Lucca

For almost a month we called Lucca home. We honestly found it hard to leave this elegant, calm walled city and decided that when we win lotto we will retire here (now to start playing Lotto).

We rented a sweet little apartment just off Piazza San Michele, it was in the perfect location, close to the action but hidden from tourist traffic. After 6 weeks washing our clothes in the bathroom sink you can imagine how overjoyed we were to have an apartment with a washing machine.

Lucca was established by the Romans in 180 BC, the city is steeped in centuries of history. But it was Elisa, Napoleon’s sister that gives Lucca its leafy charm after it was gifted to her by Napoleon after he concurred the city in 1805.

Most travelers we spoke to were visiting Lucca on day trips from Pisa or Florence but this little gem is worth at least a couple of days exploring within the walls.

Top things to do

Ride a bike around the city walls

We rented a four wheeled bike and rode on top of the city walls. It was so much fun, we decided we looked extremely touristy already so ramped up the cheese factor by playing a few Dean Martin Italian classics full volume. The old city walls have been converted into a fantastic tree lined pedestrian/bike only street strewn with parks, picnic areas, sculptures and benches.

We walked the walls every night after dinner and loved the city perspective from above. It really is such a charming place.

Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower)

Lucca’s most famous tower, the Guingi Tower built in 1384 is certainly a showstopper. Wanting a more refined look the wealthy Guingi family crowned the tower with Holm Oaks around 1600. The tower is an impressive feature of the Lucca landscape but not so impressive from the rooftop. I would recommend climbing the Clock Tower for Instagram-worthy shots of the tower.

Opera Recital

At 7pm every evening during the festival of Puccini you can enjoy an opera recital playing the most popular pieces from Puccini (composer of Madame Butterfly) and classical numbers from Mozart. The recitals take place at San Giovanni an old church with high ceilings, providing perfect acoustics for the show. Tickets cost 20 Euro at the door or 18 Euro before 6pm. For more information visit the Puccini Festival website.

Church of Santi Giovanni e Reparata

We are rather ‘church fatigued’ 6 weeks into our Italy tour (seriously how many churches do they need?). San Giovanni surprised us with a hidden layer of intrigue. The old church was originally the site of a 14th century Roman baths. The almost perfectly intact mosaic encrusted baths are tucked away in the church basement and for a measly 4 euro you are free to explore the historic marvel unaccompanied. The church also has a tower that is open to public. However, if you are scared of heights like Dan the man best skip the tower as it doesn’t seem overly safe and featured mesh flooring giving a head-spinning views of the church floor 80 meters below.

Explore the Bastians

The city wall defensive bastians have been transformed into living works of art, with giant sculptures and classical musicians busking by day and beautifully lit by night the tunnels within the city walls are not to be missed. We couldn’t find much information on the history or purpose of these bastians but they were fascinating none the less.

Take a nighttime stroll

Lucca by night is filled with romance. City lights, spotlit monuments, quiet streets emptied of day tripping tourists on a balmy summer night stroll is the perfect way to end the day.

Day Trip to Barga

Carved into the hills, with sweeping mountain views and only a scenic hour bus ride from Lucca is Barga. The town is small enough to spend a leisurely afternoon exploring but for the outdoor-sy types among us you could spend a day or two taking advantage of the hiking trails, fishing spots and natural wonders that surround the town.

This arty town is filled with galleries, boutiques and plenty of Instagram photo fodder.

In typical Felice style we may as well have renamed Barga ‘desert-ville’, we started our day with coffee and a baked ricotta tart, followed by post lunch gelato and afternoon tea at Theobroma La Cioccogelateria sampling the very best mini-cakes on offer. This seriously has to stop, my jeans are getting tight eek!

We had a little picnic overlooking the valley and mountains in the distance. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? I love picnics and suggest one every few days. Daniel always goes along with them, I thought, like me, he was a fan of the humble picnic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We searched for a good spot. Grass was a bit dry and dirty, a dog poo over there, cigarette butts over here, so a concert picnic we had and then he broke; “why the fuck do you always insist on having a bloody picnic, they’re shit. I hate picnics. They’re dirty, uncomfortable, flies everywhere. Never anywhere to sit. No more picnics. I hate picnics”! I don’t think I stopped laughing for about two days. So, no more picnics from the roaming Felice’s. haha

Between dessert stops we hiked one of the short bush trails, checked out the hilltop church (similar to the rest if I’m honest) and window-shopped around town.

