Since Vincentas was born, every year, in February we have a tradition to go on a short city break somewhere we have never been before. This time we chose to visit Italy and its two cities - Bologna and Florence during a 5 days trip. This is another example of a direct, quick and cheap destination that can be reached from Lithuania.
Take a flight from Kaunas with Ryanair and in 2.5 hours you will reach Bologna, the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy. Bologna is famed for having the oldest university in the Western world, a lively student population, exquisite food, typical brick terracotta-roofed architecture and porticos, theatre and nightlife. Bologna is also one of the wealthiest cities in Italy, often ranking as one of the top cities in terms of quality of life in the country.
Having read all those facts, I thought why not take a short trip and explore this city...the flights are on Thursdays and Mondays, so you can either stay there for 4, 7 days or more if you are going for longer holiday. Bologna is like in the middle of everything, you can go to Rimini or San Marino in the east, Florence in the south, Pisa in the West of Verona in the north - all reachable within a few hours by train.
Besides, the city's main airport is just 9km away from the centre, which is really important when you are traveling with kids and do not want to take long transfers from airport to hotel. Last but not least, Bologna is quite a cheap destination, especially off season (and February is definitely off season). We paid around 120EUR for the three of us, round trip, with 1 extra 10kg luggage and reserved seats. Normally, I would not reserve seats, but it is simply easier to sit together, when traveling with a child.
So, we booked the flights, and then it was time to book accommodation. February is normally the month of main festivals of the city, but since we travelled at the end of Feb - beginning of March, we avoided some tourists and overbooked hotels. Why we look for hotels when traveling? I simply want to have real holidays, without cooking and therefore in a hotel or B&B you can get at least breakfast served. But finding a hotel, that would not charge extra if staying with a 2 year old, was quite difficult. Bologna is a student city and probably not too many tourists come with kids there. I think I could count on one hand the amount of places that offered a baby cot, which is a must to our family as we are simply used to this way of having our child sleep. At last I thought, why not go authentic and choose some stylish, local Italian style B&B apartment and get to know the locals more when talking with the owners of it.
My top recommendation when staying in Bologna with a child is B&B Alberta D - a very authentic, set in an old style Italian building bed and breakfast. The owner Alberta is a famous handbag designer, you can see some of her works in the rooms as well as read about her in the newspapers in the main hall. She sold some of her bags to a famous brand Louis Vuitton during an auction in 2018. Alberta was not present during our stay, but we were welcomed by her niece, who treated us with some nice stories as well as amazing breakfast with home made pies and scrambled eggs on demand. Vincentas was mostly excited about the cat living there and was chasing it every day. Our apartment was really cozy and the bed was king size! We felt so good there, that one evening decided to have dinner at "home" with fresh mozzarella, ciabatta and freshly ripped tomatoes...
We usually book our accommodations via Booking.com, I also check Airbnb, but since I have been a frequent user, I already have discounts and therefore Booking.com simply makes it cheaper to book through.
The city of Bologna itself, did not impress me very much, but if you are there, make sure you visit the main places: Piazza Maggiore, Basilica di San Petronio (which has a roof terrace where you can see Bologna from high above), the leaning towers, Museo per la Memoria di Ustica, and the many porticoes. All these sightseeing spots are under reasonable walking distance, we walked everywhere from our hotel and back. Additionally, make sure you try tortellini, tagliatelle, and other pastas, and its classic dish, tagliatelle al ragu, is known elsewhere simply as tagliatelle Bolognese. Cured meats are a local specialty, and this region is the home of the incomparable Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Been there, tried it, loved it!
After a few nights in Bologna, we took a train and travelled to Florence. It was actually hard to choose, which city to visit in the next few days, as I mentioned, there are quite a few famous cities all around Bologna. I simply chose Florence by reading some forums, that for instance traveling to Rimini at this time of the year is not a good idea as there simply wont be much to do in spring weather. I booked the train tickets via Trainline page, its not necessary to book tickets in advance, as you can buy them in the train station. However, if you want to save some money, its a good idea to book them in advance.
