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train travel with 2 children... purchase tickets in advance or in italy & general advice?

train travel with 2 children... purchase tickets in advance or in italy & general advice?

Apr 24th, 2004, 09:12 PM
  #1  
tpz
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Join Date: Apr 2004
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train travel with 2 children... purchase tickets in advance or in italy & general advice?

Our group of 4 adults and 2 children under 2 depart for Italy in 1 week. We had planned to purchase our train tickets on each travel day at train station... I have checked trenitalia for all departure/arrival schedules and feel confident regarding departures, connections, etc. Though, I am unclear when a train requires a reservation? And, if a reservation is required, is it wise to purchase ticket before day of travel? may reservations be purcahsed at train station on day of travel? AND, even if reservations are not required, is it wise just to reserve?

Our train transports consist of following Milan-Parma, Parma-Florence, Florence-Lucca, Lucca-Monterosso (Cinque Terre), and Monterosso-Stresa (Lake Maggiore) (each on separate travel days. I have analyzed point to point tickets vs. saverpass and it appears point to point is cheaper. Though, I am wondering if anyone who has travelled with small children would recommend buying saverpass just for the convenience of bypassing lines to purchase at train stations, etc.

I would welcome any advice regarding train travel in italy with small children.

Thanks a bunch! This is our first european holiday with kids... I'm feeling rather confident about the trip (today anyway!), EXCEPT for the transportation piece... we've never had issues with train transports in past... though we've always carried europass as we did more long distance train routes and was less expensive...

thanks for any help you can offer and please forgive any rambling! I'm glad I found this forum, seems incredibly active and informative!

Thanks
tpz is offline  
Apr 25th, 2004, 03:14 AM
  #2  
 
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We travelled for 5 weeks in Italy using the trains and did what you have done, studied up on the timetables, costs etc. We found point-to-point tickets were the most cost effective, I had thought to buy a train pass but was told at Termini in Rome that wasn't the cheapest way. You can buy all your train tickets at once when you first arrive in Italy. Most travel agents seem to sell train tickets, it doesn't cost any extra, you won't have the long queues you have at the main train stations and often they speak English. It's a good idea to have it all written down, where you are going to and from, what day you want to travel, what time, non-smoking, whatever info you have will be useful. We found that some of the train staff selling tickets in the smaller towns did not speak any English at all so having it down on paper really helped.
With Eurostar trains your ticket will come with a reserved seat, you have no choice. There are (I think this is right) IC trains where you have the option of a reserved seat. I would always try and get one as there is a group of you and if you don't have reserved seats you will have to jump on the train and try and find empty seats that are not reserved (look at the small signs just outside each carriage). We found this quite difficult on one occasion and there were only 2 of us. We lost our reserved seats once as the train to Milan was running late and our train to Venice had already left without us. We could use our tickets for the next train but not our reserved seats. We just had to take potluck and the next train was very busy.
There are also local trains where you can sit wherever you like, you can't buy a reserved seat.
Hope this helps. One tip for you, if you print out the train stops for each of your journeys, it helps to know the stop immediately before yours. We found, for example, Lucca train station had no signs at all saying which station it was, but we had kept track of the previous stations and thought, this must be it.
Make sure you travel light, there is not much room for luggage and the train aisles are quite narrow to maneouvre down carrying your bags, then you have to get them over your head (with people standing behind you wanting to get past) to get it on the luggage rack.
Good luck! Kay
KayF is offline  
Apr 25th, 2004, 05:20 AM
  #3  
 
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IMHO you're very brave to do this sort of train travel with 2 small kids. Considering the amount of luggage (will you have strollers for them?) you'll need for the small ones as well as for yourself I believe getting it all on and off trrans might be very challenging. (Can one of you hold both children while the other loads all the luggage? Or will you leave them in strollers while you both load?) Also, assume you will be paying for just 2 seats and taking the kids as freebies - what will you do if the train is full and you have to hold them on your laps the whole way?

I know you didn't ask this - but I truly believe that in your specific circumstances traveling by car would be much easier. (You can take the car from door to door on your own schedule, with plenty of time to pack and unpack at leisure. No taking buses or cabs to stations, maneuvering through them, finding the right train and the right car, getting kids/strollers on, then loading all the luggage, finding seats, packing overhead racks - will the strollers fit on them - and them racing to do the same in reverse in the few minutes the train is in the station you're gettting off at.)

