A Family Trip to Italy
Our trip to Italy was motivated by the idea of exploring various Italian locations, ie; Rome, Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Livorno, Venice and the Ferrari Factory in Maranello.
We had never been to Italy as a family, and I had not been there since I was in the Navy many years ago, so the concept of going there and exploring it was exciting for all of us.
If you have never been to Italy and are planning a trip there, or you just want to know more about it, here are some good sources of information;
Due to the diverse locations we decided upon for this trip, our planning had to take into account accommodations, transportation & which type, to rent a car or not, what to do in each location, etc. For a detailed view of how we plan our trips, click here.
I am not going to describe how we flew to Rome, suffice it to say that we had a pleasant flight and got there jet-lagged.
Note that we flew into Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, which is 32 kilometers from our apartment rental near the Vatican. Using a taxi would have been very expensive, so we arranged to use a "hired car" (remember this is pre-Uber).
Here we are in the Leonardo Da Vinci Airport soon after our arrival.
Our "car for hire" driver was very good with Rome directions - our apartment rental was on a very narrow one way street, and our driver quickly went around the block so that he could take us as close as he could to the apartment building entrance.
Chelsea attempting to find something in backpack, even though she is jet-lagged! It is just crazy how jet lag makes even the smallest task seem more difficult.
Due to the size of Rome (496 square miles) and in consideration of the enormous amount of historical and cultural locations in the city, it would be to your benefit to consider doing some in depth reading on what is there to be seen, how to get there, and how to move on to the next site. There are a number of books out there, here is one of them.
This is the Hadrian Masoleum, later called Castel Sant'Angelo. Built between 134 and 139 AD, and meant to be Hadrian's burial site. Originally the mausoleum was a decorated cylinder, with a garden top and golden quadriga.
Hadrian's ashes were placed here a year after his death in Baiae in 138, together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138.
Castel Sant'Angelo from the Vatican side of the Tiber. The popes converted the structure into a castle, beginning in the 14th century.
Hadrian, his wife & his son as well as a number of later emperors ashes were placed into urns and stored under the structure in what is called the "Treasury room".
This area has everything you could possibly be looking for; super markets, restaurants, shops of all varieties, etc. In fact, we had a great pasta meal at Ristorante Da Marcello, discovered as we walked on the Borgo Pio headed back to our condo.
You may not be aware, but St. Peter's Dome is not the largest dome in Italy. That honor goes to the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, which is the largest brick & mortar dome in the entire world.
That first bridge is the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II and the second one is Ponte Principe Amedeo Savoia Aosta.
The first Emperor, Augustus established a standing Roman army, a network of roads, and rebuilt much of the city of Rome. The ruins seen today are the remains of his construction works.
The arena floor was originally made of wood, and as can be seen, has long been gone. The Roman architects created elevators to move things back and forth from below the surface to the storage areas below the Coliseum. These elevators were obviously rope-pulls, but they were the first elevators in the world.
See the sign SPQR? That is an initialism of a phrase in Latin: Senātus Populusque Rōmānus ("The Roman Senate and People", or more freely as "The Senate and People of Rome"; referring to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, and used as an official emblem of the modern-day.
The large multi-column building on the left, is the Temple of Portunus. Built between 80 and 120 BC.
Trevi Fountain: is a fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.
The fountain is at the junction of three roads and marks the terminal point of the "modern" Acqua Vergine, the revived Aqua Virgo, one of the aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome. In 19 BC, supposedly with the help of a virgin, Roman technicians located a source of pure water some 13 km (8.1 mi) from the city. (This scene is presented on the present fountain's façade.) However, the eventual indirect route of the aqueduct made its length some 22 km (14 mi). This Aqua Virgo led the water into the Baths of Agrippa. It served Rome for more than 400 years.
Walking up the path through the gardens, to the Borghese residence building.
Villa Borghese is a landscape garden in the naturalistic English manner in Rome, containing a number of buildings, museums (see Galleria Borghese) and attractions. It is the third largest public park in Rome (80 hectares or 197.7 acres) after the ones of the Villa Doria Pamphili and Villa Ada. The gardens were developed for the Villa Borghese Pinciana ("Borghese villa on the Pincian Hill"), built by the architect Flaminio Ponzio, developing sketches by Scipione Borghese, who used it as a villa suburbana, a party villa, at the edge of Rome, and to house his art collection. The gardens as they are now were remade in the early nineteenth century.
The Spanish Steps (Italian: Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti) are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.
The monumental stairway of 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step) was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, both located above — to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi located below. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi.
After exploring Rome, we took the train to Florence. The train systems in Europe are so comfortable and cost-effective, that it would have been foolish to have rented a car to make this trip.
This is the Ponte Santa Trinita looking towards the Ponte Vecchio. Florence city is on the left, and the condo we were renting is up the hill to the right.
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 383,083 inhabitants in 2013, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area.
We picked up our rental car here, as Florence was going to be our "home base" for a series of day trips in & around this area.
The Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") is a medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River, noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common.
Florence Cathedral, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in English "Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower"), is the cathedral of Florence, Italy (Italian: Duomo di Firenze).
