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Book Review: Rough Guide Rome DIRECTIONS


Photo: Amazon.com

The WanderDad, the kids and I spent four fabulous days in Rome this past June. Going to Rome, showing my kids around and having them enjoy the Eternal City as much as I did the first time I visited there was an important goal for me as I planned this trip. The weather, unfortunately, was not really playing along with my plans. We sweltered in Venice and practically melted in Florence. The sun reflecting off the stone surfaces in the piazza with the famous gravity-challenged tower in Pisa meant we didn’t do much more than hit the gelato stands. I’d rather have stuck pins in my eyes than attempt to convince my children to venture up those 294 steps in that heat.

We deliberated about whether or not to visit Rome for almost two weeks. And then fate forced our hand – in the form of no available hotel rooms by the beach. We found ourselves on a late night train trundling through Tuscany on our way to the capital. My children were happy to be on the train again, back to bickering over whose turn it was to play with the Nintendo. I was stressing in the corner: worrying that if I couldn’t get the boys to engage and express an interest in the sights and attractions in Rome, our visit would be a disaster. WanderDad threw me an “honestly, woman” look and suggested that I give the boys a guidebook and let them choose what they wanted to do. Novel idea (pun intended).

As if on cue, the crescendo of bickering rose to a point where parental intervention was required and the Nintendo was confiscated. I waited for my moment, the first weighty sigh of boredom: “You’re bored. Oh dear. Hey, how about checking out this book, and picking out some things you’d like to see or do in Rome”. With that, I thrust the Rough Guide Rome DIRECTIONS into the hands of my older son. BigB took one look, pulled out his own book and buried himself in it. Score: Magical fiction with a young boy as the central character: 1; Guidebooks 0. (But then again, eight is a little young to really appreciate a good guidebook).

The RG DIRECTIONS series is a perfect guidebook for a tween:

  • Plenty of pictures.
  • Short, detailed text.
  • An Ideas section with top-5 lists to suit a wide variety of interests and activities.
  • City maps on the inner cover pages and neighborhood maps throughout the book.

CAM settled back in his seat and started flipping pages. The Ideas section caught his eye immediately. He started turning down page corners. Intriguingly, on some pages he made a 1/2 inch fold, on others a slightly larger fold and on others the whole page was folded in half. WanderDad poked me and threw me an “I told you so” look. Charming.

When CAM dropped the guidebook, I picked it up nonchalantly and in that “I don’t care, but I’ll die if you don’t tell me” way that moms can’t help but kids can spot a mile away, I asked: “So, bud, what do the turned down pages mean?” Naturally, the first response was a wearied rolling of eyes. “Jeez, Mom. The things I really want to see are the biggest folds, the things I’d like to see the medium folds, and the things I could, y’know, take or leave, the small folds”. Well, duh for me. Obvious when you put it like that.

And so, for the next four days, we organized our days around that little book and its folded pages, and we had a really enjoyable time. I used the neighborhood reviews in the book to come up with a day plan for each day. I made an executive decision to skip the museums and the churches: this was going to be an outdoors-only visit. We walked for miles exploring the neighborhoods with our trusty pocket-sized DIRECTIONS in hand (well, stuffed in my bag really). We ate at the restaurants marked on the neighborhood maps. We ate well and didn’t spend a fortune. In most of the restaurants in which we ate, we were the only tourists in sight which was a nice perk and one for which I recommend the Rough Guide very highly. The piece-de-resistance for my children was the Almost Corner Bookshop in the Trastevere neighborhood. The best selection of English-language kids books I’ve ever seen in any such bookstore. Again, we found it with the help of the little RG DIRECTIONS book.

My kids still talk about how much fun they had in Rome. I credit this guidebook with helping us to draw our children in and open up the city to them. We’re already talking about trips for 2009 and even 2010. There’s a variety of cities on our list. Here’s hoping that there are RG DIRECTIONS guidebooks available for all of them.

Click on the photo of the book at the top of the page to buy the book on Amazon.com.

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