We had the opportunity to visit Italy for a week for our 10 year wedding anniversary. Yes we took our 19 month old son. Some people may think we’re crazy, but we couldn’t imagine not taking him. We haven’t spent a night away from him yet, he’s our life….parenting after infertility will do that to you! Also he’s been an amazing traveler (we’ve taken many road trips, flights to visit family in Florida, and a cruise when he was 13 months old) so we didn’t hesitate bringing him! We knew it wouldn't be the most "romantic" anniversary trip, but we were excited to see the awe of Italy through a child's eyes.
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We had been thinking of various European destinations for a “big trip” this year and nearly booked flights to Amsterdam when a friend of our who’s husband recently got stationed in Vicenza, Italy posted about a flash sale for $400 round trip tickets to Venice (it was $931 total, for the three of us, you have to pay taxes for a lap-child even though they fly for "Free), and she was offering her guest room for any of her friends interested! They have a son just 2 weeks younger than Bram, so we knew they would be understanding and would hopefully have fun together. Lee and I didn’t take long to decide this was an opportunity too good to pass up! So we booked it! We decided to save more money by having Bram be a “lap child” since he is under two, and when we started second guessing that decision I called Air France about two weeks later to see how much an extra ticket would be, the price had gone up to $1,200 a ticket!!!!
I’m going to break down our trip into several blog posts for easier reading. This one is for general information about the trip and our itinerary.
Our basic itinerary
Tuesday we flew out of Washington Dulles (IAD) in the evening (6:10pm), transferred through Paris (CDG) to Venice (VCE), landed at 11:15am Wednesday, our friend picked us up in her car at the airport.
Wednesday we ate lunch on the way home from the airport, then we walked around her city of Vicenza, it was important for us to stay active and outdoors as much as possible this first day to help with jetlag.
Thursday we took it easy and walked around more of Vicenza, did some clothes shopping (we weren’t very prepared for how chilly it was!) More cappuccino, and spritz! Vicenza is really a great small city, it was our favorite part of the trip!
Friday we drove to Tuscany (Calenzano), it was a 2.5 hour drive, we considered taking the train as the railways in Italy are truly amazing, but I fell in love with this specific AirBB and HAD to stay there, it was about 3km from a rail station, and we thought it would just be easier if we drove, thankfully our friend offered to drive us, those not staying with friends would be better off taking the train and finding accommodations closer.
Saturday we took the train from Calenzano (airBB) to Florence, we went to the Market, Ponte Vecchio and Pitti Palace
Sunday we drove back to Vicenza, Bram was starting to get sick so we kept the day low key and relaxing.
Monday we took the train to Verona, we walked around the city center, had amazing Spritz and gelato, and saw Juliet’s balcony & statue, Bram slept through a majority the day in a carrier or stroller.
Tuesday morning we took the train (without our friend/host) to Venice, we spent the day walking around the city and spent the night in an AirBB in the city. Bram was pretty sick by this point and again slept through most of the day. By late afternoon he was miserable and I was starting to feel sick also so we quickly saw St Marks Square then got food to eat back in our room.
Wednesday we left early in the AM for our flight back home.
Some basic generalizations about the trip
About us: We are not really “must see” attractions type people. We prefer relaxing, flexible vacations with minimal planning and enjoy seeing more authentic locales versus big tourist traps. We were lucky to have friends to stay with a majority of the trip who also helped us navigate and explain things we were not familiar with, so we were able to do minimal planning and research. This was our first trip to Europe together (we have always been "Cruise people"), and first long haul flight with our son. We learned a great amount during this trip and now have a better understanding of what we want in future travels. Bram unfortunately got sick during this trip, so towards the end we really had to keep things low key, we missed out on a few things we had planned to do, but it was also nice to just relax in another city.
Italian’s love kids: It’s not uncommon for strangers to come up and pinch or even kiss their cheeks, talk sweetly to them, pet their heads, ask to hold them, etc. While it was difficult to find changing tables in most restrooms in the more historic areas, everything and everyone was so baby/kid friendly, most restaurants had highchairs, they would give you breadsticks or steamed milk for your little one while you eat, and people didn’t mind if the kiddos run around keeping themselves entertained. They would even help redirect them if they head towards the street. If a kid cries, people don’t glare or complain, you can see they are sympathetic or may even try to engage to help calm them or you. It’s actually illegal to spank or use any physical/corporal punishment on children in Italy (since 1996!!) so people wouldn’t think twice about you comforting a child in the middle of a meltdown, don’t feel like you have to rush or you’re being judged, they let kids be kids!