This is a view of Florence from the condo we rented. As you can see, the condo is in a hilly area south of the River Arno.
Another view of Florence as Celeste and I hiked up the hill from our condo rental to a local restaurant.
Our first day-trip from Florence, was to drive to Sienna so we could see the famous horse race there.
The Palio di Siena known locally simply as Il Palio) is a horse race that is held twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August.
What we failed to note, is that the horse race starts in late afternoon, and we had arrived in Sienna at 9AM. We decided that we were not going to wait the entire day just to see a horse race, so we researched our maps and decided to drive over to the coastal area of Italy near Livorno.
Even though we had arrived early in the morning, people were already starting to gather. The actual arena is in the interior of the city, a very large court yard, circular in layout and they have stadium seating and standing-only areas marked off (all of which were long since reserved and expensive).
So we jumped back onto the Auto Strada, with the intention of driving to the coast via the Italian back-road SR68. Our first stop wound up being the Museo Delle Armature, near Monteriggioni, Italy. Everyone was thirsty, this looked like something that might be amusing, etc.
The Museo Delle Armature was an interesting place to visit.
The kids had a great time investigating various displays in the museum.
The museum houses faithful reproductions of medieval and Renaissance weapons and armor. Furthermore, accurate models illustrate means and siege techniques in vogue at the same time.
Each room is dedicated to a specific moment in the history of Monteriggioni, within which the exhibits are contextualised.
We were about halfway to San Gimignano when everyone decided that we needed to stop and get some drinks, as we were near Monteriggioni we decided that location would work, the added attraction was that it looked like an old castle.
Castel San Gimignano, Italy
After finishing our drinks & exploration of Monteriggioni, we hopped back in the car and continued our drive along SR68. Castel San Gimignano, was only 30 kilometers further.
Everywhere along the highway, were miles & miles of either grapes or olive plants. Wine might be popular in Italy, but olive oil is almost as popular!
San Gimignano is a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena, Tuscany, north-central Italy. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano is famous for its medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls, form an unforgettable skyline.
This is the Collegiate Church of San Gimignano. It is a Roman Catholic collegiate church and minor basilica situated in the Piazza del Duomo at the town's heart.
The church is famous for its fresco cycles which include works by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Taddeo di Bartolo, Lippo Memmi and Bartolo di Fredi. The basilica is located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the "Historic Centre of San Gimignano", with its frescos being described by UNESCO as "works of outstanding beauty".
Livorno is a port city on the Ligurian Sea on the western coast of Tuscany, Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Livorno, having a population of 158,493 residents in December 2017. It has traditionally been known in English as Leghorn.
The construction of the Roman road "Via Aurelia" in 241BC, coincided with the occupation of the region by the Romans, who left traces of their presence in the toponyms and ruins of towers. The natural cove called Liburna, later transformed into Livorna, before becoming Livorno certainly in eighteenth century.
We continued our drive along SR68 to the Italian Coast, turned north and drove to the Livorno area. I had been here numerous times in the Navy, but never since then.
We decided that since it was such a nice day, that a beach outing would be a really good idea. However, we soon found out that there is no such thing as a "free" beach chair, everything has to be rented from whomever "owns" that section of the beach. This beach is near Calambrone, just north of Livorno.
On the drive back to Florence from Livorno (Italian A11/E76), we were surprised to see an aquaduct crossing the Auto Strada! This is not a "Roman Artifact", it is the Medici Aqueduct of Asciano and construction started in 1592. This aquaduct contains 900 arches and is over six kilometes long. It was constructed to provide the city of Pisa with water from the Pisan Mountains near Lucca.
Driving here was straightforward, however the final miles were on city streets and conditions were very crowded. Parking was a major challenge, as the tourists had already taken up every available parking place for blocks surrounding the Piazza del Duomo. You will need a good source of information about where to go and you should have your mobile mapping device set - or you might wind up driving aimlessly around Pisa!
The Leaning Tower of Pisa or simply the Tower of Pisa (Torre di Pisa [ˈtorre di ˈpiːza]) is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa, known worldwide for its unintended tilt. The tower is situated behind the Pisa Cathedral and is the third oldest structure in the city's Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo), after the cathedral and the Pisa Baptistry. The "lean" started during construction in the 12th century, due to an inadequate foundation. There have been numerous attempts to correct the "lean" but none have been successful.
The tower is 183.27 feet on the "low side" and 185.93 feet on the "high side", and there are 294 steps from the base to the top.
Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees, but the tower now leans at about 3.99 degrees. This means the top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 metres (12 ft 10 in) from the centre.
Pisa Cathedral: is a medieval Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, Italy. It is a notable example of Romanesque architecture, in particular the style known as Pisan Romanesque. Construction began in 1063.
Pisa Baptistery of St. John: is a Roman Catholic ecclesiastical building in Pisa, Italy. Construction started in 1152 to replace an older baptistery, and when it was completed in 1363, it became the second building, in chronological order, in the Piazza dei Miracoli, near the Duomo di Pisa and the cathedral's free-standing campanile, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. The baptistery was designed by Diotisalvi, whose signature can be read on two pillars inside the building, with the date 1153.