I actually fell in love with Florence from the moment we arrived there. Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. The city is noted for its culture, Renaissance art and architecture and monuments. The city also contains numerous museums and art galleries and it has been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Florence is an important city in Italian fashion and the Historic Centre of Florence was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.
We had two full days in Florence and there is so much to see in Florence, than even in a day or two you realize right away that there are too many treasures to see in such a short time. And especially if you are traveling with a child. My suggestion is - don't try to cram in everything into a few days, but pick and choose and you'll enjoy much better what you do see and do. So what did we see with Vincentas?
My number 1 and top top attraction was The Duomo - Florence's cathedral - one of the most breathtaking buildings I have seen in my life.
The next place we really enjoyed is San Lorenzo Market, which is the largest and oldest one, here you’ll get the chance to live the real florentine feel… you will smell, see and touch the freshest products and above all you will get to taste whatever catches your attention!
Ponte Vecchio is one of Florence’s landmarks and certainly the most photographed bridge in the city. The most famous bridge of them all was built at the narrowest point of the Arno and is the only remaining one with houses and shops on it.
The Oltrarno, the district on the other side of the river from Piazza Della Signoria, is one of the more “intimate” areas of Florence, and in many ways feels like a small town. In this area you will find a lot of history and art heritage: monuments, museums, churches, palaces, parks: Pitti Palace, Santo Spirito Square, Boboli Gardens, but also handcraft shops, artisan workshops, mosaic-makers, wood carvers, gilders, goldsmiths carrying on a century-old tradition of both spirit and working methods.
If you are an art lover, make sure you visit The Galleria degli Uffizi, which is one of the oldest and most famous art museums of the western world. The Renaissance masterpieces that you will find are quite unique and one of a kind (paintings by famous artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci).
Fashion lovers should definitely visit Gucci Museo, aka Gucci Garden, which is a museum that showcases nearly a century of history of the designer fashion label.
This was enough for our two days visit, especially bearing in mind the fact that every 1st Sunday of he month all the galleries and museums are free of charge, so usually there are long queues to get in. We happened to be there on 1st Sunday of March, and yes, we waited in some queues even for 1,5 hours :) March is actually still an off-season for tourists, but somehow, there were plenty of them everywhere. If you have been to Oxford street in London - double that and you will imagine how many tourists were there during our stay in Florence.
If talking about food, Florence, like more or less all Italian cities, has a special kind of baked dough. It is salty and crunchy, its name is schiacciata. In Florence, there is one place where they do it really good sandwiches with this "bread" - cut it in two halves and fill it with cold cuts (such as prosciutto, mortadella and salami), cheese, vegetables and some spread. All'Antico Vinaio is the name of the place, but be prepared to wait in a long line before you get your sandwich. We did not bother, as there were 5 queues of 50 people at least in each one!!!
When you are in Italy, there are plenty of good places to eat, we did not want to wait in yet another line...
Another amazing fact about Florence - it has a very stylish Student hotel, called TSH Florence Lavagnini. We chose this hotel once again because they offered a baby cot free of charge and it simply looked too good to be true. Featuring a rooftop pool with city views, on-site stores of clothes, bikes or other goods and a very stylish surroundings. From swings at the entrance (which turn into pink neon room in the evenings) to cool logos and a pink Diner. Breakfast room is also amazing, featuring a big globe and a buffet breakfast with vegan & vegetarian options. The rooms itself are quite simple, but still of a very good quality, since the whole building has been newly refurbished.
You may think the price of such place should be high, but it is actually one of the cheaper options when choosing an accommodation in Florence. Overall - this has been the most stylish & instagrammable hotels I have ever stayed at. Definitely a place to remember and come back one day.
After two days in Florence, we took a fast train back to Bologna, where we took a flight back to Kaunas.