Barga was well worth a visit. Even the bus ride to get there was delightful.

 

 

 

 

Day Trip to Montecatini Terme

Using Lucca as a base for three weeks has allowed us to slow down the pace and get immersed in the clam Tuscan way of life. Mornings are long and relaxed drinking coffee and strolling around the city discovering hidden bastions and kiddy parks. Afternoons are spent perusing the local grocer’s fresh ingredients for homecooked dishes or sampling famed gelato.

Recharged and ready for adventure we’ve plotted an itinerary for day trips to nearby towns. Lucca is centrally located with great train connections throughout Tuscany providing plenty of exploration options.

This morning we had grand plans to visit Cinque Terre located only 1.5 hours from Lucca on the 8am train. However, our naughty night monster, Eleanor had other ideas waking us up every 90 minutes through the night so we opted for an adventure closer to home and headed to Montecatini Terme instead.

Montecatini Terme is just over 30 mins by a train from Lucca, best known for its thermal spas and the Funicular (train). Montecatini is made up of two main areas, Montecatini Terme where the thermal spa is located at the foot of the hill and the hilltop town of Montecatini Alto. The regular train will bring you as far as Montecatini Terme and the Funicular railway, located 15 minutes by foot will take you up to explore the hilltop town of Montecatini Alto. Or, if you’re fit and brave you can choose to hike to the top. But be warned it’s steep and not at all baby friendly.

Once at the top, Montecatini Alto is a nice stroll around. The ancient city is perched on two hills, joined in the middle by the town square where you can find some nice restaurants and shops. In between the old city walls, fortress, churches and towers you’ll see views for days over the “new” town and beyond. If you choose to bring a stroller be prepared to push it on rough terrain up steep hills (babycarrier FTW). Our trusty Ergobaby 360 carrier is worth its weight in gold for these types of towns, we don’t even bother with the pram anymore.

After our walk around the old city we stopped off for a quick Espresso before heading back down on the Funicular. It’s a pretty view of Tuscany from the top but we there wasn’t all that much to see or do in Montecatini Alto.

Montectini at the foot of the hill seemed to be a more happening city, filled with designer shops, restaurants and cafes.

We bee-lined straight for ‘the must’ see attraction, the Montecatini thermal Spa to sip on ‘healing thermal water’. The grounds of Termi di Montecatini originally built the 15th century (and later updated 1777 and again in 1919) are worth the visit if the healing properties in the water aren’t enough to lure you in.

The grand buildings surrounded by parkland are decorated with elaborate architectural columns and travertine courtyards with stunning fountains and pristine gardens. The interior of the spa was decorated by artists of the early twentieth such as Galileo Chini, Basilio Cascella, Giuseppe Moroni and Sirio Tofanari. The most photographed feature of the Termi is the large open air fountain by the entrance.

The thermal spa is great for people watching. The number of elderly people drinking from ‘the fountain of youth’ was astounding. We couldn’t believe how many busloads of beautiful old Nonnos and Nonnas funneled through the doors. At one point we thought there must be an aged convention going on at the spa.

Eleanor once again stole the show, waving and smiling at the crowds before being passed around the Nonna’s while we tried to understand what they were asking us in Italian. No matter how many times we said “Inglese” (English), they just spoke in slower Italian.

 

Travel and baby sleep schedules

I’m going to be honest here, Eleanor is a horrible sleeper. She has only slept through the night twice in 11 months. On average she wakes up three times from dusk until dawn for 30-40 minutes each waking. If you’ve noticed a few extra wrinkles around my eyes since this little bright eyed monster arrived now you know why.

