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Trip Report Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice with 4 teenagers, 1 kid, 19 days perfect!

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And finally six weeks after returning I have put together (sorry a rather long!) trip report of the Rome bit - I hope that it helps some of you who are thinking of travelling to Italy as a large family and with teenagers!

When it comes to family holidays, I tend to border on the very optimistic (some might say crazy) to the challenge of travelling with our large family of seven. But I really, really wanted to go to Italy and as I really felt I couldn’t wait until they all grew up, I decided it was the time to go! Flights were booked well in advanced (when it still was affordable for us to fly) - which meant with an arrival in Rome and a departure from Milan, all I needed to figure out was what to do in between. So I started with the guide books...Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Dorling Kingsley and then started my online research and eventually ended up at Fodors. Here I found the depth of information that I needed and where I must thank all those who have in the past recorded their own trip reports which I poured over and those who made the time and effort to answer my own questions - for they made our trip just that little bit more perfect. And now it is my time to share.

This is a trip report for those who are planning on experiencing with their family the joys and wonders of Italy - predominantly its cities, for this was a city based vacation with a strong history, culture and art slant. This is a report for those who wonder how they can travel with a whole lot of kids, when they range in age from 7 - 16 and you don’t have an unlimited budget to throw at it - and yet of course you also want to enjoy it and remain sane. A trip report for those who want to see the big sights of Italy because it is your first trip and also want deviate a little from the main tourist paths and experience a real feel for the place you are visiting. Unfortunately it is not a trip report for foodies - we ate out frequently but we didn’t seek out and enjoy the true culinary pleasures of Italy (unless you count pizza and ice cream where we did our best!) - our family dynamics didn’t lend ourselves to that sort of trip yet...but we did eat well. Finally it is a trip report for those who want to take a holiday of a lifetime in a country of exquisite beauty and culture and share it with those you love.

Background to us...a family with a 16 year old, a 14 year old, two 13 year olds and a rather feisty 7 year old. We can only holiday in the summer holidays and for us that is around the last 3 weeks of August. We knew that it would be hot and busy and in some cases just shut up for summer but it is what it is. We live in northern England and have spent many summers in France renting gites and last year road tripped through 8 northern European countries, camping - this year though it was a 19 day trip making use of AirBnB apartments and public transport and travelling very, very light with just small daypacks that we decided would be our summer holiday.

Day One - Arrival in Rome:
Finally as it does, the day we were all anticipating with excitement dawned and we were off to Italy! Joys of joy, flying this year meant that we were not facing our usual two day road trip to our destination. Still in true travelling style it involved cars/planes/buses /trains and walking but then there we were in the eternal city - by 2pm - eight hours after we left our house - absolutely brilliant. Normally we would still be battling with the endless traffic in our attempt to get south to where the sun does shine!

Rome - a place that I have wanted to visit, well forever and there we were. We found the airport bus transfers easy to use and the metro system relatively straight forward - certainly not difficult enough to warrant a taxi. Yes we lost the youngest for a moment or two and nearly went the wrong way but that is all part of travelling isn’t it?! We settled easily into our generously sized apartment on the peaceful and beautiful street of Via Margutta in the Spanish Steps area - dotted with art shops and boutique hotels - truly picture perfect. So after a quick refresh out we went; buoyant with enthusiasm for discovery. We drank with gusto from the water fountain outside our apartment, indulged in the most delicious ice cream (coconut for me that tasted exactly like iced creamy coconut!), bounced down the Spanish Steps, expressed our dismay at the Trevi fountain (scaffolded and dry - does that mean we won’t come back as no coins were thrown or that we need to come back to see it?) and arrived at our afternoon destination - the Cemetery of the Capuchins. It contains the skeletal remains of over 3,000 Capuchin friars in a display that is not meant to be macabre, but a reminder of the quick passage of life on Earth and our own mortality. With the famous quote “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be...” which we spent some time discussing the meaning of with the kids although mostly we were all amazed and surprised how artistic one could be with bones?! We were also all intrigued by the well laid out museum above and the wealth of paintings on display, well worth a visit.

By this time were all fading and so it was a slow walk back to the apartment, with a quick stop for some pizza by the slice and a very welcomed cold beer (doesn’t a beer taste so good in hot places - maybe why we seldom drink it back home!). We were finding the heat taxing and we had had an early start that day..and the next morning was an early start to explore Ancient Rome - so to bed we all went.

Day Two - Ancient Rome:
Well the aim was for an early start but after a day of travelling, not much sleep the night before we travelled, the heat, the fact we are on holiday and the not so small reality that we have four teenagers...we didn’t leave until 9am - yes I know hardly a sleep-in but we were in Rome, Rome I kept saying to the slumbering kids and there is a lot to see!

To the Colosseum is was and to say it didn’t disappoint would be an understatement - it was a ‘take your breath away’ moment as we emerged from the Metro. First though it was breakfast where the children had their first taste of a chocolate filled croissant (bordering on too sweet was the general conclusion) while we were energised by good coffee.

We had pre-booked tickets online so exchanged our printout for tickets at the Forum entrance which meant we avoided the lines and were straight in. Our first foray into ancient Rome! Although I had read not to expect too much with the ruins being pretty indistinguishable from their original state - we nevertheless found them easy to marvel at and wonder at what had been. We did have a written guide so I was able to share some insight with the children about what we were looking at but I also knew that I didn’t want us to peak too soon as we had the Colosseum ahead and there was a limit to what I knew the children could absorb with any meaning. So we wandered and explored what caught our eye. Latching on to segments of guided talks when they stood near us certainly added to our knowledge so we pretty much got the gist of the magnificence of the time, hard not to. The children are pretty avid consumers of Roman history so they further embellished us with details that they found interesting from earlier research. We were prepared for it to be busy and yes there were certainly many visitors but nothing that detracted from the experience nor prevented us from being able to enjoy what was there - maybe our tolerance levels of crowds is high, maybe we got lucky?

We then made our way over to the Colosseum, where having tickets and a pre-booked guided tour was the only sensible thing to do - even more so in the heat and crowds of August. Joining the ‘Underground and Third Tier tour’ immediately took us to an area of where we had space and quiet to learn so much about the place and the events that took place - it was fascinating. From the dispelling of myths to learning about the construction, we were entranced by what we saw and heard. Our youngest, with her vivid imagination seemed to hear the animals roar and the gladiators epic battles all around her and was convinced she could see blood in the sand! The guide (given in excellent English) was well informed and enthusiastic in her delivery and endlessly patient with the children’s questions. There was more to the Colosseum we could have explored after the tour but our energy was waning and I know it is always best to leave when everyone was still enthused by the place!

Discovering a small cafe nearby that sold us enormous and delicious sandwiches and finding a place in the shade to relax we were ready for the afternoon. Once again through research I had pre-booked a tour and so we made our way to Palazzo Valentini with its multi-media museum that brings to life so effectively the excavation that has been taking place to expose the Roman house/villa that once stood there. Delivered by a very knowledgeable although strongly accented English guide (who took quite the shine to my 16 year old daughter I might add!) and through projection and recordings, history was made real and the marvel of life thousands of years ago was ours for a moment. For over 80 minutes we were all entranced as we shared in the discovery that has been made and speculated at what was once...I so recommend.

Fortified by more cold drinks - including beers for the adults (which as we had already discovered by day two that a lunchtime drink made travelling with five children just that little shall we say...easier!) we stared in amazement at the Il Vitoriano (seriously over the top was the family’s conclusion) and wandered around the courtyard of the Capitoline Museum. We had wanted to visit this museum especially to see the statue of the She Wolf but they have recently changed the admission rules and we would now have had to pay for the five children, so at €81 for what would have been about 30 minutes of viewing attention left in our children we didn’t go in Another reason why we will need to come back! Still it was lovely views from the top over the Forum and a great place to feel a bit of cool breeze.

Then it was time to wander ‘home’ along the shopping street of Via Del Corso where we luxuriated in the evening warmth - good for the body and accompanied by the sights we had seen that day - good for the soul. Home via the relatively well stocked Carrefour for supplies, we settled in for the evening over brimming with what we had discovered and seen that day.

Day Three - Heart of Rome:
A day to wander and discover what is considered the heart of Rome - its historic centre. A wonderful mixture of ancient monuments, churches, palaces, plazas and tiny streets, perfect to explore at a slow pace - which was pretty much the only pace my teenagers seem to operate at! Ideally (according to my research on Fodors) it was to be explored with a famous La Tazza d’Oro coffee under our belt but it was closed - as were many places as it was Ferragosto - a public holiday. Still we found a reasonable place to drink coffee and then followed that up with an ice cream - all by 10.30am - when in Rome and all that! After the refuelling break the kids were agreeable to see anything I took them to!

