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Trip Report Trip Report- Rome and Tuscany with teens

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I am finally getting around to this trip report, sorry it's taken awhile.

This was our first trip to Italy, second to Europe. Our family traveled to London, Paris, and Normandy two years ago.

We are a family of four, me, DH, son(DS1) age 17 and son(DS2) age 14. Both of our sons love to travel and have been wonderful to travel with, flexible and adaptive which is a big help. They both love art and history, especially DS1. It's really insightful to travel with your children and watch them experience new places, different cultures and delight in meeting people from all parts of the world.
We made the decision to travel to Italy last fall after realizing this might be the last extended family vacation before our older son goes to college next year. I started making reservations(apartment Rome, villa Tuscany, flights, and tours) in November and had everything reserved by early January.
First, a big thank you to everyone who responded to my questions and offered insights. There was so much valuable information I gleaned here. If you are planning a trip to Italy, LISTEN to the people who have traveled there extensively. You will be glad you did, or wondering why you didn't :-)

A few lessons we learned along the way:
In Rome, location is key, especially with kids. Being in an area where it is easy to walk places, with a "neighborhood" feel was a plus for us. Also, we like apartments as we have more room to spread out and we can have breakfast and snacks from local markets. Plus the cost versus a quad room or renting two rooms in a hotel is a savings. We rented an apartment through VRBO on Via dei Governo Vecchio. This was a wonderful location with restaurants right down the street, and an easy walk to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, etc. I researched this apartment as much as possible and found several favorable reviews. Nur, the owner's assistant was professional, prompt, and friendly. It consisted of two bedrooms(one with queen bed, one with two twins) a kitchenette, two bathrooms, one with shower only, one with tub only. It was clean and fairly well maintained.

Indy-Dad had recommended a good map(its on his trip report)....this is where last minute planning failed me. With weddings, graduations, and the beginning of a house renovation, this was one of the things I failed to order. We ended up using a map from a guide book(Eyewitness Rome I believe) and while it was accurate, it was really really small and therefore hard to read while walking down streets or stopped on street corners. Let's just say we got lost or confused more than once. Which is very easy to do in Rome, even for those of us who think we have a superb sense of direction:-)

Most likely you will not see everything you planned to see. It's okay! There were several sights that we did not get to see and I felt a bit disappointed, but there is a balance between really enjoying what you ARE seeing and experiencing and just checking things off a list. These will go on the list for next time! It became apparent that our boys really wanted to experience and soak in what they did see, thus we limited what we attempted each day.

People in Italy are fabulous. Kind, helpful, patient and they take such pride in what they do whether in a restaurant or a small shop. I honestly can't remember one rude person. We tried to learn a little Italian, which was met with patient smiles and sometimes English. I think my Southern accent mixed with Italian threw everyone off a bit.
DS2 speaks Spanish so he was actually some help in reading signs and translating for us(he is a natural at language)

Figure out the public transportation system(bus/subway).. We did not and it probably cost us in seeing some things, at times we were just too tired to walk to another place. This was another victim of my hectic month before the trip, but I think it really would have helped.
I'm sure I will think of more thing as I write but that is a start.

Day One:
We flew Delta from Atanta direct to Rome. We used FF points for two tkts. and bought the other two.. We flew Comfort class which was worth the $89 upgrade. Seats are a tiny bit bigger, a little more leg room, and the flight attendants seemed more attentive. The flight was uneventful, we slept a couple of hours. We came to the first desk in customs where our passports were looked at (sort of) and handed back to us. We expected to proceed to another desk for them to be stamped but that was it, so no stamp for us. We were met by our driver, Andrea, arranged through our apartment. He helped us with our luggage and 30mins. after landing we were in the Mercedes and on our way to Rome!

Nur met us at the aprtment which was still occupied(it was 9:00am) and locked our luggage in the front office of the apartment where there was someone in attendance during the day. She directed us to a nearby cafe and said we could come back at 10 to put the luggage in the apartment which we did. Then we headed out to explore, a little jet lagged though. We were amazed how close we were to so many sites! It was really exciting to round a corner and there is the Pantheon. There is an interesting street which runs to the side of the Pantheon (Via dei Seminario) which sells all kinds of reilgious items, robes for priests, etc. We stopped for lunch at La Sagrestia, Via del Seminario 89 , which was very good. We were a bit jet lagged and went in a few minutes before they opened but the waiter graciously brought us water and foccacia while we waited.
The pizza and salads were very good, great place if you are near the Pantheon.

