Did you miss the Ireland piece? Go back and catch up, because next stop, Rome.
Oh, Italy… You are hot, dusty and chaotic but with so much potential. The locals are welcoming and the history is overwhelming. On arrival at our AirBnb apartment in the Trastevere, we unloaded and headed straight downstairs to where the locals eat. This is where the real action is—away from the bulk of the tourists. Pizza, pasta and gelato. We’d been looking forward just to the eating part of this trip for months. We weren’t disappointed. Our first dinner out was at a little side-street pizzeria called Pan Unto. Our kids, especially Lincoln, were lavished with attention from owner, Anna. The pizzas and calzone were devine. We loved it so much we went back on our last night, where Anna insisted on buying and giving KinderSurprise chocolates to the boys.
But there’s more to Rome than pizza and roaming accordionists playing Dean Martin tunes, right?
We’d planned to do a hop-on hop-off bus tour on our first day in each new city but thanks to a union strike, the City Sightseeing buses weren’t running. So we were left to our devices in a sprawling, unknown place with no idea what we were looking at. We were confused, hot and tired from just walking around aimlessly that first day. But we’d found a groove on day two and toured the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Our stay in Rome was jam-packed with sight-seeing—the Vatican City, with St Peters Basilica, the museum and the Sistine Chapel; Trevi fountain and the Spanish Steps; the Pantheon; and Mum’s special request, Bernini’s statue of The Ecstasy of St Therese in the Santa Maria di Vittorio church. The church has such a plain facade but inside is covered with stunning paintwork, statues and gold. Dad and I found this place even more amazing that the Sistine Chapel, which seemed small and anti-climactic. Rome is so full of stuff to see that it’s impossible to see it all and we were forced to let some things go, like the Villa Borghese Gardens and the Catacombs. After our easy week of driving around Ireland, we suddenly felt overcome by Rome. There was too much to do, not enough time, and we were unfamiliar with the language. And it was hot. Obviously, I’ve become accustomed to the sub-20 temps of Bowral.
Onwards then, to Florence, by first-class Eurostar. Fabulous. It’s a smooth, comfortable ride, well organized and roomy. I came to enjoy these transit days for the forced 2hours or so of rest, either on a train or plane. They were like an oasis amongst a hectic touring schedule. Our itinerary was a little looser in Florence, and maybe this is why I liked it more than Rome. I felt I had time to breathe, do a bit of walking around on my own, and a bit of laundry. (I really missed having clean clothes!)
Florence was home to the Medici family. The Palazzo Vecchio—home of the royal family—is now the florentine’s town hall, and they run a number of great family activities and tours. Mum and Dad took the boys to a fresco painting workshop, and later the boys came with Matt and I on a tour of the Palace, where we tried on the Medici family clothes and saw secret passageways and the family’s bedrooms. Two hundred thousand gold florins were used to create the gold leaf that covers the timber parts of the enormous living room ceiling—now the council hall.
This is also where you can take tours to Tuscany from. We went on a full day’s bus tour out to Tuscany, where we visited Siena, San Gimignano, and a working farm for a Tuscan lunch of pasta, bruschetta and ham. Absolutely a highlight of Florence and somewhere I would go back to again. The tour finished at Pisa, before coming back to the city, and no visit to Pisa is complete without making a cheesy pose with the leaning tower.
On our last day in Florence, Mum and I saw the Uffizi and Accademia galleries; and we shopped and bought new leather jackets, while the boys hired a car and drove out to Maranello for the Ferrari museum. Apparently awesome, they also went for a half hour test drive of a Ferrari something something. I dunno. It was red, anyway.
Italy kept getting better with our next stop—Venice. As soon as you step out of the Ferrovia train station, you are metres from the Grand Canal. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. I knew Venice was made up of a series of islands, but I just didn’t realize there would be so many canals, so much water, and so many bridges. I loved it. I loved it for the character, the laundry flapping over the canals, the weddings on gondolas, the slightly cooler weather, and no vehicles. I was also happy about no mosquitos—Lincoln had been eaten alive in Florence. And though we’d been warned of a smell, there was none.
The apartment we stayed in was right in front of the Ghetto, the Jewish quarter, if you like. We strolled through it, late on a Friday night, and enjoyed the atmosphere of the families out late having dinner, the musicians, and the children playing in the campos. If there was one thing I loved about Italy in general, it was the popping out at the end of a street into a huge square where locals would come to meet and socialize. We rode the vaporettos of Venice like buses and did lots of walking. We toured St mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, a Murano glass factory, the Burano fishing village and Torcelli—another island of Venice where only 15 people now live. Venice is also home to the Peggy Guggenheim museum. On Sundays the museum runs kids workshops where you can leave the kids for 1.5 hours while you go exploring the gallery. The workshop includes a tour of the contemporary art gallery, a lesson and activities about a contemporary artist or painting. The boys enjoyed it and there seemed to be plenty of English speaking ex-pat children and interns on staff.
Matt and I went out for dinner alone on our second last night in Venice. After so much pizza and pasta I was desperately needing something different. We hunted down one of five Chinese restaurants. They gave small servings, but tasty shrimp. By the end of our three weeks in Italy, we could understand some basics of the Italian language, and I was looking forward to the new kinds of cuisine we’d find in Paris.