On the Monday of our recent holiday to Tuscany, we decided to venture a little further afield and do Rome for the day. We felt it was a must see when we were already only a few hours north, so for the sake of a couple of hours by train, and £140 return for us all, we decided to incorporate the capital city and famous sites of Rome into our travels and it was a great family adventure and day out. Italy has high speed rail so from Pisa it is only about 2.5 hours each way and with that I guess we saw it as like going from Leeds to London which would be manageable with 3 kids! 

We woke at about 5.30am to be able to get the 7am train from Pisa station, which in hindsight was a bit mad. We wanted to make the most of our day trip and so we were aiming to be in Rome for about 10am and return about 8pm, getting back to Pisa 10ish! Seriously it was nuts getting out of the door that early with 3 sleepy head kids, finding our way to the station and suitable parking, but we did it and it was worth it for a day in Rome. 

Our first train from Pisa to Rome unfortunately was cancelled which initially was rather stressful too, but with some broken English and chats, they were obviously happy to reassign us to the next one. In the end it only put us back about 40 mins from our original arrival time, as the second one was more direct and faster so it was great and not even a problem.

We found the trains in Italy to be a little cooler than those here in the UK. They’re just bigger and more impressive I think! We found them to be really comfortable and each carriage has plenty of storage and toilet facilities. They are clean and the seats are set out in 4s with tables and electrical points at each table.

The morning train was packed and the kids were more awake and giddy, but it was fine. The evening one however was even better – it was empty, we had bought colouring books from Tiger and I read most of the way back, it was a great journey! 

Rome

Once in Rome we just made our way around each of the sites starting at the Colosseum. It was a very hot day and a very busy city, and we decided to just walk everywhere instead of using the metro or buses. I think we had high expectations of the kids, but they were so good and the thousands of fountains made the whole experience way more fun and exiting for them, and therefore way more enjoyable and bearable for us!

We saw so many things from there that were beautiful and made sure to call by the Trevi fountain, and of course the Vatican! Like Florence things cost money and ques are everywhere so we decided to just meander and look. The Vatican is free if you can stand to que, or you can pay about 40 euros and go inside to see the Sistine chapel and museum. I really did want to go in, and I was excited to go in too… I had dreamed of going in for years, but in the end the heat, ques and kids combo meant that I backed out and we sat and admired it all from outside whilst they went with their preferred choice of activity – colouring on the steps! It was great to do this still and just soak everything in and we had a lovely time. 

Rome was everything I expected and more. It is a beautiful city and I loved the incredible history and tales oozing from its streets. I think its a great place to take kids, as aside from a lot of walking and sight seeing that the whine about, there are fountains everywhere to drink from (or play in) and there are many impressive things that capture their attention. The stories you can tell them really educate and bring it all to life and its one of those places you can just wander for hours with no real purpose, but be greeted with beauty and famous places at every turn.

The train was easy, and aside from the morning, it was reliable and fast! If you are in Pisa for a few days its definitely a trip worth taking to save money on a separate visit at a later date – though a few days there would also be well spent too! Thank you Rome for having us, it was most hearty and we can’t wait to return kid free for the romantic side!!!!

Tips for Training it to Rome with Kids

Don’t promise them a paddle in the Trevi fountain the night before. You can’t even touch the wall let alone paddle and it will result in meltdowns!

Take a picnic and a crate of water – Kids are always hungry and especially thirsty with the heat and it saves lots of time and unnecessary stress. I took some pizzas in a tub and with all of the drinking fountains you can continually refill the bottles.

Don’t expect to be able to go in the Vatican if you save it til the end.

Don’t plan on a tasty Italian meal for dinner down a quaint little street because all they want is the blumming McDonalds next door!

Buy colouring books or something to keep them occupied on the train – I should have remembered from the flight!

Go at their pace and appreciate it as an opportunity to notice the little things you might otherwise miss.

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The main goal of our recent holiday in Tuscany was to relax, get some sunshine and visit the beach. We had lush sunshine and it was over 30 degrees everyday, but aside from a couple of beach trips, the trip was far from the easy relaxing trip we anticipated. It was jam packed with adventures, whining kids, late nights, pasta, and despite the madness, we still had a brilliant adventure in a wonderful part of the world.

Flying to Pisa and our Air B&B

We flew to Pisa airport in the evening of the Wednesday from Leeds/Bradford, and arrived around 11pm, so it was a late one but the kids coped well fuelled by excitement and the bag of Haribo they talked me into at the petrol station on the way! We stayed overnight in a guest house just down the road from the airport, and then picked up our rental car the next morning. We had booked an Air bnb in a village called Buti, which is just a little drive outside of Pisa, nestled in beautiful mountains and olive groves. It far exceeded our expectations and was simply stunning!

The house was part of a large farm house, nestled up the side of a mountain and surrounded by groves of olive trees dirt tracks and animals! We had our own balcony, modern interior and the neighbours were cute old Italian locals!