None of your trips would be a particulary long drive - and Iwould think that would be much esier and more relaxing thanthe train alternative - never mind the opportunities to see things all the way - and even stop for a walk/play if the kids get restless.
nytraveler is offline  
Apr 25th, 2004, 09:49 AM
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I used to buy rail passes thinking they were a bargain. But on one trip I was fortunate to have a train conductor spend the time to point out the disadvantages of passes (it was in the off-season and the train was nearly empty). From that moment on I never bought a railpass again. I simply buy my point-to-point tickets at the train station window as I go along a day or two ahead of time. Whether or not seat reservations are required I leave up to the opinion of the ticket agent. They have saved me this cost many times when they knew the train would not be full.
platzman is offline  
Apr 25th, 2004, 12:28 PM
  #5  
ira
 
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Hi tpz,

As noted, you can buy all of your tickets upon arrival at the train station in Mulan.

It helps if you have all of your train numbers and schedules typed out.

I suggest that you get reservations (prenotazione) when available.

There is a discount fare (carte famiglia) for 2 adults traveling with a child. The adults don't have to be mother and father.

Example: Single ticket IC from Milano to Parma 2 cl = 28.94 E.

Carte famiglia (3 seats) 31E.

If you are adventurous, you can buy your tickets online from Trenitalia using their ticketless option.

You get a confirmation number for each leg of the journey, which you bring to the first train station and pick up all of your tickets at once.

See Trenitalia Tickets Online
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34465647
ira is offline  
Apr 25th, 2004, 12:38 PM
  #6  
 
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Buying tickets on the day of travel may result in separated seats, even in First class. About 3 weeks ago, my wife and I bought our First Class tickets a day in advance at SMN in Florence for our trip to Venice. The cars were sold out and our seats were about 3 rows apart which didn't matter as the gentleman next to me offered to exchange seats with my wife as he was travelling alone.

Just an fyi especially if you have kids with you.
ezlivin is offline  
Apr 25th, 2004, 01:45 PM
  #7  
Singletail
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If point to point is, in fact, cheaper for you than using a discounted pass then by all means do that.
As others have said, do not wait until the last minute to buy tickets and make any reservations...if you don't do so prior to arrival buy all the tickets, etc., immediately UPON arrival, wait in one line, if at all, and then enjoy the rest of your trip.
 
Apr 26th, 2004, 08:13 PM
  #8  
tpz
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Join Date: Apr 2004
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Thanks to all for the great information! All of your tips have helped tremendously! Based on your info, I plan to purchase all of our tickets at the Milan station and will likely purchase the Milan - Parma route before arrival. I feel much better re: transporation now.

Should prove to be quite the adventure! We have traveled the trains before and do know how important it is to pack lightly... so we have packed very lightly and will have our children on our backs in stroller/pack combo (btw, these kelty kids stroller/backpack combinations are FANTASTIC and our kids love them!) We are hoping this will make our entries and exits to the trains easier... we shall see. Hoping we celebrate choosing train over auto. Will certainly share the winning vote amongst our group upon our return!

Thanks again! And, I welcome any further advice!!! Happy travels!
tpz is offline  
Apr 28th, 2004, 12:03 AM
  #9  
ocean4
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I just spent ten days in Italy with my husband and two children 13, and 14. We travelled throught Italy Via Train and loved it. I Checked the time table and prices for all routes and found out it was cheaper not to buy pass.Some trips we wanted to go via first class and some 2nd class. I would highly recommand that you buy your tickets in Italy the day you arrive and to be sure you all sit together, buy the tickets plus reservation. It only cost about 10 Euro more for each person and you are assured you all sit next to each other. We had such a wonderful experience, the views passing through cities, by the sea, and the view of Venice when we arrived by train 5:30 in the morning was just beautiful. Trains were always on time. Just be sure to have the train number, destination, date, and time all ready and purchase your tickets and make sure you are in the right train everytime you enter in to one. Aske atleast three peaple plus the train conductor. Hope you have a very pleasant trip.
 
