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This was the first "big" trip we planned. It took me about 9 months to put it together. I didn't use a travel agent so it was basically, Tripadvisor, Orbitz, RailEurope, Trenitalia, The Man in Seat 61, and Google who helped me out.
Let me start by saying that it was possibly the best trip we have taken as a family. I think it may have been due to the "kindergarten effect"- meaning everything was new and exciting to the kids. It was unchartered territory for us. But we were prepared!
Six months before we left we instituted Friday night tapas with a movie. I looked up all the fun movies that were filmed in the locations we were going to visit. I wanted them to get a visual idea of where we were going. The caveat was that, before the fun movie, we had a 10 minute slide show or documentary about one of the locations or works of art on our itinerary. They resisted but I persisted!!!
Summer 2011- Our first "Big Trip"
Day 0- Left for London in the evening
Day 1- Arrived in London, checked in and hit the town!
Day 2- Oxford Day Trip
Day 3- London
Day 4- Paris
Day 5- Paris
Day 6- Paris
Day 7- Zurich (on the way to Chur)
Day 8- Chur- day of rest
Day 9- Bernina Express (over the Alps and into Italy) and Milan
Day 10- Florence
Day 11- Florence
Day 12- Rome
Day 13- Rome
Day 15- Day trip to Pompeii
Day 16- Rome
Day 17- Came Home!
I still remember laying in bed at night the day before we left and thinking: Have we bitten more than we can chew? Will the kids (ages 12, 11 and 8) really take advantage? Will we have a good time? Are we crazy????
Actually, we had a fantastic time. Our homework payed off. Instead of reading from a tour guide about the Trevi Fountain, they were appreciating it, enjoying it, not learning about it on the go. This was the key to this first "big" trip. It was also the first trip where I made the kids blog EVERY night. They picked out three things that they enjoyed (or not) and wrote about them. Friends and family followed us, it became routine. It allowed them to record, while fresh, their impressions of the day. We do this every trip. They hate it, I love it!
This itinerary came together because of several reasons:
* We all wanted to go back to London and Paris
* All the kids had studied Ancient Rome and I wanted to build on academics
* Florence is one of my favourite cities and I wanted to share it with the family
* I wanted to do this all by train
We packed a lot into 17 days and it was just the right amount of time. Like I said, it was our first "big" trip, and an unforgettable one. The kids still talk about the yodeling man who greeted us when we got off the cable car in Chur and Child #3's breakdown in Milan because "bedtime was still a city away". They talk about the gelato in Rome and The David's cute butt, the interminable Vatican museum and the heat that made Child 1#'s jeans stick to her making it impossible to sit down. We still remember getting dehydrated walking up and down Vesuvius, discovering porcini mushrooms, medieval art, Alpine air and outdoor markets.
Just writing about this trip makes me want to go back, and then I realize that we have older kids now. They are teens, more knowledgeable, cynical, critical and aware of their surroundings. They are not at the "everything is awesome" age anymore. Back then they were still discovering the world through our eyes, seeing what we wanted them to see. Our trips now are with young adults, they are more interesting and engaging and I love them just as much; but I am so happy that we ventured out when they were younger, when we could still hold their hands and watch that wide eyed look of wonder as they discovered something new!
I downloaded podcasts and played them in the car during long rides- talk about a captive audience! I bought laminated timeliness and put them up in the playroom. We marked the building dates of the different sights we were going to see (like the Pantheon vs Brunelleschi's dome) so that they could better understand the ancient Rome/Dark Ages/Renaissance progression. Rick Steves became my friend. I downloaded all his of his walking tours on our ipods/iphones. We bought all major entrance tickets in advance and loaded our ipads with helpful apps. I did as much of the legwork as I could before we left to minimize glitches while over there. It worked. This trip pretty much established the way we plan our trips.