However they were as enthralled as I was with the Pantheon, which really was as magnificent as I had been led to believe. It was wonderful walking out after our time within and watching the people about to enter and see their amazement in their expressions as they saw the interior for the first time. The light that was flooding through the oculus was so special - I am sure you could spend a day watching as it rotated through the dome lighting up the art adorning the walls.

Then we wandered the streets...past the elephant sculpture on Bernini’s obelisk, into Sant’Lgnazio church - where the children took some convincing that the dome did not exist but was just a huge trompe-l’oeil effect and then rested at Piazza Navona. Here we witnessed the most sweetest of proposals in front of the fountain and decided that a long Italian style lunch was needed - with wine or course. I can’t remember the name but it was off the Piazza, we had a shaded table outside, the menu said ‘nothing from frozen’ and we all enjoyed very much! With everyone now feeling ‘energised’ (although as I am learning with teenagers, their energy levels are decidedly lower than mine!) we continued walking, sticking to the shade in the 30+ degree heat.

Down we went along the beautiful and relatively quiet Via Coronari and on to Via Giulia where we went looking out for the old jail (I find the children’s enthusiasm for wandering is definitely piqued up when we are ‘searching’ for something that I know will be of interest - prisons being one of those things apparently!) and through to Campo de’Fiori - where the kids were mesmerised by the street cleaning vehicle ‘sweeping’ up a pigeon - nice, hmmmm. Finally to within throwing distance of where Julius Caesar was murdered (the kids knowing enough now of Roman history and how the buildings/places have been covered up by time to know that nothing is as it was!) and finally on to Largo di Torre Argentine - Cat Sanctuary. Where the kids got an extra-ordinary amount of pleasure at seeing the cared for cats in the ruins and commiserating with each other about missing their own cats at home! It was a lot of walking but nothing that frequent rests with a cool drink, or a stop in the shade with a drink from a fountain didn’t make manageable even in the heat of August. As a family we seem to like it when we are relatively aimlessly wandering within a city, taking time out to enjoy what each others discovers. Sometimes having no fixed agenda is the most relaxing of ways to spend one’s time.

We did however consent to bussing back to the apartment - I wasn’t getting too may more steps out of the family. Having an app that told us ‘live’ which Rome bus was going where certainly helped, especially when we could actually track our journey whilst on the bus and see where we could get off. However Sienna with the endless energy of a seven year old was still bouncing - so we left the others to relax and off together her and I went exploring just for a bit more - down the road to Piazza del Popolo, which was stunning in the evening light, with people out everywhere and finally back to the supermarket for supplies for dinner.

Another full day...and a relatively early night in order to I muster everyone’s energy levels up to take on the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s tomorrow!

Day Four - Vatican City:
After a quick counter style stop for coffee and sweet pastries at Canova on Piazza del Popolo (a place recommended and thankfully open as I don’t think I could have taken on the Vatican without a coffee kick!), we jumped on the Metro and made our way to the Vatican City. I guess one of the words to describe the Vatican and the St Peter’s would have to be excessive - it was over-the-top, mind blowing, enormous and with the crowds to match! After two Holy days where the Vatican has been shut, we knew well in advance that Saturday would be shall we say, extremely popular and it was. So much that the guy giving out the audio guides in the Vatican Museum offered Sienna the chance to sit behind his desk with him instead of coping with the crowds!

Thanks once again to advice on Fodor’s we had planned well and had reservations for the first entry which made it all that much more acceptable. The queue outside honestly stretched for well over a one km - right around the wall and nearly all the way back to St Peter’s - I have no idea how long they would all be standing there but it was in full sun and it was not moving at any pace. I was tempted to ask why they hadn’t considered making a reservation - as any research into visiting the Vatican makes you aware that is the sensible thing to do! Anyway...it was not our reality, thank goodness!

What was reality for us, was the incredible interior although we knew the compromise travelling as a family was that viewing had to be taken at seven year old’s pace and so we took that into consideration and narrowed down what we could see to: making discoveries in the map room, marvelling at Raphael’s use of colour and animated story telling and then making our way to the Sistine Chapel - which once again provided that amazing ‘wow’ moment as you entered and your eyes adjust to such a spectacle. With a fair bit of prior research I knew what would be of interest for the children and they enjoyed searching and finding the figures, stories and artistic techniques that I had told them to look out for. For many reasons a dream come true for me and hopefully lasting memories for the family. Before the Chapel though we all enjoyed the unexpected delights of the contemporary section which was magnificent with paintings/sculptures from Matese, Bacon, Gauguin, Kandinsky, Chagall, Klee, Dalí etc etc - all ignored by other visitors and tour groups in their rush to the Sistine Chapel, so we had the space completely to ourselves - getting delightfully up close to the wonders.

We knew about the tour groups using the ‘escape’ door to enter St Peter’s but also knew that we were in no rush and were happy to wander the rest of the museum and pretty much to ourselves. A lovely chance to soak up the atmosphere and reflect on what we had just seen. Then just when you think it is all over you leave via the Bramante Staircase - the most wonderful spiral staircase I had ever seen, where I went completely overboard on taking photos...once again it was mostly deserted and only occupied by my children. Apparently it is a double helix which escaped me somehow but meant Sienna spent a long time trying to run up and down to get to the other one - to no avail! It really was a highlight and I would have had regrets to have missed it.

Then it was on to St Peter’s where we did have to face a long queue but in a fast moving style and where we were once again left speechless as we entered through the doors! The idea to build something so simply enormous is such a testament to the control of the Catholic church of the time - it speaks of absolute power and strength and dominance that we can’t imagine today. We were defeated by the long lines to climb the dome and the waning energy of the children and called it a day at the Vatican!

Avoiding all the restaurants close by we found some stalls selling fantastic street food by the Tiber with good coffee and indulged in a spot of people watching under the trees! Just what we all needed.

Walking back to the apartment we stopped off at the Ara Pacis, which is housed in a wonderfully modern building which although looked enticing, the worn out children only wanted a foot soak in the cool fountains of the surrounds. Which in fairness on such a hot day was bliss before we headed back for a late afternoon of rest...and a meal cooked in the apartment.

With energy recharged we spent the evening and sunset up at Villa Borghese Park where we listened to the youngest child and rented a large pedal bike thing for six of us and raced around the gardens for an hour. It was completely not on my ‘schedule’ of things to do which in many ways made it even more fun as it was such an unexpected laugh. Although having a token steering wheel in front of you and not being able to actually turn nor brake was a bit of a mind bend! The park was also beautiful to explore at dusk - with the setting sun and peacefulness within it as night took hold.

We finished with an evening stroll down the Spanish Steps purchasing a laser pointer on the way for one of the boys - as you do, from the many street vendors, undertook a bit of window shopping of the very upmarket shops that surround the area and looked in awe at some very beautiful young people parading the streets dressed up to the max, out for a night on the town - all very Italian stylish.

Day Five
With our wonderful time in Rome up we prepared to head south to Naples. One last stop though was to Fabriano - the paper shop established in 1256 that Leonardo Di Vinci used to frequent - how very cool is that! We ‘ached’ and ‘oohed’ over the very beautiful notebooks and pens and all sorts of delights but travelling light as we were, we had to resist. Part of the essence of this trip with the children was to aim to carry with us very little - in order to enjoy the simplicity of a life with less possessions. We were severely tested to forget that idea in this shop!

Back to Rome Termini - where the old ‘don’t believe everything you read’ rang very true. Because if I were to believe what I had read - we would have been robbed ten times over! In fact we had a very relaxing time with coffee and food and free wifi until our train was ready to depart. It was certainly no more chaotic that Euston Station (London) and certainly not at all threatening!

And that for us...was Rome. The excessive, magnificent, historical, grand, fascinating, intriguing place that it was. Next it’s down South to Naples...and hopefully a trip report about our experiences there to follow...

Photos if you want to see of some of the places mentioned: http://jaxandco.smugmug.com/Rome

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    I enjoyed your report v much as I'm making my way to Rome with kids similarly aged.

    The link you provided isn't working though? I'll check back in to follow up in a few hours!

