La Dolce Vita: Rome and Pistoia

For several months, we planned for JR and his Dad to spend two days in Rome during our trip. My mom and sister wanted to take a day trip there as well, and I said I was happy to stay home with both kids for a day. Turns out, I lied. As I mentioned, the house had some quirks (a medieval fireplace you could walk into) that made it difficult to turn your back on William for even a second, and it was very hard to entertain both of them in the house for an extended period of time. Like for more than ten minutes. It was cooler outside than we expected, so my visions of playing outside with them all day faded too. A change in plans was necessary, so as of Sunday night it was decided that everyone would travel to Rome on Monday except for William and I.

That night my sister became incredibly sick. In the morning she said there was no way she could go. My mom didn’t want to go without her, so she drove JR and his Dad to Florence so they could catch their train to Rome, and then she returned to Greve for the day with me and the kids. A lifesaver was the Play Doh Drill n’ Fill dentist kit that both kids loved -thank you Mom! We spent some time at the playground in town and tried a new restaurant for dinner, Trattoria d’i Borgo. Once again, we enjoyed delicious food and great service. The weather was cool but not too chilly so we sat outside and relaxed as much as one can when dining with small children.

While we were having a low-key day, JR and his dad did a Walks of Italy tour of the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill. Their tour guide was excellent and they both highly recommend it. For lodgings while in Rome they stayed in a hotel near Piazza Navona, which is right where we stayed when we took our family trip in 2015. JR sent me several pictures from our favorite spots and I was pretty jealous to miss out.


This picture is notable for a few reasons. JR’s dad doesn’t drink – at all. He posed with this glass of wine sitting at our favorite spot in front of the Pantheon so JR could freak out his siblings!

Thankfully my sister woke up feeling better on Tuesday, so we loaded up the kids and drove to Pistoia, about an hour away, to check out their zoo. The drive was kind of boring because it was a fair amount of highway driving, but William slept the whole way so I would have gladly kept going. The zoo was fantastic. It was medium-sized, nicely laid out and had an awesome playground. When we visited the lion enclosure, the female lion was resting right near the glass and the male lion was pacing angrily beside her. He kept jumping up and growling at the glass, and I had some serious questions about Italian zoo safety standards compared to American ones. I didn’t want to test my suspicions, so I kept us moving along.  Later in the reptile house, they had an alligator in a raised enclosure with an open top that I definitely could have reached in to touch. Apparently two small illustrated signs showing a hand being bitten was supposed to be sufficient to prevent any incidents.

  

I was pretty tired when we returned to Greve that afternoon, but realized it was already Tuesday and we hadn’t been to a winery yet. My sister and I set off to remedy that while my Mom took care of the kids. First we stopped at Vicchio Maggio. The women working there were super fun, the place has a fantastic view, and the wine was awesome. One of my favorite stops.  They offered a separate tour of their nearby winery, but we were quite content with tasting. We also did a quick stop at Castello Verrazzano.  Just like the first place, they offered a full tour at their winery nearby, but we opted for the tasting only. Eating fresh bread dipped in olive oil while sampling wines and taking in the scenery was basically my vision for this trip.

On our way back we planned to stop at Coop, the small grocery store in town. We arrived during their afternoon break (closed every day 1-4pm!!) so we were forced to eat gelato nearby while we waited. In the store we bought food to make dinner at home, and Jamie prepared rosemary chicken, green beans and smashed potatoes while I ran back into town to pick up JR and his Dad (they’d taken the train back from Rome to Florence and then a bus to Greve).

We enjoyed dinner together while they filled us in our their trip. They were able to take a guided tour to the Necropolis beneath St. Peter’s Basilica where the Apostle Peter and over a 100 Popes are buried. This Scavi (Excavation in Italian) tour is open to the public but is extremely difficult to get because the few spots available per day fill up quickly (JR had to book it 6 months in advance! http://www.scavi.va/content/scavi/en/ufficio-scavi.html). JR and his Dad said this was an amazing tour and a highlight of their trip.  JR has tried to book the tour on previous trips to Rome and we were unable to when we visited in 2015. He said the wait was well worth it.

