Day 6: Fast Train To Florence
Leaving Rome today for our next stop, Florence. I'd heard bad things about Termini station, but we took a high speed train from Tiburtina station, which was new, clean and uncrowded. There was a great waiting area for Italo passengers. The train system is Europe really puts ours in the U.S. to shame. They're fast, efficient, run frequently and are pretty cheap. Our trip from Rome to Florence took just over an hour and we were in the city center just short walk from our hotel.
We checked in, dropped our bags and grabbed a quick dinner because we had a date with David that night! Michelangelo's David is at the Gallerie de Accademia. I booked evening tickets in advance (Rick Steves tip-visit popular sites very early or late to beat the crowds).
The Accademia isn't some huge Louvre or Smithsonian-style museum, to my surprise. The footprint is small and there are only two floors, filled with amazing artwork. And just as in the Vatican, Mia started to get fussy as we walked through the exhibit leading to David (she hasn't developed the quiet reverence we adults have around art). So we took our time and explored the rest of the gallery, heading toward the statue as she calmed down and the crowd dissipated. At some points we were the only people standing around, and as with the Sistine Chapel, we got to spend as much time as we wanted taking it all in.
Strolling Florence at night we discovered a treasure trove of statues in Piazza Della Signoria, including another David outside. It's so hard to imagine living around so many beautiful pieces of ancient art and history. Florence is relatively small so it seems like around every corner is a new square with a gorgeous fountain or sculpture. I already can't wait to come back here!
Day 7: Mama Needs A Nap
Extreme fatigue set in for me last night. Mia's sleep schedule is way off and I thought we could get her back to normal on "local time" but it is not meant to be! It wasn't pretty but we slept in to make up for it. Florence is a world-class shopping city so we hit the San Lorenzo market and got a few things (a belt for Jole, and some silk scarves and gorgeous handmade sandals for me-yay!) then headed to Il Due Fratellini for lunch (Rick Steve's Tip #2). We scored the last two sandwiches of the day—after ours the brothers ran out of bread and shut down for the day. We had more delicious pork and a couple of medio glasses of wine in front of their tiny, popular storefront.
Florence is incredibly walkable, even with a stroller. We walked from the station to our hotel just behind the duomo. The cobblestone streets are in all sizes and conditions, some with sidewalks some without and walking in the street is sometimes necessary but it's easy to get around. We saw lots of other families with young kids and every place we went in was stroller friendly and really welcoming to us all.
Tuscany is known for Chianina beef so dinner was a splurge on a huge steak, beans, potatoes and the creamiest cheesecake I've ever had. We ended the night watching Angels & Demons, counting the sites we saw in Rome. Cheesy, I know.
Day 8: I Wish We Could Stay
I really loved Florence. I already know we are coming back. But now its off to Venice! Another high speed train through the countryside. To Bologna we were mostly in a tunnel but after we had amazing views of rural Italy, and then Venice!
There's a lady on our car letting her tiny dog run around. Our seatmate gave Mia her extra Nutella To Go pack. Everyone has been so wonderful and patient. But we're all fussy. Traveling is an incredible gift and it also takes a lot of energy, thought and patience. AND WE HAVE A BABY WITH US. Have you changed a diaper on a train. Using the bathroom alone on a train is hard enough! And on top of that I actually got yelled at today by a another American when we arrived in Venice today for not knowing the unwritten rules at the tourist information desk. LAME.
Anyway, you know how there are always families of tourists walking around San Francisco wearing jackets and sweatshirts they clearly bought from a vendor because they didn't expect it to be as cold as as it is? Well we are those people here. IT'S FREEZING and we are not prepared. Duh, we're on the water (should have done more shopping on Florence). We caught a waterbus to our hotel which is lovely and just behind Saint Mark's Square. Mia and Jole needed rest time so I ventured out and got pasta to go from a popular spot a few canals away. Even that short jaunt was We're staying in the room tonight, watching dubbed American TV shows, looking at pictures and staying warm. We'll be at it again in the morning :)
Day 9: Up and At Em!
