Exploring Italy Family Style
This Family trip to Italy was motivated by the idea of exploring a number of Italian locations, ie; Rome, Florence, Siena, Pisa, Livorno, Venice and the Ferrari Factory in Maranello. We had originally wanted to include Genoa & Milan, but we felt that we would not have sufficient time to be able to explore each area if they were included. In addition, our game plan called for us to have a rental car only while in Florence, and to return that car when we took the train to Venice. We therefore decided to leave Genoa & Milan to another future trip.
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. Especially exciting due to the wide range of locations we selected to visit!
Note that we only rented a car while in Florence, during the other time frames of this trip we utilized the Italian Rail System. Yes it may not be considered as good as the French Rail System, but we had no issues, the trains were on time, clean and got to our destination(s) at the time(s) advertised. We did not see a way to cover all of the places we wanted to visit while in Florence without a vehicle, as each of those destinations were not only widely separated (ie; Florence to Siena, Siena to Livorno via country roads, Florence to Pisa and Florence to Maranello) but we did not want to be tied to a train schedule. As you will read on this page, this allowed us to stop anywhere we wanted, and to remain there for as long as we wanted.
Note also that we were keenly aware that our children were not going to be completely excited about a constant diet of historic buildings, churches, etc. So we planned a surprise for them; click here to read about that surprise.
- Italy has a free wine fountain, found in Caldari di Ortona.
- Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world.
- All three of Europe’s active volcanoes are in Italy.
- Italians invented pizza in Naples.
- Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world.
- Italians have eaten pasta since the 4th century B.C.
- There are over 1,500 lakes in Italy.
- Italians consume 14 billion espressos each year.
- One-fifth of Italy is covered in hills and mountains.
- Italy is the world's largest wine producer.
- Italy has a low birth rate and the oldest population in Europe.
- Tourists throw €3,000 into the Trevi fountain every day.
- Rome is over 2,000 years old – but Italy is one of Europe’s youngest countries.
- The Italians have over 2,500 types of cheese.
Leonardo da Vinci International Airport Arrival
Due to the very diverse locations we had decided upon for this trip, our planning had to take into account a number of factors; accommodations, transportation & which type, to rent a car or not, what to do & see in each location, etc. The research we performed took place over several months, as we would develop tentative plans and then discuss them. Once we had decided that a rental car could be isolated to "only during our stay in Florence", our focus then shifted to determining train station locations and train schedules.
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. Yes, it is difficult to sleep in an airplane seat and yes, we all arrived feeling like we had to find coffee immediately!
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). As you can see in these two images, the airport was very crowded and it was a good decision to use a hired car!
From a historical perspective, or just a plain old adventure perspective, visiting Rome was exciting to us all. We arranged a condo rental near the Vatican as we expected to explore that area thoroughly.
The next stop (and the first stop after Rome) on our trek through Italy was Florence a beautiful city; full of amazing architecture, historical sites and incredible art collections residing in various museums.
Yes, Florence is only 270 kilometers north from Rome on the Italian E35 Autostrada, but the train service between the two cities is frequent & fast and our game plan called for us to rent a car only while in Florence. There are over 60 trains per day between Rome & Florence, the fastest requires a 1.5 hour ride - and the scenery between the two cities is the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
Our first day-trip from Florence, was to drive to Siena 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.
We had decided to drive to the Livorno area of the west coast of Italy, and came across San Gimignano as we drove across the Italian SP1 highway. This is a beautiful route, most of this area is involved in farming, and the area is well known for it's Vernaccia wine.
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". Within the walls, the well-preserved buildings include notable examples of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with outstanding examples of secular buildings as well as churches.
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 had decided to visit Livorno (after our visit to Siena & San Gimignano) partially because I had visited it repeatedly while in the Navy. The other reason was because it has a beautiful beach and we were in the mood for some relaxation after our drive from Siena.
The route we selected was SR68 to the Italian Coast from San Gimignano, turned north on the Italy SS1 and drove to the Livorno area. This was a nice drive along the Italian coastline, and took us through some interesting villages as we proceeded north.
Calambrone Beach, Italy
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, 9.6 kilometers north of Livorno.
Even though the beach was initially sparsely populated when we arrived (image to the left), by mid-afternoon it had become packed (image to the right). However, since it was such a nice day and we had already paid for our beach chairs, we hung out longer. The Mediterranean water temperature was comfortable and all of us enjoyed our time here before driving back to Florence.
Click here to see a Google Images set of pics from the Calambrone beach & vicinity.
Calambrone Beach Crowd Expansion
The crowd continued to grow throughout the day, and by the time we had to depart, the beach was covered with beach-goers!
You should not let the crowds convice you not to visit this beach - it is a great way to cool off after visiting the Tower of Pisa, or to just kick back and enjoy the day. Be warned though - all of the beach equipment shown in any of these images is "rented" from the beach owner. This is common in most of Europe, the concept of beaches belonging to the public is purely a United States concept.
Driving to Pisa 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!
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 (one way, 173.984 miles round trip).
The drive through the mountains was spectacular, but then the navigation to get from the Autostrada to Maranello was a challenge (think country roads & no signs), but well worth it.
Next stop Venice
After Florence, our next stop is Venice: 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. Since it was clear that all of our exploration there would be either by walking or by boat (water taxi, gondola, etc) the rental car was now unnecessary.
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.
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