As it was a farm, the kids had freedom to see the animals, and especially enjoyed the new pups which the visited daily (once letting out the mum – don’t ask!!!). Up the track, was a tiny 13th century church, and at every turn was beauty and amazing views across the valley.  We has pomegranate trees, citrus, figs, bamboo, and at nighttime only heard the crickets and farm animals – it was most idyllic and one of the bonuses of going through Air bnb when you travel.

The Beach and Genoa

On our 3rd day we were finally settled in and ready for some sand and sea. By recommendation we drove a little ways up from Pisa to a gorgeous part of Italy known as “Chinque Terre”. We went to both Lavento and Vernazza and found it to be a beautiful coastline with quaint little streets and colour everywhere, and the smell of muscles, baked breads and garlic! 

We did a lot of driving up steep windy mountain roads and the whole experience was surreal and breathtakingly beautiful!

As we were only an hour way from Genoa, and it being a place Nathan really wanted to go to, we deiced to drive a little further north in the afternoon and spend a couple of hours there. Of course my kids were the rowdy ones, wading through the fountains when we got there, but I am glad we went because it was a really lovely city. The fountains were spectacular (and very inviting), and it was great to see history at every turn and amazing architecture … Christopher Columbus house was small but cool to stand on the forecourt of, and just to be in a place he lived, pondering upon his life and legacy! 

This day ended with the kids swimming in the sea at 10pm – perfection!

Florence and Lake Bilancino

The next day we drove to Florence, which I had high expectations for. I dont know why but its one of those cities people talk a lot about. It was a great city and had beautiful architecture yes, but wasn’t my fave. There was lots to see if you were willing to pay (which we didn’t see the point of with our rowdy crew), but being only 45 minutes from our house, it was certainly worth an afternoon to just wander and see the city as a whole. The kids found a carousel and we just took it easy admiring the buildings and cathedral. 

On the way home we took a different route and called by Lake Bilancino. It was beautiful, clear, turquoise and warm, and a lovely evening spent paddling and chilling together. I think next time it would be fun to spend a day there and do some water sports or just have a picnic, but we found to be a lovely spot enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. 

Pisa

Finally we saw Pisa and it was brilliant … we saw it Sunday afternoon following church and was totally worth the wait. Everything about it was charming and exciting and I had a lot of fun there. We did all of the cliche tower pics and it was a place that really impressed the kids too. Site seeing can sometimes be a challenge with kids, especially when its more old stuff in the blazing sunshine, but Pisa really grasped their attention and they loved it. We went into the cathedral, which was free and then walked around the little streets… it was a great 4 or 5 hours!

Pisa also has some great beaches and a park too that are very family friendly and we spent some time at these too later in our stay. The park in Pisa in on an archaeological site and has pretty little gardens as well as a play area that is well equipped. We spent a few hours here before flying home, and it was a nice relaxing morning and fun for the kids too.

The beach we went to near Pisa was on our last day and was quite busy but a great spot all the same. We found a little patch of sand amongst the other visitors to nestle down in for a couple of hours to chill, dig and swim. It had man made walls to make it into a large outdoor pool which at the deepest point was only up to Ethan’s neck! Pisa has a lot of currents so this ensured it was safe and the depth made it easier and more fun for families. It was a lovely beach and lovely afternoon soaking up far too much sun!

Tuscany is the perfect destination for a family trip, but also a place I would love to go just Nath and I. It has a great balance of beach, history and nature and is in great proximity to visit a whole host of famous and breathtaking sites. We paid just over £600 for our flights and accommodation, and I would definitely recommend hiring a car to make the most of your visit and turn it into the ultimate adventure.

I loved our week in Tuscany – the food, our little farm house, the adventures, the sun. But mostly the company and the memories made there. It was the ultimate adventure and a great Summer holiday! 

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I am so very much looking forward to this bank holiday weekend, and what perfect timing following a week in Italy! It just feels like an extended holiday!!

What’s extra exciting is that the forecast here in Yorkshire is not only set to actually feel like Summer, but as per every August bank holiday we have our annual Smith “Family Fun Weekend”(with the added bonus of Nathan’s mum’s Birthday)! I cannot wait for the laughs, banter and adventures ahead!

Despite being in Italy for half the week, I still have bagged myself a few deals and even made some thrifty choices whilst away too…

New Look Sale

New Look reminds me too much of being a teenager, with it being the only decent shop we had growing up in Bridlington. And so I admit that I rarely shop there. They do have a few nice things but the majority of it feels too feminine and florally for me! I do however LOVE their shoes and so happened to call in yesterday whilst on my desperate search for some new (and comfortable) sandals. I was not disappointed and came away with a lovely pair from £20 down to 10!

Whilst there I saw a top that was down to £7 from £22 and was debating it too-It was a lovely pale pink, long sleeved blouse with black embroidery!So of course today I went back to get it! I was delighted to find that they had an extra 20% off SALE and so bagged it for a fiver! If you’re passing a New Look this weekend, it might be worth a look with such great bargs on offer!

A Train to Rome

This choice was one we debated for several days. but in the end decided it made financial sense (haha!). We decided whilst on our Italy holiday, to get the high speed rail to Rome and so booked some tickets in advance before we left the UK.From Pisa it would only be a couple of hours and for all 5 of us would be £140 return. Yes it’s a lot more than we would usually spend on a day out but WAY less than we would have spent to go see Rome on a separate holiday- hence a thrifty choice and one that has saved ourselves  few hundred pounds in the future!