The boys both already loved the narrow streets, tiny cars and scooters navigating the streets around pedestrians. We decided it is a sort of organized chaos. Drivers are patient as people try to move to the side, and we quickly learned to listen for approaching vehicles.
We returned to the aprtment which had been cleaned and decided it was time for a nap.
Jet lag had definitely set in!

After napping and showering we went out explore, around the corner and up a block is Piazza Navona. It is really beautiful and the fountains are gorgeous. The boys loved watching all the activity. There was an artist who worked with spray paint. He had a boom box playing music while he painted at an incredible pace. It was mesmerizing to watch him work. We enjoyed strolling around and then walked towards the Pantheon, it was beautiful at night and the Piazza felt festive. We strolled back towards our apartment and decided on Da Baffetto (Via del Governo Vecchio, 114) for dinner. We waited outside for about 5 minutes before being shown to our table. The pizza was really good, thin crust and really fresh ingredients. We met a family from South Carolina so it was fun to chat and share experiences(and snap pics for each other).

Then,after dinner we discovered Frigidarium.(which is right next to Da Baffeto). Oh My!!! This became our favorite place in Rome. The girl behind the counter cheerfully took our orders, encouraging DS2 to try his topped with chocolate. Yum!! And this place is a block from our apartment!!
Back to the apartment where we all crashed! We love Rome and are so happy and excited to be here! Tomorow we will tour the Colosseum and Forum with Walks of Italy.

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    First, a few more thoughts I had while writing. I forgot to mention our dates of travel. We were in Italy the first two weeks of June 2012.
    I also made a list of all the restaurants I had researched with the address and area of each. I put this on my phone in a document so I could look at it when we were out. I also had phone numbers so we could make reservations. Most of my research came from this forum and Chowhound.
    Also, there was a market 1/2 block from our apt. where we stocked up on milk, cereal, fruit, yogurt and a few snacks to have for breakfast.

    Day two:
    I had booked two tours with Walks of Italy. The first was the A.M. VIP access tour of the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill.
    We woke early after a fairly good nights rest, still a little off on our time, but the excitement for our tour gave us energy. As I had mentioned, I failed to really get a handle on public transportation and I'm sure it probably was not too difficult to figure out....we didn't. So, we grabbed a cab which dropped us off at the Colosseo Metro stop where we met our tour guide.
    Stuart was our guide for the day. One reason I chose Walks of Italy were the small group sizes(less than 12) and the tickets are pre-purchesed by the tour group. We did not wait in any lines(which were very long) and breezed right into the Colosseum. This saved a hassle factor for us and gave me one less thing to worry about.
    Stuart started our tour at the forum. DS1 has studied Latin for four years and has a pretty extensive background in early Roman history. He was absolutely enthralled and Stuart did a great job with history and interesting stories. The boys both were amazed at the sheer size of everything, just a marvel of architecture and human engineering.
    We moved on to Paltine Hill with beautiful vistas.
    Then for the Colosseum. We by passed the lines then were escorted to a locked gate by a young woman. She unlocked the gate and we proceeded through. We wound through several tunnels, then out to the floor of the Colosseum, where the gladiators actually fought. Amazing!! This was so worth the tour, just a really incredible expeience. We toured the other areas then were taken up to the top level with incredible views of Rome. We then strolled back down and viewed the Arch of Constantine and the surrounding area.
    We were tired(and hungry ) after the tour and were a bit turned around(we had exited opposite from where we entered). Our goal was to find the Church of San Clementa.
    We eventually figured out where to go but needed to eat. We ate at a failry medicore place across from the Colosseum, wish I had research places in this area a bit more. After lunch we headed down the block to San Clementa which of course by this time it was closed. Ugh! Be sure to check times for places. I knew that many places closed mid day but I didn't realize so early(I think it was 2-2:30)
    So with everyone looking at me,we decided to head on to the circus maximus, then back to the Pantheon.
    The Pantheon is really so beautiful and again, an amazing feat of architecture. Both boys had studied this at school(and proudly told me it's fetured in a video game-"See, they are educational!" ) We wandered around, enjoying the beautiful marble and frescoes.
    Then back to the apt. to rest before dinner which was at “Armando al Pantheon". We had actually walked in the night before and even though there were emty tables, they would not seat us. So we made our reservation for the next evening.
    Just a side thought. I think many places prefer reservations because they are small and must plan for the meals that will be served each evening since most ingrediants are fresh and local. Anyway, we had a lovely meal and our waiter was gracious and patient. He was especially kind to the boys and treated them very much like young gentlemen.

