It was another crazy day with a quick zip around Amsterdam on the bikes in the morning to visit Vondelpark, then an afternoon soaking up the sun in Pisa, followed by an evening train to the beautiful Florence. Pretty much your average day in Europe with a 3 and 5-year-old!
It was the first day that we didn’t have to be up early for riding or bag moving in a while and both kids were predictably up just before 7am. It was down to breakfast at the Westcord Art hotel (that has a pretty good spread) and the kids decided that they had better eat several types of chocolate sprinkles to figure out which one was best. As it was our last day in the Netherlands we just ignored the fact that they were essentially eating fairy bread for breakfast. They had at least had some fruit and a ham and cheese croissant to water down the chocolate!
Our flight to Pisa was at 12.25pm so we had a little time in the morning before we had to be at the airport. The kids had been busting to go back to Vondelpark after we got rained on during our last visit (on the first day of the bike tour). It was too far to walk efficiently and almost as long by public transport, so getting there by bike was the best option. We are wary of getting lost in Amsterdam as it’s too easy to do and we didn’t want to miss our flight. We managed to find a route on the bike company GPS and decided to make a mad dash for it and hope for the best……
We were out at about by 8:30am and it was peak hour. Bikes were moving faster than cars most of the time, and we are now more used to the aggressive riding in the city. It’s somewhat easier to negotiate the intersections when you are moving in a pack, as cars and trams and pedestrians have little choice but to give way. It was still mildly terrifying as it appears to be controlled chaos and time and we were trying to follow the beeps of the GPS and hoping for the best.
The first day I rode in Amsterdam I found it rather scary and was giving way to people a little too much. Antony noticed that 5 days later I was acting more like a local and just riding at people and cars and not taking any crap from anyone!
After 15 minutes of riding we saw the familiar sight of Vondelpark and rode in. It was a bit of a bike highway at that time of the morning.
The kids knew we didn’t have long at the park so we decided to ride through to a different section of the park than the other day. We spied a fort playground so decided to pull up and let them have a play. It was a huge 4 section fort with connecting bridges and ropes. It was enormous and rather high so Anto got the pleasure of crawling through with the kids.
Next to the area we were playing in was obviously a dog meet-up, as there were dogs and owners everywhere, out for a morning run!
Soon it was time to leave and we predictably had to drag the kids away. We found a return GPS route and rode out through a different section of the park. Even in 2 (albeit short) visits we didn’t see much of Vondelpark so it’s on the agenda if we make it back to Amsterdam on another trip.
The GPS had us going a totally different way back to the hotel, and nothing was familiar. We had a couple of minor back-tracks but soon popped out into an area we recognised and were back at the hotel at about 10.10am. It was time to farewell our bikes (at this stage our butts and legs were grateful for that) and quickly grabbed our luggage and head for the airport. This also meant saying goodbye to my lovely tulips we’d been carrying around for a few days. Anto apparently wasn’t keen on carrying them to Pisa and Florence. They’d opened up so beautifully though!
It was a short walk from the hotel to the bus which took us back to the nearest train station. We had some confusion about how to find the correct train to the airport but luckily had a kind English-speaking lady help us and eventually we located the correct track. It was in a totally separate area of the train station so we wouldn’t have stumbled on it by accident.
Once on the train it was only 10 minutes into Schiphol airport. We were a little later than we’d hoped as the transfers all took a little longer and we’d left the hotel a bit later than we wanted, but it should have all been fine. Once off the train at Schiphol we had to locate our flight. The airport is huge and very busy. We’d already checked into our flight and just needed to find our check-in wing and bag drop. Once we got there the line was huge, and it was only an hour and a half before take off! Luckily it moved fairly fast. Unfortunately the security line was also quite long and was listed at 20 minutes, 30 minutes before our gate closed.
For the second flight in a row the camera gear caused an issue which held us up for a re-screening and inspection. They were running body scanners and all of us got a lovely pat down and massage. Eventually out of security and we had less than 10 minutes until the gate closed and it was listed as a 7 minute walk. This turned into a bit of a bolt with the kids, and we came up to the gate and saw a couple of hundred people standing there not moving. We then proceeded to stand there, still not moving for quite a while, we even had time to purchase a scalding hot and terrible coffee and drink it all, while still standing around waiting for something to happen. Eventually boarding commenced 20 minutes after the flight should have departed. Apparently the plane had been delayed coming in, but it would have been nice to not have to run through the airport if we knew it was going to be so late!
Once on board we had another delay with bags and then when finally underway a 10 minute taxi to take off. We were flying Transavia (a low-cost subsidiary of KLM) and it was our first experience with them and it wasn’t going well. We ended up taking off almost an hour late. As we only had a very small window in Pisa before our train to Florence, a delay wasn’t great but unfortunately these things happen. Finally in the air we bid farewell to the Netherlands, off for our first adventure in Italy.
Both kids were exhausted after some enormous days. Transavia is a low-cost carrier so there was no entertainment or food, and Soren didn’t take much convincing to have a nap after consuming the last quarter of a cheese sandwich, made from the picnic supplies we’d been carrying all over the Netherlands. Astrid did a little homework and also opted for a nap. Anto had a comfy flight wedged in the middle of two sleeping children, while I sat across the aisle with 2 sleeping elderly Dutch people next to me. Luckily we made up some time in the air and only landed in Pisa half an hour late.
Just to add to the day of delays, the aircraft stairs were delayed and it took a long time to get off the plane and into the terminal. With our luggage finally collected we went off to find the Pisa mover – the train link from the airport to Centrale that has only just opened. It was exceedingly efficient and worth the 2.70 Euro per adult.
Once off the Pisa mover we quickly found signs to the left luggage station and headed there to get rid of all bar one bag. We decided paying the 5 Euro per bag was worth it not to drag it around for a few hours.