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    >>>Then just when you think it is all over you leave via the Bramante Staircase - the most wonderful spiral staircase I had ever seen,
    Apparently it is a double helix <<<

    That exit staircase isn't the Bramante staircase. The Bramante staircase (from the 1500's) is stone and in a part of the museum that you didn't have access to until recently which I think requires a special tour. The exit staircase that is the double helix is from the 1930's and designed by Giuseppe Momo (may have been based on Bramante's). Here's a pic of the Bramante staircase.

    http://www.viator.com/tours/Rome/Skip-the-Line-Vatican-Museums-Extended-Art-Tour-Including-Bramante-Staircase/d511-3731EXTENDEDVATICAN

    >>>Via Margutta<<<

    The Audrey Hepburn apartment from Roman Holiday (via Margutta 51)?

    You got a lot accomplished with such a large group and the heat.

    Your pic link doesn't work for me. It says page not found.

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    Sorry - I think I have sorted the link - that will teach me for trying to upload this at midnight!

    http://jaxandco.smugmug.com/Rome/n-LGp3w

    That is interesting kybourbon - as it seems to be universally described as the Bramante Staircase on so many websites. I stand corrected (and better informed) and maybe one day will see the 'real' thing! Thanks for that.

    We have been meaning to watch Roman holiday with the kids (have bought the DVD) so now even more reason to do so - although we didn't stay at number 51!

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    I'll be traveling to Rome in the Spring with my husband and two kids. Yours sound like a resilient bunch and especially in the heat! I am just starting to research our trip and feel a bit overwhelmed already so it's nice to be reading trip reports.

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    ky - you have solved something that has puzzled me since my last visit to Rome 18 months ago. I hunted high and low for the Bramante Staircase and kept being directed to the one at the entrance/exit to the museums, but it didn't look right to me. Now I know why!

    Jax - 5 kids in Rome in August - you're a braver woman than I. You certainly packed a lot in but had a realistic idea of what you could achieve which obviously helped.

    Having taken our kids [older than yours] to several italian cities, including Rome but not Naples, I'm looking forward to your next instalment. i hope you didn't lose any of the kids there!

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    I didn't realize that the Capitoline Museums now charged for children. It's one of the few public museums in Rome that does, and the change must be very recent. The Capitoline Museums is a municipal museum, and Rome is very short of money. That must be the reason.

    Another (national) museum in Rome that has a collection of ancient art on the same level as (although a bit smaller than) the Capitoline Museums is Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. I took my nine-year-old granddaughter there in late July. It was her specific request; she had seen it a few years ago and remembered the ancient Roman jewelry. She's been reading a lot about ancient mythology, and recounted to us many of the stories represented by the sculptures. Admission to Palazzo Massimo is only €7, kids under 18 are free, and the ticket gives you admission to three other museums, over the course of three days. Quite a bargain!

    You'll have to make another trip to Rome, for sure!

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    bvlenci - yes I think the change was very new. I had researched quite thoroughly and it had not come up in anything I had looked at...understandable but it just meant my scheduling hadn't left enough time in the day to see it and justify the entrance fee.

    Yes Palazzo Massimo was on our 'list' to visit - the morning we departed as our train wasn't until 1.30pm...but it was not to be (hot, tired, hungry children maybe!) - so another one of the many, many reasons to return.

    annhig - being realistic was the only way to 'survive' this trip. I learnt that immediately!

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    bvl - the change took place on 5th October and seems to apply to all the civic museums of Rome apart from a few free ones.

    concession no 25 looks useful - if you are a single parent with 1-2 children you get 1 full-pirce admission free, so Jax and her husband could have split up [for entrance purposes] and got in cheaper that way.

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    annhig - yes that would have helped! The problem being we had left it so late in the day with the idea just 'dip' in for the last 40 minutes or so - that spending more money on admission wasn't very appealing. Although it dis teach us a lesson - that things to change and therefore so do your plans and that is the reality of travel - as we certainly learnt in Naples! We will definitely give the Capitoline Museum the time it deserves next time!

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    Is the single parent concession meant to be just that: a way that single parents can more easily afford the entry fees? Not to be too prissy, but maybe it's just as well you didn't know about it! Maybe next time there will be other concessions or Rome cards, or free days, etc.

    I am looking forward to your Napoli report because I distinctly recall trying to talk you out of it -- at least at first -- but you seemed pretty clear eyed about going, and I ended up hoping you would indeed have a great time with your family in a city I really like a lot. I'll be especially interested to hear what your teens thought of it in the entire scheme of things.

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    And now we are in Naples...

    Day Five - Rome to Naples

    One of the seeds sown in our minds to undertake this trip, was an experience in Germany last summer when we met a lovely Italian woman at her restaurant, who implored us to travel as a family to Italy’s south - “The sun, the warmth, the colours, the food, the people!” she exclaimed - “Go and enjoy”! So to the south we definitely wanted to go and although we only able this time to dab our toes into it we were delighted to be finally heading that way. We were also delighted by our first Italian train experience! To have a train departing on time was great, to actually have it in the station with plenty of time to get on it and settle in to our seats was fantastic BUT to be directed to where your carriage was by signs on the platform was just brilliant. Anyone who has had the dubious joy of British railway travel will share in our frustration in not quite knowing where to stand on the platform to wait for your carriage, consequently finding that when the train arrives you have about 200 metres to race down the platform to actually get to the right one - nightmare! With comfortable seats, Wifi that worked and travelling at 300km per hour we got to Naples in comfort and in no time! Although we did notice that the countryside flashing past us looked very inviting...for another time.

    Then there was Naples, with Mt Vesuvius looming over it large and the glinting blueness of the sea framing it - we had arrived in the Italian south! When planning out our itinerary, Pompeii featured large on everyone’s wish list - it was one of the ‘must sees’. Coincidently we also watched the three documentaries about Naples - two based on food and one based on manufacturing and the stories they told of the city made us intrigued. (We ignored the one we watched about the rubbish problems!) So we decided we would go to Naples, to which I found conflicting advice about. We looked into Sorentto as a base - (as many suggested it would be more suitable for a family) but apart from struggling to find a suitable apartment, we were all keen to experience Naples and the reality and rawness of what the place offered. I have travelled extensively but our children have only travelled in northern Europe - where things are pretty orderly and considered. It felt time to show them that the world is a big and different place to what they knew and Naples seems a good introduction.

    We booked a fantastic and spacious apartment on the edge of the historic centre - entered through a shared courtyard and up three flights of stairs, with wonderfully high ceilings, shuttered windows and balconies hanging over the streets. Surrounded by other apartments whose lives they contained spilling out onto the street - it was brilliantly real and just as we hoped. The man who checked us in gave us detailed insight into the best places for pizza and sfogliatelle and a complete rundown on the Italian state of affairs with a particular slant on the downtrodden role of the Italian male - at this point I left my husband and him to it!

    After the usual negotiation of who has which bed (complicated by the very specific and random needs/desires of the seven year old) we set forth into the heart of Naples in search of what else but pizza! What we discovered as we explored was a city that was noisy, alive, real, chaotic and a complete bombardment of the senses - plus very, very warm!

    We were fascinated by the streets so narrow and deep and yes with washing hanging everywhere. We explored the main cathedral with its intense baroque style and stopped to investigate shrines (including a sizeable number with skulls) that seem to be around every corner. We marvelled at the pizzerias and cafes haphazardly hugging the slivers of pavement of the tiny roads and quickly became customed to the non-stop beep beep of a vespa racing by and jumping out of the way in time. Yes it was dirty with the expected rubbish scattered everywhere but it was oh so real and alive. We were all entranced by the energy and vitality.

    The pizza was delicious and cheep, the shaved iced fruit that followed in the street perfect and the evening espresso a treat - we loved it all and the kids seemed to fit in and feel right at home in the buzz of the place! Considering they are rural kids, we were impressed how easily and wholeheartedly they embraced the atmosphere.

    Back home to the apartment (thank goodness for google maps to direct us there - the only way we would have ever made it!), with the doors and windows wide open in an attempt to capture some of the night coolness we enjoyed listening to the drama of domestic life happening around us - pleased for a change that it was not our family!!!

    Day Six - Naples

    As I mentioned, ever since we have thought about going to Italy this summer it has been a frequent question from the children - “Will we go to Pompeii?” I always assumed we would - a fascination that we all shared and one of the reasons we decided to visit Naples. However the more I read on Fodors and the more I talked to people the more I realised that just maybe Herculaneum might be the better option for us this time? Smaller, less crowded and more importantly better preserved so that the past could be brought easier to life in the children’s minds. So we made the collective (and it felt like brave) decision that we would miss Pompeii (on this trip!) and explore Herculaneum instead. And so was it as wonderful as everyone said? Yes and more!
    First we needed to walk back to the central train station, through the streets alive with the daily markets, eyes darting every way as we took it all in, the sounds, the colours, the smells. Then it was a stop to pick up the sfogliatelle (which was enjoyed in small amounts as very rich) from the place we were recommended and then on the crowded and hot Circumvesuviana to Herculaneum (Ercolano Scavi) - where as to be expected we stood the whole way there! Soon though it was another ‘wow’ moment as we finally glimpsed the ruins which really were amazing - you seriously can not really get your head around that life existed there one day and then it was gone the next - and what you are actually seeing is as it was - no Dark or Middle or Renaissance or Industrial influence on it all - just a real stand still moment in time - nearly 2000 years later. The way that you can see how it has been dug out of the hillside really made it clear to us the impact and the extent and depth of the eruption...just incredible.

