Sunday, April 14, 2019

Under the Tuscan Sun


After our week in Florence, our last stop on the trip was the Tuscan countryside. Ahhh, it was so beautiful, the scenery almost looked fake.

Before we got to the beautiful scenery though, we had to get out of Florence, which ranks among the most stressful moments of the trip! Let me save you the trouble and let you know that rental cars are not allowed within the walls of the old city. We didn't know this, so Zach walked out to the Avis place to pick up the car while the kids and I stayed back at the apartment to pack up. He got the car, found out he couldn't drive it to us, and had to walk back - probably a 20 minute walk. Adding to the stress, it had started raining and we were bumping up against check out time and we hadn't eaten lunch and had promised the kids one last gelato stop that we quickly realized we wouldn't be able to fulfill. Tensions were running high! Thankfully our apartment owner was super sweet and helpful and called us a cab and helped us bring all of our bags downstairs while we waited for Zach to get back. We took the cab to Avis and then played the fun game of Tetris trying to get all of our belongings into the car - when they say mini-van in Europe, they mean MINI-van.

Once we were locked and loaded, we hit the road! We were heading to Al Gelso Bianco, in the Tuscan town of Barberino val d'Elsa, where we would be staying for the rest of the trip. It is a working vineyard where they produce olive oil and wine and we were looking forward to a totally different experience out in the countryside. We decided to take a slightly circuitous route in order to see Pisa on the way.

Pisa was a quick stop but really cool to see. We thought the town was a little sketchy and there wasn't much to it, but once we parked the car and walked to where the Leaning Tower is, that was pretty neat. You have to be 8 years old to climb the tower so only Zach and Erin went to the top, and they said you could definitely feel the leaning from inside. We popped into the beautiful church, took the requisite photos, had a sub-par gelato, and got back on the road.

The kids were fascinated and stressed out by the fact that we were doing all of our navigation by paper maps and directions print outs since we didn't have our phones turned on. We were pretty proud of ourselves, even though we definitely circled through a few rotaries multiple times while we tried to figure out the signs!

We arrived at Al Gelso Bianco in the late afternoon, and thank goodness we made it in daylight because it was definitely down a winding country road! The kids were immediately excited and it was a great change of pace to get out of the city and into the sprawling grounds of the vineyard/farm. We had packed lots of leftovers from our chef's dinner the night before so we spent the rest of the afternoon getting settled, exploring the grounds, running around and meeting the farm animals. The kids were particularly fond of the two farm cats!

We were glad we had brought food and basics from Florence because the apartment was very minimally stocked. We had actually snagged a roll of toilet paper to take with us and didn't need that, but didn't have any paper towels, hand soap, or obviously any food items waiting for us.


We woke up to rain on Thursday morning, but it worked out well because we had scheduled our cooking class and that turned out to be a perfect drizzly day activity. We ate breakfast in our room from the provisions we had packed from Florence and headed over to the cooking class kitchen at the farm for a 10am class. We were in class with two other families - two moms traveling with their kids - and the kids were happy to have others to play with. The class was awesome! We made pesto, pasta, gnocchi, and a delicious apple cake. The kitchen was super cute and everything was really hands on and geared toward families.

After the food was prepared, we had about 45 minutes of free time while it cooked. During this time, they hosted a tasting of their house made wines and olive oils for the adults while they sent the kids off to explore the grounds - this was rather nerve-racking for me as they ended up all over the mountainside looking for animals and out of my sight, but the older kids in the class took care of them and Zach popped out to find them as needed.

When everything was cooked, we all came together for a hearty lunch of all the food we had prepared and wines we had tasted. It was delicious and such a cool experience!!

After class, we headed back to our apartment for some rest/quiet time and then did some more exploring on our own.

We knew we needed to find food for dinner, but when we headed out to a local pizzeria for an early meal, it wasn't open yet. Italians don't eat dinner at 5pm like Americans do! We were afraid to be driving around in the dark on those winding roads, so decided to hit the grocery store instead. We poked around the little towns nearby, got a gelato, and stocked up on provisions for dinner and breakfasts. We were enjoying the slower pace and open space to run around so the kids were happy to have this downtime at the farm while we ate in.


The kids would have been content to chase the cats around the grounds for another day, but we decided to discover a bit more of Tuscany on our last day. We headed out to Siena, which was an easy drive south. It was another cute Tuscan town - we went out for lunch, got gelato, did some great souvenir shopping, and climbed to the top of another tower for a beautiful view. The church was incredibly beautiful and it was really cool to see where they run the Palio horse races. Admittedly, everyone was a little burned out by this point in the trip and the weather was a little chilly and raw, but it was a worthwhile day trip and totally doable in an afternoon.

