Thursday, October 21, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
- Don't go with shingles or any other painful condition or disease. My Man came down with shingles the day we left, and due to miscommunication and slight insanity we went anyway. He spent half the trip in bed in the hotel. Not so much fun for anyone, especially him.
- Don't neglect to book tickets to the Uffizi gallery ahead of time. We tried to book them through our hotel upon arrival and there were none available. No "Birth of Venus" for us.
- Don't go the first or last Monday of the month or neglect to check opening hours for everything you go to in detail. We tried to go to the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace on two seperate days. The first one we weren't ready to go until it was almost closed, and the following day it was supposed to be open except that it was the first Monday of the month. We arrived after a 20 Euro taxi ride to locked gates, and then walked all the way back. The view through the bars:
- Don't get a hotel just outside the historic part of the city and then expect your 3 1/2 year old walk all day long. Ask your hotel if they can provide a stroller or bring one yourself. Better yet, book a hotel close to the historic part of town (of which the Duomo is the center). You will pay a lot more, and it will be hard to find availability, but taxis are expensive and a bit of a hassle, and you will see much more of the city.
- Don't go to a cafeteria for dinner. These are super cheap deli/salad bar type places. You get what you pay for, I don't recommend it. There are zillions of really yummy restaurants in Florence, many quite kid-friendly. Just allow yourself enough time for a sit-down meal. Foccacia or pizza are good quick dinner options too.
- Don't book your hotel through a third party, speak to or book with the hotel directly. We booked through an online third party who claimed we had a room even though the hotel disagreed when we spoke with them directly. We didn't have a confirmed room until an hour before we left. When we arrived late at night it was to rooms at our four star hotel that smelled moldy and had visible mold in the bathrooms. When we mentioned it to the hotel folks the next day, they switched us to much much nicer rooms for the rest of the trip.
- Don't book your hotel at the last minute...you will end up with very few choices and slim pickings. If you want to get something in the old part of the city close to all the sites, do yourself and your children a favor and book early early early. You can usually cancel a direct booking with a day or two of notice.
- Don't expect to do anything cheaply, at least not with a family. It is in Europe. It is a major tourist destination. It is accordingly expensive.
- Don't forget your camera or camera battery. This one makes me cringe a little. Between all three adults, we only had three cell phone cameras. I had plugged in my battery to charge it and left it behind. If I had a better memory it wouldn't be as much of a problem, but I do regret not having a good camera in such a beautiful city.
- Don't go for only two and a half days, there is way too many cool things to do and see to limit it to such a short time. Or rather DO go...just go for longer!
And now the fun and how to have it anyway..... There is a lot anyone can do in Firenzie, without having planned much of anything. It is all about expectation management. Below are the things we did actually do in our 2 1/2 days, and we did manage to enjoy ourselves even without going to the Uffizi. We will have to go back for that. I can't say I mind having a compelling reason to go back to Firenzi.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
I also just spent 5.15 Euros on 'American tape,' otherwise known as 'duct tape,' one roll. The US/Canadian dollar equivalent is roughly 7 dollars at the moment. In comparison, here in Italy, one tub of 254 g of Genovese pesto is 3.81, or 5.15 in North America.
Currency is a funny thing.
Friday, September 17, 2010
I began this post just after we arrived here and now we are nearly at the three week mark. There seems to have been enough interest that some of you may still be interested in in hearing a more thorough description of our new set-up. As you walk down our narrow street (which still seems to be a fairly busy road some times of day), you pass some medieval towers that herald from a time when manliness was demonstrated with high structures. Oh wait, I guess that is still happening in our big cities. Anyway, maybe a block or less past these medieval structures is the door to Car College, which is open during the day and closed in the evening/night/weekend. During those times there is a tiny door (can you see it in the second picture?) in the huge the main door that we unlock and pass through and then pass through a gate as well and finally into the courtyard (this view is from our room).
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
This town is a third the size of Victoria, B.C. but feels so much more urban. The landscape doesn't seem all that different from the prairies where I grew up, but the use of it is so vastly different. All the buildings are brick or stoneand the roads are all cobbled with river stones or brick or large stone slabs. They are built all squished together in that very Italian way, with beautiful ornamentation on the balconies and doorways. The streets are very narrow (in the old town part that we are in) and seem to be smaller than North American alleyways, although I am yet to find a dead end. Traffic is quite restricted, but the odd car still zips down them at a tremendous pace, leaving us to press up against the buildings while also looking out for dog poo. There is quite a bit of that. Everything opens up a bit as you get out of the old part of town, and it is just a few blocks to the river side, where we have walked a fair bit. There is a large stone and brick covered bridge that is a replica of a medieval one that got destroyed in the second world war. They used a bunch of the original stones from the old one in the reconstruction. I my jetlagged stupor the other day, I went for a run at sunrise along the river and caught my breath in the middle of the bridge, it was beautiful. There is much less greenspace in the downtown old city than we enjoy in most North American cities (finding a tree in the downtown part we live in is remarkable), but I imagine that in the end it leaves much more room for countryside than we North Americans do with our sprawl. It could also be that I don't know the city that well yet, to have discovered all the good parks and such.