Weather/ clothing: We were there the 1st week of May, the forecast was in the 60s Fahrenheit, with chance of rain most days. Italians wear winter coats far beyond what we’re used to in the DC area. Here once it hits the 60s t-shirts or even shorts are common, but in Italy everyone was still wearing scarves and puffy winter coats! They looked at us like “crazy Americans!” I brought my Columbia hiking khakis, but I was literally one of maybe 3 people the entire time that I saw wearing light khaki colored pants, the others were also Americans! So stick with black or gray pants if you want to attempt to fit in! If Italians see your kid is “underdressed” for the weather they wont hesitate to come over and tell you about it. Kids were so bundled up I know Bram would have been so uncomfortable like that, he runs warm as it is, and is usually sweaty, but I felt like I had to keep a sweater on him at all times to avoid glares! My husband is all about comfort, so he wore cotton jogger style sweatpants, which are common in Italy… but usually only teenagers wear them, so people probably thought he was in his pajamas or was a slob. Whatevs! We brought Columbia lightweight rain coats, but only used them in Florence where it actually did rain a good amount. The other days it was just overcast and would occasionally sprinkle.
Time difference/riposo- In Italy they have something called Riposo which is like siesta. Most non-tourist places close in the afternoon for an hour or 2 or 3, then reopen for a few more hours. The way we chose to work around this was to only adjust by 3 hours or so instead of the 6 hour time change from DC to Italy. So Bram went to bed around 9 or 10pm instead of his usual 7pm. And to note 7:00pm is when most places just begin to serve dinner! A tip is if you are hungry during this time before dinner is being served, some Cafes stay open and they have small sandwiches, something we utilized often! Also on Sundays most smaller shops or restaurants are closed (except in bigger cities) and Mondays most museums are closed, and there seems to be lots of “Italian holidays” where things shut down so always check with google and plan accordingly!
Safety: At no point during our trip did we feel unsafe. What my be surprising though is we rarely saw police! In general Italy has a pretty low crime rate, and most of the crime is petty crime. Honestly there were only a few times I saw police. At the Florence train station there was military or some special police with large guns in camo and a utility vehicle. Not sure if they are always there, or there was a heightened threat. They were friendly, helping tourists and keeping the street vendors selling umbrellas and rain gear from bombarding tourists. I saw them walking through Florence at the Ponte Vecchio casually, and I saw one on the side of the road on the Autostrada helping a stranded motorist. My understanding is there is limited policing, limited laws and policies, or at least they are enforced limited. The philosophy is "be a respectable adult and we'll leave you alone."
As far as being a pedestrian and interacting with motorists this was something pretty new for me, everyone walked in the streets! And cars would drive by slowly, everyone would get out of the way and then move right back into the street. There was no honking, or hand gestures, it just seemed normal. I've heard the Italian driving test is the toughest in the world, that's why there are so many Italian stunt drivers.
Language: We got this Lonely Planet Italian Phrasebook, it was a great little pocket sized book to get familiar with common phrases before going and we brought it in case we needed it, but never had to pull it out. We made sure we knew these before going:
"Quanto Costa?" (How much is this?)
"Parli inglese?" (do you speak English?)
"grazie" (thank you, which is not "gratzi" like American's think, its more like "gratzi-ay")
"Permisso" ("excuse me", like if someone is in your way on the road)
"Mi dispiace" (im sorry, which with a toddler came in handy!)
These are really the only phrases we used, for the most part people spoke enough English or we were able to use pointing and hand signals.
Cash, cash, cash!: We live near DC and I rarely if ever have cash on me, all restaurants, stores, even yardsales take credit cards or paypal/venmo. Italy however is HEAVILY cash based. Most places didn't even take credit cards, and if they did they weren't happy about it when we asked. We only converted $250 which we quickly spent and had to take out another $150. So make sure to bring enough cash with you!
Google is king: Use Google for directions, train times, finding restaurants, reviews, etc. Google is certainly king in Italy, no Yelp or other review sites come close.
What we brought/gear
In all we brought 2 backpacks, 1 checked suitcase, 1 carseat, 1 toddler backpack & 1 small lunch cooler.
I have been on an epic journey to find the PERFECT diaper bag since Bram was born…I’ve had countless! I think I finally find “the one!” The Jansport Hatchet backpack is an amazing bag! Its large, but not too large, comfortable, organized, and best of all comes with a Jansport Life time Guarantee! I was worried about getting a dedicated BACK wearing bag since I sometimes wear Bram in a carrier on my back, but this hasn’t seem to be a problem yet. At least this trip Bram only wanted to be on my front so he could nurse… non stop!
