Travel Italia: Florence

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Alright, when I last left you on my Italian adventures, we had just arrived in Florence, exhausted after journeying through blowing blizzards and white-out conditions on backroads. But because bad things happen in threes (I’m including being ripped off 20 Euros, and the horrible driving conditions as two), then we weren’t quite finished yet. X was really really fussy overnight, crying all the time and really not behaving like himself at all. Z and I even tried bringing him into bed with us, something we never, ever do, because whenever we do we’re reminded of how bad it is. Our lovely little boy doesn’t curl up and sleep gently next to us, oh no. When he is in bed with us, it is solidly play time in his little head. No matter how tired he is, he will keep on trying to somehow kick us or roll around, giggling, ensuring no one is sleeping.

After about an hour of this, we were all fed up, so I gave him some more water and prepared to put him down in his playpen for the rest of the night. While lying there I gently put him to my shoulder and tapped his back, reminding myself of what he was like when he was an infant, when all of a sudden there was a suspiciously noisy, wet burp. And right after that the unpleasant feeling of warm liquid flowing through my hair, down my back and soaking my pillow (is there actually a worse feeling than that? Ugh.)

Trying not to freak out, because I am pretty much horrified by vomit and am lucky that X was never a puker, I handed him off to Z. Apparently X had worked through his issues because he went down for the rest of the night. He didn’t even need to be cleaned – my hair had taken the brunt of the grossness, with my pillow a close second. Ugh ugh ugh. I had a three a.m. shower in our tiny Florentine apartment, and collapsed into bed without even brushing my hair. And finally slept.

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We woke up the next day late to a (sort of) sunny Florence. We found out then that 15,000 people had been forced to spend the night in emergency shelters throughout the mountains due to the road conditions. I am sooo grateful we decided to trek through the mountains the day before – that could have been us! I spoke to someone who’s family (including two small children) were trapped on a bus for 17 hours – with only enough food for a two-hour trip. Yikes. So on the whole, we really were lucky. Things can always be worse, right?

And we got a chance to really admire our apartment – I love staying in apartments with family. It is so much easier having a common living area, then trying to go back and forth between cramped hotel rooms. X loves having all the space to run around and play with his cars and all and all it was excellent. The apartment was made even better for being half a block from the Palazzo del’ Pitti – the Pitti Palace, a stunning palace that houses many museums and galleries, along with some spectacular gardens. It only made sense to head there first thing.

You got to choose which exhibits you wanted to see, so we chose to see the Costume Museum and the Boboli Gardens (the best place for a toddler to run around). The Costume Gallery was pretty great, it featured garments worn by famous actresses and socialites pretty much through the last century. It’s kind of what I though the Design Museum would be like – I enjoyed this one more, as the focus was on Italian Fashion. But X was soon done with the whole thing so we decided to head out to explore the gardens.

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At this point we got to use our incredible Christmas present that Z bought for us as a family – a long-range closeup lens for the camera. We’d been talking about getting one for ages, but it was becoming more of a “need” than a “desire” with X being so active. In order to get any good shots of him, you need to be able to get close from far away, with the quality lens that captures motion. And boy does this puppy deliver. It was SO MUCH FUN to take photos – so many of them turned out so well. You can get amazing shots of whole cities, or close ups of your child’s face as he plays without knowing you’re there. (Nothing ruins a moment like getting up to three inches away from someone’s face.) I also feel a little bit like a perv with the giant lens, like I could potentially be staking out a skeezy motel to take photos of an illicit rendezvous. But then that thought makes me feel like Veronica Mars, who is awesome, so the whole thing comes full circle. I love my new lens. So you’ll have to suffer through more shots I’ve taken of Italy now.

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After lunching and napping, we went out to explore Florence. After crossing the Ponte Vecchio (two blocks from our awesome apartment), we wandered into the old city of Florence. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from Florence in December, but it wasn’t this. What we found was: people.

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Dear god, it was insane. Every street was like this. Just a mass of people, walking, talking, shopping. The shopping looked really good, but it was almost not worth the hassle. Like trying to go shopping on Boxing Day (if you’re me) – it’s just such an unpleasant hassle that you’d rather walk right on by and just observe the crush. Which is what we ended up doing.

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We found ourselves in a main square, which was full of people and competing music and colours and bubbles and textures and probably pickpockets and kids running around squealing and just in general a joyful place. We stopped for a carousel ride, which X adored (the only problem is getting him off of it). And he spent a good half hour running around after giant bubbles as we half-heartedly tried to dash after him. He probably made about half a dozen friends during that time, he’s just so darn social. It was a bit sad to move on, but the sun was setting, as was the warmth from the day.

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We continued to wander the town for a bit, heading up to the street markets. Last time I was in Florence I stayed in that area with a friend, and it was so sketchy we refused to go out at night. We were constantly hit on and felt very unsafe and it wasn’t great. Seven years later, heavily pregnant and traveling with my husband, toddler and mother in law, I realized that the area was in fact super super sketchy and was still uncomfortable there, especially after dark. I certainly was not getting hit on but still felt just kind of generally unsafe, so I was happy when we veered towards the Duoma. Note to self: stay in nice areas of cities can lead to a vast improvement of your trip.

Arriving at the Duoma, which is admittedly spectacular, we discovered one of the shortfalls of the close-up lens – it’s a problem when you want to take in a bigger subject, like an enormous cathedral. We could get some nice detailing of the marble, but no real shots of the western facade, with really is something with all the pink and green marble. So I’ll have to settle for some far-away shots, which show off the famous roofline nicely.

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And we got to see the big Christmas trees in all of these world-famous locations. This is right in front of the Duomo, and very pretty. We went home, shivering from the cold, but Z and I weren’t finished our day yet. With an awesome built-in babysitter, we were able to actually go out together, on a date, that wasn’t rushed or harried or where we spent half the time hoping our son or the sitter was okay. It was bliss. We found a lovely restaurant (it took a bit of looking – every time we passed a restaurant that had a child there, we just kept on going – we’ve earned that right!) and ate a great meal in peace. It’s been over a year since that’s happened and I’m so thankful for it. Maybe the highlight of my trip.

Whoever it was who told me that Florence was lovely over Christmas did not lie. Our time here was cut a little short due to the earlier storm, but it was fun to wander the city to discuss what it was we wanted to see when we came back. And I am certain we will come back – I’m just not sure we’re going to drive!

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