Monthly Archives: March 2015

Day Four: Florence

We had tickets to the Accadamia for ten AM. So I thought it would be a more leisurely morning. I had stayed up late watching Angels and Demons in preparation of going to Rome soon. So I woke to my alarm. The kids took a while to get ready and I ultimately ended up walking ahead of the family to pick up our tickets. I had a moment of excitement when I was able to communicate with another family in Spanish. 

We went in the Accadamia and to make the museum more exciting for the kids we told them to count the naked tooshies. This worked to keep the girl excited. She was particularly amused that the giant statue was named David. I found it interesting to see the size of the statue’s feet compared to the rest of the body when you were close up.              After the Accadamia we went to the duomo. I stood in line for an hour and a half so we could climb to the top of the dome. I am afraid of heights. The climb is long and half way through you share the same passage way with tourists coming down. And the roof is curved. It just keeps getting tighter and tighter. I am sure the views at the top are magnificent. I just took a quick shot and waited for the family down a few steps. It was better for the family this way. I have a fear of heights and also do not like to see my kids close to the edge of a high up building.      We came down from the duomo and headed back to our apartment for a late lunch. I then went out by myself to look for a mommy souvenir. I went to a monastary where they hand make purses, but I was not too impressed. I then walked to another store that I had seen by the duomo but I was followed around by a salesperson so that store will not be getting a sale from me. I like to be left alone when I shop.       I came back to the apartment and finished watching the movie I had started the night before. The kids then wanted to go out and do something before dinner so I took them back to the duomo. There we climbed the bell tower.  That is also quite a climb. The kids would have preferred if their dad took them to the top because I just yell at them to get away from the edge and I take one picture and tell them it is time to go back down.            Next we walked down to the Ponte Vecchio. Did I say I was looking for a purse? I think momma needs some jewelrey. There was absolutely stunning jewelry on the bridge. I think the Rhubarb and I will look tomorrow but I doubt I will buy anything. It is fun to look though.    

 

After that we met my husband for dinner at a restaurant I had read about called La Bussola. The kids ate their dishes without complaining and I got to enjoy some wine so I would call it a win-win.

We finished dinner and headed back to the apartment around 8:30. The kids showered and went to bed after watching some of their shows on their iPods.

Also – for the record the gelato count is  the Bubba – four and the Rhubarb – three. My pizza count is up to three.  

         

Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Day Three: Venice to Florence

I went to bed early last night but was then awoken by the Rhubarb in the wee hours of the night. I think her cold woke her up. Unbeknown to me she watched some tv on her iPod then rewoke me when her battery was at 20%. Since I did nothing she then woke her dad and told him she was hungry so they had a snack at 5:30 and then went back to bed.

I woke at seven and it was obvious everyone was still sleeping. I got ready and then found a bakery near our lodging. I bought some breakfast items for the family and then proceeded to try waking everyone up. We made it out of the apartment by 9:20 and then headed to Doge Palace for our 9:55 Secret Itineraries tour.

I preferred our clock tower tour to the Doge Palace tour. This is because the clock tower tour guide seemed to involve the tourists more. She seemed to hold the kids more interested than our Doge Palace tour. Regardless, the Doge Palace tour was still interesting. We had one guy on our tour that took pictures of EVERYTHING. I don’t know how he learned anything because he took so many pictures.   

 

After the tour we headed to a mask maker shop I had heard about. On our way there I attempted to buy tickets for the water bus for later. While doing this I noticed a sign that said the water buses were on strike from 10 – 1, and that ticket agents were on strike all day. Just my luck my credit card transaction went through but tickets could not be printed….so I should see a service agent at a ticket booth. Lovely. I am thinking I will have a charge on my credit card that I won’t be able to prove I did not use.  We went to the mask store and did not find anything that we wanted to purchase. The kids had seen some glass figurines they wanted to buy so we went back to the shop to purchase them. After that we decided to grab a quick lunch before heading back to the apartment to get our bags.    We picked up our bags and then took the water bus back to the train station. Our train left Venice at 3:25 and arrived in Florence around 5:30. I was looking forward to seeing the Tuscany landscape but unfortunately most of the landscape was tunnels from Bologna to Florence. 

 We checked into our apartment and it is awesome. It is a block from the duomo and within walking distance to all the major sights. And the rate is really reasonable. It is just perfect. 