Apr 28th, 2004, 12:20 AM
  #10  
 
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I travel all the time with my young child (now 4 yrs old) and while traveling with 1 child is certainly easier than 2 children, it is by no means a picnic - esp in Europe where many of the conveniences of America are lacking (elevators, handicapped ramps to push strollers up, tons of stairs to climb up with baby, etc). Don't bother buying your tickets from the trenitalia website beforehand. What I do is print out the city pairs that I want (i.e. train from Roma's Termini to La Spezia or Milano to Firenze) and the day/time/train number I want. I have found the times are exact to the actual schedule once I am in Italy; and if anything, are only off by a few minutes. I show the printout to the ticket window clerk and get my 2nd class seat ticket the day of travel. To save time and trouble, you can buy all your tickets in advance at one train station (even if for other cities). I usually buy mine in Milano or Roma, for travel all over Italy. Plus you can pay with a credit card (M/V/AMEX) so don't have to have tons of euros on you.

Incidentally, all children 4 and under travel free on the trains so you will save yourself some $$ there. While some trains with longer destinations have a restaurant car (i.e. Roma to Napoli), most of them do not. I would plan on bringing a panini (sandwich), a cup of wonderful Italian yogurt (so smooth and creamy, my toddler loves it!), some fruit, and a beverage (boxed juice or milk) along for the journey to tide them over until you reach your destination.

Plese note in the Cinque Terre, the towns are all very steep and require lots of walking up and down (steps, mountains, inclines, etc). We've gone there the past 2 years since my little one was 2 years old and it is VERY tiring for little legs. To avoid the fussing and crying, I bring along a lightweight stroller (I use a Graco) that folds up nicely and can be put on top of my wheeled small suitcase (horizontally) when not in use. A stroller is indispensable and I would not travel w/o one!

Buon viaggio - you'll have a great time. The Italians love children so you will be welcomed wherever you go.
Huitres is offline  
Apr 30th, 2004, 09:40 AM
  #11  
tpz
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Thanks for the additional info ocean4 and huitres. It is of great help!

Huitres... (and anyone else!), may I ask some additional questions? Sounds as if you have done extensive travel with little one at similar ages to ours (21 months, 6 months). Did you typically attempt to arrange for a crib at hotels? Or, did you travel with a pak and play? I just made final confirmations with each of our hotels and one is now informing me they have no cribs... I'm very excited to stay at the Anticco Palazzo in Stresa but don't know how we will handle the no crib situation... I would really hate hauling the pak and play all over Italy. Any suggestions?

Also, we are taking my 21 month old's "blankie" and doll and other familiar small toys. We are also taking items for our 6 month though he is not as attached to any particular item... What have you found is a good balance of toys to take along to make child comfortable though not packing too much?

Any suggestions for a "bouncy seat" substitution for our 6 month old? We have resolved to pass him around 4 adults at downtimes, hopefully he will decide to sit up and play while in Italy!
And, lastly, do you make efforts to keep your child on same nap and bedtime schedule? How has it gone for you?

Thank you so much for your time and information. I really appreciate it!
tpz is offline  
Apr 30th, 2004, 12:46 PM
  #12  
 
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Hi tpz: I first brought my little one to Europe when she was 4 months old, again when she was 1 year old, then 2, then 3, now 4. So, yes, I have experienced all stages of traveling with a little one (still am!) My first trip with her when she was 4 months old, I did not bring a stroller or car seat - I transported her in a Baby Bjorn. It was wonderful to be able to walk around unencumbered with my hands free. You could bring one of those for your 6 month old and switch off wearing it between your husband and you.

Since you are already a large group, bringing along all those extra pieces of equipment is not necessary (Pak-N-Play, bouncy seat, etc). I usually reserved a crib in the hotel or you can ask for a piccolo letto (small bed) because you have "i bambini". Once you tell them you have children, they usually accommodate you, there should not be an extra charge. If there is, you could ask for a room with 2 double beds, you DON'T have to order a crib. You can sleep in one bed with your baby (6 mos old) and your husband in the other with your 2 year old. Just a thought. As to strollers, bring a lightweight one (the Graco model is sold at Target, Toys 'R Us) for your 2 year old -- it is truely a life-saver. Then your 6 month old can be carried in the Baby Bjorn. You will manage ok - it is so much easier traveling without all that bulky stuff if you can avoid it. Despite everything, you will have a good time. Who wouldn't in bella Italia?!
Huitres is offline  
Apr 30th, 2004, 01:42 PM
  #13  
tpz
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Thank you Huitres! I am so thankful you came across my post. You have been a HUGE help with our last minute planning and, as a result have eased my nerves. So, thank you!