    We joined a tour in English that was organised by the ticket office (which we definitely found always enhanced our experiences) and learnt so much as well as shared in the obvious love and passion our guide had for the history of the place. We then explored on our own, marvelling at the mosaic floors, the rich frescoes, the urns still standing and inscriptions that made us really feel connected to the time that is represented. It is something else to be sharing lunch under the shade of the wall of a ruined Roman villa! It is fair to say we were memorised - which is pretty impressive for four teenagers and a seven year old in 30 degree+ heat! I have to say thank you to the kids for sharing so enthusiastically this experience with us.

    A slow walk back up to the train station made doable by street side offering of shaved ice and syrup - a complete energy booster and thirst quencher (the kids still talk about them!). Then it was back on the Circumvesuviana (which was as still as hot and crowed!) to Naples. Then a walk back to the apartment from the train station through the left over debris of the street markets, gathering up diner supplies as we went before cooling down in the apartment - thankful that swimming in that tantalising sea that we glimpsed today awaited us tomorrow!

    Just a note re the differences of teenagers coping with it all and Sienna (the youngest at seven years) who decided that she would be happy if ‘next time’ we don’t come back to Naples as she found it smelly, noisy and broken! I explained that life is like this in many parts of the world and it is important that she experiences it - to which she replied - “I understand but I am just staying don’t expect me to live here when I am grown up, OK”!!!

    Day Seven - Naples

    Today was a beach day with swimming definitely on order! The kids had been troopers about dealing with the heat and not being able to swim everyday (since city experiences and swimming don’t seem to be a natural fit in Italy!) It was my main worry about under taking this trip when I knew how much they all loved the water and also how warm Italy would be...but I was hoping it would all be worth it.

    However we did have some swimming opportunities in the itinerary and today’s was on Procida. I chose this over the more famous Capri and Ischia as we felt that they would be very crowded and that was probably not the best experience for such a large family nor for my sanity. So forgoing what I know would have been beautiful places to visit for the smaller and less popular island of Procida we headed there and thankfully it was brilliant!

    With a fast paced walk down to the Naples main ferry terminal around 7.30am, we booked tickets for the service we wanted and enjoyed pastries and coffee at the port side cafe, marvelling at the size of the cruise liners in port - the kids could hardly believe that they were actual boats and could actually move! The hour long ferry journey presented us with a spectacular view of the coastline of Naples with Mount Vesuvius and in the distance the glistening outline of fabled Capri. Although the view into the small port of Procida was equally as eye pleasing - with its pastel coloured houses tumbling into the sea and the fishing boats gently bobbing in the harbour.

    We headed over to the beach we had been recommended - Chiaia, in a taxi that went down streets that were impossibly narrow (think bending in both wing mirrors to squeeze by) and along streets that we couldn’t tell if they were two-way (such was the weaving all over the road of the traffic) and then finally we were in the sea - clear and warm and welcoming.

    We spent about six hours swimming and relaxing, the volcanic sand being particularly comfortable to lie on and enjoyed the view and the people watching - hard not to when everyone seems to stroll continuous past as part of the beach experience. The kids enjoyed swimming the length of the beach to the cliffs to jump off and the youngest grew increasing confident with the small waves and more proficient at sandcastle building - childhood joys.

    When the sun lowered behind the cliffs we walked down to the village of Corricella, a warren of pastel houses and narrow lanes linked by scalantinelli or staircase streets. Simply one of the most drop-dead gorgeous places your are ever likely to see. Parts of the films ‘Il Postino’ and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ were filmed here and just by chance we ended up dining at the restaurant where the filming took place. The owner delighted in showing us his photos from the time and explaining his involvement as an extra in the films - wonderful. The food was delicious and generous and I have to say at that moment we really felt like the luckiest family ever - sitting in the warm evening sun, sea lapping in front of us, good food and wine and sun kissed children surrounding us...it all makes those very long work days well worth it.

    Then it was a wandering walk back to port where there we watched an outdoor evening mass taking place with a full choir and caught the ferry back - this time taking taxis back to the apartment - it had been a long day! Apart from the family’s fair English skin feeling the effects of the sun...it was a pretty perfect Procida day! Even Sienna had now decided that Naples definitely had some merits!!!

    Day Eight - Naples

    A relaxing and late start to the day - after a morning trip to the markets - we were especially enjoying the value that we were getting with regard to the fruit! I also had work to complete (the joys of being on a holiday when you still have a business back home to manage) and some downtime for the kids who were in need of a break from actvities and the heat. After lunch we decided to explore Naples in more detail, with a few plans and a general sense of ‘let’s wander and see’.

    Sienna had used the word ‘scrappy’ often to describe her feelings of Naples! She had a point - there was plenty of rubbish, dilapidated buildings and a general rundown feeling to the place. To us it is all part of the, I guess ‘charm’ and the acknowledging of the difference between our own lives and that of others who share our world. However we all agreed with Sienna and her ‘scappiness’ view when we visited Piazza del Plesbiscito. The historic square, small in scale when compared to say St Peter’s (Rome) yet it had a similar layout and proportions and with the obvious potential for ‘grandeur’. Except - it was boarded up and graffitied, grey with age and deserted - even though it borders one of Naples’ most affluent streets. I don’t know if it is in the process of being restored or if work is halted as Italy holidays through August but it certainly was, well scrappy!

    Not scrappy thought at all was Cappella Sansevero (the Veiled Christ) which was magnificent, really amazing. I was really looking forward to seeing this statue and its famously realistic marble veil and we were all entranced. Hard to comprehend how this was achieved as were the preserved human arterial skeletons downstairs - remarkable. A definite highlight.

    Also ‘remarkable’ but in a ‘wow, that is a different way of doing things’ was sending a parcel home with our guidebooks from Rome and the hoody tops that two of the kids had mistakenly took with them on the plane when we were leaving the cold of the UK (and since we haven’t dropped below 28 degrees so far - they were proving slightly cumbersome to lug around in our small backpacks!). 40 mins later we managed to get the Post Office to sell us a box (involving three members of staff to discuss how they should go about this) and after two lots of form filling and one payment by ‘cash only’ it was sent it on its way. Still there was air conditioning by the counter which was welcomed! Although later there was a very light rain which cooled things down beautifully - no umbrellas for us - we all enjoyed the relief from the heat it brought. We were really finding Naples quite warm and muggy although for me rather like my childhood in Auckland, New Zealand!

    Then it was another long wander through the tightly packed streets that had come completely alive after 7pm with people conducting all areas of their domestic lives out on the pavement on our way to the ‘famous’ Pizzeria da Michele restaurant. I was really looking forward to only having two choices of pizza to contend with as it would make our usually long winded family decision process straight forward.

    And it was shut - as was the Archeological Museum today (well that was actually open except for the Pompeii section which kinda defeated the objective for going as far as we were concerned) - holiday time in Italy. Shame it coincides with our only holiday period! Having said that when Sienna told the owner of the restaurant that we did eventually eat at which was perfectly wonderful, that Naples was ‘noisy’ he smiled and replied - “Not at the moment - 50% of the people are away on holiday - come back in September to hear it being really noisy!” Sated we wandered home with plans to try the Museum again tomorrow and then to head off snorkelling over a Roman ruin for the rest of the day...well that was the plan.

    Day Nine - Naples

    Well we were supposed to go snorkelling over Roman ruins at the Phlegraean Fields near Naples - it was a treat we were all looking forward to but things conspired against us...firstly the sun that we spent far too long in on the island on Tuesday had left the children shall we say a bit sensitive and there was no way they could endure another sun beating. Secondly since the Naples Archeological Museum had been shut the previous day it needed to be fitted in on this day instead - leaving us very little time to get out to the snorkelling area by public transport. So we made the collective decision that on this trip snorkelling wasn’t to be...next time definitely!

    The Museum was fantastic - the frescoes, mosaics and statues were just incredible and a complete highlight...however after two hours the kids had hit museum overload so we finished up and went home to rest through the afternoon - as I said before the heat of Naples really was intense! I definitely recommend anyone planning to visit though to check opening times of all sections before if they can as due to staff shortages/funds they do shut down parts of the museum at times.