 

  

 The Rhubarb was getting cranky the last half hour of our train ride. You could tell her lack of sleep was catching up to her. We decided not to go out to eat and instead have dinner at the apartment. So the Rhubarb and I went out to find something for me to make. Then we just hung out in the apartment and did laundry. 

Tomorrow should be a more relaxing day. We have tickets to one of the art galleries at ten and after that the day is free until dinner. We shall see what everyone wants to do.

I must say I am having a little bit of sticker shock coming from Venice. Food is much cheaper here. I noticed pizza is at least 3.50 euro cheaper.

Now that we have left Venice, here are my thoughts. I really enjoyed being there and walking around. Our lodging was basic but adequately priced and located in a great location so I would stay there again. I did feel Venice was very touristy. Most of the restaurants are tourist based. I wish I could have experienced Venice like more of the locals do. Maybe if we stayed at an outer island I would have felt like I was in a less touristy area. We were staying on the “city center” island. Still, I enjoyed our time there. I almost did not have us going to Venice but I knew I would regret it as I have always wanted to see the city.  I also think we picked the perfect time to go. I have heard there are lots of mosquitos in Venice in the summer but we only saw a handful when we were there. Also, it was still pretty crowded. I can’t imagine what it would be like in the summer months. 

Anyway, I am looking forward to exploring Florence tomorrow. 

Categories: Florence, Italy, Trains, Venice | Leave a comment

Day Two: Milan to Venice

The kids went to bed relatively easy last night. Poor Rhubarb now has my cold. Thankfully I packed the kid’s medicine and a box of tissues. I was worried the box of tissues was overkill but it has been needed for sure. There was a minor “parenting scare” last night. I was woken at 1:45 AM by the girl who was wondering if the time was 8:45 as indicated by her iPod. I told her no, it was 1:45. But for a few minutes I was worried she was up for the day and not going back to bed. Luckily she went back to bed easily.

We woke up and then woke the kids. Neither kid wanted to wake up. The Italians just had their daylight savings time start as well….so technically we lost an hour of sleep overnight. 

Once we got the kids roused we headed to the breakfast room. The Rhubarb ate cookies and pasta for breakfast. I was suprised at the amount of sweets that were out for breakfast. Normally I would also try to encourage something healthier for the Rhubarb but she does not feel well. I was not in the mood to argue with her to eat better.

We finished up breakfast and then went to the station to catch our train. We took a fast train to Venice. The scenery was beautiful. Vineyards on the right side of the train and the Alps on the left. Our four tickets cost 39 euros. Total. For everybody.  

 

The train arrived in Venice at 12:10. I spent a few minutes looking for an ATM…it was pretty hard to find as it was not marked very good. Then, we rode the water bus to get to our lodging for the evening. Our lodging is on the island of San Marco which is the island with St. Marks square.

We had tickets to a clock tower tour at 3. I bought these tickets as I thought it might interest the kids learning about a clock and how it works. It was a nice tour with one guide and twelve people. The tour was on five different levels and cumulated with a view of Venice from the top. The kids seemed to enjoy the tour and we also got some nice pictures up there.  

  

  

After the clock tower we got in line to St. Marks basillica. I was initially disappointed as the church was actually closed. The kids and I decided to go to the top (5 euros for adults). I am glad we did this as that allowed a view of the church. The church is decorated with lots of mosaics. From a distance they looked like paintings. It was amazing to see the number of small pieces of tile used to make each picture.

 

  

  


 

 The kids enjoyed looking over St. Marks square, while my husband took pictures of us from below. After leaving St. Marks we then had a snack of gelato (2nd of the trip) and then we walked to the Rialto bridge. We watched a construction crew building a pier for a while and then walked back to our lodging. 

 

  

  

We freshened up at our lodging and had dinner at the restaurant below our lodging. The biggest laugh of the trip so far occurred at dinner. I thought I was ordering spaghetti and marinara sauce   …you know tomato sauce. Turns out it was spaghetti and “from the sea” sauce. The kids started laughing at me as soon as the dish came out. I do not eat seafood. Thankfully my husband and the bubba had shared a seafood dish so they were willing to eat my dish and I ordered what I had intended to order originally. Another lesson learned. 

 

We came back to our lodging after dinner and we all relaxed and put the kids to bed early. The Rhubarb fell asleep watching a movie and after I post this I am going to bed too (it is almost 9:30).