May I ask more questions????

We have 2 kelty kids combination stroller/backpacks one for each child and a wrap (much like the baby bjorn, which my 6 month has grown out of...20lbs at 6 mos!). Do you think we should leave one stroller/backpack at home and carry 6 month old exclusively in wrap? (He is heavy, I'm of small stature but will be able to pass him off to husband and grandparents for a rest). He seems to love the wrap, he faces forward, etc.

And, we have purchased a seat for our 21 month old on plane, 6 month old will be a lapbaby and will have a sky bassinet. I have read on other forums that carseats on the plane have their pros and cons... we have decided that because of the huge size of carseat (problems with drop table, perfect height for kicking seat in front of her...) we would not take her carseat and just strap her in to regular seatbelt. What is your experience with air travel with your child? What would you recommend? And, if you believe it is wise to take carseat, do you know if it possible to store the seat at Malpensa airport in Milan? We will be travelling by train and won't require a carseat.

And, lastly, we have a cosco "tote n go" portable carseat (essentially a padded board with a 5 point harness that converts any seatbelt into a safer restraint for toddlers). In your opinion will we have much occasion to use this (i.e. on the trains or brief taxi & bus trips)?

THANK YOU SO MUCH! You cannot imagine how much I appreciate your willingness to entertain my questions!

Have a great weekend! tpz
tpz is offline  
Apr 30th, 2004, 05:21 PM
  #14  
 
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Hi tpz! I don't mind helping at all, in fact my family and friends have encouraged me to write a book on how to travel with young children! First of all, I don't believe children should or need to be given medicine or anything to ensure a calm flight over/back. My Pediatrician had said that I could use Tylenol or Motrin drops if I wanted to, but I never felt the need to use them. However, I always bring at least 2 bottles of medication with me to be prepared during the trip so if I am ever stuck anywhere without a pharmacy nearby, I have the Tylenol for chilren in my suitcase! I love the bassinettes available on the airplanes - they are in the bulkhead row and are just wonderful. When my little one was 4 months old and again 12 months old, she slept for 13 straight hours on the plane (the entire trip!) in the bassinette. It provides a nice motion/rhythm to lull them to sleep that no bouncey seat can compare to! I would NOT bring a carseat of any kind. Since you are going to be using public transportation (trains, busses, Metros. etc it will just be something extra to carry that you really don't need. On the airplane, your 2 year old is supposed to technically sit in your lap, however if you get seats in the 5-across section and there are just the 4 of you, your 2 year old can sit seatbelted in her own seat. There are always ways around that. I have never had to carry my little one on my lap, I am a Premier member with United and they automatically give the seat next to me so there was always extra space. Plus you don't want her on your lap for that long flight anyway! Enroute on the plane, I would bring over little wrapped surprises and give them to her every hour. (I went to my local 99c store and bought a small coloring book, pack of crayons, little toys, books, etc and wrapped each of those up - nothing fancy. Then every hour, I would hand her another surprise to open. She loved it and it kept her entertained for a long time.) On the return trips, I usually buy coloring books in Italy and also books (my little one speaks Italian with me!) so she loves looking through those while on the plane.

Yes, you should leave one of those kelty kid stroller/backpack combination things home - no need to take 2. That's why I suggested bringing a lightweight stroller that is not bulky or heavy and only costs like $12 at Target. One of my trips over, United lost mine, but in Milan, they let me go into the lost and found section and pick out anything I wanted. It was better than Christmas! I ended up with an even nice model stroller than I had come with! To answer your question re: Milan's Malpensa airport, there is not a storage place, per se, but United/Lufthansa did have this lost and found area. You could risk keeping something there, but I would not say it is guaranteed safe should another traveler pick it up. So, no, I would think you don't need to bring that harness, 5 point booster. Again, your 2 year old can sit in between you both on the trains, it is not dangerous. The seats are all padded and high backed and nice. (I travel 2nd class).

