Exploring Italy with a toddler (Part 2/3)

Tuscany


“Don’t start your walking journey if your mouth does not taste like wine” – Tuscan proverb


Tuscany offers the most wonderful mix of windy roads, amazing sunsets, medieval towns every few kilometers and most importantly its tasteful vino. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci, hence the name of the region. Many consider Tuscany to be the birthplace of the Renaissance, being the greatest repository of art in the world, from extraordinary paintings and sculptures to frescoes as well as some architectural masterpieces.
Beautiful Tuscan views on every corner

The countryside roads provide an amazing drive, filled with breathtaking scenery, colourfully dressed cyclists, hikers and exotic cars. We highly recommend renting a car to explore Tuscany and its landscape. For the more ambitious types, rent a bike, if you can survive steep climbs on windy, narrow roads…and make sure you dress the part…remember, Italy is all about haute couture.

We visited over ten towns and villages in Tuscany and here are our favourites. Most importantly we had the pleasure to enjoy them with our friends Aneta, Rafal and their son Kuba.


Enjoying wonderful time with friends in Tuscany
Thanks Kuba for taking this amazing picture!

Montalcino

Niko wants to race in the annual Montalcino ralley car race
Niko wants to take this car home. Thanks Aneta for the capture!

Montalcino is famous for its Brunello di Montalcino wine and medieval fortezza at its centre.

San Gimignano

The towers of San Gimignano
is very touristy yet beautiful, famous for its medieval towers that can be seen from kilometres away.






Siena

Enjoying a stroll with our friends in Siena is beautifully set and a UNESCO site. Visited by many, it’s famous for its cuisine, art, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year which runs for just about 75 seconds:)







Certaldo

Niko and daddy walking in Certaldo is a little town situated on a steep hill. Beautiful with a genuine feel of a town not yet infested by tourists. You can still encounter groups of local seniors sitting around and discussing daily affairs.







Montepulciano

Amazing views of Montepulciano
boasts a great mix of medieval and renaissance architecture and history, the small corridors deliver a surprise at every corner. Expect breathtaking views!



Rome


“In Rome you long for the country; in the country oh inconstant! you praise the distant city to the stars”
– Horace


Rome was the ultimate capital of the ancient world, when at its peak it controlled over 6.5 million kilometres. It overwhelmed us with its grandeur, amazing architecture and cultural wealth.

Roman Soldier

It would be impossible to describe all we have seen but here are a few highlights.





Colosseum

Colosseum in Rome
The ‘stadion of the ancient games’ – took 8 years to build and could house over 55 thousand spectators. It was the biggest structure of its time and still welcomes thousands of tourists every year. Expect very long lineups, Niko wasn’t interested in waiting so we didn’t go in:(

St. Peter’s Square and Basilica (Vatican City)

Swiss Guard

The square is home to some of the holiest Catholic sites, it is the largest church in the world and home to the Pope, of course. The swiss guards protect the papacy, mercenaries (for hire since the 15th century) were well trained, loyal and often hired by foreign European courts. Their duty at the Vatican is the only one that remains today. The Bernini’s matching fountain at the centre was Niko’s favourite!

Pantheon

Parthenon
Ancient place of worship, first for Pagans then Christians. Interestingly pantheon in greek means “to every god”. Its dome is still the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome.





Forum Romanum

Forum Romanum
For centuries the centre of Roman public life: elections, triumphal processions, speeches, trials etc. It now remains a spectacular site and reminder of Rome’s vast history.



Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

Built as a mausoleum, then a papal refuge (apparently there is a tunnel leading to the Vatican), then a fortress and finally a symbol of the end the plague of Rome in 590.



Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Meridian Line

The somewhat “simple” entrance hides this amazing structure. It contains a meridian line, a sundial, within the basilica commissioned by the pope to help predict Easter more exactly than prior.

Our pictures, more to come in the upcoming part. Pictures from part one here
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To see all pictures from Tuscany and Rome please go here

If you have any comments or suggestions please let us know in the comment section below. Thanks!

Exploring Italy with a toddler (Part 1/3)

La Dolce Vita

After 2700km of driving our Fiat Panda, over 25 places visited, too much pizza, pasta, white bread and gelato, we feel confident to have had a ‘taste’ of Italian culture and its land. And yes, we fell in love with the Moka pot (named after the pun on the Italian for cow, “mucca”), found in every household that delivered delicious espresso every morning.

Here is our interactive map of our trip in Italy with our kid:

Every region in Italy had a special feel to it with its own beauty, uniqueness and history. The 2500 year history is very apparent on our journey eluding to the fact that for centuries it was a centre of Western civilization during the Roman Empire reign. Beautiful landscapes, amazing infrastructure of highways, bridges and phenomenal mountain tunnels confirm the richness of the country and why it remains one of the most developed and beautiful nations in the world.


Italians are very expressive and very proud of their heritage if you can judge that by the number of Italian made Fiats and Vespas on the roads. You also see the nations’ colours (green, white and red) everywhere; on buildings, flags and moped drivers’ helmets.


Italians struck us as expressive and courteous but not too effusive. We were positively shocked on a couple of occasions. One time, Niko had a small tantrum when he refused to leave a beach in Atrani (Amalfi Coast) and as part of our discipline technique, we decided to leave him to ‘cry-it-out’ while watching him from a safe distance. An older, Italian woman felt compelled to comfort him (as he is just a little “bambino”) while we tried to explain to her (in body language) our modern parenting technique. The other time, while trapped in Sorrento by thunder showers, we took refuge in a restaurant and as we were leaving, a man approached us to offer us a ride to town.