   

       

Categories: Italy, Venice | Tags: | Leave a comment

Day One: JFK to MXP (Milan-Malpensa)

  The primarily reason for flying into Milan versus another city was because tickets were $500 cheaper. Multiply that times four and it’s a $2000 savings. Our flight over all was slightly bumpy. Meal service was delayed as a result. I had ordered the kids the kids meal and I was glad I did. The kids meal was chicken nuggets, corn, and some mac and cheese. It also included cheese and crackers, a roll, animal crackers, Oreo cookies, and water. Breakfast I think was something similar – stuff your kids would eat but not necessarily the healthiest option. Rhubarb ate enough of her dinner on the flight that I was not too worried about her.

The flight was bumpy…Rhubarb slept for an hour or two while the rest of us were awake or dozed in and out. We arrived in MXP at 6:30 AM and were one of the first through immigration. They didn’t even ask us any questions or have us fill out forms. They just stamped and we proceeded. Baggage claim took a little longer than I had wanted. Then we had to decide between the train into Milan or the shuttle bus. I am glad I researched that beforehand because I knew there was only on train leaving at 7:43 or we could take a bus which left every ten minutes. So while the kids wanted to take the train…we took a bus.

We got to the main train station (via bus) and walked to our hotel. Our hotel was a block or two from the train station. We checked in and unfortunately they told us that people were still in the room we reserved and check out time was noon. For a minute we were doomed. Our son is ok if he is tired, the girl is quite a mess. Some Italian was spoken with a co-worker and then they told us they could put two cots in another room and get us a room in ten minutes. We chose that option. I was literally expecting a super tiny room with no where to walk with the cots but the room is actually big enough for us all with the cots in there.

It was around 9:30 AM when we were finally settled in the room. My husband and I told the kids it was time for naps. Both kids declared they were not tired. Whatever. We knew they would fall asleep quickly and they did. I set an alarm not thinking we would need it. Next thing I know it is 1:45. So we had a good 4 hour plus nap. I took a shower and then my husband took a shower and we started waking the kids. Neither really wanted to get up…we were reminding them that earlier neither wanted to go to sleep. They eventually reluctantly woke up. And complained about hunger. At this point I brought out all the food I had saved from the Delta lounge and the flight. I am thankful I saved that.

We went to the subway attempted to take the subway to the Cardona stop to see the Last Supper painting. However I was distracted and we got off at the stop after it. I don’t think it was bad doing that. The walk was nice getting to the church.

We located the ticket booth and picked up our tickets. The Last Supper is NOT something you can just show up to and expect to get tickets. They sell out within hours of going on sale, and they go on sale about four months prior to the tour date. Anyhoo, we collected our tickets and then the boys went to find some water and then I took the Rhubarb to get a snack.

We saw the Last Supper and it was fabulous. They are very careful about monitoring the conditions of the painting. There was one part where we were separated from our group because we had to go through doors. One door would not open when another was open. So we eventually get to the painting. Groups of 30 are allowed in at once in 15 minute increments. No photography is allowed. The painting does take up the entire wall. I thought maybe it would not take up the entire wall. On the other side of the building is another beautiful painting. I felt our time at the painting was too short, but I am also grateful for the limited time slots and the smaller crowds and the lack of photography. From what I remember at the Louvre people take pics all the time which I think ruins the moment.

After seeing the painting we went in search of gelato for the kids and a coffee for the dad. We also took a streetcar towards the Duomo. That was another thing that my research paid off. Had I not looked into the public transportation I would not have known the street car goes directly there from the building with the Last Supper painting.  We got on that and got off a stop before the Duomo so we could find a bite to eat. We ordered three gelatos and one espresso and had “table service”. This was a mistake. The bill was way overpriced, and much more expensive than what we had paid in Germany two summers ago. Oh well, lesson learned. Better to learn here than in Venice.

We then arrived at the Duomo. Once again we had a lesson on taking better care of our surroundings and saying no. We were trying to figure out the best place to take a picture and before we knew it we had people tieing bracelets onto the kids and I and then demanding money. Lesson learned. We then told the kids to swarm them away. I feel like now we can’t go to any major attraction without being in attack mode. There are also a bunch of people selling selfie sticks all over the Duomo.  

 

So I did not pre-buy tickets for this. My research had said you did not really need them if you arrived late at night and were taking the stairs. Well – just our luck the elevator was broken. So we had to wait in line for thirty+ minutes to get to climb to the top of the Duomo. At least we were able to climb to the top. The Rhubarb was really looking forward to that. Another lesson learned though – I could have pre-bought tickets but I did no and we almost did not get to go to the top.   