There had been a mix up with our reservation at Al Gelso Blanco so we ended up having to move to a different apartment for our last night, which was annoying but actually worked in our favor overall because we had packed everything up and were ready for our sunrise departure to the airport on Saturday morning.


We left as the sun was rising and drove all the way back to Florence for our flight to Paris, and connecting flight to Boston.

Our overall itinerary was such a perfect mix of big city (Paris), small old city (Florence) and countryside (Tuscany). We loved every bit of this trip and couldn't recommend it enough!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Our Week in Florence - Part Two


We were all feeling revitalized after quenching Ryan’s thirst for a game of catch on Sunday and he was begging to go back for more. Sadly, we realized that the Boboli, along with most museums in Florence, is closed on Mondays. I was able to sneak out on an early morning run before Zach left for his meetings - can't beat the views on that run!

The kids had slept in thanks to our late jetlag schedule so we decided to have a lazy morning at home. We did laundry for the first time, which was good because they typically don’t have clothes dryers in Italy so everything was hung on racks to air dry - doing laundry for six people this way becomes quite the time consuming process!

We headed out late morning and walked a bit off the beaten path to find a local playground. It was about a 15 minute walk, but worth the trek for some playtime and the feeling of some normalcy like a day we might have at home. One of our goals for our time in Florence was to just experience day to day life there, especially during the few days when Zach was getting up to go to meetings and the kids and I were free to explore on our own. Shopping at the Central Market, going to the playground, and doing laundry abroad were some of our most memorable experiences, right up there with the cultural tours and sightseeing. It's such an important part of travel with kids, just exposing them to new cultures and allowing them to experience day to day life in another language or another country.

Everyone needed a little gelato pick-me-up after our playground time, so we visited La Carraia, the Gelateria that Viola and Vittorio had recommended. Yum!

We wandered around a bit more, exploring the Ponte Vecchio, taking a few more carousel rides, and ultimately ended up back at Hosteria de Ganino for lunch.

After lunch, we went back to our apartment for some quiet time before meeting up with Zach at the end of his meetings. Kate had found us a babysitter for Monday evening so that I could attend Zach's work dinner event.

I was a little nervous about leaving the kids, but they all did great with the sitter and Nettie got a ton of great insights from her for her Italy country project at school!


The big excitement of the day was that Erin went off to school with Viola for the day! The girls had been pen pals for a few months and were fast friends when they met on Saturday, but we were still beyond impressed by Erin's poise and bravery in heading off to an Italian school for an 8 hour day! She loved every minute of it and had so many stories for us at the end of the day. What an amazing experience!

While Erin was at school and Zach was off to his final morning of meetings, the little kids and I found Kate's favorite bakery and restocked ourselves with some of their delicious treats for lunch and snacks. And stopped for gelato. Because when in Florence...

We took our treasures to the Boboli Gardens for more play time, and the kids were excited to show Zach around when he met up with us at noon.

One of the other treasures we picked up in our travels was a small set of watercolor paints and brushes from a sweet little art shop, so the kids (and I!) had a great time back at the apartment in the afternoon playing with those.

It was such a treat on Tuesday night to have a local Italian chef come to our apartment for a cooking demo. We had an amazing meal and she did a wonderful job of engaging the kids in different kitchen tasks. She made a delicious sausage and baguette appetizer, chicken cacciatore and roasted potatoes, and the kids made tiramisu for dessert. We tried to scribble down recipe notes as she was cooking from memory so we can recreate some of these dishes at home! We ate appetizers on our roof deck before the sun went down, and it was such a perfect finale to our time in Florence.


We had a few hours left in Florence before our departure for Tuscany. We had tickets to view the David at the Accademia so we headed there first. Zach and I had seen the sculpture on our last trip to Florence, but it was just as spectacular seeing it again. We had read several books with the kids before our trip and one of Ryan’s favorites was The Stone Giant, so he found it especially cool to see David in person.

As a side note, some of our other favorite kids books were Pippo the Fool (about the building of Bruneleaci’s duomo), the Bella and Harry series (for both Paris and Florence), and the Mission: Paris and Mission: Florence scavenger hunt books.

We didn’t stay too long at the Accademia but took a stroll through the nearby exhibits after we saw the David.

After the museum, we wanted to show Zach the Mercato Centrale and enjoy one more delicious pizza and burrata toast before we left. We ate our early lunch - including an adventurous taste of lampredotto, which even Zach couldn’t stomach. Look it up and you’ll understand!

We headed back to our apartment and let the kids watch a movie while I packed up and Zach began the torturous experience of picking up the rental car. Read all about that in our Tuscany post!