Before we packed up and headed for Italy we had her on a pretty tight bath, milk, bed routine and she was starting to improve, slightly. Fast forward six weeks and it all feels like it was a waste of time and tears. Daniel and I have officially thrown in the towel and slapping on the ‘bad parent’ badge.

Our little night owl refuses to go to bed until we do. We figure we might as well take advantage of her nocturnal ways and take nighttime strolls, enjoy a vino in the piazza or dine out. Perhaps she is just a little European baby at heart, they don’t seem too bothered to be up past 11pm.

For daytime naps we turn her to face us in the Ergobaby 360 4 position carrier and she sleeps for 45 to 90 minutes but she refuses pram naps.

The only downside to having a possum for a child is that she likes to sleep in until 10am. If we try and wake our little teenager up any earlier she is a nightmare during the day, so we can’t really plan any morning activities. I almost miss the jetlagged baby that woke us up at 5am 8 days straight.

If you’ve managed to get your traveling babe to bed at a reasonable hour please tell us how you did it!

Our favourite hilltop towns in Tuscany

There is something so liberating about jumping in the car and exploring; and regional Tuscany is the perfect place for it. Vineyards, olive groves and sunflowers for miles, you feel like you’re driving into a postcard. Not even driving manual on the wrong side of the road could put a damper on the freedom we felt cruising around.

Every day we ventured somewhere new but these hilltop towns deserve special mention (don’t bother visiting the lake though, it looks pretty from a distance but radioactive up close).

Cortona

Perched high in the hills of Chiana this charming town invites you to linger. Cortona, the cultural and artistic centre of the Val Di Chiana region should be more showy than it is. It lacks the dirty ‘tourist trap’ vibe we’ve experienced in neighbouring towns; it felt authentic and calm.

If you’ve been following along you’ve probably come to expect us to feature food in some shape or form at each location we visit, so here it is. We started our tour of Cortona with Pecorino Pesto pasta (they had GF pasta and it was amazing), followed by coffee and a custard filled pastry.

We strolled the streets and stumbled across the most beautiful church with a timber raked ceiling. A refreshing contrast to the ornate, embellished churches we’ve come to expect in Italy.  Like the rest of Cortona it seemed paired back and modestly beautiful, which drew us in even more.

Art lovers can explore the free art exhibits on display from local artists and admire the sculptures that are scattered around town.

The drive down from Cortona offers stunning views of Tuscany. Just hope you don’t meet a car coming the opposite direction, the road has a sheer drop off a steep cliff.

Sarteano

Oh Sarteano you gem. We loved this sleepy little town. Boasting a medieval castle, charming streets and amazing restaurants you would expect it to be filled with hoards of tourists but when we arrived at lunchtime it was empty. It felt like we had stumbled on a deserted village, so we explored and sticky-beaked around, we could have been in the town completely alone except for the wafts of pasta sauce we could smell drifting out terrace windows.

As we made our way out of the town walls we heard the revving of a car, we turned the corner to see an old Italian man reversing out of the smallest garage we’ve ever seen. He jumped out of the car at started screaming at the wall behind him. Such an angry little man, it was hilarious; how dare that fucking wall get in his way.  Ah the Italians, never change.

Pienza

The home of Pecorino Cheese and UNESCO World Cultural site is the reason we came to explore Tuscany after we saw the town feature in Master of None. The town is gorgeous but either we built it up too much in our minds or the number of tourists turned us off but it didn’t meet our high expectations.

Pienza is beautiful, the views from the town are stunning but it’s filled with foreigners carrying big cameras standing in the way of every cool photo you want to snap.

We gave up being tourists and defaulted to what we’re good at – eating. We ordered an antipasto platter from Salumeria Bernardini Laura and tried four varieties of Pecorino and I’ll give Pienza this much, they make damn good cheese!

I know I’ve said this before BUT we had the best gelato ever at Buon Gusto sure I may be fickle but mate this creamy goodness way to die for and I would go back to Pienza purely for another scoop.

Montepulciano

Pretty, yes. Overrun with tourists, you bet! Montepulciano was the first hilltop town we visited so we thought it was amazing…Charming, great food, good photo opportunities. It had the lot. Until we explored more of the region and discovered there’s better. Kind of like my relationship with gelato.

