Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Italian Adventure part 4 - Florence with kids

Art and study are only half of the adventure here in Florence. The other half, and often the more fun half is exploring this amazing city with two young children. The pace is slow, and forces me to take in the city from a different perspective and to "stop and smell the flowers along the way".... "or at least stop to feed the pigeons along the way"...which is almost the same thing.
Here's what last Sunday looked like:
To start with we need  a few essential "tools" that we never leave home without.
- soft fabric back carrier
- collapsable stroller
- umbrella
- dinky car x3
- Zip lock baggy with a chunk of old bread
With that, we are pretty much ready to take on whatever the day may bring and enjoy ourselves in the process. Keeping both kids "contained" and close to me while we hike from one venue to the next is crucial, as roads are narrow, sidewalks often non existent and traffic just a "little" crazy. With One strapped to my back and the other in the stroller we can make pretty good time and it's amazing how adept you can get at steering those mini strollers over uneven ground. Once arrived at different locations they are free to go, and the fun really starts. Hiking all over carrying/pushing two kids has it's benefits....it means there is no guilt with having that extra piece of pizza, glass of wine or cappuccino!

Ten minutes down the street from our apartment is Boboli Gardens. An 11 acre garden, built by the Medici family behind their residence at the Pitti Palace in the mid 1500's. It  is a gorgeous expanse of winding trails, pathways, mature trees, ponds, fountains, and over 150 sculptures scattered amongst it. It's like a giant maze to run and explore and find hidden treasures; or at least unique little sculptures and secret pathways that emerge into sun-splashed clearings with ponds and funky statues. Obviously the perfect spot for dinky car racing and road construction.
                                          Car racing through puddles around the Isolotto

                                   Heading up a path thought to lead to the home of some "trolls"

                                              Checking out an interesting and unusual fish.

After this we wind our way up to a clearing with a pond and sculpture of Neptune. The grass is green and carpeted in blooming crocuses. For a gang from Yellowknife, this is pretty exciting stuff on the 26th of January! We do "stop to smell the flowers", then climb some stairs and find ourselves on a large terrace with an exquisite view of the Tuscan countryside. On this terrace is an immaculately pruned rose garden or from our perspective, a miniature maze. There really is no better place for a game of tag.
                                          January Flowers

                                         Tag on top of the world


We exit the garden at the front of the Pitti Palace. It is a massive open area, paved and free from traffic. The perfect spot to dig out the stale bread and feed some of the local wildlife. It keeps the kids entertained for ever, and allows me some time to really take in the grander of the palace we are standing in front of, and wonder just a little bit about the lives of the people who walked in and out of this palatial building as their home.

                               It's amazing what two slices of stale bread can do for entertainment.


Next it's time to head towards the famous bridge the Ponte Vecchio for some gelatos. Ice cream is an art form of it's own here, and picking which kind you want becomes an adventure in itself. The gelato displays in the shop windows would rival those of any high end store filled with luxury items in down town New York, Toronto or Paris I would think. The huge mounds of fresh made gelato in exotic flavours are pilled into huge mountains, sculpted into shapes and then decorated with anything from fresh fruits, hunks of dark carved chocolate, fresh flowers....it is a work of art. This also makes the art of choosing which one you want very difficult. The good part is, we have yet to try one we don't like.

With our bellies full of gelato we head across the bridge. The Ponte Vecchio is famous, the oldest bridge in Florence,  it is built with stone and dates to early medieval times. The bridge is lined with shops, all jewellery stores with little windows filled with gold, diamonds and semi-preciouse jewels. Just walking across the bridge which looks much as it did in the 1500's is an experience. I was entertained to learn from our art history professor here that the bridge filled with gold is not a newly configured tourist trap, but part of a tradition that dates back to the 1530's. The ruling Medici family had to cross the bridge daily to get from their governing offices to their residence at the Pitti Palace. At the time the bridge was the venue for the butcher shops and fishmongers. Trap doors inside the shops opened to the river below allowing them to easily get rid off the slop, innards and tailings from the day.
At some point the Medici decided that crossing the bridge amongst the people and chaos was below them. So they had a passage way constructed along the top of the bridge that connected their residence to the Palazzo Vecchio where they worked, it is known as the Vasari Passage Way. Yet even though the passage allowed them to avoid the riff-raff, still the stench from the shops below (particularly in summer time) was too much to bear. So, in the manner that a ruling family can, they told all the shop keepers they had to leave. They had the bridge cleaned up and then only allowed shops selling fine jewellery and goldsmiths to open up. This ensured no more bad smells and less riff-raff in the area. Problem solved.
To this day, the bridge remains traditionally the place to buy gold and other precious jewellery, although no guarantee on the lack of riff raff.....we were there wandering around after all.
The kids and I love crossing the bridge though, flanked on both sides by sparkling gems. It is like walking through a world for fairytale Kings and Queens. We have all picked out our favourite items at different shops while peering into windows. Kai has his eye on a gold necklace that he is really hoping he "might" get for his birthday...hope he's not too disappointed...it's probably worth about $20 000
                                          A section of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge


                                          One of many gold shops.


Italy is a place that loves children. People ohh and ahh over them all the time, and are warm, generous and welcoming, more so because the kids are with me I think. While poking our noses up to the glass at one gold shop, a lady came out and handed each of the children a small box, made from handmade Florentine paper.  The kind of little box you would be given if you had purchased some fine jewellery. Both of them were thrilled with their new little treasure boxes, with gold leaves and floral designs on them. After some more exploring, a trip to the market and a visit with some working horses we headed for home. The kids were excited to find their own treasures to keep in the boxes. Sadee found some special pebbles to keep in her box, and Kai designed, coloured and carefully cut his own treasure out of paper. We may not be Kings and Queens, but we certainly feel like them living such a fun adventure and by the end we will have a whole mound of treasure in the form of memories to bring home in our special boxes.
                                                                 Working Horses



Treasure boxes

2 comments:

Shawna Lampi-Legaree said...

What an fun adventure everyone is having! I am enjoying reading all about it.

rachelle francoeur said...

Beautiful pictures! Quelle belle aventure Jen!