We’re a fan of “Swiss” brand products in general. Lee uses this Swiss Gear 1900 backpack regularly, and we used this Swiss 20” lightweight spinner suitcase as our checked luggage. Buying this piece of luggage was a big moment for us, we’ve been using the same teal cheapo luggage set we got for our wedding 10 years ago… it was heavy and clunky and didn’t have spinner wheels!!! It was time for an upgrade! Without a toddler, we could have easily just taken our backpacks only, or maybe a small carry-on if we didn’t want to stress, but with toddlers, you need STUFF. Since our luggage was so plain, I purchased this great elastic cover which helped us locate it quickly at the airport and also protected it from scuffs, they're very affordable and come in sooo many styles!
Clothes: In addition to the sweatpants and t-shirts we wore on the plane, Lee and I each brought 4 t-shirts, 2 sweater/cardigans, 1 sleeping outfit, 4 pairs underwear, 1 pair of long pants and 1 pair of shorts…. It turned out to be much cooler than anticipated so we never used the shorts, and could have really benefited from 1 more pair of long pants. Also the AirBB advertised they had a washer/dryer…. But most only places in Europe only have a washer, meaning you have to lay out your clothes to dry which sometimes isn’t feasible, so be aware of that if you’re planning on washing during your stays…which we were. Also I was pretty much the ONLY person I ever saw wearing khaki colored pants! Such a tourist! They are Columbia Trail pants, roll up to capri if needed, and come in different colors which i suggest getting darker ones!
Kid gear: We shipped diapers and wipes, and a few of Bram’s favorite food items as emergency (grits and Easy mac!) to our friend’s home. This helped us save a ton of room in our luggage, diapers are HEAVY and bulky. When possible buy at your destination, but since we were staying with friends we decided to ship ahead. We brought our HoMedica Sound machine that we use every night at home, it has batteries so its easy to travel with too. We also brought our video monitor thinking we would be able to get him to sleep then go out to the living room to socialize a bit more before heading to bed….we never used it. He easily fell asleep in my lap each night and wouldn’t let me move him, so he stayed there while we continued chatting, luckily he sleeps through most things!
I used Bram’s Skip Hop toddler safety Harness backpack to keep all of his toys and activities in and used a carabiner clip to attach it to my backpack. I was thinking we would need to use the harness when sightseeing, but luckily he was in the carrier most of the time, or if walking he stayed close by so we didn’t need to use it at all. The cooler was for the plane rides, we brought an ice pack and milk and a bottle in case he needed it, but he’s been taking it less and less lately, so it wasn’t much help.
On the last day we decided we would leave the Cosco Scenera NEXT travel carseat with our friends, we didn’t want to lug it through Venice the last day, we weren’t going to use in on the plane, and figured since it’s such an affordable seat it would be worth it to leave it with them to use as needed or if other guests arrived, and we could easily pick up a new one before our next trip.
Surprising to people but not surprising to us, we didn't bring a stroller! We've never been "stroller people" as Bram has always protested them and prefers to be worn in a carrier. My friend did have a double stroller we utilized with her in Verona and Florence, but I ended up wearing him half of those days anyway and I don't think we would have missed the stroller if we didn't have it. And seriously if you're going to Venice...don't bring a stroller. We saw several parents struggling with carrying a stroller up and over the countless bridges, looked like a nightmare to us!
We did bring an amazing baby carrier. A Soul Slings Toddler Full Buckle (SSC) carrier that I bought a few months ago. Its a Wrap Conversion and only cost around $100 shipped from India. Its a great large carrier that he will easily grow into, its easy to adjust to any user, I can wear him on my front or back, and can easily adjust it to nurse him in discretely. And best of all it folds up very small and and can store into my backpack when not in use. I 100% recommend this brand! Bram is about 29lbs, firmly in 2T clothes and it barely fits him knee to knee, (its large!) but I was able to comfortably wear him on my front for hours a day everyday. Babywearing in Italy isn't really a thing, so we got many strange (or envious?) looks from other parents. Since we got sick towards the end and slept most of the day, this was a lifesaver to be able to continue sightseeing while keeping him close.
Other Posts in this Series:
Now that our triangle family is complete, follow along as we live our "life after infertility." Our travels, our joys, our laughter & our sorrows of parenting.
Chrissy is a...
full time corporate world working somewhat crunchy mom, a loving wife, an MRKH Warrior, Infertility Advocate, support group leader & a bad ass breastfeeder. In her fleeting spare time she enjoys hiking, traveling, walking her pooch, sewing and watching funny or sappy TV shows.