family · fitness · Guest Post

There and Back Again: Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series of staying active while travelling with kids. Parts 1 and 2 take place in Rome, Italy during the author’s travels there without her spouse, with a friend and the friend’s son, during a conference trip. In Part 1, the group goes cycling along the Via Appia Antica on a sweltering hot Roman summer day. In Part 2, they escape the city for the hills above Rome and kayaking on a crater lake.

We actually slept in a bit the morning of our kayak trip, and put in a few hours of work before we headed out on a transportation mode extravaganza that by the end of the day involved walking, taxi, minibus, kayaking, more minibus, train, and a taxi. The task: escape the heat of Rome as the mercury climbed to nearly 100 F (37 C).

Mission accomplished.

We went out to Lago (lake) Albano, a lake in a caldera above which rises the summer home of previous Popes and below which lie the wrecks from naval training battles. It was apparently host to the 1960 Summer Olympic canoeing and rowing events. Pope Francis apparently does not summer there, believing it to be too elitist, and has converted the residence to a museum. The locals appreciate the upside: crowds of devout Catholics and tourists used to flock to the area on hopes of seeing and being near the Pope AND the streets would be shut down by police and his guard. Now, tourists and city dwellers still come for the lake, but the traffic is entirely manageable and the numbers are not a strain.

A screenshot of Google Maps showing Lake Albano, an oval crater lake, with the Sport Club from whence we launched marked in green.

The whole group was quite excited for this one, as well: both adult women (myself and Randi), the two 14 year olds (my Son1 and Randi’s son) and my 11 year old (Son 2, the avid cyclist among us). It was a bit spur of the moment in response to the heat, booked just a few days before as I paged through AirBnB’s new Experiences feature. I hate to give a plug for them cause capitalism and ain’t nobody paying me, but they did hook us up with some folks we would never otherwise have found including the former competitive rowers and kayakers who run the kayak trip we signed up for.

We took a taxi to the train station where we were to meet at the end of one of the metro lines; since the line was closed for repairs, our options were limited. The taxiride took us past beautiful fields and a distant rural section of the Via Appia Antica that we hadn’t peddled out to the day we rode (See Part 1). At the station, we rendez-voused by the “old blue train car” and the guide piled us and a few other folks into their well-loved, battered minibus for a rude even farther out beyond the edge of the city into the hills.

A weathered blue street car takes pride of place in an open area with an enormous agave in front of it, sitting on train tracks that go nowhere.

The lake was formed by two overlapping craters. We set off from a launching spot amongst the reeds near the swimming beach.

To the left, reeds and grasses rise tall above the water. Other kayakers in the group have already paddled out ahead of me. The red tip of my own kayak is visible in the foreground. The water is sandy-colored in the shadows. The rim of the caldera rises in the distance.

We kayaked almost 7 km, out and back across to the opposite side. Randi and Son 1 shared a canoe on the way out, her son and Son 1 had solo kayaks and paddled together much of the way, and I paddled about at will.

Left: the author, sunwashed and hair not yet sweat-plastered flat. Second from left: Randi and Son 1 taking a short break from paddling, Randig resting an elbow on the kayak and leaning back to turn to smile at the camera. Third from left: Randi’s son in a quiet moment, face shadowed. Rightmost: Son 1, eternally with a silly face for a camera, reeds behind him near the starting point.

At various points we were all quite close together in a flotilla as the guides talked us through the plan for the day and the history of the area, with an English-language flotilla and an Italian-language flotilla. We weren’t able to see the ruins of the ancient Roman naval practices that litter the floor of the lake, but we are assured they were there.

From left to right: Randi’s son in his own kayak (short dark hair and pale skin, smiling), Son 1 also in his own kayak (grinning until his face has wrinkles, short dark blonde hair beginning to clump with sweat), Randi in her glasses and baseball cap (dark hair pulled back in a ponytail), and Son 2 (very blonde short hair and pale skin, grinning). The kayaks are all red. Behind them, the rim of the caldera rises, covered in lush green trees. Palatial homes step their way up the side of the hill.

Once we got to the opposite side, the guides stowed all the kayaks in a great big precarious-seeming pile and sat on rocks and ate sandwiches the guides brought and drank water and swam in the lake and NO ONE GOT STUNG BY JELLYFISH because there were no jellyfish. This seems an odd thing to mention, but several days before we’d gone swimming in the ocean and Son 2 got blistered fiercely in several spots. So, the enthusiasm for no jelly fish was strong. Everyone was glad for a break. One strange feature of the water was that it wasn’t very cool at all. There seemed to be quite warm spots, not just sun warmed but perhaps geologically warmed. We never did get to ask about this, but I wondered if perhaps hot thermal springs feed the lake from below or some other kind of geothermal heating.

So, no jellyfish. There were, however, at least four lizards that Son 1 spotted and loads of red dragonflies darting about above the surface. Randi’s old elbow injury acted up a bit by the time we got to the swimming spot, so her kiddo took over being her kayak companion, a job that has been Son 2’s on the way out. About halfway back (3/4 of the way through a quite long bit of kayaking), Son 2 got tuckered out. One of the guides offered to use her life jacket to tie his kayak to the back of hers. He paddled when he could and rested when he couldn’t and she was quite happy to help. Another guide did the same for an adult who was tapped out, and the guides said they were quite impressed that a kid his age had gone so far without needing help yet, which took the edge off of having to ask.

Because the trip was well-designed to include a nice break, multiple guides to help people get the most out of this kind of activity regardless of physical condition, and also included help from the guides when needed, a good time was had by all across a variety of ages and injuries and capability levels. Those who love doing hard work got to do hard work and those who love swimming got to swim and those who love watching lizards and bugs got to watch lizards and bugs and those who love not being in a hot city on a 90+ degree day got to be on a lake in a caldera instead.

NEXT UP: Part 3 of There and Back Again, in which we are back in the States, Randi and her son have gone back to their home, and Son 2 and I set off on our annual bike ride along some part of the Northern Lower Peninsula of the State of Michigan.

3 thoughts on “There and Back Again: Part 2

  1. What a lovely trip and a great idea for avoiding the fierce city heat. I’m glad the guides helped out weary kayakers, but: the fussy kayaker in me says that ALL kayak trip guides should carry tow lines, designed for exactly this purpose– towing kayaks and kayakers. They are small and cheap and stow easily. I’ve been on a bunch of trips where someone for some reason ended up being towed. (End of fussy comment). Also, congrats on all the great picture taking without losing your camera/phone– it’s something I always worry about when I’m in a boat!

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    1. I failed to mention that they also gave every kayak a dry bag (wet bag? the thing you roll over that keeps your fear dry and maintains air so that it floats). So I would lay my paddle across my hips, open the dry bag, grab the phone, snap a few pictures, put it back, and seal the dry back. It was a minor annoyance and I sometimes missed what would have been good pics or angles due to the delay. But it was worth not having to worry about it going in the drink! Even if I’d had our waterproof mini camera, I still would have used the dry bag since it floats.

      Maybe this response will be useful to someone thinking about taking a camera out on the water. I sure didn’t want to lose my cellphone in an Italian lake! Or any lake, for that matter. At home, I have my own wee dry bag, purse sized.

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