    To finish off our time in Naples we had decided to do the Napoli Sotterranea Tour which takes you underground into the aqueducts of Naples that have been there since Greek time and were used as bombing shelters in WW11. Unfortunately my husband took charge of the navigation and got a little confused and paid for our entry to the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore (situated near to where the tour was) - as they too advertised underground Roman tunnels. Thinking it was strange that it was unguided and finished in ten minutes we suddenly realised that we were in the wrong place and raced to the other one (with the people who has sold us the tickets confused by our early departure yelling after us in a mixture of French and Italian, “You haven’t seen everything yet!”) We eventually caught up with the English tour. All best laid plans and that...certainly was the theme of this day.

    Another fantastic experience - especially the 10 minutes squeezing (and I mean squeezing) through tiny tunnels by candle light which led into beautiful pools of turquoise water, followed by entering into the basement’s of people’s homes to see the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre that the houses had been built over - quite incredible. Although the kids were rather intrigued by the wine in the cellars that the nuns used to make to make women pregnant - actually so was I!

    Then it was home through the snaking streets, we had begun to get a little more orientated but still mostly relying on our phone apps - the city is not an easy one to navigate, nor is being constantly nimble to move out of the way of scooters crammed with families (although definitely adding to our enjoyment of the Naple experience) and back to our apartment where were ‘lulled’ to sleep by the drunken rows of our neighbours and spontaneous outbreaks of fireworks! Classic.

    One thing we had begin to see more clearly as the days went by was that holidaying with children is just parenting in a different location, albeit a more picturesque one and where drinking wine at lunchtime is acceptable! All of their little personality peculiarities are still there as of course is their need to eat and drink (and rely on you to provide it) and the petty squabbles between themselves. Of course holidaying is enjoyable but as I have learnt - you can’t expect the little bits of life not to get in the way when you are away - it is all still there just happening in a new place! So the bottom line is that as we continued on our travels we did go far slower than I thought possible to see and visit the things we planned - between nourishment requirements, tolerance of the heat and the endless personal needs. At times it even seemed like it was one continuous move forward (and sometimes backwards) to the next place that the children could eat and drink at! Time between ‘fuelling stations’ in the heat is very small!

    Still we made it out of Naples that next morning with ice coffee in hand (after an enormous breakfast and a comprehensive lunch prepared for the train ride) and then settled into enjoying the continuous drinks and snacks provided by the ‘luxury’ of travelling business class (perks of booking well in advance) and headed for the art and relative calmness of Florence.

    So would we recommend Naples as a family destination in the heat of summer? Well yes - to those families who are seeking to travel and explore - certainly not to those who want a relaxing holiday experience - I am sure Sorrento would be much better. But it was right for us - the older kids really, really enjoyed it. The found the atmosphere more alive and exciting than Rome and they liked experiencing living as a Napoleon. They loved the history, the perceived threat of a volcano hanging over them and the noise and chaos and even the roughness of the place, and having their eyes opened to a different way of living. It was better than they expected even if the heat for them was hotter than they had ever felt. They continue to speak with much enthusiasm about Naples - it really was completely the right decision as a destination for our family.

    Photos to follow!

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    I really enjoyed your account of your time in Naples. I've been anxious to get there, and even more so after reading this. I'm so glad your kids enjoyed it so much. Sienna sounds like a hoot! Thanks so much for sharing!

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    hi Jax,

    just loving your report so far - my visits to Naples have been limited to a day trip about 40 years ago, and half a day last February, when I swear that the same heaps of rubbish were still there! It was very scary looking into some of those unlit streets at night, as we walked back to the railway station in the dark.in the end we had to accost a local to help guide us to where we needed to be!

    it sounds as if the spring/summer would be a much better time to visit, though rather warmer.

    looking forward to reading about Florence and Venice.

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    indyhiker - asking my husband re the app and he reminded me that it was google maps that we used. It linked to where we were and then when we requested a bus to our destination it provided the details, then tracked us as travelled - very handy! Sometimes we weren't sure if we were on the right side of the road and this was great in showing us the direction we needed to go.

    Robertal - we booked through airbnb 'Spaghetti Home near the Cathedral'- Vico II S. Maria Avvocata, 1 if that makes sense? We didn't stay in Procida (as lovely as that would have been) - far too complicated for a family of seven to have a quick stop over anywhere!

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    Day Ten - Naples - Florence

    So from the relatively tourist desert of Naples to the Florence of the visiting masses we did go. Once again we booked an apartment within walking distance of the train station, on a street radiating off the Duomo - a brilliant location, central yet quiet. And once again within moments of arriving we were out searching for a supermarket to buy provisions for dinner followed by a stroll for ice cream! The search for nourishment was sandwiched either side of the discussions over who had which bedroom, how Sienna was going to cope with the ‘absolutely unacceptable’ blue chequered cover on her allocated bed (seriously!!!), the rules from the girls for the boys regarding the use of the bathroom, what was the wifi number and whose turn was it to charge their device, whose shoes had been left to trip everyone over, and who had drunk the last bit of ice tea!!! Yep typical family ‘matters’ all in a new location.

    Still we got them all out again in the evening, joined the evening tourist stroll - enthused them with stories of the construction of the Duomo (had invested in some great books prior to the trip), then took stock of our expectations of our time in Florence and revised everything down a bit! This was all helped by a very large glass of wine outside on the apartment’s balcony!

    As a note that night we purchased the Firenze Card which I had researched intensely to ensure it made sense for us. It was the one thing where being a big family actually worked out in our favour - the rest was pretty against us - as to be expected...but the Firenze card was brilliant! Basically if you bought one (at €72) it gave you access to 72 attractions in Florence (without needing a reservation nor waiting in line) for 72 hours. Probably a bit steep if you are a couple unless very dedicated art and culture vultures but the key with the Frienze Card is that all kids under 18 get in free if you and they are EU passport holders. Even though they were actually free to enter most of the places, I knew that it was sensible to reserve a timed entry and since that carried with it a €4.00 booking fee per person it soon added up. The Firenze Card took care of this with preferential entry and was definitely the very best way forward for us. As we also planned to use the buses, even more so.

    Day Eleven - Florence

    OK I have to come clean - part of this rather culturally adventurous family trip to Italy was from a long held desire of mine to see some works of art that I have a strong emotional attachment to. At school I was fortunate to take Art History to A Level and to have had an inspiring teacher who positively enthused us all with her love of the Renaissance period. So I knew that in particular Florence was a place I needed to visit and see for myself what had brought forward such great emotion in her and in turn put dreams and passion into my adolescent mind.

    So what was I to do - wait until the children had all grown and flown so we could explore it at leisure on our own (sometime away when you have a seven year old) or try to arrange a ‘mini break’ and deal with all the logistical issues that it brings forth between sorting out five children and your own business. So I decided that we would visit as a family - with me fully aware that I would not get the mental space nor time to really take it all in to the level that I so desired but that it would be good enough.

    So we went to the Uffizi - with optimism! I did try and prep them though (mostly aimed at the youngest) so they would get enjoyment and understanding from the experience...I researched and planned and created a series of 12 cards depicting the paintings that I thought they would enjoy discovering with added interesting information and then I just dove in head first with them and let them soak it in! All the time appreciating that their understanding and attention was limited in many ways yet managing at the same time to take in what I could from it all - which was of course plenty!

    And yes it was amazing and emotional! Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (Sienna’s absolute favourite being quite the Venus fan!) and Allegory Of Spring La Primavera were delicious, Filippo Lippi’s, Madonna and Child with Angels was as tender as expected and Titian’s Venus of Urbino made us all stop and wonder. There were a few others thrown in that we came across that also evoked a response or two from the kids. Then as I started to loose them we came across Caravaggio’s Medusa, which sparked them up having been featured in a 39 Clues book! And then that was that! Two hours later I was satiated and the kids weren’t completely put off by Renaissance art - a good result! Yes of course it was busy and yes of course it would be better to be able to visit at a quieter time - but certainly not so terrible to be put off visiting in August - although definitely reserve an entry time ahead and definitely know a little about what you might like to see. It also has a very, very comprehensive book/gift shop that is worth a visit!

