Visiting Italy is definitely a guilty pleasure we included on our route for the year. As you can imagine, this country is fairly expensive. Since it was Simon’s dream to stay for a long time in Italy, we’ve made some sacrifices and managed to stay for four weeks!!! There is so much to see in this wonderful country that we decided to concentrate our first visit in the centre and explore a small part rather than to spread ourselves thin going all cover the country. There is no harm in keeping some reasons to come back a second, third or fourth time ?. We started our trip in the city of Bologna, which made sense in our itinerary since we wanted to start in Tuscany and travel South.
Our Italian journey started in the same place that Bolognese sauce and mortadella were invented. Bologna is a university town since 1088 and it’s near its center that we’ve found our accommodation. Since it is a medieval town, we decided to explore the old city on foot and visit some of the attractions that are unique to Bologna. Our walk led us to the Basilica of San Petronio, which is one of the largest Gothic church in the world & we also relaxed on piazza Maggiore, ecstatic that we were actually in Italy. After searching a restaurant that was open before 7pm (a little because of our North American eating habits & a little because it was an hour later for us that came from Greece that morning), we finished our tour by eating an Italian dinner to the flavours of the region, tagliatelle Bolognese, scaloppini al lemone, ravioli with saffron sauce… Finally, we went back to our accommodation to put the children to bed and enjoy our first bottle of Italian wine before our departure for Firenze.
Meals in Italy
Unlike other countries we visited in Europe, Italian restaurants follow a rather firm timetable. They are open briefly for lunch and closed in the afternoon to open again only around 7 pm. Additionally, it’s rather rare to order only one plate (main). Therefore, the restaurants offer smaller portions and sides are sold separately. The Italian typical meal, on a Sunday with your family or on a special occasion would consist of an appetizer, a pasta dish or rice, a main course with vegetables or salad, dessert and coffee. While we stayed in Italy, we have dinned a few times like the Italians and enjoyed the moment. Fortunately for our waistline, it is also quite normal to change from these traditional menus and order what please you.
The next day, we took the train to Florence. Where to start? If we enjoyed Bologna’s old town, we were enchanted by the cradle of the Renaissance. Being a very touristy city, we were still shocked to see the queues in front of the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria Dell’Academia even in September. We took another self-guided tour of the city in order to learn more about Italian history and of the historic district. We finished our walk at dusk and enjoyed wonderful lighting of the Vecchio Bridge, of the Piazza Duomo and Piazza Della Signoria as well as the square of the Loggia Dei Lanzi with its copies of the statues of the David by Michelangelo and the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. We normally don’t visit often at night in order to put the kids to bed at a reasonable time. It’s our way of keeping them in a certain routine away from home, but we really appreciate those few moments when we go out of our routine.
The Uffizi Art Gallery
Since we left in Europe, we visited several museums that were often repetitive. In Florence, we chose to visit only one of the two most popular attractions. We had a choice between the great paintings of the Renaissance or the spectacular statue of David. We opted for the Uffizi Gallery and its magnificent paintings of the Renaissance. It is armed with our headphones and audio-guides that we explored the Ufizzi Gallery to better understand why the Renaissance period has been so important in the 15th and 16th centuries. We were able to observe and learn more about some of the works by Botticelli, Raphael, Da Vinci, etc.
The Leonardo Da Vinci Museum
We have two very curious little boys and we are very proud that they have patiently accompanied us in all the art museums we visited so far. In Florence, we decided to treat them and to bring them into a Museum of their choice. Two museums were recommended for families and the boys decided to go to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. The exhibition was quite small, but there are many models of the inventions of this ingenious character. It was possible to touch several of these models in order to better understand how they work. Explanations in french were also available for each of the models and that helped us to force the children to read the signs. It is also possible to observe a few reproductions of the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, including the painting of Mona Lisa. Below, the boys pose in front of their favorite inventions.
We visited a ton of other attractions when we visited Florence, including a visit through the central market, many churches and cathedrals and we did a lot of exploration on foot. It is a real Museum-City, which is worth being explored on foot with your eyes wide open to discover on every corner, a beautiful statue, an intriguing building or an unique point of view.
The wonder kept increasing as we were heading South. We have been astounded by the grandiose side of the old town of Siena. Siena won our prize for the most charming medieval town in Tuscany. It is with enthusiasm that we got ‘lost’ in the many little pedestrian streets, and that we have relaxed on the public square of Piazza del Campo. Unlike Florence, whose old town has been largely restored, Siena has not been so touched by the war and seems to have better preserved its authenticity. In order to visit Siena, you need a good pair of shoes as it is a city full of steep roads. By chance, a series of escalators can get you to the center of the fortress close to the Duomo.
Since we had not visited a Duomo since we arrived in Italy, we have chosen to buy the all inclusive pass that allowed us to visit the Duomo of Siena, its Museum, its Tower, etc. The Duomo is a Gothic cathedral dating from the 12th century. We have never been in so many Basilicas, Cathedrals and Churches before we came to Europe, so we had a ton of questions from the kids, like we have all the answers:). The Duomo of Siena is a true work of art, its mosaics are astounding, its statues are impressive and the central window is breathtaking. The pass allowed us to go up in the attic of the Cathedral in order to observe the mosaics from a better perspective. In addition, we were able to climb in one of the domes to enjoy an extraordinary view. Each cities in Italy have several towers and it’s really worth it to climb in one of these in order to have a different view of the city. The sunset which we have been blessed with for our visit was extraordinary. The multitude of orange tiled roofs that extend to the horizon is worth the climb of the narrow spiral staircases.
We loved our stay in Tuscany and we are aware that the region has much more to offer than Florence and Siena. But the visit of the two rival cities of another era has dazzled us all. To our delight it was just the beginning, because Assisi was our next destination…