You might think we spent Wednesday reunited as a big group, but my mom and sister still wanted to see Rome. And since JR and his Dad were back, there was no reason for Abby and ME not to join them! We set off Wednesday morning for a girls’ trip.  Arriving in Florence in morning rush hour and attempting to park to get to the train station was not ideal. At one point my mom said “I just keep going straight here”, but I pointed out the various signs and flashing red lights that clearly meant do not enter. She shrugged and said “that’s the way I went on Monday”. We are waiting for a few traffic tickets to arrive in the mail any day now.

We parked under the central market and walked to the train station. It was a quick 1 hour and 20 minute fast-train to Rome. When we arrived we purchased tickets for one of the Big Bus tours. This wasn’t my preferred way to see the city, but we only had one day and Abby was thrilled about being on a double-decker bus.  We stayed on board for a few stops before getting off at Castel Sant’Angelo. We walked in the opposite direction to Piazza Navona. It was really cool to return to a place I’d visited with Abby just a few years ago. We made it a point to have gelato at the same place we had our very first gelato back in 2015. We kept a slow pace and walked to see the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. Both of those sights were closed during my last visit and I was glad to finally see  them, especially the fountain. It’s even larger than I expected and we took some fun pictures.


2015 and 2018 – she looks a little different, but I’m wearing the same jacket!

   

We met up with the bus tour a few stops later and enjoyed the ride while Abby slept. She really crashed hard, and was showing no signs of waking up even when we were ready to get off again. This led to me carrying her down the street towards the Vatican, a stop my mom didn’t want to miss. Abby stayed asleep in my arms at a cafe while they went ahead to look around.


What else am I supposed to do when she’s passed out on my lap?

By then it was almost 5pm. We were hungry, tired, and realizing we had a bit of a journey ahead. The bus tour only runs until about 6pm, so when we tried to board for a return trip to the train station, we were met with a large group of tourists with the same plans. No one wanted to make a nice, polite line, so you had to fend for yourself to actually get on one of the buses. My quick-thinking sister, who was carrying Abby at the time, reenacted the lifeboat scene from Titanic and began yelling “I have a child!” like Billy Zane.

This worked splendidly and we were all able to follow her on to the bus. Finally we made it to the train station, and unwisely purchased tickets for a train departing 20 minutes later. Because of course, immediately after the tickets printed Abby said she needed a bathroom break.

The next 20 minutes were hilarious. My mom and Abby went off in search of a bathroom while my sister and I stood in line to buy dinner for everyone. She bought us some sandwiches from a deli, and then while she waited in line at McDonalds (judge away) for my Mom and Abby, I was trying to figure out which platform we needed to be on. The cashier at McDonalds told Jamie they only had plain cheeseburgers, not hamburgers, and she looked at me to ask what to do since my Mom hates cheese. My watch told me we had 7 minutes left so I yelled “take the hamburgers!” We all met up and asked an employee for help finding out platform. When he pointed it out to us, he kind of shrugged and said you only have 5 minutes. I grabbed the food bags, told my sister to pick up Abby, and we started to run McCallister-family style hauling butt through this train station. With barely a minute to spare we made it and we laughed so hard on the way home about what close call we’d had.

Of course the comedy wasn’t over because we still had to drive home, and we truly could not make our way out of the train station area in Florence. Every other road is restricted from use, or one way, so we just zig-zagged back and forth, up and down these tiny streets making zero progress. At one point we turned a corner and we were staring at the Duomo. While beautiful at night, there was no doubt we were not supposed to be there. I have to give credit to my Mom because she stayed completely relaxed the whole time, convinced it would work out fine, while my sister and I were getting more and more frustrated. As she expected, we eventually figured it out and we made it back to the villa just fine. While this whole trip was memorable, a highlight will be spending a day in Rome with them.


Super sure we were NOT supposed to be driving there. Also realizing me posting this blog might make it harder for my Mom to deny any involvement when the traffic citations show up!