As well as that we saved money by buying the majority of our meals from the supermarkets and had a really great trip!

I hope to get some posts up next week about our Italy adventures, but for now I am off to enjoy this rather sunny looking bank holiday! I hope you do too (and grab a few bargs along the way).

 

 

 

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Oxford, I discovered last week, is such an incredibly beautiful place to visit. It’s streets are filled with stunning buildings, and it is a place that oozes with tales of the past (and of course a rich history of educating legends)! Just to wander around it leaves you feeling in awe and a sense of joyfulness! It was so lovely to visit there last weekend for a little family weekend adventure.

About 16 years ago now, Nathan lived there briefly and since we have been together it’s been on “the list” to take the kids to…we love to take the kids to places where they can get a hands on experience with history and hopefully appreciate our countries culture and sites. An invitation to tour the castle was that perfect excuse to finally go, do all of the aforementioned, and we all loved it.

Oxford Castle Unlocked!

 Oxford castle was the main focus of our day on Saturday, and it has certainly had an impact on the kids since. It is a great attraction of the city and something that really brings its history to life! Just yesterday Megan retold me stories of prisoners “in the tower” with no toilets, and sleeping in a room of wee and poo!(?!). She found it both hilarious and completely disgusting, but mostly very fascinating, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I love to see my kids excited about history as it’s something we both love so much!

Oxford castle is really interesting because it’s less about the Jewels and Royalty (like we saw when we visited Edinburgh), and more about scandal, theft, hard labour and murder! It was great because you see the meeting of medieval and modern crime, and prisoners held for anything from murder and war to a 7 year old stealing a pram! Each story, even those of modern prisoners, is fascinating and adds to the experience.

Built in 1017 it was used as jail as early as the 12th century, in 1531 it was formally constituted as a county Jail and changed briefly over the next couple of hundred years. By the 19th century it was expanded to cope with demand and was used as a prison until as recent as September 1996!! It only opened it’s doors to visitors back in 2006 after a complete refurbishment and restoration in 2004.

As part of it is now also a hotel and restaurants, the part preserved for visitors is small, but ample for a jump into its History and just long enough to hold the attention of kids. The tour took about an hour, and is led in a small group by a character taken from the castles History.  We had “Anne Green” a prisoner from 1650 that survived her own hanging…lets just say it really added to the feel and fun of it all, and certainly grabbed the kids attention!

The tour starts through a creepy metal gate at the bottom of the tower where you meet your guide and hear a brief history of the castle; with tales of hard labour by those sentenced to term there during the Victorian era. Next you can climb the 1o1 steps of the Saxon St George’s tower to a decent sized cell and hear tales of prisoners held there, as well as an Empress’s escape! Continuing up the tower you are greeted with 360 degree panoramic views of Oxford city from the top of it. The kids thought this was marvellous and thoroughly enjoyed looking down on the crowds and feeling on top of the world.

Next we plunged (or rather walked) down into the castle crypts to see where the bodies were stored (spooky!).

The rest of the tour takes you through cells, telling you of key characters from its 1000 years and how they lived, were treated and their doom! It was all super interesting and presented in a way gruesome enough to capture the kids and yet not enough that you couldn’t stomach it!  We had a lovely (and informative) visit and learnt tonnes.

Knight school at The Castle

Knight school is a free added bonus to a visit to the castle, and both Ethan and Megs loved the 20 min sess! It runs as part of their “King of the Castle” event for the school holidays, and takes place twice a day on a weekend only (11.30am & 2.30pm) out in the courtyard by staff trained in Sword fighting! In addition you can try to solve a a “King of the Castle” themed trail or take part in Arts & Crafts at the end of the tour.

knight school was certainly one of the highlights, and something a little different to anything we have done before at museums and castles! It was great to see the kids having an opportunity to not only hold a sword, but practice holds, stances, walks and counter strikes with little wooden swords of their own alongside “a real knight”! The session was informative, interesting and lots of fun, and again just long enough for kids ages 5 & 6.

Oxford Sites…

Following church on Sunday, we spent the afternoon walking around the colleges and checking out the famous buildings one thinks of when you think of Oxford. The sun was shining, and whilst tourists were out in the masses, it was absolutely beautiful. For brief moments I felt like we were in some foreign and far off land, but it was exciting to remember that all of this beauty is just a mornings car ride away!

We loved seeing all of the sites of Oxford and barely spent a penny doing so! There is so much to see and appreciate just wandering it’s streets and we had a lovely weekend there.

Being away from the everyday is always more fun and life is great when filled with some adventures. It was so exciting to have a change of scenery, especially in such a stunning city that’s right here in our country! If you have a chance to visit Oxford this Summer then get yourself there and check out the Castle too…you won’t be disappointed!

*Oxford Castle Unlocked is open daily 10am – 5.30pm. A Family Ticket is just £35 (or Adults £10.95 each / Kids £7.75)!! We are grateful for them for giving us a complimentary visit in return for a review. 

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