    However I did owe them ice cream!!! So after lunch back in the apartment (perfect to have a central place) I managed to detour them into the Basilica di Santa Croce which is truly fascinating and I would even suggest that it is a non-miss - especially with the tombs of Galileo and Michangleo there (although by this stage no fresco no matter how beautiful was capable of holding their interest and so I left them in the shade and soaked it in all alone which was of course rather pleasant!) and then we headed across the river to find ice cream and a place to sit to watch the world go by. Back across by the old bridge or Ponte Vecchio to the Galileo Museum which was quite brilliant and included his telescope and preserved finger, thumb and tooth then to the apartment...a brilliant day although to be fair especially for me!

    Day Twelve - Florence

    I had promised them that there was just one last art gallery and then we could go swimming and “No that would not be via a church to see some more frescos!” In fairness it was a pretty cool thing to go see on a Sunday morning - David in all his glory. I was particularly interested in seeing Michelangelo’s Slaves or Prisoner sculptures which were truly magnificent - once again I have to admit it was quite an emotional moment for me...there is something so human depicted in them as they stand caught by the strength of the marble - like we are at times by life and the turmoil one suffers when you are not able to break free. Kinda lost on the kids of course but they also sort of got it! There was also a great room of plaster casts of statues made in the 17th - 18th century that were often created for a burial site. They were incredibly life like and some of the stories they told were very moving (especially of those who died in child birth).

    Looking back at my images of this day there is a rather large selection of poor quality images of selfies ‘with’ David on the iPhone. Retrospectively they also sum up our travelling experience with teenagers especially the 16 year old who seemed to feel the need to capture herself in front of various things of interest and upload them immediately! One image in particular shows us - the parents, squashed insignificantly into the corner of an image - sometimes we really do feel like we are just extras in the ‘play’ unfolding of our children’s lives!

    Then we were free to finally swim once again! Although it wasn’t as quite as hot as it had been in Naples it was after all Italy in August and my northern kids only need temperatures above 15 degrees to consider it warm enough to swim! I had worked out in advance which public pools were available and so we bused to a very large pool centre with a selection of diving boards, a 50 metre pool and plenty of grass and tress to relax on and under. We spent about four hours enjoying the complete pleasure of swimming with the sun on your back and of course witnessing the emotion and larger than life enthusiasm of Italian families of all generations swimming and picnicking together on a Sunday afternoon!

    Obviously no warm day in Italy is complete without an ice cream and so we found our way back on the bus and into the market square and to Venchi where we spent a ridiculous amount of time narrowing down our choices to a selection of two scoops (I really need to move away from coffee and pistachio - although love them too much to try others...!), then rubbed the boar’s nose in the market to ensure a return to Florence! A well balanced day - so everyone happy!

    Day Thirteen - Florence

    As I mentioned earlier the Firenze Card really was a ‘life saver’ for us - not having to wait in frankly some pretty hideous queues and bake in the sun. Never ideal for anyone - certainly not fun with kids who physically wilt in front of your eyes in the heat!

    So using it to its best we decided to climb the Duomo of Florence in the morning and were able to without a two hour wait...lucky us! I would have to say though that it was worth anyone’s wait - it was spectacular! I had prepared the kids by buying the book ‘Pippo the Fool’ which detailed the contest that was held to design the dome of the cathedral and how he managed to construct it - which was pretty damn brilliant. Needless to say there were wonderful views both inside and outside the dome and the 462 steps were a welcomed workout for us who like to workout! Home for coffee and pastries (fresh from the little patisserie below our apartment) to counter balance all that exercise.

    After a prolonged rest in the coolness of the apartment my husband and I along with the older two girls (leaving the boys and the youngest to continue with their downtime) decided to keep up our culture experiences and visited the Baptistry - which with being constructed between 1059 and 1128 - was to me coming from NZ absolutely ancient! It was the most magnificent room with its gold dominance, it stories of heaven and hell and three wonderful sculptures from Donatello. Pure joy. Then to gain perspective of the Duomo from another angle we hoisted ourselves up Giotto’s bell tower - another 400 steps. Sweating we emerged from the top to be delivered as expected, glorious views and a new perspective of the size of the Duomo - magnificent.

    After our morning culture overload the girls returned to a favourite store - Tiger which has nothing to do with Italy but all to do with providing well designed things that make you feel will enhance your lives! In fairness we needed some more body moisturiser and a needle (to remove a grain of sand from a child’s nail bed!) but probably didn’t need the paper blow up monkey or the moustache push pins! But it was a minor retail moment and all was good.

    Afternoon was another designated swimming one - to another pool, another bus journey into Florence’s suburbs and another emersion into real Italian culture (think tiny swim suits for all and a lot of parading around in them). Finished with a meal out at a perfectly lovely little pizza place on our street which meant that once the kids had finished we could send them back to the apartment and we could finish our wine in relative peace - I say relative as we were given quite the impromptu performance from some very merry and very loud local street drunks!

    Day Fourteen - Florence

    Our last full day in Florence was a full day out of Florence! We caught the train to Lucca, on to Pisa and back to Florence - and with dinner thrown in - it was about 13 hours out of the apartment with all the travel/walking/sightseeing time added in.

    Lucca was a place we considered staying at instead of Florence (when we were warned of the crowds in August- which actually have been perfectly fine!) But we struggled to find suitable accommodation and with the deal breaker being no public pool within the town we decided it was to be a day visit. And it was great. An absolutely beautiful town, full of character and architectural delights, all wrapped up by a 4 km fortified wall that you can stroll along. It would have been lovely to have stayed in it but the right decision this time for us. However in the fashion that our holiday seems to take - we ran out of time for actually strolling the wall as I hoped - as there was morning tea to be had (well coffee and pastries) and then we needed to fit in lunch before our train...travel once again dominated by fuelling the kids! Therefore we just meandered along - checking out the shops, avoiding the churches (“Oh another lovely Madonna and Child painting” said no one in our family) and hanging in the piazzas. It was a real delight and even the threat of rain (our first of the holiday!) before the sun broke through didn’t damper our enthusiasm for the place. Sienna was particularly pleased as we bought her a long sleeved top (as she was feeling a little chilled by the 21 degree heat!) and it was a true Italian beauty with enough sparkle on it to bring a big amount of joy into her heart!

    Then we moved off to Pisa. Getting off at the ‘wrong’ train stop which actually was the right one in the end meant we came across the ‘leaning one’ way before we expected to which provided us all with that ‘oh my’ moment! It was fantastic. We have all seen it in pictures and I have longed to visit it since I was a small girl but it was far more beautiful than I expected. Delicately constructed and blinding white in a delightful space with other gorgeous buildings complementing it - it really was wonderful.

    We spent a good thirty minutes posing with all the others attempting to prop it back up - as much fun taking it was to be had watching everyone stand there with arms in the air trying to capture the iconic image. Harder than it looks actually! Then it was our time to climb it - once again pre-booked. Unfortunately Sienna was too young and coincidently Steve had to take a conference call for a job we were pitching for at the exactly the same time our reservation was so I took the older four up the tower. It was brilliant - so much fun climbing and leaning one way and then another with the corresponding hollows in the marble steps from thousands of footsteps as they too stepped from side to side depending on the tilt.

    The views of Pisa and the surrounding hills were engaging as was looking down and seeing the streets below seemingly crooked and the horizon off kilter. Taking a photo was tricky as you naturally straightened up to the horizon and then realised the railing in front was completely off. What a great way to wile away 30 minutes of one’s life! If in doubt about climbing it - I say go for it! They run a good entry system - so it is not over croweded and plenty of time is allowed as part of your visit.

    After more time exploring the area, it was time to train it back to Florence where we enjoyed another lovely meal, sitting outside with balmy air caressing our skin and enjoying watching life go by on the street - bliss once again.

    Day Fifteen - Florence - Venice

    Last morning in Florence which involved delicious pastries and coffee - always good. Followed by the pack and clean that we have down to a fine art now. I was left at home to tackle some work that had been building up - mixed feelings about having to work while away. It definitely impacts on my ‘down time’ and time with the children but then again work enables us to travel and life after all is a balance...our particular work even more so. Anyway Steve went off with the girls to post back home another parcel of things that we no longer needed or had ‘acquired’ in our attempt to continue to lighten our load. We have done really well with the whole travelling with little but things have a way of creeping into your possession - fridge magnets being a particular attraction of ours! Anyway an hour later he was a broken man due to the complexity of the Italian Postal service and without a significant amount of cash - it ain’t cheep posting things home! And we were now in a rush to catch our train to Florence!

    Still we made it, winding our way through the throngs of tourists that had seemed to have appeared over night and once again enjoyed the efficiency and comfort of the Italian train service. UK - take note...they run on time and there is enough seats for all - novel concepts indeed in our experience with the British railway system!