We will be back in Tuscany tomorrow, so if you have any suggestions on amazing hilltop towns let us know.

Sea, sand and city in Sardinia

Sardinia was a complete surprise to us. We booked a week here after seeing some beautiful beach shots on Instagram (I know, how millennial of us).

We stayed in Cagliari, the Capitol and loved the historic charm of the city. Laden with alfresco dining, cobblestone streets and cosmopolitan high streets, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in Paris or Prague but a short drive from the city you’re reminded you’ve stumbled upon an island paradise.

Top spots in Cagliari

Bastion of Saint Remi and the Castello

Cagliari’s hilltop citadel is the perfect vantage point to see a picturesque sunset. The walled medieval city within a city transports you to a bygone era as you wind through the narrow lane-ways and peer through ancient windows into dark little terrace houses. The city’s protective Torre Dell’Elefante defensive tower make you feel like you’re on the set of a movie with their iron gates.

Botanical Gardens

Eleanor loves crawling around in the great outdoors and the Botanical Gardens in Cagliari were a nice break from the hot city. We threw together a picnic and chilled out under the palm trees for a few hours.

Roman Amphitheatre of Cagliari

Unlike the famous stand-alone Collusium in Rome the Cagliari Amphitheatre is carved into the side of a hill. With seating for 10,000 spectators this ancient structure now hosts concerts, which we would have loved but everything was booked out. Still amazing to see, even if you aren’t a history buff.

The Markets

We couldn’t skip town without letting Daniel run loose in the market. We hung out with the locals eating cheese, downing a coffee and eating cannoli. We stocked up on lunch for the week for 40 Euro. Not bad.

Beaches We Loved

We hired a car and cruised the Coastal Road. You could pick any beach along the way and be in awe, each one is more spectacular than the last.

Porto Giunco Beach 

Distance from Cagliari: 62km

First stop, Flamingos… Yes, those delightful Pink birds roam around the Stagno Notteri lagoon. Although, you can’t frolic with these gorgeous feathered creatures, which was disappointing, Ellie really fancied making a Flamingo friend.

Mari Pintau Beach

Distance from Cagliari: 36km

This gorgeous beach reminded me of one of my step-mother, Gail’s watercolour paintings (check them out here). Although it was a stunning beach we didn’t stop for a swim, it was so busy.

Costa Rei

Distance from Cagliari: 64km

We had grand plans of continuing up the Coastal Road but we couldn’t pass the beauty of this beach and lazed around in the crystal clear water until the sun set. This beach was paradise, perfect white sand, an amazing contrast between the sky and the sea. Take me back!

Poetto Beach

Distance from Cagliari: 5km

Only 5km from Cagliari , this 8km stretch of yellow sand is as much a spectacle because of it’s popularity as its beauty. We have never seen that many people pack out a beach before. It was 40 degrees celsius and fighting the crowds down to the sea was tricky with a little one, so we sat in a bungalow and sipped ice cold Aperol Spritz with all the other pastey white tourists.

 

 

Travel Gadgets & Tech

If you know me, you know I like to have the latest and greatest technology. So for me packing travel tech and gadgets is almost as important as packing my clothes. I want capture every moment, keep Ellie entertained and stay connected to whats happening back home. Assuming you have a mobile phone or tablet on the go, these are the other tech gadgets you should consider.

GoPro HERO Session

This is my latest purchase. Yes we both have mobile phones with video capabilities, but this GoPro is waterproof and lets us capture footage from different angles with its different mounting accessories. The GoPro software also makes it easy to edit and produce your videos for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or any other platform.

Bose QuietComfort 35

These noise cancelling headphones are a must if you want some peace and quiet on a long haul flight. Not only will they block out aircraft noise, but they’ll also be a godsend when its time to hand the kids over to your partner, allowing you to block out tiny voices and relax watching movies or listening to music.

Roku Express Streaming Player

If you’ve spent any time in European hotels you’ll know that TV options are basic (Sky news anyone?). Most channels aren’t in English, so they won’t keep the kids entertained for every long. The Roku Express is a pocket sized device you can plug into the hotel TV’s HDMI port. You can then watch Netflix or stream content from your mobile phone or tablet.

Sony Alpha a5000 Digital Camera

You’ll probably take the majority of photos on your mobile phone but if you want some better quality photos for printing then the Sony Alpha a5000 is great. It’ small, light and you can use it a simple point and shoot or take more advanced shots using the manual features. What is also great is that it can connect the camera to your mobile phone via WiFi so you can use  your phone as a remote or download the photos to share on Social Media.

GLi.Net Mini Travel Router

This tiny little travel router converts any public WiFi network, like the free airport or Macca’s WiFi into a private WiFi network for secure surfing. You can also use it as a tethering device and it goes everywhere you do, you just need to connect your devices to one network instead of connecting to a different network each time you connect to a new WiFi. Makes life easier when you have multiple devices that require WiFi.

SD Cards & Micro SD Cards

You’ll need these for your GoPro and Sony Alpha a5000, as well as your mobile phone if it supports external storage. Don’t run out of space!

Portable Power Bank

Unless you have a mobile phone or tablet that gives you 24 hours of battery life, you’ll need one of these to keep you charged to ensure you don’t miss a thing.

Micro USB Cables

Pretty much every device listed here used a Micro USB cable to charge or connect to your laptop. Don’t be left short having only one cable to use when you need to charge three devices at the same time.

Travel Adapter

This travel adapter will let you charge two USB devices while using it as a standard power adapter. It is small and lightweight and eliminates the need to bring all your chargers.

Am I missing anything?

 

Treating a sick baby in Italy

Besides a few snotty nose episodes, Eleanor has been the picture of good health. We took her to the doctor before we set off on our big adventure and packed her little first aid kit feeling like model parents. Thinking we had everything covered.

I tend to be a worrywart by nature and Dan is the level headed one telling me to stop overreacting every time Eleanor sneezes. So, when Daniel started to panic about Eleanor’s fever I was sure we had a problem.

Our happy little lady continued to smile and wave at everyone despite a fever of 39 °C, so it was hard to determine how sick she really was. Doctor Google said wait five days before seeing a doctor, the local pharmacy in Sorrento reiterated that recommendation so we waited it out.

Day five happened to coincide with a flight to Sardinia and Ellie was burning up. She was so hot she was burning my skin as I held her. She babbled in her sleep as though she were delirious. She looked bad, so bad that the Italian lady sitting next to us on the flight told us in broken English to take her to a doctor. To say we felt like the worlds most useless parents is an understatement.

The fear that comes with a sick baby is intense. Factoring in the whole ‘don’t speak Italian thing’ and you’ve got yourself one shitty, stressful situation! When we arrived at our hotel we asked the reception for a doctor but tourists in Italy must go to emergency so we rushed to the local hospital. No one spoke English. No one would see us. We’d walked 20 minutes in the heat to be turned away.

We found a pharmacy with English speaking staff and they directed us to a children’s emergency hospital 5km away. Once we figured out where to go, the experience was much more positive. The doctors were so kind and patient with us as we tried to explain what was wrong in extremely broken Italian (compliments of Google Translate) all we needed was Eleanor’s Australian passport, thanks to the reciprocal agreement.

Poor Eleanor has Bronchitis, an infected ear and an infection in her throat and we are lucky that a dose of antibiotics will have her better within a week.

We have learnt a valuable lesson, there is no such thing as too much preparation when it comes to the health of your baby. We should know how to call for help when something happens. In this instance we had time on our side but in a true medical emergency our fumbling could have had big consequences.

Who to call

  • Your travel insurance company can direct you to a doctor
  • The Australian Embassy (39) 06 85 2721

Praiano, Amalfi Coast

I’ve always wanted to be one of those fancy people that go on week-long health retreats, the ones where they force you to workout and eat healthy food and you come home looking and feeling amazing.

Our trip to Praiano, on the Amalfi Coast was sort of like that. Minus the personal trainer and healthy food. Our Hotel, the Locanda Degli Dei had spectacular views, literally breathtaking thanks to the (no exaggeration here) 1200 steps you had to climb to reach it from sea level.

Daniel and I were super excited to visit Praiano, this beautiful part of the world is where we spent our honeymoon and holds fond memories sipping cocktails and lazy beach days overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Bliss.

Our return didn’t disappoint but it was a very different experience this time around. Not only because we have a miniature third wheel but also because our location was difficult to get to and definitely a bad choice for a family with a small baby. Dan and I have shed about 4kg between thanks to those freaking stairs.

Praiano is 10km up the coast from Positano. During the summer months Positano is overrun with tourists which slightly detracts from its beauty. Praiano is less well known and quieter than its neighbour and in my opinion, holds more authentic charm.

Amalfi Coast holidays force you to slow down. Everyone here is on Italian time and in no rush to do anything or get anywhere, so if you don’t go with the flow you might find the experience frustrating. Heading to the beach on a roasting hot morning our bus driver decided to pull over for a cigarette mid-route, one of his mates popped over for a chat and ten minutes later we were on our way again.

We loved spending time with Aussie friends who happened to be in the area and enjoying the coastal lifestyle. Relaxing on the beach in Italy is very different to Australia. Sections of the beach are owned by cafes and restaurants so you have to pay for the luxury of hanging out there. There are public sections too but you have to share the small space with hundreds of other people ughhh. So we paid because we’re snobs.

Day trips from Praiano

Sorrento

Sorrento is 1.5 hours on the bus. This gorgeous city is full of cobble stoned alleys and handmade boutiques. It’s more family friendly than the Amalfi Coast. We spent our day here eating.

We started with coffee and cake at Monna Lisa, where the owner was kind enough to entertain Eleanor while we ate. Next we snaked on Dutch style hot chips at Queen’s Chips, followed by dinner at Meating before heading back to Praiano.

Positano

Positano is 20 minutes from Praiano on the bus. A very scary, packed bus ride where I had to hold on squished next to the windscreen with Eleanor strapped to me.

Once off the bus our day started with a Lemon Granita, a quick walk down to the beach, followed by lunch at Max. Max is amazing, you should definitely visit for amazing pasta and seafood. It looks way to highbrow to bring a baby but they were so sweet with Eleanor.

After lunch we headed back to Praiano to do our favourite stair walk.

Amalfi

Amalfi is 30 minutes by ferry from Positano. We love this town and wished we stayed here this time. It’s much flatter than Positano and Praiano so would be more suitable for families and less mobile travellers.

We visited a couple of local delis for supplies and had a picnic by the water, followed by the best Gelato I have tasted in my life.

Our tourist activities are more skewed toward eating and less about culture. We should work on that.

 

Bella Roma

This is our third visit to Rome and third time is a charm. Perhaps it’s our old age or being here as a little family but we fell in love with Rome after not liking it so much after our last visit.

We arrived to our quaint little hotel called the Tritone Top House located between the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Everything was on our doorstep and when you’re travelling with a small human that goes from cheery and delightful to psychotic and scary in 0.60 seconds location is key.

We spent most of our time exploring cobble stone alleyways with Eleanor strapped into the Ergobaby. We saw hordes of tourists struggling with prams on crowded, uneven footpaths and thanked the good lord for baby carriers.

Rome was extremely hot so we took Eleanor out of the sun during the hottest part of the day by having a siesta or visiting some fun indoor attraction or eatery.

Some of the highlights

Explora Children’s museum – Explora has a Powerhouse Museum vibe but aimed at a younger audience. The section for babies is soft and filled with interactive games and musical instruments. Eleanor loved it.

Dawn Sightseeing – Part of the reason we weren’t sold on Rome when we visited in the past was the millions of tourists standing in front of everything cool you wanted to see (ughh how annoying are tourists). At 21 years old waking up early to beat the crowds was unimaginable so thank you miss Eleanor for being such a foghorn we have had to get up before sunrise.

Picnic’s in the park – Staying in Italy for four months means we need to eat on a budget. For us sitting in a park eating cheese and bread has been one of the highlights.