Sunday, July 09, 2023


We went on a wonderful trip to Europe in early June, and I decided I’d write a bit about it. In part to write down some memories, but in part also because I am the kind of anxious person who feels better having a step-by-step procedure of an upcoming unknown situation, so I know that this information can help others plan their trips better as well. Note that this post contains some affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase using one of those links, I will get a very small commission at no extra cost to you. I’m only recommending things that I own myself and that I’m happy I bought! 

A few words about travelling in Florence… 
 - While I did use my Italian (I can figure out a few useful sentences thanks to a course I took in university and 105 days of DuoLingo to refresh my memory), the vast majority of people with whom we interacted spoke English well enough that speaking Italian is not strictly necessary. Museums also have English placards and signs. 
- Even though most stores take credit cards, you will still need some cash on hand, especially if you take cabs or if your hotel requires you to pay the tourist tax up front. 
 - We have a cellphone plan with T-Mobile that covered text messages and data transfers while we were in Europe, which was very useful. (Pro tip: Download WhatsApp to make phone calls using your data plan!) I had created some Google Maps and downloaded them on my phone before going, but was disappointed to see that the pins and itineraries I had created often did not show up on my phone, which made the whole thing somewhat useless. 
 - Note that most attractions (museums, churches, etc.) do not allow backpacks and only allow small or medium-sized purses, and there typically aren’t cloakrooms or lockers available, so I purchased this Travelon anti-theft cross-body bag that was big enough to carry my usual stuff, plus passports, water and sunscreen, etc., while still being small enough to be allowed. It was very useful during this trip and a great investment! You’ll also have to go through metal detectors and security at most attractions. Water bottles must not exceed 16 fluid ounces. And keep in mind that churches are still places of worship, so you can’t just waltz in wearing spaghetti straps, short-shorts or flip-flops. 
- Most restaurants with a printed menu have little numbers after each dish, like footnotes, from 1 to 14. When you look at the end of the menu, each number corresponds to an allergen like nuts, mustard, wheat, or seafood. Number 7 was the one for dairy, including lactose. I am not sure how cross-contact is handled in the kitchen, and it probably varies by restaurant, but this shows that at least allergies are taken seriously. 
- Trains are easy to navigate. Note that if you purchase a ticket for a specific day/time in advance, all you need is your ticket and ID and you’re good to go. If you purchase a paper ticket at the kiosk on the day of your trip, you need to validate your ticket in one of the little green machines, meaning insert the ticket into it so that it gets stamped with a date and time. This basically lets the onboard controller know that you are using the ticket just this once and are not planning on defrauding the train company. To get on or off the train, press on the button to open the doors (this is not automatic). 
- For peace of mind, we used SafetyTats on the kids to make sure they had our phone number visibly on them. We ended up sticking the tats on their clothes instead of their skin, and the stickers were resistant enough that we could stick the same one on several different shirts on consecutive days, yet they remained easy to peel off. I highly recommend them! You can also get them on Amazon
- If you have kids between the ages of 4 and 12, I can’t recommend MiFolds enough to keep them safe in a car. It folds up very small, so it’s ideal for travelling when you can’t lug their car seat around. 
- Buy an electrical adapter/converter like this multitasking model with USB ports. So, on to accommodations! 

I knew of a Quebecker who, with his wife, owns rooms for rent in Florence, in an unbeatable location and at competitive rates. Their bed and breakfast was fully booked for the dates we wanted, so we rented the amazing Giotto suite instead and *loved* it! The building is easily accessible from the airport by taxi (roughly €25) and by train (it is near Santa Maria Novella Station). Plus, it is all walking distance to the centro storico, which is where most of the tourist attractions are located. The view from the bedroom window was right on the Duomo, and I spent countless times just staring at it in awe. It was amazing! Plus, this suite gave us room to spread out, we saved some money by using our own kitchenette for breakfast, and we had a washing machine. We were living the dream! 

We were jetlagged upon arrival, but spent the afternoon walking to the Duomo and visiting Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral. We made our way to the Mercato Centrale hoping to buy dinner, but we ended up only buying pastries and purchasing the rest of our essentials at the grocery store down the street from our lodging. 

The next day, we walked to the Galleria dell’Accademia (literally around the block!) to see Michelangelo’s David. I bought our tickets online in advance – it’s a bit more expensive (there is a €4 booking fee per person), but then you get a guaranteed timeslot in which to enter the museum; otherwise, you’d have to stand in line and hope they aren’t already sold out for the day, which just seems like a bad plan to me. Even though the confirmation email said to go collect the tickets at the booth before getting in line to enter, it turned out we actually had to get right in line at our appointed ticket time and get the tickets directly at the entrance. I had printed out the email confirmation and was not asked for identification beyond that, though by law we still have to carry our passports with us. Anyway, the main attraction is in a large room near the entrance, and it is well worth the visit! We didn’t spend too much time in that museum because we had a busy day ahead, but I loved what I saw. 

We then walked south, to and through Piazza della Signoria, where there is a copy of the statue of David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. We continued to the Gallerie degli Uffizi for more museum time. (I promised the kids that was the only museum day, and I have no regrets even though they were bored to tears by the end.) Just as with the Galleria dell’Accademia, we purchased our tickets in advance for a specific time, though this museum did have a place to pick up the tickets before entering (marked by number 3, near the river bank on the south end). You could easily spend hours and hours in this museum – it probably has the highest concentration of famous works of art I’ve seen, culminating in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. (We basically told our kids it had works by all the Ninja Turtles, but even that is under-selling it!) 

Just outside the museum, you can get a great view of the Ponte Vecchio. While we did cross it, we didn’t go much further, because the kids, especially the Fox, were tired of walking. If that isn’t a problem for you, I recommend making your way to the Boboli Gardens, the Rose Garden, or the Piazzale Michelangelo for views of the city. You could also visit any of the palaces formerly owned by the Medicis and many more modern museums. 

On our third and last day, we took a day trip to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. (There are other things to see in Pisa if you are so inclined, pardon the pun, but we had reached the quota of museums and history that we could shove down the kids’ throats without a mutiny. The Cathedral, Baptistery, and museum could be your cup of tea too!) The owners of our lodging had confirmed that it was better to book our train or bus tickets in advance, and I’m glad I did. We opted for the train, in large part because it is easy to navigate and because the kids were really excited at the idea of finally travelling by train! I looked up the information on TrenItalia, which is very easy to use even without the app. I made sure to select the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence (since that was the one near our hotel) and the San Rossore station in Pisa (since that’s the one that is walking distance to the tower), using only direct routes (no transfers to worry about). It was only €54 for the four of us, roundtrip. The train takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes to get there, and we spent a few hours there mid-day, which was enough to walk around, get our fill of the tower from the outside, and have lunch in a nearby restaurant before making our way back to Florence. (We didn’t realize that it was once again possible for visitors to climb up the tower. We had a backpack and were on a schedule, so it was not to be for us, but you can also buy a ticket in advance for a specific timeslot; keep that in mind for your visit.) 

I absolutely loved Florence, and my trip in general! The kids didn’t appreciate it as much as I did, or perhaps they appreciated different aspects of it, but if my own European travels at their age is any indication, they’ll look back on it with gratitude and good memories later on.

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