After taking Ponyo to Sant‘ Antioco’s shipyard for her big surgery we took off for our trip to the Italian mainland. The plan was to fly to Parma, meet my Dad there who brought the caravan down to Italy (THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!) and drive all the way down to Rome. For educational purpose of course.
Our first stop however was Maranello, home of Ferrari. Yannick needed to take some cool pictures of himself posing in front of one of these fancy cars (he recently signed up on Instagram, you get the picture. (Pun intended)).
Next stop Bologna: We didn’t have much time but ever since I have been to Bologna for the first time over ten years ago I wanted to come back. I am totally in luuuuv with this charming town, with its arcades and red buildings and the fantastic food market!
After only 2 hours (and a potential ticket for driving the caravan inside of the old town – haven’t received anything YET but I might have to warn my Dad, ehhhhm. Italians are serious ticketeers, man.) we took off for Florence to spend a couple of days with our friends Nina, Emma and Davide. Their beautiful house is situated in the South of Florence in the middle of Tuscany’s hills and olive trees, too pretty to not be out of a Nancy Meyers movie, seriously intolerable.
Smelly hot springs in Tuscany
Since it was time for some body hygiene we decided to visit the semi-famous hot springs of S. Petriolo near Siena. Semi-famous because not so many Italians seem to go there, maybe they prefer proper spas with proper changing rooms?? Who knows. It was a wonderful and very hot bath even though we can’t really say that afterwards we were smelling any better than before. More like… worse. Think rotten eggs and fart (I think we still do). But it was totally worth it!
We spent some great two more days in Tuscany, checking out Florence, having THE BEST lunch in a cozy Trattoria (or was it Osteria? I’m an ignorant, I can’t tell the difference. Please, someone enlighten me.) and finding secret Medici walkways: The Medici – at the peak of their power – were too snobby to walk amongst the smelly mob, so they would have themselves arranged an overhead walkway between the town hall and their palace on the other side of the Arno river. It leads through the Uffizi gallery and through the buildings on Ponte Vecchio – you can still tell by the gated windows, very cool to see!
Kids and art
We were surprised to find the boys interested in the Ai Weiwei retrospective being held at the Palazzo Strozzi but hey – the boys interested in contemporary art?? We take what we get! So we went and it was a great experience, especially regarding the question of questions: Is this art (or can it away)??
To make our stay perfect we were invited to join our friends at their yearly Thanksgiving feast. Yummy. Thank you guys so much, it was absolutely amazing and your friends are super nice, we had the best time!
Off to Rome
We left Florence and drove the 260km to the Roman periphery where we would spend the night in a parking lot next to a gas station. The following morning (after some coffee, of course – one of the huge advantages of being in Italy: great coffee anytime, anywhere for cheap cheap) we continued to find a safe spot to leave the caravan. We found a guarded parking with electricity a little bit South of the city center, 25€ for 24 hours but hey – we didn’t want to come back at night to a mugged car, all our valuables were in there.
And then we took off to explore. And we had the best time, no sorry, the BEST time. I was surprised myself how much of a difference it makes to see (smell and touch) these impressive historical traits compared to reading about them in a book. Or seeing the photos on the internet. Yannick was interested in history before, he has an impressive knowledge already (probably because of his geeky Dad who is a little obsessed with the Ancient Greek. LUCKY RIC IS NOT READING THIS BLOG, IS HE? :-P). But Jari always thought history was kind of very boring. But now that we were walking around the Colosseum and the Roman Forum this attitude changed completely, he couldn’t get enough!
To top it all off we had fantastic weather on 3 of our 4 days in Rome, just once there were some clouds and drizzle.
To get the boys even more interested we would watch Illuminati (Angels and Demons) one night and try to find the churches of the book/film the following day. Very cool plan, they were having too much fun, more like a treasure hunt/paper chase than a serious tour.
