5,022 miles: road trip!!

(ridiculous amount of photographs to follow…)

When we first started planning our trip to Italy, we thought we’d try to spend 4 nights in Rome and 3 nights in Florence, but once we realized that would involve switching hotels 3 times, we bagged that idea…but the notion of a day-trip kept calling our names.

After studying more train time tables than Sir Topham Hatt ever has, we decided we could get to Florence and Pisa during a day-trip, but it would be a day-trip on steroids, planned down to the very minute (no joke).

First up, the speed train from Rome to Florence, Frecciarosa. (There was a time when this bright red bullet train would have been the total highlight of the trip for a few boys who were obsessed with trains.) The train left Termini Station a little before 9; I’d ordered and printed tickets ahead of time, but that still didn’t help make maneuvering Termini any less frantic. In fact, even after the train had pulled out of the station, we were still a little worried that we were on the wrong one.

(And a side-note, from my college days on the Eurorail:  they still don’t check your tickets until you are over halfway to your destination, which always seemed a little weird to me.)


An hour and ten minutes later, we were in Florence.


Theo wanted to wear his new soccer jersey every. single. day.

Florence seems tiny compared to Rome. We exited the train station, looked up and saw the spire of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, and started making our way to it. I’d been here once before, but I’d honestly forgotten its magnificence.


Getting tickets to climb the Duomo was tricky. Head to the little ticket vendor in this yellow building below which, as you can see, is not inside the church. We figured this out after we stood in line inside the church to get to the stairs to climb the dome and had to come back outside, find the ticket stand, go back inside the church and get back in line. For a family on a tight schedule, this was a little unnerving. Save yourself the time and grab the tickets right when you get into Piazza del Duomo.


Climbing the Duomo was hard, hard work. The stairs wind up and up and up and are steeper than the stairs at St. Peter’s. Just when you get to the narrow, slanty part, the path turns into a two-way one with backpackers and other visitors climbing back down. Imagine passing someone climbing down a ladder as you were trying to climb up it. While hauling a backpack. That’s about what it was like.




Once at the tippety-top, the view is unbelievable–though crowded. (The light was terrible at this time of day, too…).


(The trick for dealing with crummy, too bright, almost noontime light? Switch over to black and white…)



We climbed back down, caught our breath, and popped in to the Baptistery of St. John. Everyone knows about Ghiberti’s beautiful bronze doors, but we were equally as amazed at the mosaic on the ceiling inside.


yes, I actually took this photo… 🙂


those beams of sunlight coming through the windows are called crepuscular rays, and they’re kind of a big deal to catch on camera, especially in a Holy place…

We headed down to the River Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, intending to take a quick peek and then get lunch.



Now pretty much anybody would know that to see the Ponte Vecchio, one needs to not be standing on the Ponte Vecchio. Yeah, I blew that one big time.


boys on the Ponte Vecchio…

So we started taking pictures out over the Arno towards the bridge that is not the Ponte Vecchio…


…and turned around to see that Theo had wandered off. He was only missing for maybe a minute or so, but it was enough to freak us all out. He did the right thing and found a police officer and stood by him until we spotted them both. Then we had to take his picture with the officer who, as it turns out, was a huge Inter Milano fan (Theo’s ever-present soccer jersey).


After that little adventure, we needed to regroup. We found an adorable little bistro tucked into an alley way that looked out towards the Basilica of Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world. We were in a time crunch, so we didn’t get a chance to walk down to it, which was a mistake. If you have time, definitely make a stop there. (We also skipped the Uffizi; again, a must-see if you have time.)



Next up, a trans-Florence sprint on foot to the Accademia Gallery. We’d gotten tickets ahead of time (again, a must-do) and were scheduled to visit at 1:30. We had to be on the train to Pisa by 3:24, so it was time for speed-art-viewing–actually a challenge for the boys.


Michelangelo’s David and a Stradivari violin. Both worth more than you or I can ever imagine.

We made our way through the Accademia in what was surely record time (again, not a great thing to brag about; Florence, we owe you another visit). Afterwards, we trotted towards the train station with pit stops for gelato and to make a wish at the bronze boar.


Jack’s 6th grade class Opera this year is The Mikado; he thought these cookie stick things were a pretty appropriate find


disturbing on many levels, right? This mask is way creepier than the Pinocchio store (and that’s really saying something).


It’s the Fontana di Porcellino, the famous pig statue originally created in 1634 (this one is a modern copy). Rub his snout (or jam a penny in there to see if it’ll roll into the grate below) and you’ll be assured good luck and a return visit to Florence. Rome has the Trevi Fountain for this; Florence has a huge pig in the back of an open air market. Ok, then.


Train time, round II.

The train from Florence to Pisa was no Frecciarosa. This puppy was cramped and un-airconditioned and semi-smoky–just like the trains I remember from college. And just like we did in college, Russ brought along a bottle of wine for the journey.