    Afterwards we strolled towards the Trevi fountain which was just beautiful.. I am amazed by the exquisite detail in the carvings, just beautiful with the water and lights. It was packed but we managed to squeeze in by the rail for a picture(with several hundred new friends:-) The street leading over to the area is full of cheap gift shops, we commented that it's like Gatlingburg, a touristy town in the Smokey Mountains.
    We always felt very safe walking around at night, there are lots of people, Romans and tourists, out strolling.
    Then back to the apartment, a 20 minute walk from the Trevi fountain.

    Tomorrow is our tour of the Vatican and the Basilica. But when we arrive at the apartment and I check e-mail we have received notice from Walks of Italy that St. Peters will be closed in the morning for a service(Corpus Christi). However, our guide will plan to spend extra time at the Vatican museum. Walks of Italy also offered to move our tour to another day but we decided to stay with the day we had selected.

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    Enjoying your report! It's lovely when one develops the necessary outlook, without much work; that is, "no problem, we'll see it on our next trip". :) This happens so often when in Rome, that it has to become one's mantra... else you may not enjoy what you are seeing. Spot on!!!

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    One thing that I wanted to mention, especially for those traveling to Rome for the first time.
    Before we left I had certainly read on this forum and others to be cautious of pickpockets as we would in any big city. I had a pac safe cross body messenger bag which kept our passports, a small guide book, sunglasses etc.
    However, before we left on our trip several people told us"the pickpockets are terrible, be really careful!!" Of course this caused a little anxiety but I will say we never once felt threatened, we stayed aware especially in tight crowds , and used some common sense, but you can't let it ruin or control your trip. Just our impressions.
    Day Three:
    This is our day to visit the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica. We booked this tour with Walks of Italy, the "Pristine Sistine" tour. This tour allows early access to the Sistine Chapel. The walk from our apartment was easy, about 15 mins across the bridge by Castel San Angelo down to a cafe close to the entrance to the Vatican museum. We met our guide and others in our group and walked to the Vatican museum entrance, about 1/2 block. Our guide led us through an entrance with no wait and we wound our way directly through the museum to the Sistine Chapel. Our guide was very knowledgable and gave great insight to the history and stories of the chapel. It was not very crowded at that point(compared to later in the day especially) and we were able to really look around and enjoy it. The boys have both studied Renaissance art so they were familiar with many of the scenes depicted but we were all amazed at the detail.
    After spending time there we went on through the Vatican museums which are vast. Our guide hit the highlights but it would be easy to spend days there. One of my favorite parts were the outdoor gardens and sculptures. Because of the basilca being closed for the morning we would see that on our own after lunch. We ate at the cafe in the Vatican, which was fine then headed back to the Sistine Chapel. Wow!!! the crowd was wall to wall! We had to weave our way through to take the back exit over to the basica. We decided to climb the dome which is well worth the time and effort. The interior portion gives you a really amazing perspective. The boys especially liked the "tilting" staircase and the views of Rome are breathtaking, again I would highly recommend climbing to the top if you are able.
    After this we went down to the basilica. It is surreal to see something you have seen on TV many times but cant comprehend the enormity and beauty until you see it with your own eyes.
    We all took our time and while it was crowded, it was not unmanagable(I wonder if people had seen it was closed for the morning and went elsewhere?)
    The boys were especially fascinated by the popes on view.
    After resting at the apartment we decided to head to Hard Rock for dinner, not the place I would have chosen:-) but, the boys love music and were excited to see what might be on display in Rome. We took a cab over and funny, met some college students from Alabama who are friends of a family member...truly a small world!!
    We walked over to the Spanish steps, really lovely, especially the view from the bottom up to the top. I would have liked to come back in the day time but never made it.
    After dinner we set out on a mission to find DS2 a football(soccer) jersey. As i mentioned before our map was lacking and we headed down Via del Corso to look for a shop. We finally came upon a Nike store but it had closed. Ugh! It looked like we could head down the street, make a left and we would be home....but of course we ended up by Piazza del Popolo. How, I'm not sure, but I think getting lost and then discovering something new is part of the fun! We gave up, grabbed a cab and were back home in 10 mins.
    Tomorrow is our trip to Pompeii.