When in restaurants, you can ask for a high chair (sedia per bambini) and they usually have them handy - no problem. Also, save yourself ordering food - I just order one dish and ask for an extra plate and share the entire meal with her. You know how finicky they can be at 2 - you don't want to order a dish that she is just going to pick at. This way, you order the dishes you all want, then put little spoonfuls of each on her plate so she can try all of them! She will love it and will feel very grown-up! Let me know if there are more questions I have forgotten to answer, or if you think of any more. I don't mind! Have a nice weekend too!
Huitres is offline  
Apr 30th, 2004, 09:01 PM
  #15  
tpz
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Thank you Huitres! I feel as if I should send you a fruit basket or something!!! You have helped so very much! I intend to take your advice and agree you should write a book! RE: books, I purchased "Italy with Kids," which is great in a general sense, though not detailed enough for me... You really should consider such an adventure (writing a book that is)!

The aforementioned book was very fond of Pinocchio Park which we have on our itinerary (daytrip from Lucca). Have you ever been here and is it worth a stop?

Do you know of any special experiences for children in Parma, Florence, Lucca, Monterosso, or Stresa? For grown-ups too! We are making every effort to plan time outdoors, visit gardens, etc. (i.e. walk or bike the walls in lucca; visit boboli gardens in florence; take a easy hike in cinque terre; visit gardens in stresa...) Any thoughts? Then, I will bug you no more!

We depart in two days and I am getting very excited!!! I am really very appreciative of your help. No joke, you have eased my tension. Hoping your good deed comes back to you! Thank you & Best to you!
tpz is offline  
May 1st, 2004, 12:40 AM
  #16  
 
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Hi again tpz: No problem at all, just glad I can be of help! (I was planning on going to Italy in May, but have postponed it until September -- I envy you, you'll have a great time!) One thing you have to your advantage is a husband to help you out with the kids. I am a single, divorced mom who has had to manage alone since she was 15 months old. Needless to say, it has been very difficult, with travel proving even more challenging. But somehow I keep doing it with her several times a year, so it has become almost learned behavior!

The problem with a lot of the books out there for 'things to do with children' are geared for older kids. I myself read a couple and also downloaded articles from the web, but then learned that they are NOT pertinent to toddlers, little kids. They are of no use to me....because of that, I take notes on each trip so that I have compiled my own tips that books failed to tell me and I am glad to share what I can with other fellow mothers!

I definitely think you should go to Lucca - it is one of my most favorite city's in Tuscany. The city is not too terribly touristed and is charming and suitable for both adults and youngsters. There are high city walls surrounding the perimeter of the city that are wide enough at the top with a broad avenue to walk on and you can take a nice stroll around the entire city with your kids in the stroller, Bjorn. You can see into the lovely gardens and housetops as you walk along, it really is a nice "passegiata" that the other local Italians take too (you will see joggers, bikers, etc there). It took us about 45 minutes total to walk around the entire city. Within the city, in the Piazza Napoleone, there is usually some sort of amusement set up there for children. Last Christmas, we found a wonderful carousel that my (then almost 3 yr old)daughter rode 10 times, as well as an outdoor ice skating rink! Six months ago, the carousel was still there so maybe it is a year-round thing? In the next piazza over, in front of the Church of San Michele Foro, there is a great gelato place that you all would enjoy - it's one of my favs! It's called 'Caffe Bel & Nannini' (since 1923). Also there is another nice little casual pizza place on the opposite side (behind the church) that is good, called 'Pizzeria Pellegrini' with cheap pieces of pizza, calzone, etc. Another nice trattoria/restaurant that I frequent is "Da Leo Fratelli" (the Leo brothers), it is located on Via Tegrimi, 1. This local, family style place serves up delicious, hearty fare with reasonable prices. They have great fried zucchini flowers - a Tuscan specialty! Additionally, there are lots of shop-lined streets (UPIM is an Italian dept store - kind of like a Macy's) that has had great sale prices on kids clothing, shoes each time I stop there -- last time I bought her pjs for only 3 euros!! Lucca also has the remains of a Roman arena with shops forming a circle all around the perimeter. There is usually some sort of display in the center of the arena, and a couple cafes around as well. Last summer, my daughter spotted the outdoor water spigots and loved playing with the water and running around in the open area. I also took her into the cathedrals, duomo, etc. she didn't mind anything. (I think once children understand that museums and churches are good things, then you won't hear them moaning/fussing/complaining. They are regular stops on my to-see list and she accepts that as part of our itinerary). Puccini (of opera fame) was born in Lucca and you can tour his home as well.

