Whoa! Time went by quite quickly there. I finished up some jobs, washed clothes, packed, prepared the house, and our family was off to Italy.
I went inter-railing through Italy when I was younger, and Courtney and I have been there several times together. We spent two weeks driving around Northern Italy the summer I was pregnant with our oldest, and we also went to Rome and the Vatican for the year 2000 New Year’s celebration. Since then, Courtney has been there for conferences as well. This was the first time we took the kids though, and it was quite a thrill.
We spent the first week in Rome, where we had rented an apartment found online. It was great – the owners were super friendly, and the apartment was ideal, in a quiet neighborhood but with a grocery store close by and very near public transportation; three bedrooms, a well equipped kitchen, towels, blankets, TV (which we never used), free wi-fi. We went sightseeing every day – the Coliseum, Forum Romanum, The Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, churches, museums (including a Leonardo Da Vinci museum), the mouth of truth, a Salvador Dali exhibition, we saw it all! - and then cooked great Italian food in the evenings and/or had dinner at some very nice restaurants.
After our week in Rome we packed all our stuff into a small Toyota and drove north: Sienna, Pisa, Livorno, Lucca, Florence, Venice, Chioggia, Padua, and then south again; Assisi, Pompeii, Vesuvius, and back to Rome, where we spent an entire day at one of the largest shopping centers I’ve ever seen, Porta Roma.
What a trip!!
Most expensive: The bathrooms at Santa Maria Novella (1,60 euro/person adds up!), and the Venice bus-system. It cost our family over $80/day to get around Venice on crowded shuttle boats.
Most awesome discovery: children under the age of 18 who are members of the EU enter most sites in Italy for free. The boys’ Swedish passports were literally worth their weight in gold!
Something bad that happened to us: Nothing, really. Small annoyances, like having to use tokens to shower at a camping we’re already over-paying for, or missing the IKEA exit in Naples and having to spend an hour trying to get out of a dodgy neighborhood, by means of getting on and off the highway several times and have to pay two euro each entry.
Standing in line, in 40 degrees C heat, for over an hour to get into the Accademia to see the David was pretty unpleasant as well.
If I had to pick a favorite moment: In Padua we just made it to our appointment to see the Chapel. If we had arrived 30 seconds later, they would not have let us in. Pheuw!
But then there’s the glass of wine with a view of Umbria – it tops everything. Not because it was an exceptional wine, but for the setting. Let me paint you the picture.
After Venice and Padua we were a bit weary of camping, which entails – among other things,
- having to walk 5 minutes to get to the bathroom (which often doesn’t have any paper or toilet seat)
- no proper showers (in Italy, campsites make you buy expensive tokens to shower, and a session often only lasts for two minutes)
- taking down and putting up a tent, not to mention pump up air mattresses to sleep every night – in the heat
- waking up bathing in sweat every morning, often in the sun
- spending an hour every day trying to fit all our stuff in the rental car, without burying the kids
- eating whatever for breakfast – no tea, nothing cold – ugh!
- dirt and dust everywhere
- no chairs or tables – nowhere to sit and relax or eat.
We entered Assisi pretty late and just by chance found a small Albergo with a family room at a reasonable price, plus, it turns out, a great restaurant, a pool and a terrace with a fantastic view. We had already had dinner but still ordered some antipasti and a bottle of wine. The restaurant had 1 ½ liter-bottles of soda for 3 euros for the kids. What a catch! Sitting down with that glass of wine in my hand, comfortable, clean, cool, on a terrace with an amazing view of Umbria – thinking about how lucky we were to have found this oasis in the middle of our hectic trip – THAT was a good moment.
Number of churches/basilicas/chapels visited: I lost count after 30 – it could be closer to 50. On our last day in Rome alone, we visited four, and that wasn’t on a day we visited the Vatican. Four in Assisi, three in Venice, three in Sienna, two in Lucca, one in Pisa, well over ten in Florence.
Pieces of luggage that MEA managed to lose on our 3 hour direct flight without delays: 1. (How?! you ask, How?!)
Loads of laundry after we got home: 9.