    So Florence for a family? Pretty perfect I would have to say! I can certainly understand the attraction for staying in the surrounding areas and day visiting Florence and the towns of Tuscany but for us staying right in Florence and discovering it for five days was a really immersing experience although obviously there is still much, much more to explore. We found it easy to walk around with a huge amount to see and suitable for all ages - definitely an easy family friendly destination.

    On to Venice - did we save the best for last?

    Florence photos if anyone is at all interested linked here http://jaxandco.smugmug.com/Florence/

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    Thanks for this report, it sounds like a really fun trip. I especially like the Florence photos; you have a beautiful family, Sienna looks like a real character.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed Naples, we were there two years ago and had a really good time.
    We have just returned from another Italy trip, I just can't get enough.

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    Day Fifteen - Venice

    Venice was on everyone’s wish list! Research on Fodor’s had once again presented slightly conflicting advice about the time we were planning on being there - “never ever go in August...the crowds, the crowds” to others who found visiting in summer most enjoyable. So whilst we were very much looking forward to it we were a little concerned that we would be one of the many, many visitors. So I researched when cruise ships were due in (frankly amazed at the numbers of people that disembarked daily and for such a short time) and then planned what we were doing so to avoid times when I knew St Mark’s would be swamped. Other than that it was a matter of just go, accept and enjoy...and so we did, and enjoyed Venice very much.

    Arriving by rail, Venice must have one of the most beautiful entrances to a city in the world. Straight out of the train station and right in front of us was the water and the boats and the buildings and the light - another ‘take our breath away’ moment for us all. Our apartment was just over the Ponte degli Scalzi and only after a few minutes walk we left the bustle behind and there we were all settled into our temporary life in Venice.

    Then it was out to explore! I knew that one of the best ways to experience Venice was just to ‘get lost’ and so we did but not without making our way to what we already had been told was the best ice cream place in town - Alaska! Flavours that are seriously delicious - orange and rocket, I’m just saying takes some beating!

    It was slow going as we made our way through the tiny streets and over the canals as we were ‘forced’ to stop and go - ‘how lovely’ or take a picture or two or just question if it could really be real. But it was and it was magical and we were in awe and we were extremely thankful that we were experiencing this as a family.

    As we walked, we stumbled upon a working Heildsburg printing place (running a graphic design company - we were ridiculously interested) and purchased beautifully laid out poster prints while the girls looked in awe at the masks in the shops. We joined in with the ‘celebrations’ in one of the smaller squares and dodged the frantic football kicking of the children, picked up the last of the fresh vegetables and fruit from the markets at Rialto bridge and then eventually found our way back to our apartment to prepare diner. Day one and we were all completely entranced with what we had discovered. We all commented on was just how quiet the place was. I felt that because there were no cars or mopeds or bikes (and the corresponding beeping of horns) we enjoyed the peace of walking without the constant heightened sense of making sure the children weren’t about to be run over! Plus with them all being old enough not to worry that they would fall in the water - it really felt as parents we had found the perfect place to relax.

    Day Sixteen - Venice

    This morning we had pre-booked a private walking tour with a guide that we had been recommended, Rita Sartori. She came to our apartment at 9am (we were just about ready - getting teenagers up on holiday is no easy feat!) and off we went to explore Venice through local eyes. For two hours we wandered with her, learning about how the city was built and the on-going work to maintain it - not easy nor straight forward. She pointed out things that we would have easily missed and showed us how if you skirt down the small calles (streets) you can avoid the main tourist drags and have the pleasure of quiet and space.

    A place that was of particular interest to use, was the house where Aldo Pio Manuzio lived who developed italics, which because it reduced the space needed for type, allowed books to be printed on less paper and therefore cheaper, ultimately becoming more accessible to the ‘masses’. She also showed us Venice’s, Ospedale Civile (hospital) which is suited in a immense 15th century building with a facade that dazzles and has a beautiful square out front that the locals meet to drink coffee and she slowly took us to St Mark’s Square - just before the crowds arrived. Every turn was so picturesque another moment of ‘wow’ and appreciation of how unique this city is.

    She was able to successfully pitch the tour at us all - regardless of the wide age gap and it was definitely one of the best things that we did especially doing it right at the beginning of our stay - the kids really enjoyed spotting things that she had shown us throughout the rest of our time there and it was a nice break for me not having to be ‘tour guide’!

    We only stayed briefly in St Mark’s, the extent of the tourists was quite overwhelming, even the Rialto Bridge seamed to groan under their weight and there was only jostling space in certain key streets...I can believe it when we were told that the city has approx 80,000 visitors a day!

    We made our way back to the apartment after a quick cafe stop via the street markets where we bought tomatoes and grapes whose intense flavour tasted like what I grew up with in New Zealand and marvelled at the fish markets and the abundance of produce from the seas.

    That afternoon was spent working - a project that had to go live the next Monday and needed our full attention. Although we have found with the kids that in the heat of the day it was best to relax indoors and gather energy for a late afternoon/evening excursion.

    So eventually out we went via our favourite ice cream shop - Alaska! Uplifted by such ‘goodness’ we then explored the Cannaregio area which was quiet and offered lovely views of the lagoon. Sitting on the very edge of Venice with our legs dangling over the sea in the setting sun will be a memory we will all retain. We walked through the thought provoking Jewish Ghetto (the world’s first and the one who bequeathed its name to all other enclaves of oppression) and its very moving memorial to those who were deported to the Nazi death camps.

    Then seduced by the atmosphere and the delicious smells from the many canal side restaurants we decided to enjoy a dinner out. We found a fantastic little place that suited us, with tables on the canal and enjoyed fresh sea bream, black squid spaghetti and scampi and a lot of wine!!! We also enjoyed the noise and animation of the locals who spilled out of their houses as dusk settled and watched in envy as they rode up and down the canal in their boats - what a life of easy living they project...

    Home via another ice cream shop/cafe for the kids - a place where you literally pour your own ice cream and top with a variety of toppings and dipings - complete with free wifi and a good vibe - my 16 year old deciding that it would be a perfect hang out back home for her friends!

    It really was a wonderful day, a complete highlight and one where family memories have been well and truly made...

    Day Seventeen - Venice

    Venice has been the least planned part of our trip...partly as I had peaked by Florence in terms of my pre planning and partly because I knew that we could just wander Venice and be happy... So this morning we all decided that we needed a swim and to go on the water buses and to see Venice from the sea - as it is meant to be seen.

    By 11.30 we had made it out (work once again needed dealing with) and we were on our way...with our 24 hour water bus passes and a vague idea of where we were going. They were definitely right, the Grand Canal of Venice certainly lets you see a side of the city that you can’t see by walking. Magnificent palaces and merchant buildings, grand hotels and of course the workers of the place making sure everything runs ‘smoothly’ - fascinating.

    In the end it was to Burano Island we went - myself personally amazed at the similarities between the harbour of Auckland and that of Venice - with the similar colour water, sky and light although without the dominance of the the hulking Rangitoto volcano! It was a joy to be back at sea...you just feel it in your bones when you have grown up with it.

    Burano famous not only for its delicate lace making - which really is an incredible art if not an acquired taste but for its brightly coloured houses - think intense greens, blues, reds, pinks, oranges, yellows...is a photo bonanza around every corner! Although walking it in the heat and bright light of the midday was not ideal! Still I captured many more memories..

    Then we travelled on to Venice Lido and its beach. Not a place that I would naturally seek out - think scores of beach chairs and umbrellas and corresponding people, flat sea and jellyfish. But still it is the ocean and I loved it! The kids rented a paddle boat thing with a slide and happily set out in it for a rental period of an hour - so we optimistically thought we might have a moment or two to relax and had just settled down at the beach bar with a cold drink when Sienna turned up - as she was beyond hungry, followed swiftly by another child who had met her match with a jelly fish. The eldest having brought both the younger girls in - gave up at this stage and so we all watched the boys paddle and slide to their heart’s content for another 30 minutes.

    Finally we wandered along back to the ferry for our ride down the Grand Canal to where we were staying. With the sun setting it was spectacular, the light on the buildings, the glistening of the sea and the water action unfolding before us. As the Venice Film Festival had just started there was some serious glitz and glamour oozing out of the place and we saw a few canal side parties and water taxis speeding by with people who really looked like they are groomed and maintained to a extraordinary level!

    Then there were the star crossed lovers on their gondola rides, the boat drivers as they negotiated the heaving canal with seemingly nonchalance and the youngsters on private speedboats, (usually a young man with a suitably beautiful girl at his side) cruising at some knots the waterway on a night out. We were all entranced.

    Sun kissed and salty we returned to our apartment, cooked up an eclectic mixture of leftovers and hit the sack - holidaying is tiring!!!