I don't want to overrate Lucca too much, it might not affect you as much as it does me.....but I said all this to say that Lucca is close to Collodi, the home of Pinocchio Park. You can stay in Lucca and catch a CLAP bus from the Piazzale Verdi (next to the Lucca train station) for Pescia. You get off the bus at the "Ponte all'Abate" stop, then there is a walk of about 1/2 mile (it's not bad) then you will see the Pinocchio Park. Alternatively, you can also take a train from Lucca to the train station in Pescia, then from the station, take a CLAP bus to the same stop (Ponte). The CLAP busses leave Lucca every 35 minutes beginning at 9:09 am until 1:49 pm (weekdays) and 9:09 am until 2:09 pm on weekends. I don't have the exact return times from Pinocchio Park, but the busses left the Park with the same frequency -- I took one ~ 5:00 pm. Also, if you have time, try stopping at Villa Garzoni, it is across the way from the Pinocchio Park and home of Europe's oldest Baroque gardens. Napoleon stopped at the Villa and even slept in one of the beds! There are neat, unique fountains and Greek statues all over the garden that really make it a special place to visit. My daughter liked Pinnochio Park a lot since Pinnochio is one of her favorites so we will go again in September. I would warn you though, it is not the same light-hearted Pinocchio that Disney portrayed - the real Italian version is a bit more sinister (but not scary).

Another nice day trip very close to Pisa and Livorno (both in Tuscany) is the beach area called "Il Terrenia". It is actually Pisa's beach - which not too many tourists know about as local Italians go there. Upon the recommendation of my Italian friends, I took my daughter there and was pleased to find about 3 kids parks/amusement play grounds there. It was perfect, she rode rides, saw a puppet show, and played and played for hours. Across the street on the beach side, you can go out on the beach and sit in a beach chair and relax (for free). It was the widest stretch of sandy beach that I have ever seen in Italy and was really nice.

Specifically regarding the Cinque Terre, the only "easy" walk for all of you plus 2 kids would be to walk the 25 minute "Via Dell'Amore" between Riomaggiore and Manarola. It is an easy walk with wide open views overlooking the gorgeous, sparkling Mediterranean. The other walks are much higher up in the mountains and more rigorous. (My ex-fiance lives in the Cinque Terre and he and his family consider all the hikers "stranieri" (strangers) that show up peering into gardens, behind walls, into houses and are up and around peoples' property walking through their land.) It is interesting from the American/Australian/German perspective that those "walks" or hikes are just that: exercise along beautiful stretches of mountainside in a pristine place. But when you take it from the perspective of a local, those hikers are all intrusive. It is something I never wanted to associate with and was (am) embarrassed by all the Rick Steves enthusiasts descending on the area exuberantly ready to go marching through the landscape. Anyway, that's my 2 cents. In the CT, there are 2 childrens' parks: 1 in Vernazza (behind the train station, north of it) and 1 in Manarola (go R past the main marina, up around past the cemetery and you will find a park up on the look-out point with swings, bouncy animal seats to sit on, etc. Other than that, the CT doesn't have much for kids. But that should certainly keep them occupied for the couple days that you'll be there!

I have never been to Stresa so can't comment on that city. Florence is a large place and you could always take a stroll down along the Arno River and cross over the Ponte Vecchio bridge to the other side. The San Lorenzo open market located near the Duomo offers lots of things to buy: leather jackets, dresses, kids' clothing, etc so that would also be a diversion for all.

That's about it for now - you got a novel in response! Let me know how it went when you come back ok? Have a great time and buon viaggio!
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