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    Day Four:
    In planning this trip Pompeii was high on DS1 list of things to see. Four years of Latin has left him with a real interest in history, and he was able to give us some interesting insights throughout the trip. I know many people advise against a day trip to Pompeii, but we decided it would be worth it...and it was!!
    We caught a cab over to Termini station and after difficulty with the automated machines(it wouldn't take our credit card) we got in line and had tickets to Naples in 10 mins and managed to catch the 9:30 fast train. The lady at the ticket counter was very helpful and kind. We had assigned seats in this train, which were a little confusing but people were pretty relaxed and didn't mind that we were in the wrong seats(although we offered to move).

    My parents lived in Naples in the 1950's so I was eager to catch a glimpse of the city they had grown to love so. Unfortunately most of what we could see was industrial or covered in graffiti but I did catch a few glimpses of the bay(I think) and perhaps Capri(the first place my mother had pizza!) I really wish we could have spent a little time there.

    We arrived in Naples and made our way over to the station through the tunnels to the next train. I had printed out Brit_in_Ischia's instructions and we followed them to the letter. Perfect!!!Thank you thank you!!

    The train was very crowded but we arrived in Pompeii in about 25 minutes. We decided to grab a panini at one of the cafes outside of the entrance. They were surprisingly simple and good, yummy tomatoes and cheese.
    Pompeii was fantastic!! We were all amazed at the size of the city and how much has been excavated and survived. The complexity of the infrastructure is quite amazing. It felt a little sad at times, imagining children playing, people at the market, etc when the volcano erupted.
    I'm so glad we made the trip, it was well worth it for us. The weather was not too hot(mid 80's) and we had bottles of water which we refilled in the fountains scatterd throughout the city. Also, there is an autogrill within the excavation(it felt a little funny to see it in the midst of ancient ruins) and restrooms are available.
    The boys especially enjoyed the amphitheater, I think it really captured their imaginations. DS1 loved the forum area. I thought the baths were phenomenal.

    We caught the train back to Naples, then to Rome.
    Dinner was back at Da Baffeto, very good again. We had the same waiter and he was just wonderful, really fussing over us. Across the street to Frigidarium one last time, Yum!!
    Then home to pack up as we travel to Tuscany tomorrow.

    We have loved Rome. I think we would all return. I really think it is my new favorite big city! The boys and DH loved it as well, we all agreed it was beyond even what we had imagined. So many things we didn't see, but we enjoyed what we did experience.

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    I am excited for you jamierin! Maybe I can relive our trip through you!

    Day Five:
    We packed up and Andrea(arranged through our landlady) picked us up and took us to the Hertz rental car office north of town(I'm sorry but I cant remember the exact location now, I'll have to look through papers). In hindsite, this may not have been the most convenient location, but we were able to hop on the autostrada pretty quickly after getting the car, just familiarize your self with the car before you take off!
    We headed to Orvieto first, parking at the train station(which was easy to find) then taking the funicular up to town. A minibus meets you there and will drop you off in front of the Duomo.

