When originally planning our big Italian vacation, we were going to have two weeks. We were going to drive from home, do the entire one side of Italy, work our way up the other side, then head home (stopping once on the way, and once on the way back). The kids get to weeks off at Easter, so they wouldn’t be missing any school – just my hubby and my vacation days. In the end, our vacation days didn’t work out for what we wanted. My husband was going to have to work the entire first week, and only have one week off instead (nine days including weekends and Good Friday off). This changed our plans bigtime – driving now would be impossible for only one week.
After reviewing and reviewing flights that would work for us to get the most out of the trip, nothing was coming together. Checked for days and days, and the best and cheapest flights were Sunday to Sunday – 80€-100€ a person, which is an absolute ridiculous price compared to what I would normally spend. I booked our hotels in the meantime with free cancellation, because if I couldn’t find flights I liked, vacation to Italy would be cancelled… I was NOT spending 80€, so I was holding off booking. Finally after two days of “giving up checking”, I found what I wanted! Leaving Brussels Charleroi, Belgium to Pisa, Italy – flights were 10€! YES!!! Best part? It left Saturday instead of Sunday, so we even got an extra day out of it! Coming back from Italy was a little more expensive (again that I would usually spend..) – 40€. But 50€ instead of 80-100 was much more reasonable. They had a special going on with free reserved seating for kids with an adult, so all we paid was 4€ for one reserved seat – so 8€ total with the return trip. 258€ – 340$cnd about – total for flights to Italy; you really can’t go wrong when you think of it… Booking so far in advance isn’t always the best price. I’m a last minute kinda girl, and it hasn’t really gone wrong for me yet.
Since my original flights were Sunday to Sunday, the hotels I’d booked were from Sunday to Sunday. We now had an extra night, so I had to find an extra hotel. My husband had been bugging me about going to San Marino, San Marino. It’s a small country in itself. I didn’t feel like driving five hours one way just for a new country. I looked for hotels all around our flight, even tried to tack on an extra night to our already booked hotel in Pisa, but nothing was reasonable – or available. Finally decided to check San Marino again – which ended up being less than three and a half hours away – oops. Found a hotel forty-five minutes away from it. Perfect place to stop, drop off our bags, and head the last forty-five to San Marino itself.
Flight was great – it left at 7:00am, so we all slept most of the way. Picking up our car rental was super easy with Sixt. We have learnt the hard way about booking with a cheap rental company, so Sixt was excellent. We were even offered an automatic car for the same price of a manual – which of course we took! Not one company since moving to Europe has given us that option. The car was brand new – had 10km only on it (by the end the trip it had over 2200…lol).
The drive from Pisa to our hotel was easy. No cars on the road. There were tolls, but knew to expect those. Kids coloured and played on their GameBoy’s, so that was easy. Hotel let us check in early at 12:30 (check in was supposed to start at 2:00). Room for 72€ was perfect. Right downtown, free parking, and close to what we would need for one night. We charged our cell phones for a bit, let the kids watch Italian cartoons, then headed to San Marino.
Getting there was easy, our GPS brought us exactly to where we wanted to be. Parking on the street was easy, and being April, there were spots everywhere. It was also a cheap price compared to what I thought it would be; about 3€ for two and a half hours.
Walk up the hill a little, and the view you see is incredible. San Marino is at the top of a mountain “overlooking the land”. My fear of heights kicked in seeing how high up we were. I think the kids sense it too… It’s like they know “Mommy is scared shitless, let’s jump and try to climb every single possible thing we can”. After a couple of beautiful pics, I’d had enough and on we kept walking.
There is a police guard directing traffic across the street, so we cross, and walk through city walls. There are roads to follow up, so we decide to keep on following. After only a couple of minutes, you get the feeling you have been here before. My husband and I were talking, and we realized “this is like Mont St-Michel!”. But… Better.
Roads are not as narrow; you have more than enough room for some people going up, and others going down. And strollers! Mont St-Michel is all steps, strollers would never work. If I would need a stroller for my kids, I would be happy to use one here. Walking the streets has the same medieval feel, just not as tourist trappy.
There are beautiful statues everywhere you turn. The kids thought seeing naked statues was hilarious – such a boy thing at their age lol And yes, we did explain that since she is holding a child, she was probably feeding the child – they understood that! It really is a beautiful statue!
Next, we kept walking. I read online that there is a tower to see once you get to the top of the hill off in the distance. What I didn’t realize, was there were three towers, and you could literally walk from each castle to the other. The ages of my kids makes them very mobile, and they love finding castles, so they were not disappointed with the hike to each.
The hike through the woods is always nice. The views, the scenery, you can never go wrong. Letting the kids move without danger is wonderful. Let them feel freedom for a few minutes always helps when we need them to come back to us. Although, we were very high up. Nathan found a soccer game down the bottom of the mountain and thought he should check it out – I had a mini heart attack lol Although I am petrified of heights, so that doesn’t help much.
Getting to each castle was fun too. Seeing the small differences – one is more of a tower, one is more of a castle…etc It was nice to just see them each. The weather was also sunny and about 18 degrees, so we had no trouble being outside – we didn’t want to leave.
But… We had a meter to get to before we’d get a ticket.. We started walking down the hill back to our car. One thing along the way I’d been looking for was gelato – ice cream. Same thing, but of course being in Italy, it just seems better than what you find back home… I found what I wanted – and took very cute pictures of each of us eating our first real Italian Gelato – problem is, my husband’s phone has disappeared, and I lost all those pictures 😦 I am very sad, but at least I have that memory and how happy the kids were. They had to be good to get their gelato, so when they got it after an entire day of being good, they were thrilled! This is the small little place we got it from though! Eating it while checking out the castle above made for a great view!
In the end, I was sad to be leaving here. Sure, we could have put more money in the meter and gone back to walk around, but in the two and a half hours we had, we had seen everything. Walking around more would only have made us see everything twice, which was unnecessary. At this point, we had been travelling all day (between flights and driving), so heading back to the hotel to relax was a good idea. Kids heads hit the pillow quickly and were out cold even faster. They were exhausted, as were we.
What a great day we had!