I'm up and out early by myself. I tried to catch the sunrise and missed it, but I had St. Marks Square almost to myself save a few dogs and lots of birds. I'm heading back to the hotel now and there's tons of kids on my "boat" bus-even in Venice the kids have to get to school!
Near the Rialto Bridge is a fish and vegetable market, and early in the morning it's full of locals, restauranteurs shopping for the day, and a few tourists like me. I bought packets squid ink for pasta and chatted with a veggie vendor who was painstakingly arranging his stall.
Oh did I mention it's freezing here? I'm super bundled up and still cold. Oh darn, guess that means more shopping.
Before we got here our friends warned us that Venice is not stroller friendly. There are lots of steps thanks to all the bridges over all the canals. However, we are staying near St. Mark's Square and along the water the two closest bridges have makeshift ramps (in place temporarily thanks to the Venice Marathon the weekend before), so we haven't had too much trouble getting around. Not that we've really gone anywhere—Jole's under the weather today :( Mia and I eventually went out into the streets on foot, where she chased pigeons, petted some dogs and I took approximately 500 pictures. Here are a few :)
Jole's slightly better, so we went to the Doge's Palace—there was no line and no waiting, so we breezed through like VIPs. Since we brought the stroller we were escorted through some of the back rooms where only staff usually goes to get to the elevators. The Palace is as ornately appointed as you can imagine a palace would be—the ceilings were incredible (photos are prohibited but you can see official museum images here). Even with the elevator we had to carry Mia up or down quite a few stairs in the stroller, and I would have used the carrier if we'd known.
After lunch we connected with a very cool couple from Atlanta we met in Florence, Sidney and Carmen, and had a wonderful lunch together. These two travel quite a bit and they had some great tips for us about Paris, our next destination, and we had fun sharing travel stories!
Back at the hotel Jole is dosing up on Vitamin C, so I strapped Mia to my back for a walk around the city. Many of the "streets" in Venice are so small they feel like tiny alleys, but all manner of treasure can be found just around the corner or over the next bridge. I've dialed down my photo taking for a bit. Its so easy to spend so much time staring through my camera (or at my phone) that I want to make sure I'm not missing things. I'm "taking pictures with my heart" as a good friend once said he did on a vacation when he didn't even take a camera. I did have someone snap our picture at this great bar and restaurant where I grabbed sandwiches for dinner. I can't believe how many sandwiches I've eaten on this trip. They've all been amazing!
Day 10: Water, Water Everywhere!
On vacation I'm more of the "let's go!" type and Jole is more of the "let's relax" type. There is definitely a place for both but I wanted to get as much as Venice in as possible before we head to Paris later today, so Mia and I went out for a walk in the area away from the Square. We found ourselves in residential Venice among folks heading to the laundromat, taking their kids to the library, and greeting neighbors on the way to work. You know, people stuff.
Outside our hotel a couple of gondoliers were waiting for customers, and one of them we'd seen the day before when he waved and yelled "bellissima" to Mia as he rowed by. I asked if I could take their picture since they weren't too busy, and in our chatting we learned Giovanni is father to a 9-month-old daughter Leda, his wife Maria is from San Francisco, and they got married at SF City Hall. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES???? Needless to say we got along even better after that. Mia took to him immediately and he hung out with us while we checked out and even walked us to the water bus stop to catch our next ride to the airport. He was so kind and that totally ended our time in Venice on such a high note!
We didn't take a gondola ride in Venice—between Jole being sick and the cost (its pricey) we decided to skip it. We did however take the water bus to Marco Polo Airport for our EasyJet flight to Paris. It was around 15 Euros, took just over an hour, and went through all the islands around Venice. Its not fast or particularly romantic, but we got to see a lot and Mia played with the kids sitting behind us almost the whole way. Great value!
Marco Polo Airport was a breeze. Its relatively small and since we're traveling with a child the airlines and security have shuttled us into shorter lines and been very helpful in general. EasyJet was great too—we really considered taking a train from Italy to France, but it would have been a 10+ hour ride and almost double the cost of our 1.5 hour flight.