    We were all a bit tired and no one wanted to spend tons of time looking so the boys went through fairly quickly then waited outside. The Duomo here is beautiful, such lovely detail; DH and really enjoyed it. The exterior is just stunning!
    I had decided to buy some ceramic to have sent back home. DS2 was still on the hunt and we came upon a shop which sold all kinds of replica swords, gladiator helmets and such items. He was mesmerized by the gladiator helmet(I guess being in Rome really captured his imagination! He also loves hats of all kinds) We had saved our change in a large jar for two years and this was the amount the boys had to spend on souveniers(with a little subsidy from Dad).
    Well DS2 was determined this would be his souvenier....of course it took his entire allowance(plus some) DH"You aren't really buying that helmet and having it shipped back home?" DS2 "Yes, I am . It's really really cool and looks just like the one in the movie."
    DH shakes his head...we head to lunch thinking this will pass. Lunch is at Trattoria del Moro Aronne. It was wonderful, good pasta and caprese salad, nice house wine too.
    Back to shopping, hoping maybe the shop has closed, but no such luck. The lady in the shop knew she had a customer determined to buy. She also ran the ceramic shop next store and said she would ship everything free of charge! So, I bought several lovely ceramic pieces and DS2 bought his huge , heavy, metal gladiator helmet....all which were delivered 3 days after we arrived home, all intact. DH " Did I really just buy a gladiator helmet?"
    On to Pienza!
    We were meeting our host for our Villa in Pienza. Our villa was actually located in Castelmuzio a tiny village a little north of Pienza. I had done lots of research and decided upon Casa Moricianni which is owned by Isabella and Carlo Moricianni. This was one of the best decisions of the trip.
    After meeting Carlo he escorted us to the villa. It was beyond spectacular! The view was truly a "million dollar" view looking over the Val d' Orcia. Isabella gave us a tour of the villa which had a full kitchen and two full bedrooms and two full bathrooms. Upstairs there are two more bedrooms but these are closed off as a separate apartment.(But can be rented as a whole for a larger party) Then we went over plans for the week. They provide their guests with many options for activities, tours, wine tastings, etc. You can participate in all or none of them. It is entirely up to each guest. After we settled in we strolled up the street to the one restaurant in Castelmuzio which was fantastic. We ate here several times throughout the week. The servers and chef were gracious and welcoming and the food was wonderful, yummy pastas, tagliatta beef, and great house wine.
    Back to the villa for a good nights sleep in the luxurious bed.
    Day Six:
    We slept in(which we all needed) then had breakfast on the terrace. Isabella and Carlo provide their guests with a gourmet baket of goodies, fresh fruit, milk, juice and pastries. Throughout the week Carlo would drop by with treats for us.
    We then went to the Moricianni farm outside of Pienza for a tour of their wine making and olive oil business. They also make their own cheese and proscuitto. We all sampled everything, Yum! Isabella is one of the most charming, dynamic people I have met. She is incredibly in tune to her guests and wants everyone to fully experience Tuscany.

    We then drove over to Montepulciano, promising DS2 we would not tour a Duomo on this day! I would have loved to spend a bit more time here but with the boys we knew we needed to balance things. We wandered around town for a bit, meeting more peolple from home, and just enjoying being in Tuscany. We definitely were beginning to slow down!
    Back to Castelmuzio for dinner. The Euro cup is being played (Italy vs. Spain) so we head back to the restaurant where lots of people from town have gathered to watch. Another yummy dinner, the boys love hanging out and wandering around the little town. There are kids from the town hanging out there as well, they try to communicate but mostly smile and cheer for the Italians.
    We head back to the villa and settle in to watch a movie; you guessed it! "Gladiator" . Midway through the movie....there is the helmet, a perfect replica. DS2 smiles in satisfaction as we all howl with laughter. DH "Did I really buy a gladiator helmet?" :-)

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    Loving your trip report!

    The helmet thing reminded me of two recent incidents on my travels. 1) My cousin and I were in Rome last year and her 14-yr-old son collects "weapons". She bought him this very large Roman gladiator-type knife. I was like, 'really?' Yep. (made it through customs fine. It was in her checked bags.)

    2) On my trip to Rome 2 years ago with oldest daughter (30), she buys souvenirs for the kids. Purses and candy for the 5- and 7-year old girls; gladiator outfits complete with swords, chestplates and helmets for the 4- and 6-year old boys. The first words out of the 7-year-old daughters' mouth? "Where are our gladiator outfits?"

