It’s been a few weeks since my last post. Wow, what a ride it’s been. I am sitting here at a desk probably made in the 1950’s in my room at the iconic Hotel Gellert in Budapest (Hungary) where we have been based for the past few days. So once again, I will go back a bit and will explain what we have been up to during this wonderful adventure. I’ll try and keep it brief so will mention a few highlights and post a few interesting pics as well!
Tuscany was brilliant. As mentioned in the last post, the villa we had located just 20 mins from Florence was a great choice. Our days were fairly relaxed and it was so good to spend quality time with Stevo (Uncle Pishti to the Goldie kids), KD and Evie. Our days would consist of waking up, making breakfast using all the beautiful fresh produce from the local town nearby (Incisa Val D’Arno), having a swim at the stunning pool, visiting a nearby city (Sienna or Florence for example), lunch, another swim and a late dinner (lots of local vino). So as you can probably tell, we just pretty much chilled out and enjoyed the Italian countryside. Travelling with kids certainly puts an interesting twist on how much we could do during the day (especially when it’s hot) however we managed to push the kids a bit out of their comfort zone and really show them all the interesting sites and areas that this region is known for. It’s important to always select accommodation that has either been recommended or tested and I can honestly say that http://www.relaisvillabelvedere.it was perfect for all our needs. A stunning 16th century estate on the outskirts of Florence, just 20kms from town! It’s been recently renovated so it’s looking pretty sharp. It has a beautiful pool, lovely gardens and secure parking. There are a few 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments in the one villa so great for couples and families. The sister property http://www.ilburchio.it is located just up the road and Nico and his family are always at hand for any special requests or enquiries about the area. There is a restaurant here with wonderful home cooked meals and a horse riding school as well. The other bonus was that http://www.themall.it is only about a 12 minute drive away and worth visiting for any fashionista’s wanting to get a fix. Created fairly recently, this designer (pretty much all of the Italian fashion houses are here) luxury fashion outlet has some really great threads.Who cares if it’s last season stock?! The credit cards did get a bit of a work out and we left Toscana well fed, in awe of the Duomo in Sienna (seriously breathtaking) and 100% satisfied from our Tuscan experience.
After dropping our cars back to Florence, we all jumped on the train to Venice (2 hrs and 40 mins) and prepared ourselves for another wonderful Italian experience. On arrival in this city of wonders, we were surprised to see that it was raining ‘gatto e cane’ (cat and dog?) – ok I know I am showing off here and it’s probably wrong but I am giving my Italian a go so give me a break. It was pouring. So, on arrival into Santa Lucia Train Station wasn’t as I had imagined however pre-booking our arrival transfer was definitely a good move. While I am on that, our Travelcall business in Melbourne (Goldman in Sydney will have this link soon) have a great partner site to Viator where I booked and continue to book transfers, tours and other essential travel arrangements worldwide. I highly recommend you to have a look when you have a moment as it has been SO handy – http://www.partner.viator.com/en/2741. The ‘skip the queue’ tours (especially in Italy), kid friendly tours and arrival and departure airport transfers have really made our trip that extra special (and very cost effective).
Back to Venice. We arrived at our hotel ‘Bauer Palladio Hotel Spa’ (37 elegant rooms, 13 large suites and junior suites with a massive private garden) and what an experience it was. Located across The Grand Canal from Piazza San Marco on the island of La Giudecca, Palladio Hotel Spa was the perfect choice for our stay. It’s a really unique property with loads of history. Explaining to the kids that we were staying once again in a 16th century convent designed by the greatest Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio was a bit of a hard task. I even battled to get my head around it – 16th century !?! The story I love about this property the most was that Casanova himself used to jump the fence from a property next door (now the lovely http://www.villafvenezia.com) and introduce himself to all the ladies who were training to be nuns. He used to do this quite often apparently. Cheeky bugger. As mentioned above, I inspected the Villa F (owned by The Bauer Group) and it’s a perfect property for those seeking a serviced apartment in Venice. It’s extraordinary, so ornate and lovely. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut as I walked around. I love the fact that it’s more apartment style (with full hotel support) which is quite hard to find in Venice.
Our 3 days in Venice were fantastic. We visited Murano (famous for glass) and Burano (famous for multi coloured houses and lace), again ate some extraordinary Italian food, went down the canals in a Gondola and aimlessly walked the streets and over many bridges! It’s my fourth time to Venice and I loved it even more that the first time over 20 years ago. It’s such a unique city that takes you on a journey back in time. I love that when you walk through the streets you can count on getting lost and also be confident that you can make your way back either by following the crowds or looking at the ‘street’ signs that point you back to Piazza San Marco. I also love that there are NO cars and Tonno (Tuna) sambos (Sandwiches) on every corner. BTW – sambos isn’t Italian.
We bid farewell to Venice and the Muller-Dreese-Jones clan (sad!!) and caught the train back down to Florence so we could spend a few quality days in one of my favourite cities in the world. I decided to not book a transfer from the train station to our hotel which was well, interesting. Picture my lovely wife and I schlepping 3 suitcases, quite a bit of hand luggage and two children under the age of 10 to a nearby taxi to get to our hotel. Let’s just say I owe our swear jar at home quite a few hundred dollars when we get back (sorry kids). Florence is so much fun. We arrived at our base and they had me at ‘Buongiorno’. With a spectacular view of the river Arno, the Portrait Firenze (www.lungarnocollection.com) is located right next to the Ponte Vecchio and Via Tornabuoni’s fancy boutiques. Recently opened, it is the most stunning property. Owned by the Ferragamo family (the modern day Medici’s ! ), this property has a 1950’s feel (a nod to the Italian haute couture of the 1950’s) with all the modern touches one would expect from a new Italian modern hotel. I loved the plethora of books all over the property which again explains not only the relationship that Italy has with fashion but also with the lifestyle of living La Dolca Vita (the sweet life)! The designers took inspiration from traditional Florentine craftsmanship to design 34 amazing suites and rooms. They also have dedicated ‘Lifestyle Managers’ who are available 24/7 to make all guest stays memorable and full. Highly recommended.
Our three days in Florence made me so happy. Nat and the kids loved it as well. We strolled up and down all the different piazza’s, went to the leather markets (San Lorenzo market) , ate lunch at Il Mercato Centrale (top floor food court recommended!) http://www.mercatocentrale.it, dinner at some wonderful restaurants (message me if you want some top suggestions!), ice cream at Gelateria La Carraia and really soaked up the city. The definite highlight (along with the obligatory tour of the Uffizi Gallery) was the ‘Mr Happy Florence’ private tour I booked with our Virtuoso onsite ‘Florence Town’. Our guide Elena was one of the best guides we have ever had and the kids were wrapped (as were we.. 3 hours of kids activities so a break for us!). We visited Palazzo Vecchio in the heart of the city, where the tales and the essence of Florentine history were shown through puppet shows, toys and even dress ups! We were then taken for a gelato ice cream tasting followed by a Pinocchio story. We still had two hours to go. The kids were given art materials so they could draw the Duomo while Elena told them many stories about the city. The kids (ok me as well) finished with a ride on the La Giostra (Merry-go-round) at Piazza De Repubblica. It was great to see Florence through the kids eyes and I would recommend this type of tour to all families travelling with young kids. Nat and I managed to pop into the Ferragamo and Gucci Museum’s (very interesting!) and have some quality time as well so all in all, 10/10 Firenze.
Next update will include Roma and a touch of Budaaapesht. Off for a Schnitzel Sandvich darlink now. Szarbusz -x-