One thing for sure, Italians are insane drivers, and we discovered many new multilingual cuss words on the road. As much as we believe many Italians would disagree with us, the great number of scratched and dented cars tell a tale that confirms our opinion.


As we took over 1200 photos, an hour of video footage, too many observations to share at once, we decided to post 3 parts about Italy rather than just one. In this one, we cover Bologna, Florence, Cinque Terre and Pisa. The second will cover Tuscany and Rome and the third installment Amalfi Coast, Tivoli, San Marino and Rimini.

Here we go: Bologna

We arrived in Forli, a town located an hour drive from Bologna. After a 40 min. train ride, we were in Bologna in the evening and managed to enjoy the best Italian meal we had during our whole trip in Italy … breaded jumbo shrimp, thin crust Pizza Margherita and Insalata Caprese. Bologna is at times called the Medieval red city, some call it that because of its many red roofs while others believe it’s due to a communist government history.

Rain in Bologna

The city overwhelmed us with its heavy medieval grandeur and welcomed us with unexpected rain (as it rarely rains during this time of year). As we explored the city during the rain the facades (trattatoria) provided us with much welcomed cover. Italians apparently love to come to Bologna … for the amazing cuisine and lack of tourists:) Oh, and one thing … there is no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognese, this dish is served with egg noodles not spaghetti pasta therefore make sure to order Ragù alla bolognese served with tagliatelle pasta, if that’s your expectation.

Florence

We left rainy Bologna to be welcomed by touristy Florence. The drive proved challenging as it gave us with the first, real taste of driving in Italy. Scooters passing cars in invisible lanes, four cars on a road designed for two, are just a couple of examples.


If Bologna feels heavy and slightly overwhelming, Florence is the opposite. It is the root of the Renaissance and birth of glamour, colour and beauty.


Florence with Niko

Florence is the capital of Tuscany, World Heritage Site and a birthplace of such genius minds as DanteBoccaccio,Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. It’s a definite source of the historic art scene in Europe. Hence, the insane number of tourists in lineups to all major attractions. The prospect of waiting for hours with a toddler was too daunting, hence we decided to explore the city from the “outside”.

The highlight of the visit was a reunion with our great friends; Aneta, Rafal and their son, Kuba from Toronto. We were super excited to see them and as a result planned to explore Tuscany’s country estates together. Thank you guys for a fantastic time together!

Cinque Terre

One day, we decided to take a longer day-trip (after receiving many recommendations from our friends) to visit Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre (meaning five lands) is a rugged coastline on the Italian Riviera. It’s five villages are hard to reach by car by one of the windiest roads we have ever encountered.

Martin with Niko in Cinque Terre

Even though, the distances between villages were relatively short, it was still a surprising “adventure”. Some of the roads go from the sea level to as high as 500 meters overlooking the beautiful coastline. We opted to focus on small villages some considered to be most interesting, including Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.

Pisa

On the way back from Cinque Terre, we decided to see the famous leaning tower of Pisa. Pisa is an amazing symbol of what we are all about … we are always fascinated by uniqueness. What would Pisa be without its abnormal leaning tower … well, it would be just another town with a straight, boring, tower … which would never have become one of the most visited places on this planet.
Leaning tower of Pisa travel


So what can we learn from Pisa? It pays to be different and unique … it worked for Pisa, I’m sure it will work for us too:)


Our pictures, more to come in the upcoming part.

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To see other pictures from Bologna, Florence,Cinque Terre and Pisa please go here

If you have any comments or suggestions please let us know in the comment section below. Thanks!

Travel tips while traveling with a toddler and your spouse:)

Below you will find some tips we have discovered through our travels and extensive research. We hope it delivers some value to you and your companions.


  • Always have snacks handy (hungry kids and spouses get angry pretty fast:))
  • Ensure your child has their favourite toys on hand. A DVD player is always good especially if you fly discount airlines.
  • Always have extra diapers and wipes on you and possibly a toilet seat adjuster for a toilet trained toddler.
  • Make your parking arrangements ahead of time (at least 1 night before)
  • Get to the airport at least 2 hrs for local flights and 3 hrs for international flights. It’s better to be early and sane than late and have a fight with your spouse while running to the gate:)
  • Check-in online with the airline if available (usually 24 hours, discount airlines sometimes 2 weeks before!) ahead of your flight. Note: You may need a printer but  some airlines now allow to use your smart phones as well.
  • Communicate with your travel mate, always! Small misinterpretations during challenging situations will turn into arguments. When with a kid, you need to minimize that risk.
  • Divvy up the chores … even on vacation, doing dishes, grocery shopping or laundry needs to be done.
  • At restaurants, check the menu for prices before you enter … the language barrier may make it difficult to leave when you find out a burger is equivalent to $20.
  • Whenever possible reserve the seat behind the ‘better’ class, these usually have more leg room.
  • Backup your photos, videos and files from cameras, laptop etc. You don’t want to lose thousands of photos! We recommend some cloud type services like DropBox to sync your files with your laptop on a regular basis.
  • Mail packages home with gifts, souvenirs and extra clothing. Use the cheapest route. It doesn’t matter if it takes a month to arrive.
  • We hope  you will find the above helpful. More to come later.

    If you have any other tips or recommendations please leave us a comment below.