 

La Dolce Vita: Florence and Siena

So as I mentioned, our travel day on Thursday was pretty exhausting. In a real bonehead move on my part, I asked JR to reserve tickets to the Accademia Gallery to see the David at 8:45am Friday morning. In my defense, my internet research said to make reservations in advance and that first thing in the morning was the way to go.  What I failed to really consider was that we’d be traveling most of the day Thursday, probably not sleep well that night, and that our rental house was a 45 minute drive from Florence. And that doesn’t even take parking into account, which we realized would be a big issue. I convinced everyone that it was well worth it to call the 60 euro reservation a loss and plan to sleep in.

We woke up Friday morning with zero plans, but after slowly making breakfast and getting ready, I figured it still made sense to head to Florence and enjoy the nice weather while we had it. After the fiasco the previous day, I refused to drive anywhere until we had phones with data on them. We made a quick stop in town for SIM cards before driving to Florence. Our AirBnB host recommended parking at a hotel that was a 15 minute walk from the main sights, and to our surprise, driving there and parking was quite easy. We stopped for lunch at a fantastic sandwich place, I’ Girone De’ Ghiotti, right off the main walking street. I spent a good amount of time researching and planning for our day in Florence so that we could make the most of our time and eat well, and this place did not disappoint! Just around the corner we made our first (of many) stops for gelato at Perche no!  It was fantastic of course and it was the first gelato experience for JR’s dad, William and my mom.

 
Lunch at I’ Gerone De’ Ghiotti

    
Gelato stop and walking with a monkey on my back.


We saw the Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signora, the Duomo, the San Lorenzo Market and Ponte Vecchio. In between the sightseeing, we found time to stop for wine, espresso, and the Disney store. You know, typical Italian things. My mom and sister took Abby in and returned with a princess outfit complete with shoes and a crown. Our girl was truly in her element there.

It was a wonderful day but quite long, and poor William was overtired and couldn’t fall asleep on the way back to Greve. Everyone wanted to go out to dinner but we didn’t want to risk the inevitable meltdown, so JR stayed behind while the rest of us went to La Cantina, a wonderful local restaurant in Greve. We loved this place from the moment we walked in the door. Alessandro, the owner/manager/concierge/I don’t know what, greeted us with fist bumps and a smile. As we sat down the servers brought over glasses of prosecco. And since neither my mom nor JR’s Dad drink, my sister and I were treated to two glasses each! They had a large menu and delicious food, and treated us to dessert wine and a plate of sweets when we were finished. When we left, we assured Alessandro that we’d return (and we certainly kept that promise).

That night, part of a sweet little annual tradition between Abby and my mom, they colored Easter eggs together. My mom packed all the supplies, just like she did last year in Scotland!

Greve has a big market in their square on Saturday mornings so we started the next day there. Lunch was at Antica Macelleria Falorni, the oldest butcher shop in Greve, founded in 1806. William fell asleep in the stroller, so my mom took Abby to a playground while the rest of us enjoyed an early afternoon wine stop. Many of the restaurants we visited included a 2 euro “cover charge” for water, bread, and basically just for sitting down. So stopping for wine usually included a light snack – no complaints from me.

We all met at the playground and enjoyed some downtime watching the kids play.

I started looking up dinner options and was surprised to discover that many recommended restaurants closed between lunch and dinner, and that meant they didn’t reopen until 6:30/7pm, or later in some cases. Not ideal for our kids who usually eat dinner at 5:45 pm. Or me, let’s be honest. And so that’s how we justified returning to La Cantina for the second night in a row.

On Sunday we spent the morning exploring the property around our house.

We ate lunch at home and then drove about an hour to Siena, one of the most famous cities in Tuscany. The drive was beautiful and easy – it helped that William slept the whole way. We parked at Il Campo and there were clear signs for it including some that updated with the number of free parking spots on each level. It was just a ten minute walk to the main square, Piazza del Campo.

Siena was beautiful and Piazza del Campo was unforgettable. It was a bit windy, but otherwise I could have spent hours people watching and wandering the streets. Twice a year Piazza del Campo is transformed into a horse track where the 17 neighborhoods of Siena challenge each other in a famous horse race called “Palio.”

 

We stopped for gelato at Grom (highly rated but just okay to me, I quickly became a gelato expert). On our way to the Duomo, Abby passed out in the stroller. We kept William moving with the promise of blueberries, and it was so funny watching him wobble down the streets. JR, his dad, my sister and I did a quick visit inside the cathedral. It was really impressive and well worth it.