         

The top was pretty cool and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves. We took lots of pictures up there and after that decided to go get dinner. We walked through the Gallerria Vittoria and checked out their menu prices and then decided to grab “fast food”. I was ok with this since tomorrow we will be in Venice and I know that is not going to be cheap. I got some pizza (of course) and then my husband and the kids headed back to the hotel while I went to get a SIM card for my phone.  

I got back to the hotel and noticed a very small wine bar. I checked back in with the family and then went back downstairs to the hotel “bar”. I had a glass of Chianti and then brought another glass of something back to the room. Half the crew is asleep now and hopefully the rest of the crew will fall asleep soon.

All in all a good first day. I am looking forward to Venice but I am also looking forward to Florence when we will have more room to spread out and “relax”.

Categories: Italy, Italy, Milano, Sight seeing | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Day Zero: Flying to Italy

It’s vacation day! Yay! I wish I was feeling slightly better so I could be more enthusiastic. I have had a cold all week and had trouble sleeping last night because I was worried the flights would be super painful for my ears. Hopefully that will mean I sleep well ok the flight tonight. The good news is that while I am still blowing my nose I finally feel like I am on the mend.

We had a car pick us up at 8. I had booked a sedan but we received a suburban so that was a nice surprise. Despite it being rush hour we managed to get to DCA faster than I expected. We then checked our two bags and proceeded to the Delta Lounge since we still had two hours before our flight left.

The lounge had a great view over the airplanes. We got to watch airplanes taking off and parking.  Everyone had a comfortable seat and some snacks. 

We left the lounge at 11 to proceed to our flight as boarding news starting at 11:15. We got to the gate and regretting getting there early. Most seats were occupied. While we were at the gate a delta flight attendant approached the kids and asked if they wanted wings. 

The flight to JFK was very quick. We were mostly in clouds the whole time. We went up, and then we came back down.

We got to JFK shortly before 1. We are lunch at a Shake Shack and then after that we proceeded to the Delta Lounge to wait for our flight. We have a long layover at JFK. The kids have found the cookies and popcorn in the lounge. I have seen the wine but it is still too early (by my standards) for me to have a glass.

   

 

The JFK lounge does appear to be really nice. There are windows all around overlooking the airport runways. There is even a rooftop terrace but unfortunately it is closed right now. The lounge has recliners that are meant for napping (if necessary), high back chairs, work spaces, business center, and showers. I am debating if I shower before our next flight just so I feel refreshed.

Our flight to Milan leaves at 6. It is a 7 to 8 hour flight I think. I am looking forward to watching some movies on it that I have not seen before. We arrive in Milan around 7 AM their time tomorrow. Then we take either a bus or train to the center of Milan and hopefully our room will be ready and we can take our post flight nap. If it is not ready we could be doomed.

Once we get to Milan I will only be on my phone if there is wi-fi. I am going to try to get a SIM card for my phone so hopefully I am not limited to wi-fi.

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The Itinerary

We leave for Italy in two days.  Meanwhile, I have a cold.  I’ve had it since Sunday/Monday so I’m hoping to be improving by Friday.  My biggest fear is that I’ll be at sneezing non-stop on the flight.  I bought Sudafed at Target on Monday to bring with me.  I rarely take Sudafed, but I’ve flown to San Francisco before with a cold and it was pretty painful.  If I need it during the flight I will take it.  I bought the 4 hour Target brand Sudafed as opposed to the longer lasting one.  I chose the shorter one because I can give it to the kids in case one of them is sick as well.

We are flying Delta.  Assuming our first flight is not delayed we will have a long layover at JFK before we depart for Milan.  I’m hoping to spend that time in the Delta lounge.  The lounge at JFK actually has a patio you can go out to outside.  If it is not raining hopefully we can watch some planes land and take off from this patio.

We arrive in Milan around 7 AM Saturday morning.  We’ll hopefully be able to grab a nap.  Later that day I have tickets to the Last Supper painting.  Assuming everyone feels rested we’ll also try to see the Duomo there and then the famous shopping gallery next to the Duomo.

Sunday we head to Venice for 24 hours.

Monday we head to Florence.  We are spending three nights in Florence.

Thursday we head to Rome.  We’ll be in Rome for four nights.

Monday we head back to Milan and then catch our flight home the next morning.

We’ll be using Italian trains to get to all of our destinations.  I really do love riding trains in Europe.  It is so much better than the US.