    Day Eighteen Venice

    And so our Italian adventure started to wind up with our last full day in Venice...

    With our water bus passes lasting for 24 hours, we had until 11.30am to get back on the boat and see Venice from the canal. With a little, gentle enthusing we got everyone up and out the door before 9am - as we explained, in a few days you will be back home and you can all sleep in but you won’t be able to see Venice in the morning light for a long time.

    With the confidence of having now caught and semi understood the water bus system we jumped on the first one approaching and settled in for the 30 minute journey down the canal - once again entranced by life unfolding as we glided past.

    There were the badges carrying the bags of dirty linen from the hotels, the smaller gondolas carrying the suitcases of the guests back to the transport hubs, the trainee gondolier under instruction from the older men, the smaller speedboats racing by on errands and the other water buses with the eager to capture it all tourists hanging to the sides, cameras clicking away.

    The morning light was magnificent on the palaces and buildings we passed, the photos I took endless, just so beautiful. Off at St Mark’s, hoping that the 9000+ cruise liner passengers expected in port that day hadn’t yet made it to the square. But we were fine, it was quiet and atmospheric and we had space to wander - and in Sienna’s case chase the pigeons! There is something so wonderful in the spontaneity of movement of a small child. Their lack of self-conscious actions, enthusiasm and erratic behaviour that they exhibit - the stuff that eventually gets replaced by the constraints of awareness of self and other’s expectations of you. It was a joy to capture especially as I know there is few times left ahead of us of such expression of abandonment.

    We explored some more, where Sienna realised that her small school also called St Mark’s - shares the same lion symbol as the square in Venice - she was amazed! Then told me that, ‘She now knows where her headmaster got the inspiration from to name the school’!

    We spent good three hours wandering back to the apartment - marvelled at the mosaics of St Mark’s Basilica, looked and discussed what it would have been like to have actually walked as a prisoner the Bridge of Sighs and then made our way to the Taiwan pavilion of the Venice Biennale of Architecture. It was certainly different and for us all a lovely contrast to all the ancient and older culture we have seen the last two weeks. We then discovered the New Zealand pavilion and were provided with a very detailed talk regarding the European influence on the country’s architecture and the gradual integration of Maori construction techniques in the 1960s and what is happening today. There were images of places I used to visit as a child which the kids were fascinated by and then the general agreement became that New Zealand was to be our next family holiday...I but wish...

    Home with fresh bread and bakeries for lunch - to eat with our mound of tomatoes I had bought (I couldn’t get enough of their real flavour!) and a rest up before our last night out.

    Then it was a wander through a new area we had not discovered (where one of the universities is situated) - imagine spacious ‘campis’ with older people sitting out soaking up the last of the day’s rays, children playing football, the young spilling out of tiny bars with drinks in hand and tourists taking it all in and like ourselves no doubt imagining what it would be like if this was their home. A quick look at the frankly quite majestic Frari Church (me being the only one to still muster up the enthusiasm for a church at this stage in our trip), one last Alaska ice cream to be had - and then it was to a garden restaurant for pizza and pasta, wine and Limoncello and a family discussion over the complete wonderfulness of the holiday we had all just enjoyed...

    Day Nineteen Venice - Milan - Home

    Our travelling home day...one you know will arrive when you set off, just one you hope you don’t look forward to too much nor dread when it comes - as a holiday should be seen and enjoyed in the context it is, a break from the joys of your daily life!

    Super organised (for a change) we left with ample time for our 7.50am train to Milan, enjoying the last minute views of the Grand Canal in the early morning light. But when we arrived there was no train on the board?! I looked again and then looked closely at our ticket print out. We were at the wrong station, I had booked it by mistake from Venice Mestre not Venice Santa Lucca, where we were. Ahhhhhh. Panic rising, I rushed us all to the next train leaving, as I knew they had to pass through Mestre where we could connect with the train we needed. Finally it left, we has 10 minutes to get there and as if some lucky travelling star descended on our family in our minute of need, we looked online and saw our connecting train was running 10 minutes late. I breathed again. Given that every train trip in Italy had left on time, it seemed we had been delivered a miracle! Even odder was that it was already in the station when we arrived (which was 1 minute after it was scheduled to leave) and stayed there for 10 minutes before it headed off. Nearly derailed (excuse the pun) at the last travelling hurdle.

    So we made it to Milan, made it to the airport and then made it home. Absolutely filled up to the brim with memories, experiences, tastes, sights and joy.

    Italy is definitely a brilliant family destination and exceeded all our expectations and writing this last bit of trip report some months later I can definitely say the memories have sustained us through the dark of winter and bring us all much joy when we reminisce about our Italian adventure.

    Photos to follow...

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    Please don't keep me in suspense, hurry up and load more of your amazing photographs! I was in Italy in August too, and went to many of the same places. This is the absolute best trip report I have ever read, and I seriously read a few researching our trip in August last year. Your family are beautiful and you are such a talented photographer, thank you for sharing your trip. Can't wait to return to Italy for more. If you didn't go to Lake Como, go take the kids and stay at Lezzano, nest on the lake bnb has a family room. There is a water ski school in Lezzano and they are fabulous with children.Thank you again - get the Venice photos up ASAP ! No pressure

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    I really enjoyed reading about your adventures in Venice, particularly as yesterday i returned from a week there, mornings learning Italian and afternoons exploring. I think that you would find the atmosphere in the winter quite different, though there are still plenty of people around due to the Carnevale having started last week.

    lovely to have been able to take your children too - ours still talk about our family visit there about 8 years ago.

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    and finally...my photo gallery from Venice. Easily by far the most photogenic place to capture - what joy!

    http://jaxandco.smugmug.com/Venice/n-32vZt9/

    Thank you to all that have looked and commented - it is appreciated. I hope that this trip report has/will inspire other travellers and especially families to spend some time in the most wonderful of countries.

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    Perhaps I missed it...did you mention the name/info of the apartment you stayed at in Florence?

    Thanks for taking the time. Really have enjoyed reading and the photos are marvelous!

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    Thanks for such a great report.
    I really enjoyed it particularly your family's stay in Naples.
    Your family seems to be a really happy group of adults and kids.
    I will be there this May for a short 3 day visit. It is almost unbelievable to me that I have passd through Naples many times on the way to the south of Italy but have never actually stayed in the city.
    So your description of the city and your children's reaction to it was particularly of interest to me.

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    Enjoy tdk320n - I am sure May is a great time to visit - not too hot and with everything being opened. 6 months later and the kids still talk with great enthusiasm for Naples!

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    One of the best trip reports I've had the pleasure of reading - so glad you came back to finish it. And your photos are absolutely stunning. Thanks for taking the time to share it all with us.

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    Sorry just seen this europhile - thank you of your kind comment! I use a Canon Mark 11 5D - preferring my 50mm lens. A good camera certainly helps you to take good photos and give you the confidence to want to take endless photos!!!

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    Jax, thanks for this wonderful report and for sharing your pictures! I loved them all, but the Burano ones are among my favorites. My favorite of all was looking down the shadowy street in Venice with sunflowers on the window sill on the left.

    And it is the eye and not the camera that makes the pictures!

    Where is the next family trip going to?

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    Thank you for your lovely comment on my photos and photography skills irishface - it was rather picturesque in Burano! I have just had a re look at the images and it immediately takes me back there, such wonderful memories.

    This year we spent nearly three weeks in the Swiss Alps which was as beautiful as could be expected - I haven't done a trip report as it was pretty much centralised around Interlarken but the photos capture some wonderful moments...probably will smugmug them one day...

    Then we had 12 days in China and if that is not a photographer's heaven!

    This year in August...it is a friend's chateau in France that we are making central to our family holiday with one big party! Followed by exploring Brittany and Normandy and on to Pais - I am sure I will find something to capture!

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    Loved your report. Planning a trip in July with my husband and two young teen girls. how did you find out about the cruises due in to Venice? Sounds like great intel!! Any specifics on restaurants, university (park) you mentioned would be welcome. Appreciate all of your advice. I have one enthusiastic daughter and the other I need to convert. First time taking them to Europe and I want them to love it as much as I do.

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    Hi lindaoitaly, thank you for reading my report! How lovely to be in the planning stage - I loved that part! Re the Venice cruises - here is the link we used: http://ports.cruisett.com/schedule/Italy/733-Venice/August_2016/ it was really helpful to know when the numbers were going to be large during out time there. I am not sure if you are asking re Venice or other places we visited with regards to restaurants? I also can't seem to find my reference to university (park)??? Happy to help though...

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