A sight-seeing holiday can be a tricky thing to pull off with a family, especially if it involves heat, crowds and endless history lessons.
The trick is to try and lessen the heat and the crowds by going at an unseasonable time of year (like Italy in April), when the weather is balmy, rather than hot and you don’t have to queue for over an hour of sticky discomfort to get in to a museum. Its also all about pace/bribery. One church = one ball of gelato and one museum = a run down by the river.
There are a lot of churches and museums in Florence, so there was a lot of ice cream and a lot of running down by the river, which was fine in my book when the ice cream is so good and the river is so beautiful. We flew in to Pisa and spent the first couple of nights there in a lovely Airbnb. I’m a big fan of Airbnb – all the places I’ve been to so far have been beautiful and clean and close to wherever I want to get to. They are a great idea with a family, you get more space at a much lower cost than a hotel. Its such a pleasure as well, dealing with real people rather than some anonymous hotel chain and this time the lovely couple who owned our place picked us up from the airport, which was a real bonus.
The view from our Airbnb flat was beautiful.
Capturing the Leaning Tower’s reflection in cool new glasses.
It was a ten minute walk in to the centre where we quickly found the Leaning Tower and posed for photos amongst the other five hundred people pretending to push the tower upright. Most of the visitors come to Pisa on a day trip from Florence, but it was lovely staying there as we got to visit so much more than the tower and also did a day trip to Lucca. By the time we got to Florence, we had acclimatised and got well in to our church = gelato stride.
Its an hours train ride between the two and we quickly found our second Airbnb, a short bus ride away from the centre and another perfect place. The owners were extremely friendly and full of advice about where to eat and what to see.
They advised us to get a Firenze Card, which would give us priority queuing to most of the museums and would also cover bus and tram fares. The exchange rate between the pound and the Euro is not good for Brits at the moment and we were happy to find anything that would save us money and queuing, so bought a card before we did anything else. The card also means that children go free, whereas in most places you pay for kids as well.
We spent the next few days missing all the museums we meant to see as we could not get up and get off quickly enough. Many places close for the lunch break and don’t reopen. Once we’d got our timings sorted out, we had a wonderful time visiting the Leonardo de Vinci exhibition, highly recommended for kids as its full of interactive models of his inventions.
And the Duomo and Cathedral, where I had to be removed by a kindly man from half way up the Dome crying with vertigo as my son ran away up the stairs to reappear right at the top to wave triumphantly at me.
We spent two hours at the Uffizi Gallery, which was wonderful although my son found a comfortable bench to lie on and listen to music, unable to listen to me whittering on for one minute more. He loved the Science Museum though, full of amazing ancient scientific instruments and interactive Galileo exhibits. We crossed the river and found a fantastic restaurant hidden in the trees just a short walk away from the Pitti Palace. It’s amazingly green on the south side of the Arno, almond and olive trees blossom around the Piazzale Michelangelo where church-goers wearing hats and olive leaf wreathes for Palm Sunday gather to chat after service.
We set off following the ancient wall towards the Pitti Palace.
We could see down over the city towards the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio.
We started competing on who could tell which saint was which on the hundreds of frescoes and pictures we looked at. There are always clues – Saint Lawrence has a rack, Saint Catherine carries the wheel which she was martyred on. Many frescoes have stories and dragons and strange little demons peering out from behind window sills, which also kept my son interested. We picked up a brilliant book, ‘Florence, Just Add Water’ a weird title, but a great book full of stories about all the places that we visited.
In between the churches and the museums and the gelato and the river, we also went to the Botanical Gardens. Another good break between sights. The Gardens had insect-eating plants and enormous lemon trees and a pond full of multi-coloured carp and my son cheered up again.
In the end it was a much more successful week than I’d worried it would be. It was lovely weather, we had delicious (though unbelievably expensive) food and my son enjoyed it. He even enjoyed the museums, the statues, the galleries, the churches, the gardens and the small theatre that we went in to by accident and then sat giggling behind our hands at a bizarre lunch time puppet performance. We occasionally overdid it, one too many frescoed chapel, but overall it was a great trip to two wonderful cities.