The tricky bits, for your future adventure planning reference were these:
Dilemma 1) il bagaglio
I wanted to avoid excess baggage fees, but be adequately stocked for living abroad for 4+ months as homeschoolers and prepared for two or three seasons at that. So I packed ruthlessly, keeping our large bags as light as possible (fees were by weight and quantity) and weighed them ahead of time (50 lbs or less, one checked per traveler). I checked the two biggies, and one carry-on size with all the heavy stuff squashed into it. We also brought with us one carry on and one personal item each. Carry-ons were one violin, one wheely suitcase (heavy), one large backpack. Personal items were one laptop, and two kid-sized backpacks. If I had to do it over (and unless I never leave Italy, I will), and went with another overnight flight, I would check most of what was in the children's backpacks (toys and crafts for entertainment mostly) and rely on the movies and maybe one or two little things I bring with me to keep them occupied. My friend sent me a great set of links a while ago, relevant to traveling internationally with children, and one of my favorite suggestions was to bring a bunch of wrapped little gifts (stickers, mini-books, beads, dollar store stuff) to reveal at relevant intervals. I have used that before and totally love it, but it mostly just works for daytime flights/car rides. A change of clothes and pyjamas for each of us did prove to be a good idea, as the girls' checked bags were rerouted for some reason and didn't arrive for two days or so after we got there. The hard part was hauling all our carry-on and personal item bags through two airports, two security checks with two cranky and tired kids. My back was still really sore from moving house, and all the heavy bags didn't help. At the first stop-over we literally walked all the way from one end of the airport to the other in one giant semi-circle…pretty far for little legs that were already tired.
Lesson 1: bring as little as possible ON THE PLANE but still make sure you have the essentials, change of clothes, valuable electronics etc. Rely on new experiences and electronic entertainment as the primary engagement for half-pints. If you are on your own with children and have great airport distances to cover, consider booking (ahead of time) space on one of those little cart things to zoom you from A to B and back again.
Dilemma 2) dormire
Sleep, or lack there of, was a bit of a stretch. My seven year old, Ladybug was totally pysched to watch a movie (Disney at that, which is a first for her, sort of), so I let her. That meant that she slept quite a bit less than she would have otherwise and was pretty tired for several days after. My little one who is four, Sparkle, passed out early on and slept for most of the long flight, but
fitfully, because she needed to have used the toilet first. It seems that whenever we travel I totally lose sight of our basic routine. I made the mistake of taking advantage of the huge movie selection available and watching one before resting. I was tired enough that I could have slept more if I hadn't. We were in a block of three seats, and I sat in the middle to keep the peace, which was the least comfortable for me, so I will have to try out some other arrangements next time. I will let you know when I figure it out. This image is of my own lap. Not much room for a tired mama other than vertical.
Lesson 2: Sleep as much as possible and then enjoy the entertainment if you are rested/unable to rest. That goes for kids too. As for comfort arrangements, making beds for small kids on the floor can help, but isn't a good solution if there is turbulence and the seat belt sign is on. I woke in quite a panic to rough turbulence and hauled Sparkle off the floor, much to her chagrin. I felt like a bit of an idiot after I woke up more and realized how much I had panicked.
Dilemma 3) immigrazione e non parlo Italiano
Next time I would study the immigration and border controls and relevant phrases a bit more thoroughly. I naievely assumed that it would be relatively simple to cross into Europe. I made the mistake of giving the officals the wrong 'permission to travel' letter from my Man that was months old and for a different trip, which confused them and me and made a bit of a hash of things. My Man and the girls and I do not share a last name, and we are common-law spouses in the first place, so in the end, even once I gave them the right letter, they wanted to see him to verify I wasn't travelling illegally with my own kids. I owe my Man thanks on that one, as he was eagerly waiting for us at the airport while all this was going down. They spoke some English, but not much and I speak almost no Italian (starting to learn though), so communication was tricky as well.
Lesson 3: I would recommend to have your paperwork in perfect order, get rid of old permission letters, and be sure to have current ones; learn the appropriate phrases for border crossings and make sure there is always someone to come and get you, a particular someone if possible.
All things considered, our trip went pretty smoothly. Now that I am six days in and mostly over jet lag, it doesn't seem like it was all that bad, but I have to give huge credit to the girls, who are turning into great little travelers.
Friday, September 10, 2010
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”- Used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech