Art in abundance – a family in Florence

Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance and of gelato, is renowned for its abundance of world-class art. The museums, galleries and architecture are a dream for art lovers and provide an opportunity to appreciate some of the most exquisite beauty ever created by the human hand.

Unless, as a rule, you happen to be under the age of 10. If you’ve ever suggested a day of art appreciation to children, you’ll know that being “dragged around” galleries and ancient cities is “BORING”. The ennui sets in early in the day, the feet become leaden, and parents steel themselves for a day of compromise and disappointment. Exhortations that the painting you are looking at is world famous, hundreds of years old and the epitome of its genre are met with rolled eyes and heavy sighs.

The dictionary defines art as: ‘the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form…, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power’.  Nowhere exemplifies this more clearly than Florence, from the ornate facade of the Duomo, topped with Brunelleschi’s iconic red-tiled dome, or the ramshackle beauty of the Ponte Vecchio at sunset, to the countless treasures of the Uffizi Gallery. But in Florence, where art is closely woven into everyday life, the extraordinary has become the norm.  And this is what makes the art of Florence a family affair.

The streets are lined with gelaterie, their creamy fare decorated with fresh fruit and piled up in glorious, inviting mounds; pizzerie with rows of sumptuous pizza slices on display; and windows filled with confectionery that would delight Willy Wonka himself.  The small side streets are a maze of beautiful window displays, with artists sketching and selling their work on every corner. Performance artists enchant children of all ages, masquerading as statues or filling the air with giant bubbles to chase and catch. It is not only a feast for the eyes, but for all the senses, and the artistry of the everyday appeals to children in a more accessible way than “proper” art.

However, even appreciating the beauty all around you, the lure of the formal art scene in the city can’t be ignored. Fortunately, the museums and galleries are accessible to all ages and there is something that will appeal to even the most reluctant pint-sized art critic.

For example, the interactive exhibits and the free information app at the Museo Galileo  (www.museogalileo.it) keep little hands busy, while the giant globes and scientific equipment occupy the mind; the layout and design of the Uffizi Gallery, combined with excellent signage, allows for a truncated visit with weary children without missing the best of Botticelli, Michelangelo and da Vinci; and the magnificence of Michelangelo’s David  makes the queue for the Galleria dell’Accademia well worthwhile.  The sight of my children genuinely lost for words at the scale, precision and beauty of David was a moment to be treasured.  For the first time I could see that they “got” it and aren’t destined to be complete philistines for life!

It can be easy to underestimate the ability of children to appreciate art, but there is no denying that tiring gallery and museum visits can try the patience of even the most laid-back parents and children. Florence is the perfect antidote.

Pizzas galore in The Eternal City

The advantage of taking children to the stunning city of Rome is that there is always something available that they will actually eat. Whilst we have loved exotic trips to far-flung destinations, in part for the culinary delights on offer, trying to find fare to satisfy a fussy child doesn’t tend to enhance the experience! However, the abundance of pizza in Rome is like manna from heaven to both kids and parents alike.  With pasta and gelato completing the gastronomic Trinity, we could stop worrying about what to eat and could focus on the sights and sounds of the Eternal City.

We began our adventure when we picked up our keys for our rental apartment – a stunning 3 bed apartment in the vibrant bohemian area of Monti, just a stone’s throw from the Colosseum. A typical and atmospheric Italian home with shutters and sunlight, nuns chanting outside in the morning and vespas roaring past till the small hours, it was simply perfect.

 

Armed with the invaluable Lonely Planet “Not For Parents: Rome” city guide, our intrepid gladiators-in-training set off for the Colosseum, incredibly located only a few minutes from our apartment. The boys were thrilled by the sight of the ancient amphitheatre: we were thrilled that on the first Sunday of the month, which it happened to be, entry was free! My top tip is to get your tickets from the small ticket office for the Palatino, a few metres across the Piazza del Colosseo, which has almost no queue and enables you to then join the ticket holders’ queue. Be prepared to wait either way – at the Colosseum, there’s ALWAYS a queue! The ticket is valid for entry to not only the Colosseum, but also the Palatino and Forum.

Having had our fill of fighting imaginary lions and dreaming of rising through the earth to the roars of the crowd by way of trap doors, we returned to Monti for a well-deserved gelato break, before venturing on to the top of the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. The views are breathtaking, the history awe-inspiring and the crowds dispiriting, but by the end of the afternoon we had two very tired boys with a new-found passion for Roman history, and they’d even learned some Latin and were spotting the famous SPQR engraving at every turn. It was time for a pizza!

There is so much to do in Rome, you could spend weeks there and never see it all. We only had three days, so tried to cover as much ground as we could. It wasn’t all history and ruins; the boys loved riding a bus through the city to the Bocca della Verita, navigating the metro, and visiting the AS Roma shop for football souvenirs.

 

 

Family highlights included: the gardens at Villa Borghese, which had a small land train, lots of green spaces and playgrounds where children, tired of museums, can let off steam, and a zoo; people-watching in Piazza Navona; strolling through small piazzas with bubbling fountains and cafes at each corner; eating spaghetti on the Via delle Paste; taking in the grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica; and marveling at the construction of the dome of the Pantheon. All provided stealth learning opportunities, and you are never too far from a gelateria.  The promise sealed by our coins in the Trevi Fountain is not the only reason we will return one day.