After a quick visit to Siena, we continued north on the freeway to Florence. If you have never visited this gorgeous city, I should inform you that the roads are narrow, quite often pedestrian only mostly one way in direction. After a series of wrong turns and go arounds, James was finally able to pull the van directly in front of our apartment block. Unfortunately a huge storm began as we unloaded the car so James and I were soaked in the process of unpacking everything.
We carted our luggage up the tiny, ancient elevator in the building to our palatial but simple apartment, located right on the Ponte Vecchio. I managed to get a fantastic last minute rate for the apartment. 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a small dine in kitchen, and an open plan living area overlooking the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio. From our ledge, we could see the Uffizi Gallery, the top of the infamous Duomo, hear the church bells ringing every hour and watch the hoards of tourists below, taking photos of the famous bridge we were perched upon.
Our host was a lovely young Florentine, his office was right opposite our apartment. Marlee and I were hysterically laughing when she explained to me that moments after our check-in she threw her windows with happiness to look out over the streets, to find our host staring right back at her, sitting at his desk.
James and I enjoyed a date night on our first night in town. We booked a seat by the window of a riverside restaurant below. Unfortunately, our meal was average at best, James trying the wild boar ragu which left him with a churning stomach for hours. My meal was completely forgettable as I had to endure two very loud and woeful American tourists sitting next to me.
We had a grocery store across the road from us which proved to be a life saver many nights as we were continually disappointed with the substandard food that was being served in most establishments. I think when a city is so full of tourists that some chefs serve mediocre food to the masses. Most nights, we ate in the apartment using fresh produce and drinking the cheapest champagne we have found on the trip thus far, an economical $27 Euro for a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
We took the kids over to see the Duomo, battling the huge crowds on the bridge and main streets of Florence. The kids enjoyed seeing the Duomo in all its glory.
One afternoon, James and I took Abi on an excursion to see the Basilica de Santa Croce and various other famous sights in the city.
She asked many questions and didn’t complain once, as the heat seared down on us all afternoon.
We rewarded her with gelato from the store below our apartment. James and I shared a caramel gelato in an XL cone, which proved to be so sugary, I was on a ridiculous high for the rest of the afternoon.
That night we all went out to a tiny cafe around the corner which was recommended by our host. The staff were great and the menu was simple but delicious. By the time we finished our meal, by candlelight no less, the music changed over as the younger crowds walked in. Harriet nodded her head along to Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers which had other diners impressed with her moves.
We decided to take a day trip to Pisa and Lucca, on the recommendation of my best friend back home in Sydney (Hi Nikki!). We arrived at Pisa during a thunderstorm and the line of traffic was kilometres long, we didn’t move for nearly 20 minutes. So we decided to head to Lucca first and stop in Pisa on our way home.
Lucca was beautiful. A walled city near the west coast of the Tuscany region. The storm had really closed in by then and with no umbrellas, we ran through the streets until we found a non touristy cafe. We stumbled across a gem of a place named Piccola Osteria Lucca Drento. Rain poured down as we warmed our bodies inside, completely underdressed for the cold snap in the air. We devoured fresh pizza, ragu and ravioli and hot coffee for the adults.
As soon as the rain cleared, we explored the city as quickly and thoroughly as we could. Many tourists about, but more space than Florence to wander around and find quiet streets to appreciate the delicate historical city.
Once the kids grew weary, we headed back to the van for the drive to Pisa. Lines still snaked around the town of Pisa, but we miraculously found a car spot right out the front of the gates, Griswold style. We were not prepared for the ridiculous crowds inside. I don’t know why tourists are so pushy and selfish at these attractions. We posed for photos and were out of the park in less than 15 minutes. A true victory indeed.
Once we arrived back in Florence, James suggested another date night and had booked tickets for us to the Uffizi Gallery. It was so incredibly lovely, to stroll the ancient halls together, discussing art and the history of the city. After a few hours of hand holding and gazing at canvas, we struggled to find a restaurant open later than 8:30pm so James decided to cook a special dinner in the apartment instead.
On our final day, we pre-booked tickets to the Academia Gallery to see the infamous Michelangelo’s David statue that lies in the centre. The kids were surprisingly impressed by it all, and laughed at David’s bare bottom in the gallery. They grew bored of the other statues quickly, so we made a quick rush around to see the other exhibits before heading out the door and grabbing an early lunch behind the Duomo.
Our last night arrived and Marlee pre-booked dinner at a special Gluten Free restaurant on the other side of the river. We walked over early, again, missing another downpour and we made our way inside Ciro and Sons. Marlee enjoyed her special pizza and we recalled our favourite memories of Florence over dinner.
We dashed back to our apartment to miss the rain clouds that were looming overhead and packed in preparation for the drive to Zurich via Milan.
We farewelled our apartment with happy memories before our final night in Italy in Milan. We barely had time to even see outside our hotel, but managed to grab some gelato and see the Cathedral in the main square.
Marlee and Abi bunked in together in a twin room while James and I shared a suite with Ted and Harriet. We ordered room service and were asleep before the sun set at 9pm.
Our time in Italy was absolutely unforgettable. The food, the people, the sights, the quaint towns, it was all so lovely. I see myself returning here time and time again. So many regions to explore, more food to be eaten, more locals to meet, more stories to hear. The kids were all in agreement that Italy has been their favourite country to visit on the trip so far.
Arrivederci Italy. And Gruetzi Switzerland!