Twenty years ago I travelled to Italy for a month. Having never lived away from home or travelled on my own, I was excited to explore art and the beauty of Italy - first on a 2 week tour, and then on my own backpacking. Like Dave’s adventure his first time round the world, this was a pivotal moment for me. As a 23 year old, I fell in love with Italy. I look back on each part with wonderful memories (except Naples and Palermo - HA!). So, there was part of me that wondered, would it be the same this go round? And, if it wasn’t, would it taint my memories of my own trip in 1999?
Nope. Italy is still wonderful.
Yes, some things have changed but a whole lot hasn’t, thank goodness. The major difference I noticed right away was the organization of seeing attractions (something we’ve noticed throughout Europe). When I was first there you lined up for attractions and waited. If you wanted to avoid line ups, you got up early to be the first in line as the museum opened. Today there are options for pre-booking times so to ‘skip the line’. As well, some of the attractions, like climbing the Duomo in Florence, can only be done with a reservation, whereas 20 years ago I just joined the short line one day, waited 15 minutes and began the hike. This added a complexity we weren’t expecting. Do we pay extra to ensure the experience or do we risk standing in line for hours? Well, sometimes our decision to go with pre-paid tickets worked to our advantage and sometimes it didn’t. All in all though, we weighed each option carefully and got to see what we wanted to in Italy. (You’ll see later in the trip this didn’t always work out as planned.)
Prior to 9/11 the world was a different place and security plays a much more prominent role now. We were certainly not surprised to see it during our visit. I remember the police and machine guns from my first visit. As well, there is airport-like security at all major tourist attractions too. However, none of us were too taken aback by the overt presence of these security measures after having experienced this previously in Rio, parts of Asia and Africa.
Dave and I had worried a bit about the European leg of our adventure. Yes there are a variety of things to do Italy, but our timeline didn’t allow the opportunity to do it all. We really wanted to share the highlights of Italy with the kids but also wanted to create the balance of sightseeing and ‘play’. Although we included the girls’ voices throughout our planning, because they are more aware of European tourist attractions, this portion of the trip they were far more involved. Thus, we spent 2 nights in Pompeii, 5 days in Rome, 5 nights at a converted Tuscan farm house with a pool and the remaining 3 lights in Venice so we could fit in everything we wanted to do.
As you saw from our previous post, we all enjoyed our time in Pompeii. This was somewhere the girls really wanted to go. Meghan especially loved it and commented a few times, “It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact this place was completely buried by ash and rock.” How true! We spent a full day taking in every part of it and soaking up the experience in its entirety. Then we headed back to Rome.
When I first went to Italy I had never experienced a big European city before (other than a Spring Break trip to London with high school - a very protected experience). I vividly remember Rome’s crazy atmosphere - the honking, constant traffic, large groups of people, hustle and bustle and never being able to find a quiet spot. To be truthful, it wasn’t my favourite spot during that first trip. However, this time, I loved it! I didn’t find it nearly as busy, despite it being the high tourist season. The horns were gone, the traffic calmer and the crowds more manageable. With time, wisdom and further life experience, this city is no longer as ‘big’ as I remember it being. This trip I got to appreciate things that I didn’t see my first time around.
In Rome we did the usual touristy things - the Vatican, Colosseum, Forum, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. It surprised Dave and I how interested the girls were in the art and architecture. It also helped that some places had ‘kid friendly’ audio guides. The one at the Vatican Museum was incredible! It certainly helped to extend our stay for a bit, that’s for sure.
Accommodation in Florence was very expensive for our family so we decided to look at the surrounding area and use that as a base instead. Dave found an incredible location just outside of San Gimiango. Within this converted farm house, we had an apartment for a few days with a spectacular view and pool. From here, we explored Siena and other nearby towns and were only an hour drive to Florence where we visited The David, Uffizzi Gallery, climbed the Duomo and just wandered to take in the sights. We also visited Venice for 2 days wandering the streets, getting lost and taking in the Palazzo Ducale or Doge’s Palace.
While it might seem rather lavish to be visiting staying in a farm house and travelling through Europe at high season, it should be known that as a family, we really pick and choose carefully the attractions we see. As we have been joking on this leg of the journey - we should write a book on ‘how to do 2 star Europe with a family’. HA! That said, we feel that we haven’t missed out on anything and that which we would like to revisit, we will. After all, Europe is far closer to home than Asia and Africa. We’ll come again.
What was really lovely about this part of the adventure was that I got to share my past experiences with my family but make new memories with them there. As well, Italy still takes my breath away. I simply love it and so does Dave. In fact, we’ve already made plans to return. Italy is a nice trip to take when you begin retirement don’t you think?
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).