The largest baptistery in Italy, it is 54.86 meters high, with a diameter of 34.13 meters. The Pisa Baptistery is an example of the transition from the Romanesque style to the Gothic style: the lower section is in the Romanesque style, with rounded arches, while the upper sections are in the Gothic style, with pointed arches. The Baptistery is constructed of marble, as is common in Italian architecture.
Ferrari Factory Maranello, Italy
Since we were already in Florence a drive north across the Appennine Mountains to Maranello, Italy to visit the Ferrari Factory seemed like a fantastic idea. We decided to drive the A1/E35 route which resulted in a 140 kilometer trek.
The drive through the mountains was spectacular, and then the navigation to get from the Auto Strada to Maranello was a challenge, but well worth it.
We discovered that entrance to the Factory is limited to current Ferrari owners, soon to be owners, workers and nobody else. Fortunately, the Ferrari Museum was located just a block away, and is populated with every race car Ferrari ever raced, as well as just about every car that Ferrari ever built.
This was our condo in Florence, within walking distance of the Arno River and a mile from Fort Belvedere. Since it was on the south side of the river, we did not get all the tourist traffic from the city, there were only "locals" up here. Immediately below the condo on the Via Romana, was an excellent Espresso Shop that we frequented each morning.
We had our own deck area in the rear, where the washing machine was located. Parking could be a challenge, but it was easy to pickup on the ebb and flow of people looking for parking spaces. Since no one came here except for people that lived here, it wasn't a challenge to find a parking spot.
There was a great espresso shop just down the hill from our condo, on the Via del Serragli close to the Porta Romana. Celeste and I would hike down each morning to get an espresso and enjoy the early morning.
This concept of staying in a central place and day-tripping from there, worked so well for us, that we have continued to follow this method on subsequent trips to Europe.
Venice was historically an independent nation and the capital of the Serenissima Venetian Republic for more than a thousand years and known because of this as the "Serenissima". Venice is world-famous for its canals it is built on an archipelago of 118 islands formed by about 150 canals in a shallow lagoon.
Due to it's "pedestrian only" environment, you will have to move about by foot, gondola or "water taxi". Because there are also other islands located nearby that you may want to visit, you will need a book that details how to get around the area and how to do it. Here is one of them.
Here we are waiting for the train to Venice to be ready to board. We had decided during our trip planning, that it would be logical to turn in the rental car in Florence, and take the train to Venice. This is because cars are not allowed in Venice, and the only place to park is on the mainland and no parking anywhere else.
It is important to remember that Venice is on an island, sitting in a lagoon, and it is an ancient city. There are no cars, only very narrow walking lanes, and a city map is a "gotta have" or you will get lost for sure!
We took a water taxi over to Murano Faro, and visited this glass blowing factory. Touristy? Yes, but it was an interesting exhibition.
The Rialto Bridge as it crosses the Grand Canal. This is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. Connecting the sestieri (districts) of San Marco and San Polo, it has been rebuilt several times since its first construction as a pontoon bridge in the 12th century, and is now a significant tourist attraction in the city.
This is the plaza in front of Saint Mark's Basilica ("Piazza San Marco"). There has been an "open space" in front of a church here since 819AD, however, the plaza was constructed by Sebastiano Ziani during his time as Doge of Venice 1172 - 1178 and completed by his son Pietro Ziani when he became Doge in 1205.
The birds in this plaza have learned that the tourists will feed them, so they flock here in the hundreds! The bird population is thought to be over 100,000 which is larger than the human population of Venice! The city of Venice has made it illegal to feed the birds to try to reduce the bird population.
We surprised the kids by declaring one day in Venice a "fun day" and we took them by train to Gardaland. This is an easy train ride from Venice, and it is adjacent to Lago di Garda.
Word of caution here though; you need to be able to translate the Park signs from Italian to English, otherwise you will have no idea of what the ride is about, etc.
We caught the "water taxi" and headed over to Lido di Venezia for a day at the beach.
The Lido is Venice’s relaxed seaside resort. In winter, this thin strip of land has a quiet, workaday vibe, while the population swells in summer, with visitors and day trippers relaxing on the beach and children playing in the shallow water.
And so this trip comes to a conclusion - we caught the train back to Rome, so we could get onto our return flight to Virginia. This was an excellent way to have seen quite a bit of Italy, and even though we did not see everything, we plan to return on some future trip and see what we missed.
Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are Affiliate Links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, that I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. So we would appreciate any click throughs, if you are inclined.
Suggested links for Italy
- Italy on 'Wikipedia'
- Rome on 'Wikipedia'
- Florence on 'Wikipedia'
- Ferrari on 'Wikipedia'
- Venice on 'Wikipedia'
- Things to do and see in Rome on 'The Crazy Tourist'
- Things to do and see in Florence on 'Visit Tuscany'
- Things to do and see in Venice on 'The Culture Trip'
- There are many other sites, try your own Google search.