    I hope everyone reading this will remember the story and not commit the same "gender" faux pas!! Ouch!!! :)

    Enjoying your report~ Know you must be loving Tuscany!

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    Thanks Sarge, it's funny to hear other's similar experiences. The helmet now sits proudly by his bed(I guess that's in case of a gladiator battle during the night?) I'm sure I would have committed the same faux pas!

    Laura, I'm so jealous! I know you will have a fabulous trip!

    Hope to post more of my report tomorrow , all these pesky things to do here at home!

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    Day Seven:
    When we began planning this trip I asked the boys to research things they would like to see. Well, be careful what you ask for:-) The Ferrari museum in Maranello was high on the list. Because we had spent lots of time in churches and historical places, we agreed that we needed to do something a little different. Isabella and Carlo gave us directions and thought driving would be the easiest in the end.

    I had prepurchased tickets for the museum as well as the factory/test-track tour.
    We left early and drove through winding roads over to the A-1, through Florence, Bologna, to Modena and then to Marnello.
    The drive was really pretty, especially north of Florence.
    Driving on the A-1 was quite the experience, but once you get use to the rules of the road it wasn't bad(stay in the right lane unless you are passing at a HIGH rate of speed, then quickly get over).

    We found the museum without too much difficulty(we had a GPS which was helpful). You are immediately met by people ouside the museum, trying to sell you"test drives" . They are not affiliated with the museum and I think the test drives are pretty expensive so we didn't do this.
    The boys enjoyed looking around at all the magnificent cars, I'm not "into" cars, but these are really beautiful.
    We ate at the mediocre cafe in the museum, then went back outside to catch the bus for the tour.
    I have to say I was disappointed in this tour. You basically go by the test track but there were no cars being tested. You are driven through the factory grounds and occasionally catch a glimpse of a car being built. But, the boys seemed to enjoy it, so I guess it was worth it, I just had hoped for a little more since we had driven so far and they had been excited for this tour.

    The drive back to Castelmuzio took about three hours and we were all pretty tired when we returned to our lovely villa.
    There was another Eurocup game on so we opted to stay in town for dinner again, it's just easier to walk to dinner and the food is really good!

    Day Eight:
    We slept in and enjoyed breakfast on the terrace.
    We then headed out to Sant' Antimo, the beautiful Abbey south of San Quirico and Montalcino. The monks still practice Gregorian chants several times a day and we barely made it to the 12:45 service.

    Just a tip: Make sure you have lots of Euro coins($1 and $2) for parking. Several times we went to park and did not have the coins needed for the parking meters and they do not take bills or credit cards(holding our breath to see if we have gotten a parking ticket).

    This was one of my favorite experiences of our whole trip. The church itself is elegant and simple, and as DS1 pointed out is Romanesque in style. The chants were just lovely, so serene and special to hear something done in this place for hundreds of years. I would highly recommend this if you are nearby. I would have loved to spend more time here but we were scheduled for a tour arranged by Isabella in Siena.
    We enjoyed the scenery as we drove up to Siena. We were learning how to read the road signs and getting more comfortable with directions.

    Arriving in Siena we parked by the soccer stadium(Isabella has the most amazing book with directions and very good instructions for locations of parking lots...she was spot on and even included pictures she had taken to show you what to look for, a huge help.)
    We were to meet our guide at Capella di Santa Caterina. While waiting, the boys found a cafe selling freshly made sandwhiches which we ate out front of the church, they were declared best of the trip, yummy prosciutto and cheese with gorgeous tomatoes.
    Our tour began at the church(where St. Catherine's head is located, the boys of course found this fascinating(DS2,"that's REALLY her head?"), Barbara was our guide and she was very good, giving us funny stories and really shedding light on the constant rivalry with Florence. We saw the Del Campo and wandered the different contradas, ending at the Duomo which is spectacular. It is beautifully maintained. We all agreed that the Piccolomini Library was our favorite part. There are huge books with the Gregorian chants written in them , perfect after our time earlier in Sant' Antimo.
    We had decided to eat at home that night so we found a market and picked up a few extra things we would need. The meats, cheeses, breads, everything was just amazing, I could have spent days there.
    We really liked Siena, someplace I would love to return to. I could see this would be a good place to base in, within the walls of the city.
    Back home to the villa, using many of of the fresh things Isabella had provided along with our items from the market.

