Florence is the perfect destination for a fashion-conscious tween with a healthy appetite, budding interest in history and art and a willingness to spend time with her uncool mum.
I find travelling alone in a country where I don’t understand a word daunting, but I’m determined to overcome my insecurities and prise open the world city break by city break for Paula. Secretly, I also hope to build up enough shared memories to sustain a mother-daughter relationship far beyond the turbulence of the teenage years.
Half-a-litre of house red
We spend our first hour in Florence peering at street names and upside down maps – weighed down by back sacks and dragging cases behind us – like a pair of awkward, nearsighted beetles.
After a good 20 minutes, we accidentally stumble across the slightly dodgy address of our 3-star hotel, settling in a sparse, but clean room for a few minutes before venturing out in search of the legendary Italian pizza and pasta.
Paula tucks into her spagbol with much appreciation while I splash out on a deliciously fresh seafood pasta – washed down with half a litre of house red… I know, I know, but it was only one Euro more expensive than a large glass of wine!
TIP: Don’t count on an 11-year-old to be of any use when it comes to reading maps – you’re on your own.
Stairways to heaven (or hell…)
We wake up to an unexpected early summer’s day, thrilled to be in a foreign city with no other agenda than to enjoy ourselves. We arrive early at the city’s religious heart – the Duomo Group and decide to climb the 419 steps of Giotto’s famous bell tower to join the tiny moving figures on the viewing platform.
Half-way up the solid stone walls appear to close in on us as we edge our way past fellow climbers speaking in foreign tongues – not unlike the Tower of Babel, I imagine.
My daughter’s sudden onslaught of severe vertigo manifests itself in high-pitched shrieks.
We somehow make it to the top to be rewarded with the most spectacular views of the surrounding Tuscan hillside and a sea of rustic roofs at our feet – but we would still be up there, if it wasn’t for the young Casanova who abandoned his own ascent to take my screeching daughter by the hand and accompany her down at least 210 steps.
TIP: The view is well worth the climb, but wear comfortable shoes and think twice if there’s even a hint of vertigo or claustrophobia.
I scream ice cream
After our morning ordeal, we feel we deserve the mountainous portions of chocolate, tiramisu and coconut gelato – the Italian take on ice cream. It’s the food of the Gods and we float out of the gelateria in a sugar-induced trance.
We weave our way through a maze of cobblestone alleys dipping in and out of big name fashion stores, boutiques and quaint shops selling ceramics, handbags, jewellery and colourful scarves.
After a well-deserved riposo (siesta), we’re ready for some serious bargaining for leather handbags, belts and knickknacks at the San Lorenzo outdoor market, resulting in a few unintended purchases.
We end our first day with a little prosecco for the senora and Fanta orange for the senorita, nibbling olives and crisps in a wine bar, before hitting the streets again in search of the ultimate pizza – experience.
Sausage pizza (yuk!) for Paula and pizza vegetarian for me, followed by shared tiramisu trifle – and washed down with a single glass of Chianti – (for the senora) provide a good base for some serious bonding, gossiping and giggling.
TIP: Don’t think about what you’re eating – just let go and enjoy yourself – being on a diet would be torture and a sin!
A spot of culture
Thanks to a tip from my mum, we booked our tickets for the famous Uffizi art gallery online at home and walk in straight past the snaking queues. Armed with a list of top 10 paintings, we spend three hours searching for masterpieces such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s Holy Family and Da Vinci’s Annunciation.
TIP: Unless you know your art from your elbow, go in prepared with a list of must-see paintings and a bit of information about them – or you’ll be overwhelmed.
We stroll across the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge with its shiny offerings of jewellery, but decide over cups of pure melted chocolate and bambino pastries, to skip the Pitti Palace and other historical wonders, choosing to do more shopping in stead.
TIP: Don’t be too ambitious – involve your tween in the itinerary and strike the right balance of fun, history and culture – and ply her with lots of snacks to keep enthusiasm up.
We even squeeze in a quick visit to the leaning tower of Pisa on our last day. Flying into Pisa and taking a bus (one hour trip) to Florence is dead easy and if you have enough time – take a city bus from the airport to the tower and walk down through the old centre before hopping on an airport bus and heading home.
Our trip has topped up the shared memory bank nicely, but I’m already scanning the world map for our next destination – just in case.
Have you travelled somewhere intesting with your children? I’d love to be inspired by your travels.