We returned to Piazza del Campo and I had the genius idea that JR and I should climb the 400 steps up the Torre del Mange, a tower over looking the square. I regretted the idea around the 50th step, but we made it to the top!


400 steps! 

I had hoped we could spend more time in the town, but the weather was cooling quickly. Abby was still sound asleep in the stroller and we knew William was more than ready for a nap, so we made our way back to Greve. Huge thanks to my sister for wearing William (no small feat since he’s over 25lbs now) while Abby hogged the stroller. And thanks to all three of our traveling companions for staying with the kids so JR and I could enjoy a date night that evening!

To be continued.

 

La Dolce Vita

Alternate title: 10 days of wine and gelato.

We just returned from a pretty amazing trip to Italy. JR’s Dad visited us in Tbilisi for 5 days beforehand, and we enjoyed showing him our favorite spots around town. JR also took him on an overnight trip to Kazbegi and a quick trip to Gori.

For the full Tbilisi experience, he had the pleasure of a 2:45 am airport pick up with us. A giant 16-person mini bus picked us up (the only available vehicle that could accommodate us and all of our stuff) and dropped us at the airport. As we shuffled to the Lufthansa check-in, I realized we were missing one car seat. JR quickly called the driver, who kindly returned to the airport to drop it off. Major crisis narrowly averted.

Our flight to Munich was uneventful. We were scheduled to have a layover of just under 5 hours, but it turned into more than 6. That’s a little long for my taste. I went back and forth over which stroller to take on this trip and even though my Britax B Agile Double is like a best friend to me, I was worried about trunk space and narrow Italian streets, so we took our City Mini Single GT. We still wanted William to be in his car seat on the flight, and it’s a giant beast of a seat so we borrowed our friend’s car seat cart for the airport transits. This thing is amazing! It was very easy to wheel around, even with Abby riding in it.  Best of all, she fell asleep in it for HOURS at the airport. We propped her up at an angle near the gate and let her sleep. Since we don’t take a car seat on the plane for her anymore, we checked her car seat in this great new travel bag I bought (I actually also just bought her a new car seat all together. I’m really keeping this industry in business – and JR displeased.) Highly recommend both of those items if you travel frequently!

 

My mom met us in Munich which was a surprise for Abby. We loved the new play area near Gate K9, it was perfect for both kids and had seating for adults. After getting as much energy out as we could, it was finally time to board the flight to Florence. It was delightfully short, and the airport is super tiny so we were on our way to our rental car in no time. My mom stayed back at the airport to wait for my sister to arrive and that’s when things started to derail.

JR’s Dad stayed with the kids while we picked up our car and tried to install both car seats. Car seat installation is the bane of my existence. Once that travesty ended, I drew the short stick and got to sit in the middle seat between the two car seats. Sit is not entirely accurate, as I was more wedged in between them and couldn’t put my shoulders back. Oh well, it was only going to be a 45 minute drive to our rental. Or so we thought.

Neither of us had a data plan for Italy, so we were relying completely on my Google Maps print out. Mistake! All it took was one missed exit and we were totally off track. It was super difficult to turn around and make our way back to the original mistake, so we kept getting further and further mixed up. That’s when Abby started complaining about her stomach, and did I mention William had already been crying the whole time? The kids were hungry and cranky. I thought William might have needed a diaper change, so JR pulled off on a side road and literally changed him on the hood of the car. #parentsoftheyear

After TWO HOURS of driving, we finally arrived at our rental in Greve in Chianti. It was a little more rustic than I expected, although to be fair the pictures we saw were accurate. It was also super super cold outside the day, and possibly colder inside this house. And I saw death traps everywhere for the kids. I rushed JR and his dad back out the door to find the closest grocery store so we could make dinner. And then I was alone with two hungry, cranky kids for the longest 45 minutes ever.

Eventually they came back, my mom and my sister arrived in their own rental car, and we all sat down for dinner and a glass of wine. We toasted to our arrival and the excitement of being together in Italy, and all was well.

To be continued.