Of course now we also had to see Vatican City. Well, because of the movie and: THE SMALLEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD! If nothing works, try superlatives. Jari and Yannick wanted to see it anyhow. Even though it was December the queue was loooong. We were mulling it over but in the end we gave in: We just couldn’t go to Vatican City and not visit St. Peter, no way. So with stood in line. Unfortunately entry to the museum wasn’t in our tiny budget (140€ for the 4 of us!!!! I am still paying church tax for Christ sake, how shameless is that?!) so we weren’t able to see the Sistine Chapel. But we could walk up the Dome (oh my, I swear I’ll work on my stamina when I go back to the boat) and take in the fantastic view. And walk around St. Peter including touching St. Peter’s foot for good look. And the boys were very intrigued by the Swiss Guard.
So outside thriller movies – what else is there to make a boy’s heart jump: creepy catacombs! Well, off we were to the Domitilla Catacombs. We didn’t have a choice really since in winter the Roman catacombs have rotating opening hours. Meaning only one area of catacombs is open at a time. We had the weirdest guide: a German guy who had been living in Rome for the last 30 years and obviously spent way too much time down there. He reminded me of these old school teachers who were very irritated by any questions their students had because they would feel interrupted in their monologue. Like that. It was still very interesting to see these age-old graves from the early times of Christianity. And touching: there were so many little graves, some even with engravings by these childrens‘ grieving parents.
After 4 absolutely amazing days in Rome we drove back North – direction Munich. Well, almost – Jari’s big wish was seeing Venice (city on stakes surrounded by water, of course he needed to see THAT), so we took the detour, picked up our Florence friends on the way and arrived Venice late at night. At least our GPS said we had arrived in Venice, we didn’t actually see anything because of the thickest fog I had seen in years. Or ever. The original plan was to park the caravan and take the water bus to the island. And have dinner together. Then we found out that a return ticket for the 4 of us cost 60€ (a moment of hysterical laughter for me). So change of plans. After dropping off Nina and Davide who took the water bus to their hotel (Emma was staying with us) we decided to drive to a particular fast food chain to not spend huge amounts of money on dinner. At that time we had already realized Venice was going to cost us dearly so we at least wanted to save some money on food. So much about our plan. The parking lot ticketing machine had a different idea about our evening. It told us to pay 21€ but it would kindly let us stay for 12 hours. We tried to complain to the parking lot ticketing person but to no avail. „But we just dropped off friends!“ – „Sorry Sir, I can’t help you.“ „But the kids are hungry!“ – „Sorry Sir, I can’t help you.“ „But they are going to starve and it’s going to be all your fault!“ – „Sorry Sir, I can’t help you.“
(Lots of cursing happening after)
Venice – a love-hate relationship
So we stayed the night in this blasted parking lot. And ate everything edible we could find inside of the caravan, these poor kids. I was already having a cursing-Venice-tourette and had half a mind to leave in the morning without seeing this city at all, that’s how pissed off I was. Well, lucky we didn’t leave. Even though tourism is insane (even during this time of the year, in foggy and cold December) and prices are, too, Venice is still a place you need to see, at least once. The unique architecture, St. Marcus Dome, the canals, the bridges, even the fog. It was worth it. But there is a strange atmosphere to it – when we were taking the water bus back to the caravan at night (to use up Nina, Davide’s and Emma’s day tickets) we noticed 80% of the houses‘ windows weren’t lit. As if the only people walking around (and there were many) were tourists. Like Venice was more like a open air museum than a real city with people who live there. But who is to blame, as pretty as it is, I wouldn’t want to live in one of these old and moist buildings that are regularly flooded. Mold everywhere and it gets seriously cold in winter.
We still had a great day. We even found a charming „bar“ super close to the Rialto bridge with normal coffee prices. The weather cleared up for us and our friends treated us to a gondola ride – cheesy but still the ultimate Venice experience PLUS a unique way to see this city, so thanks again guys! And animal-loving Jari had the best time with Venice’s doves (yikes).
Conclusion: Great times, lots of fun, learned even more and did I mention the fun??