Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ten things NOT to do in Florence with Children (and how to have fun anyway)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Don't book your hotel at the last 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Go to the Academia and see Michelangleo's David. It is really, heart-stoppingly beautiful and inspiringly grand in scale. But don't wait in the line to get in, you will be there all day. Buy tickets even just a few hours ahead of time through a ticket office or your hotel and pay a little extra. With kids, it is worth skipping the lineup. Go to Vivoli's Gelateria for gelato afterwards or anytime, it is really really good. Expensive; but good, fresh and world renowned. Check out some of the beautiful out of the way churches. They are very old and quite interesting, often containing beautiful and historically significant artwork. Try and learn some of the history about the place. I am no historian, but I found it quite interesting to learn about the Medici family and their reign of hundreds of years. Their wealth is a huge part of what made the Italian Renaissance possible, and thinking about that as a legacy that even today supports the city of Florence with tourism, is kind of neat. What an impact on humanity!
Make friends with other travelers if you can. It seems like everyone is a tourist in Firenze, and as such, we made friends with a German guy named David in the lineup for the "David", who then accompanied us all around Firenze for the next day or so just because we all enjoyed one another's company. I really like making new friends when possible, but of course use your good character judgement! Also allow yourself time to go shopping at the Centro Mercato and anywhere else you notice. Don't forget to or be afraid to bargain in the market! There are really good prices (better than elsewhere in Italy I have been) for leather, scarves, garments of all kinds, jewelry, and you can even get Venetian masks and glass.
If the weather is even a little bit nice, go and walk along the Arno river and cross over at Ponte Vecchio. It is a bridge covered with jewelry shops, and quite a sight. It is quite a romantic and classically beautiful spot. Italian sweethearts buy locks and lock them to the rungs of the bridge and throw the key in the river as signs of their undying love. This is a good one to visit on the way to the Pitti palace and Boboli gardens (if they are open). When the little ones are tired and there are no taxis around and everything is a bit much, opt for a horse and buggy ride back to the hotel. We come from tourist city, and it seems that every tourist city offers high priced horse and buggy rides, but sometimes it is just the right thing to turn a tired bunch into a weary yet contented bunch.
Take some time to walk around the Duomo and marvel at the cleverness of Brunelleschi and the other contributing architects. We didn't go in because the lines were very long, but I imagine it must be well worth it, since even the outside was incredible; all marble mosaics and as beautiful as the Taj Mahal. Allow time to walk along the streets and duck into the things you spontaneously want to see, or even just admire all the gorgeous architectural details of the buildings (notice the turtle holding up the window bars, the flowery eaves, the lion knocker; all above). The Medici's had three different residences/palaces in the city and I think all are now museums, and there are lots of other little museums as well, like the Leonardo da Vinci museum (which is mostly working models of the machines he designed), and many many others. Take the children on a carousel ride, especially if you are near the duomo at night and they need to work off some gelato steam. Give yourself lots of time for meals, ask around for the best spots to eat (someone relatively unbiased if possible), and if you like mushrooms and you go in the Autumn, eat as much truffle risotto as possible! I ate it twice in one day and still enjoyed it immensely! Trattoria Momma ZaZa, which came at the recommendation of a patient local, was my favorite restaurant in Firenzie, but many were good.

1 comment:

  1. I reread this post before heading to Florence today. It was a great help. Especially when I saw the locks on the gates and explained to the children what they meant. ciao, m