The Practice Trip: Testing out our Travel Legs in Florence, Italy

We’ve had lots of people asking us if we have been planning this trip around the world trip for years and the answer is quite simply, no, not at all. Sami came home from work one afternoon, and as he was climbing into bed to take a nap he asked me, hypothetically, what I would think if he just quit his job and we became nomads for a year. It started as just a fun idea, something to fantasize about, but before we knew it we had a long list of countries we dreamed to visit and a full action plan rolled out. Within two weeks, Sami was resigning from the bank where he had worked for nearly nine years and I was calling movers to pack up our entire life in Abu Dhabi.

We decided that if we were going to do this, and do it with a 6 month old baby, that we needed to have a practice run to see if we had it in us. We decided on Florence, Italy – a beautiful place with good food, and not too challenging as far as travelling goes. We rented an amazing apartment on Airbnb – you can check it out here. It had two bedrooms, a living room packed with antiques and a questionable décor of old grandma florals and wild leopard prints, and a kitchen with huge windows looking out over a field with a stunning view of a monastery.

We spent the next three weeks drinking inexpensive (not cheap!) wine, eating pasta and wandering the tourist packed streets of Florence. We visited the Uffizi (which Nu loved!), the Duomo, Piazzale Michelangelo, Santa Maria Novella, the Boboli Gardens, and all had a taste of the famous steak Florentine. We took it slowly, not packing too many activities in and just enjoyed the small things like the markets, the amazing tomatoes, and the gelato.

Exploring the Tuscan countryside

We decided to rent a car for a few days so that we could explore some of the surrounding hilltowns near Florence and take in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Our first stop was Montalcino, where I had the best coffee of my life and where Sami bought me the best Mother’s Day gift – an amazing bottle of Brunello. It was a cold and rainy day so we took advantage of the hot springs nearby in Bagni San Filippo. It’s a stunning place and the calciferous formations on the rocks make it look more like a glacier than a hot waterfall.

That tour really leans!

The next day we made an accidental detour to Pisa and it ended up being unexpected highlight of our trip. I’m not usually one for super touristy sites, having complained much of the time in Florence about how tourists have over run the city, but this particular site is really something worth seeing. It really leans!

Discovering a different side of Rome

The last stop on our Italian adventure was Rome. Because Sami and I had both visited before, we opted to avoid the throngs of tourists and go a little off the beaten track. We stayed in Monti, in a perfectly teeny tiny apartment at the top of a five storey building with no elevator (sorry Sami!). The best part of the apartment – the party bed. At this point we hadn’t found our amazing travel crib and Nu was sleeping in bed with us. This apartment just happened to have the ideal little sleeping cave where he could flip and flop around all he wanted…all night. He was so excited about the party bed he stayed up until at least 11 pm each night.

One of our favourite activities was our visit to a neighbourhood called Garbatella. During Mussolini’s rule many of Rome’s residents were evicted from the center of the city and forced into social housing on the periferies. Garbatella, which was built in the 1920’s, is not your typical project though. It was designed using a British planning concept known as the Garden City, where large building blocks are accompanied by large common green spaces. The result is a neighbourhood which exudes a sense of community, and offers a beautiful maze of shared courtyards, packed with lumquat trees, vegetable patches and rose bushes.

We had an amazing trip in Italy but the best part about our experience was what we learned about our travels going forward.

Lessons from our practice trip

  1. We thought we had packed light but we hadn’t
  2. Babies love antiques
  3. A washing machine and elevator are essential
  4. Find an apartment with a kitchen where we will want to cook and learn the local cusine
  5. Babies love gelato
  6. A diaper can be changed pretty much anywhere
  7. We need a new carrier for our giant baby (or as Sami likes to call it – our human saddle)
  8. Don’t over plan
  9. The road less traveled is always more fun