Anto had been to Italy as a 4-year-old, but the kids and I had never visited Italy. The kids were excited get their first taste of Italy, and more specifically Italian gelato!
The moment we exited the train station it was obvious we were Italy, the architecture and streets looked very typically Italian and you couldn’t miss the very expressive language and hand waving of the locals.
When originally planning this trip we weren’t going to visit Pisa, and instead fly directly to Florence. However, it was one-third of the cost to fly to Pisa and then catch the train to Florence, and we got the bonus of the afternoon exploring Pisa. Our time in Pisa was always going to be short but with the flight delay we were down to only around 2 hours in Pisa so it was straight out to find ‘the walking street’ – Corso Italia .
It was a gloriously sunny afternoon and it was a very pleasant walk up towards the square of miracles. After many hours of sitting on planes and at airports we were glad we made the walk.
The Corso Italia is a pretty well-worn tourist track and there were people everywhere so we just followed the tourist throng and avoided the dodgy souvenir sellers. At one point the tourists thinned out and we hit a dead-end, turned to our left and saw the tower peeking out so no need to figure out where we were going.
Once we approached the tower the kids were pointing and squealing with excitement at Pisa’s most famous landmark.
Approaching the tower there were people absolutely everywhere. Anto and I were kind of expecting to be underwhelmed by the leaning tower but we were both struck by how pretty and intricate the tower is in real life. It was actually much nicer than we had seen in pictures.
We refused to take ‘the photo’ and instead watched all the people trying to get their creative shots with the Tower, which was rather amusing! The kids kept laughing at ‘all the people being silly’……
We explored the Piazza Del Miracoli (square of miracles) some more. Both the Pisa Duomo and Cathedral are very pretty. Due to our time limitations we only admired all the buildings from the outside. On such a lovely afternoon it was quite pleasant wandering around in the sun.
The grass was very inviting and there were plenty of people enjoying the afternoon sunshine, sprawled out on the grass. We had a quick lounge in the sun while Astrid demonstrated her gymnastic skills and we contemplated what we should eat.
We had kind of skipped lunch due to our flight to Pisa so we decided to leave the Piazza del Miracoli and walk to one of the nearby restaurants offering cheap set price menus for an early dinner.
Despite being in tourist hell, the food at many of the restaurants in the area looked decent so we picked one that did a 2 course set menu and sat down. We had a salad, a bruschetta , a funghi pizza and a tagliatelli with bolognese sauce, and wevall shared. The kids had a wonderful time drawing while our food was being prepared.
It turns out we were all really hungry and the food was rather good. Unfortunately the kids were not eating all that fast and it took us awhile to get through dinner. We still had a fair walk back to the train station, so we thought we’d better hold off on the gelato until we’d walked back down towards Centrale.
The walk back took us along the River Arno, which was quite pretty in the late afternoon sun. There were plenty of people our rowing training and teenagers sitting on the side of the river, being teenagers.
By the time we reached Pisa Centrale it wasn’t long until our train so our intended gelato stop didn’t happen, much to the children’s disgust. There was a fair bit of bargaining and begging from Astrid. I had been hanging out for gelato too, but we weren’t missing the train to Florence.
Bags retrieved from left luggage and tickets purchased we found our track and were fairly promptly on the train to Florence.
This was our first Italian train and unfortunately our carriage had nowhere to fit our large suitcases so Anto sat with a pile of bags while Soren and Astrid feasted on random treats they’d scored from a shop in the station for being ‘cute’.
The hour-long train was rather painless. I enjoyed watching the very distinctively Tuscan countryside whizz by us. It was all very pretty, with lots little villages on hills, green fields and the setting sun. We had originally intended to do a bike tour through Tuscany but had trouble booking one that accommodated the kids. The train trip was making us rather sad that we weren’t riding through Tuscany.
At 7.30pm we reached Florence. We had planned to catch a bus the couple of kilometres from the station to the Airbnb apartment we were staying in. After 15 minutes of wandering outside the station trying to find the correct bus stop for one of the multiple bus options, we decided instead to grab one of the many waiting taxis as it was rapidly getting dark and cold.
The taxi dropped us near to the apartment (due to a 1-way street) and we had a little trouble finding the door, but were soon upstairs in a very spacious 2 bedroom. Our host was lovely and welcoming but spoke little English, but she was doing better than our 5 words of Italian! We had an interesting conversation with lots of hand signals but we pretty much figured out everything we needed to know.
The apartment was on the second floor and had beautiful French windows and a loud bar underneath. We didn’t care, it felt spacious after a couple of weeks in small hotel rooms. We were all exhausted after another huge day. The kids well and truly collapsed asleep at 9pm and Anto and I enjoyed our first night in Italy drinking the Italian coffee and biscuits that had been left for us.
It had been a rather crazy and busy day. We were very glad that despite our visit to Pisa being cut short we’d decided to fly there and spend the couple of hours there as the kids loved visiting the Leaning Tower and Piazza del Miracoli, and we got to see a bit more of Tuscany!
Statistics for Wednesday 5 April 2017 – we started the day in Amsterdam at a brisk 5 degrees. The afternoon in Pisa reached a warm (and sunny) 22 degrees. Our morning dash to Vondelpark in Amsterdam involved 13.5 km of riding with 161m of elevation. We also managed 15.3km of walking on top of that, so could have done with that gelato!
At the conclusion of our Dutch bike tour we had ridden a total of 225.3km over the 5 days with 397m of elevation (Sardinia was not going to be as kind to our legs on the elevation front!). Our legs were a little weary but it had been thoroughly enjoyable and had definitely lived up to expectations.
Up next, our first full day in Italy and exploring the beautiful city of Florence…..