Forty-eight minutes later, we were in Pisa.



the boys’ first view of the tower; I wish this came with audio…

One of the neatest things we did this entire trip was tossing a ball around on the grounds of the Piazza dei Miracoli. A friend had suggested we bring a football (an American football, not a soccer ball), and while it was a bit of a pain to haul around, it was totally and absolutely worth it.

wait! is it? could it be? a sign for another Holy Door?

well, not exactly, but it is a Jubilee church; our Reverend Tucker was the only taker alongside me for this one: the Basilica Metropolitana Primiziale (the Duomo next to the tower)

we threw our football to these guys who were playing with their football and a quick game of kick-around followed. New Spanish friends!

Finally, on to the Tower itself. Tickets in hand, we walked up to the entrance like we knew what we were doing and like one of us was not under the age of 8. The website makes no bones about it:  you must be 8 years old to climb the Tower. Be prepared to show your passport. Theo was very, very nervous about getting denied entry (and if he couldn’t go then we’d made the decision that no one would go). But, miraculously, the guard barely even looked at our tickets before pointing to the door.

The first time I was in Pisa, the Tower was not open for climbing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. If you go to Pisa, this is an absolute MUST.


one of my favorite photos of the entire trip…Jack, looking out over the town of Pisa from atop its famous leaning tower




my other favorite shot of the trip…Jack heading back down the leaning steps


We had a train to catch, so we headed back towards the station, taking in the sunset over the Arno after we grabbed what Russ believed to be the greatest pizza we’d had in Italy.





We arrived back in Florence with about 10 minutes to spare before our next train headed back to Rome. In the end, we’d traveled 452 miles, visited several important sites, and had probably our best day in Italy.

Go to Pisa. You will not be disappointed. Trust us on this one.


5,022 miles: even more Italy

Ah, Wednesday. You arrived with thunderstorms. We didn’t care.


We headed out of our apartment towards Piazza del Popolo and its twin churches, one of which–for some reason, refurbishment, maybe?–was covered by a gigantic advertisement.

IMG_2975The trident of streets is easily seen (Via del Corso in the middle, Via del Babuino on left and Via di Ripetta on the right) but the lovely view of the twin churches (Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto) makes me never want to buy a Samsung product ever, ever again. Who does that to a church?

We walked across the Piazza and took some photos by the fountains in front of the obelisk, but the rain was getting on everyone’s nerves.

We decided to hop in to the Leonardo DaVinci museum which is tucked away on the other side of the piazza, across from the churches and Samsung ad. Everyone loved this museum. There were hands-on exhibits and models of DaVinci’s umpteen thousand machines, all divided into sections representing the 4 elements of life (air, water, earth, fire) so our Dan Brown fans were thrilled, of course.

Afterwards, we walked back across the piazza and broke the cardinal rule of dining in Rome:  never eat around a monument; however, Rosati wound up being a pleasant surprise. We sat outside under the awnings and were given fuzzy bright red blankets to wrap up in. Watching folks scamper across the piazza in the rain while we were bundled up and enjoying a $6 bottle of Roccameno that wasn’t half bad (yes, it was a $6 bottle of wine–at a restaurant in a piazza where prices are typically jacked sky-high. We were brave travelers on this day, for sure.)


Next stop? The Galleria Borghese.

Someone asked us if our kiddos were Renaissance fellas who loved art and drama and music or if they were just normal kids. I always contend they are normal kids–who just happen to really like going to art museums.


I doubt you are supposed to let your child lie on the ground to take a photo in a museum, but just try to stop him.


The Borghese is just ridiculous in the amount of art stuffed into it; it’s a celebration of greed. Just Google Cardinal Scipione Borghese to get an idea of how crazy this place is. It’s stacked to the gills with artwork by Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, Bernini…artwork covers every inch of the walls, including the ceilings.


It’s critical to get tickets to the Galleria Borghese ahead of time. Visitors are only admitted in 2 hour time slots, and they fill up fast.




We left the Galleria and walked through the rolling Villa Borghese which puts Atlanta’s Piedmont Park to shame.


Next stop:  gelato. Of course. Theo was very excited.


Then a quick stop by another Angels & Demons site–Santa Maria della Vittoria. Just like in the movie, it was closed. Sigh.


Because I was in charge of the map at this point in time, I could see that–oh, yes!–another Holy Door was just a mile or so away. I was able to placate the masses with the assurance that this was indeed the LAST Holy Door I’d drag them through (at least in Rome). Our fourth Holy Door, at The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, was just as stunning as our previous three. Google Our Lady of the Snows for an amazing story about the history of this Basilica.



The walk from the Villa Borghese down to Santa Maria della Vittoria and on over to Santa Maria di Maggiore wore out 3/5 of our party. While they all retired to the apartment for a lie-down, Tucker and I headed over to the Keats-Shelley House near the Spanish Steps for a little foray into English poetry.


We both loved it (shocker).

The rain and the walking and the jet lag were hurting us today so we ditched probably the best restaurant reservations of the trip (at Armando…sigh) and headed back around the corner to Alla Rampa and acted like we were locals.


We made a quick pit stop at Bartolucci, which is basically Geppeto’s workshop, so we could plant the seeds of nightmares in our heads (just watch this eerie little video from their website and you’ll see what I mean…).


…then we all hit the hay. Big field trip out of Rome on deck!