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    Day Nine:
    This is the day we travel to Florence.
    We got up early and drove back to the A-1 then drove about 45 minutes to the town of Figline Valdarno which is right off the A-1. There is a train station there where we parked our car(there is some metered parking, but also a soccer stadium behind the station with some free parking).
    We caught the train to SMN in Florence. This drops you in the middle of town and makes the most of your time.
    This was a fairly easy way to get there from Castelmuzio, we weren't interested at all in trying to drive into Florence thanks to good advice gained from Fodorites.
    Isabella had made reservations for us at the Uffizzi in the morning and for later in the day at the Academia.
    My advice to people doing a day trip to Florence would be to really study your map before you go. It's easy to get turned around in Florence and waste time trying to find your way around.
    We headed for the Uffizi, about a 20 minute walk from SMN. We came in from the side closest to the Arno. As you enter from this end the reservation office is on your left. The entrance to the museum is across the portico. We entered and found our way to the galleries. The boys had both studied many of the most famous works. It was very crowded but I had researched which works were in which gallery so this helped a bit. It was fun for them to see these beautiful works of art which they had only seen in books. Being able to see the depth and complexity of each piece was amazing.
    We decided to head to Santa Croce, burial place of Michelangelo and Galileo. We stopped along the way and had possibly our worst meal of the trip, ugh! I should have researched this a little more.
    Unfortunately, there was a special service being observed at Santa Croce so it was closed. We learned that this happens and I dont know if there is a way to find out all these observances in advance but it's something to note. We were disappointed but decided to try to do a little shopping as we walked back towards the academia and Duomo.

    DS1 wanted to find something for his GF. We found a shop selling Murano glass and bought a pretty bracelet for her. Strolling on, I found a shop selling beautiful scarves(actually made in Florence) and bought some for my mom, sister, and MIL. They were lovely quality. One thing I so came to appreciate was the pride and care the Italians took with their wares. At both shops our purchases were wrapped in pretty paper, closed with a sticker and placed in a pretty bag. Only then were we presented with the bill. Really a gracious way to do business.

    We had only a brief time to go by the magnificent Duomo and Baptistry before our reservations at the Academia.
    At the entrance we gave them our reservation number and went thru the entrance.
    We wandered thru the galleries then came to the "David" gallery. Wow!! It's hard to be prepared for how big the sculpture is. We also really enjoyed seeing the partially scultped pieces as you enter the gallery, it gives you a real sense of the process.
    We enjoyed Florence bu it's hard to get a a feel for a city in such a brief visit. If you plan a day trip, be familiar with the lay out of the city and really plan what you want to see. It seems to be a city with lots of college students and lots of large tour groups(I seemed to notice more here for some reason) but I would love to put this on the list of places to visit again.
    We caught the train back to Figline Valdarno(one note, we just walked up and bought tickets both ways, since we were unsure exactly how long the drive would be. This worked out fine, no problem with hopping on the next train which run pretty frequently).
    We had reservations for dinner in Pienza at Buca di Enea. This is a tiny family run restaurant. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal. It was nice to slow down, I think we spent over two hours there, lots of laughter and smiles, and a taste of wine for DS1 which he enjoyed.
    Traveling is such a special shared experience and it's wonderful to have the undivided attention of your children, no cell phones or other distractions.
    Back home to our beautiful villa, with promises that we are "staying home" tomorrow.

