria that was rumored to be excellent, about 20 minutes walk away in an interesting neighborhood called Monteverde Nuovo (to be constrasted with Monteverde Vecchio, or old Monteverde).

Gelateria Tony

Gelateria Tony was teeming with locals on the hot afternoon, and Seth and the kids gave the gelato rave reviews. I was actually too hot for gelato, and chose my favorite summery sweet: granita (which is sort of like a slurpy but with real fruit and juice – incredibly refreshing). The cantaloupe granita really tasted like the fruit, but the winner was the lemon, tart and cooling.

The granita came with a cookie straw; now that’s a first!

We then walked another 20 minutes to the tram, which took us to Largo Argentina. Nearby is a famous Roman restaurant, Trattoria Filetti di Baccalà, that serves only one thing, fried cod. There is of course also salad (excellent, with anchovy dressing) to cut the fat and salt. But the cod is the thing. Still salty from the ocean hours earlier, we filled up on fried fish, always appropriate on Friday. When searching for the restaurant’s actual name, I came across a youtube video that captures the experience of dining there; here is the link.

And to cool off, one last granita, this time at Corona in Largo Argentina (hat tip to our friends Monica, Patrik, Michael, and Daniel for this find). But since I had enjoyed a granita earlier, I opted for their lemon basil flavored gelato. Possibly my favorite flavor in Rome. And a perfect way to end a day of playing hooky!

– Jenny