I’m excited for the trip, but will admit that with this trip I am slightly more concerned with the risk of pick-pockets.  I’m planning to use zip ties to secure the zippers on my luggage and plan to use my money belt.  I’ll carry very little cash in my purse.  The travel purse I have is supposed to be theft deterrent.  Zippers clasp shut and the purse strap is supposedly impossible to cut.

So, hopefully you’ll follow my blog during our next family vacation adventure!

Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book a Tour or Book on Your Own

When I tell people of our plans for our next trip, they often ask me if we are taking a tour, and if we did a tour when we went to Germany/France/The Netherlands.  For that trip, the one my husband and I went to in Scotland, and our upcoming trip I’ve done all the planning.

It seems to be considerably cheaper for me to do the planning than to do a trip with a tour.  One tour company I have a brochure for at home advertises at least $5000 per person on their tours, and that excludes air line tickets.  I could not imagine spending $20,000 to see Italy.  If I’m spending $20,000 then I better be staying in the Presidential suites at hotels.

It’s very easy to plan a trip for your family with the internet, Trip Advisor, and Google Translate.  Those are my three main tools.  I also start my planning by buying or checking out a book from the library on the country(ies) I am planning to visit.  It is also useful to look at touring companies itineraries to see if you can figure out what you want to do.  Once you know what you want to do, plan the trip and make your reservations.  Use TripAdvisor to help you find reputable companies.

This time exactly a week from now I’ll be sitting on a plane about to take off to Italy!  Hopefully my planning makes our trip better than a tour could have been.

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Ticket Statuses

Our trip is on the horizon now.  I’m starting to make packing lists, print everything essential, research public transportation in each city, etc., etc.

I just checked availability on tickets I bought in advance…here’s how I did.   I was able to buy all the tickets below with my diligence.  I also bought all of the tickets from the official website and not a third party reseller:

  • Last Supper Painting (see blog post here: https://familyvacationadventures.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/last-supper-tickets/) –> Those pretty much sold out the day they went on sale.  I had to wake up at 3AM to get these and keep refreshing my computer until 5 AM
  • Clock Tower Tour, Venice –> Still available.
  • Doge Palace, Secret Itineraries Tour –> There is still some availability but no tickets for the time I wanted.  The time that is available would probably not even be an option for us.
  • Uffizi Gallery, Florence –> There is still some availability but no tickets for the time I wanted.
  • Academia Gallery, Florence –> There is still some availability but no tickets for the time I wanted.
  • Vatican –> Still available
  • Colosseum, Third Ring Tour –> No availability for any of the days when we’ll be in Rome.
  • Tickets to the Pope’s Easter Mass –> Not sure on availability…but this you had to send a fax a few months ahead of time to request.  I received a letter back from the Vatican telling me I could pick up tickets for this service.
  • Borghese Gallery –>  I got these tickets for the day the museum is free.  The museum consistently sells out.  I assume it’s sold out by now.  This one I also had to call Italy to book them – I could not book online.

Now, with some of the places above you can still buy tickets at the location, but then you run the risk of standing in line for hours to get in.  If you have the opportunity to buy tickets in advance and you know when you’ll be in a location, buy the tickets in advance.  I’m still regretting not buying the Eiffel Tower tickets three months ahead of time for my family when we were in France.  I thought I’d be able to buy them a month ahead of time.  Hence, I did not want to make the same mistake twice, especially with the Vatican and Colosseum.

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I Love Maps

I love maps. I love to stare at them. I think it’s because when I look at a map I can always dream about places I can go. I do not however love to carry huge maps as a tourist that are cumbersome to use.

When my husband and I went to the United Kingdom last year I invested in some popout maps of Edinburgh and London. These maps turned out to be great. They were small enough they could fit in a pocket or purse. They were very easy to open and handle. And they contained the information I needed. The only problem I discovered was that there is no scale on the maps so what looks like a short distance may be longer than you expected (we learned the hard way in London).

So, for our upcoming trip I have invested in four popout maps. I recommend purchasing these before you book your accomodations as it is easy to tell if you are located within walking distance of sights or close to public transportation.



I love that public transportation is on the back:

And one of the maps is a broader city map…

…while another map is a city center map:

The other two maps are general area overviews:



You can usually find these maps on Amazon. This is the manufacturer:

Categories: Getting Around, Italy, Maps | Tags: | Leave a comment

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