Our spring break started out with no shortage of excitement! We loaded a taxi with all of our bags and drove to Victoria Station, so we could catch the Gatwick Express (speed train) to the airport. When we arrived, we noticed the "closed for repairs" signs all over the entrance...ahhh! Our taxi had already left, so we hurried (as fast as you can with 4 kids and 6 pieces of luggage) on the tube to London Bridge Station (changing lines once too!), where we would catch a slow train to Gatwick. Stretched for time already, our hearts were racing- and not just because we were running through the underground with all of our kids/stuff. Our flight was the last one to Florence on our airline for the day, so if we missed it, we were totally out of luck. We made it to Gatwick with an hour to spare before our plane left, only to find our budget airline's line about a mile long and slow moving. Because we had bags to check, we pretty much lost hope of making our flight. Thank goodness the airline allowed the Florence flight customers to cut the line (big "phew!") and we made it by the skin of our teeth, as my mom would say! :) After we stopped sweating, we buckled up for the short flight to Florence and our trip to gorgeous Tuscany!
Make sure you click the picture above for a scene from one of the recent Bond movies--shot in this exact place in Siena (and also where Tessa almost got hit by a car when she took off running down the hill!!)
We arrived late into Italy, got our rental van for the week, and drove the 30 minutes to our villa in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. It was super late (like 10 PM) when we arrived, but we were hungry and headed out for a dinner down the street. I don't know why we pushed on, because our kids were toast, but it was a really yummy traditional Tuscan dinner with lots of meat and some pasta. I couldn't help but notice all of the customers were also young families and they all seemed to be having a party...it made me realize how much the Italians treat dinner as a social experience- they are loud, happy and eat for hours. I actually really enjoyed seeing the contrast between our American mentality of hurrying through a meal and this- it definitely made me want to slow down and enjoy it (even if my kids were begging us to get the check so they could go to bed!).
We spent Easter Sunday exploring in Siena- we walked the gorgeous streets, pictured here, admiring the buildings, the gorgeous architecture and the amazing colors...the weather was pretty nice too! We made an obligatory pit stop in the Piazza del Campo (as seen above), the city's gathering place and central square. This medieval square- considered one of Europe's greatest- hosted a bustling market that began before the 13th century! The square was surrounded by restaurants and gelato shops, it's a nice place to sit, stop and soak it in.
Duomo di Siena. The cathedrals we saw in Tuscany were so unlike anything we've yet seen. The black and white stripes, the massive towers, colorful marble facades...it was seriously so renaissance!
We all really liked the interior of this duomo and with places like the Piccolomino Library inside, how could you not?! ;)
How do we get the kids to behave on these walking tours of old cities and cathedrals, you ask?? Look no further than the above picture. I think its fair to say that they thought it was totally worth it. Gelato and Italy go together like peanut butter and chocolate...perfection.
And after you eat that velvety gelato, you have to run around and work it off! Brian climbed the city hall tower while I relaxed with the kids in the sunshine. It was one of those sparkly moments where you're looking around, perfect weather, perfect city, amazing gelato. I wanted to freeze time...I know the kids felt it too because they all said it was their favorite part of our day at their bedtimes.
We drove part of Rick Steve's Heart of Tuscany too, which took us to this gorgeous cypress-lined driveway....yes, there was a Tuscan villa at the top of this stunning road (you can kind of see it peeking through). The tour also took us to Montepulciano and Pienza.
This was the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Montepulciano's San Biagio is a Renaissance Greek plan and was the epitome of understated elegance, with its perfect travertine outside and simple interior. Its setting was equally as stunning, flanked by rolling green Tuscan hills and olive groves- it was a must-see and I'm so glad we got to see it.
Lauren and Brian went on a long walk to find this little gem of a place...it was way off the beaten path, but a worthy place to hit up on our drive- a real photographer's dream.