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    Day Ten:
    This was one of our favorite days. After enjoying brakfast on our terrace, DH and I decided to hike/walk over to Sant' Anna in Camprena, which is the abbey featured in the movie "The English Patient". We had a view of this from our terrace and really wanted to see it up close. It is now a agritorsmo This was about a 5mile walk from Castelmuzio. We are pretty fit but this is very much a down hill then UP hill walk, then again. But the abbey is beautuful with lovely frescoes in the refectory. When we arrived there was no one in the entry area so we just "wandered around". As we exited a lady told us the premises were only for guests...woops! I think there was a way to request a tour but we chose "self-guided":-)
    That evening was the Pici dinner at Isabella and Carlo's other property, Cretaiole. This is an agritorismo with several apartments. There were guests from many parts of the world, most with children so this was really fun for the boys, since there were several teenagers.
    We learned to make "pici" which is a rolled pasta and then all shared in a wonderful dinner featuring the wines of the Moricciani's. This was such a special night. Luciano is Carlo's father, a truly gracious, kind gentleman. At one point I looked over and he was surounded by the teenagers having a wonderful time. Most of the kids spoke little Italian and he spoke little English, but with DS2 spanish they were all able to communicate.
    This is a night none of us will forget!!

    Day 11:
    This morning the boys are choosing to stay home while we head to Montalcino to visit a wine tasting room Isabella has recommended.
    DH has a fine time and we select several wines to have shipped home(free shipping), including some beautiful Brunellos and Super Tuscans(Note: we have received the wines and all except one bottle are in fine shape, the one which leaked will be replaced later this fall when temperatures drop a bit). We select a really nice bottle for each of the boys to be given to them on their wedding day.
    We have a quiet lunch in a fabulous little restaurant, just the two of us. I find some fine leather purses for myself and DH's assistant.
    When we return the boys have eaten lunch at the restaurant in Castelmuzio and are stretched out in the living room reading...a lovely sight.
    That afternoon we head back to Cretaiole for an olive oil tasting with Carlo who is one of 12 master tasters for the province of Siena, he's quit an expert. This is really fun and educational, I'll never shop for olive oil the same way again. Many of the olive trees on their property are 400 years old and still producing.
    We had tried to get a reservation at Latte Luna in Pienza but couldn't so we go back to Buca di Enea. Antonio really fusses over us and we have another fabulous meal, DS2 declares the lasagna"best ever".
    Now back home to pack, so so sad to leave.

    Day Twelve:
    Sadly we pack up and say our good byes to Isabella and Carlo, DS1 tells them this would be the perfect place for a honeymoon one day. It's declared the "best vacation ever"!
    We drive back to Montalcino for the boys to see the fort there, it's a true walled city, very medieval. Then we drive back to Pienza where we had not spent any time. We look around the Duomo and wander the streets for a bit, then lunch, one last gelato, and back in the car for the trip to Rome. Pienza appears to be an easy town to get around, several restaurants and shopping and would make a good base for someone wanting to stay in a town.
    We are all pretty melancholy, we hate to go back to the "real world'.
    We are staying at the Hilton Garden Inn by the Fiumicino airport. We are using points, but it feels so sterile after our lovely villa.
    No problems with the rental car return to Hertz.
    The next morning we catch our flight back to Atlanta. There were no seats available in "comfort Class". Regular coach feels more cramped and honestly the flight attendants seemed completely annoyed and frazzled, a hard way to end such a lovely trip.

    We had such an unforgettable to plan the next one!!!

    Hopefully this report will be helpful to those with teenagers planning trips.
    Our boys truly soaked in the culture, never complained and seemed to enjoy everything we did and saw. While the museums, churches, and antiquities are fascinating, they seemed to enjoy people the most, whether in the Piazzas of Rome , waiters in restaurants or new facebook friends from Australia.
    Thanks to everyone for all your help!

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    socaltraveler-Thank you for the kind words, it was so special in every way.

    Bob- Isabella is truly a jewel. She is the most "guest" focused person I have ever met and all her properties are so well-thought out. She anticipates your needs before you do. She is as lovely as Tuscany.
    Thanks for all your helpful info., I read several of your trip reports and posts.
    We are plotting a trip back next year-fingers crossed!

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    Great report, wonderful experience. "We slept in and enjoyed breakfast on the terrace." Yeah. And wasn't that a fantastic way to start those days...especially when there is a view that goes on forever?

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    True, uh oh, it was mesmerizing. I think I could have sat there all day.

    I did want to post the website for Casa Moricciani .
    There are photos on the website; while lovely, they hardly do justice to the amazing views but you get a taste of the beauty.

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