Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Il mio cuore appartiene a Firenze

For the past two years, we've carefully planned our travels with our children's limitations (or at least what we perceived to be their limitations) in minds. Short trips. Single destinations that have plenty of indoor and outdoor activity options within easy reach. Apartments rather than hotels wherever possible so that we can all spread out a bit. Minimal amounts of packing up and moving on.

These guidelines have made for many a successful holiday for us. The formula wasn't really working when I sat down to plan our April trip to Italy, however, and so I had reluctantly booked a different kind of vacation -- a night in Pisa, two nights in Florence and 3 nights in Venice. Our itinerary involved flying in and out of different airports, two significant train journeys, two different hotels and an apartment. We would be on the go, rushing to pack and catch some form of transportation roughly every two days. To say I was nervous about how it was going to all work out would be an understatement.

It worked beautifully. (In fact, it worked so beautifully that Paul and the kids kept asking me why we don't always travel this way. Go figure.)

Despite the fact that the kids were really excited to see the Leaning Tower (the Wonder Pets and the Little Einsteins have been there so it must be great, they figured), even Julia announced after we'd taken the requisite dozen photographs of ourselves holding up the tower that she was pretty much "done with Pisa." We agreed; it's a cute town and we're glad we saw it, but half a day was enough. Fortunately, half a day was all we had, and we set off for Florence the next morning.

Children unclear on the concept: "Does it look like we're holding the tower up now?"

We made our way to the Duomo that first afternoon in Florence and after admiring the gingerbread house-like effect of the massive structure's white, green and pink marble exterior, we went inside. As we stood gazing up at the elaborately painted ceiling, Julia noticed the thin corridors located along the perimeter of the dome. "I want to walk in the ceiling," she announced. Paul and I looked at each other doubtfully. The path up to the dome had 463 steps and no lift. Neither of us were exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of carrying a child up or down any portion of those 463 steps. "I think it's beautiful and I want to see it up close," Julia persisted. "I won't complain about the steps." I shrugged my consent. "If she wants to see the ceiling of the Duomo that badly, I think we kind of have to do this," I whispered to Paul.

Julia's inspiration: the Duomo dome

926 steps later, we had admired the ceiling up close and emerged at the top of the dome, with the entire city of Florence laid out before us. We had taken our requisite photos, admired the view and counted off each and every step as we made our way back down. Neither child had voiced a single word of complaint. They were both high from the experience, incredibly proud of their stamina and excited about what they'd done and seen. "That," Julia told me happily, "was not boring."

Please explain to me how the same children who whine at climbing the single flight of stairs up to our flat were not even winded at the top of this ridiculously high building...

With this kind of motivation and excitement from our kids, Florence was the surprise hit of our trip. I had been unsure how we were going to do in a city so focused on art, but once we completely chucked any museum hopping aspirations, it was great. Art is everywhere in Florence, so why not leave the Uffizi and the Academia with their timed entrances and huge crowds and velvet ropes to the other tourists? We found beauty in other places -- in the Duomo and Baptistry ceilings, which awed and impressed my kids, in the extensive greenery and breathtaking views of the Boboli Garden, in the glittery gold of the Ponte Vecchio, in the markets full of buttery leather and colorful scarves, in a little storefront museum filled with beautifully constructed wooden machines which helped my children to get a hands-on understanding of Da Vinci's inventions, in the piazzas where they played, and most especially in the pizza, pasta dishes and colorful selection of gelato in which we indulged at every opportunity.

David, schmavid. People, this is art.

By the time we left Florence on a train bound for Venice, we were all more than a little in love with the place and I was wishing I'd packed my fat jeans. It was time to move on, though, and we were all ready and excited to keep going. Tune in next time for Venice, where all the bridges looked exactly the same yet I still felt compelled to pause and photograph each and every one of them. And every gondola. And every water view. And every mask shop. (Don't worry. If you skim -- or even skip -- that particular Flickr set, I'll never know the difference.)

Photos from the Pisa and Florence legs of this trip are now up on Flickr if you want to check them out!


Blogger E said...

And how smart of you to follow her heart. These little people you are growing will be lifelong learners, and adults who will have wanderlust in their bones.
Of course your grandbabies might grow up in India......

12:08 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Beautiful pictures. Looks like a fabulous trip! And I am way impressed that the kids made it up and down all of those steps without a complaint!

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Cami said...

A's comments:
picture 1: "Are they trying to hold up the tower?"
picture 3: "Hey, how'd they get to go up there! We didn't! No fair!" (she thought they were at the top of the Leaning Tower)
ice cream: "Mom, let me see that picture again!!"

9:45 PM  
Blogger Victoria said...

What a rich experience! She'll remember those steps for sure. Beautiful pics.

11:34 PM  

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