Michelangelo, Leonardo, and The Toddler
So at this point we've been at this Unsettle Down thing for a few weeks and our new life as permanent tourist-local hybrids is really starting to shape how we operate on a daily basis. We're finding our groove, per se. Even though we're relatively fresh off the plane, we feel we already have a lifetime of memories. It's been a wonderful wild ride so far.
Along our journey we've learned some amazing things about the new and old Italian cultures. We've seen a good deal of the Tuscan landscape and have mostly acclimated ourselves to it's rather-hot-for-this-time-of-year climate. We've started to turn over our wardrobe to get, as my husband puts it, "above the embarrassment bar" with European fashion trends. But above all else, we've learned a tremendous amount about who we are as parents.
Kailen is about 21 months old and has recently transitioned into full-tilt toddler mode, as you can see, though the ol' terrible-twos trope doesn't necessarily paint an accurate picture as of yet. She isn't quite throwing herself on the ground in a tantrum, but she definitely wants what she wants when she wants it. Also, she has no regard for the word no... Okay, so maybe that is the terrible twos?
Anyway, we recently visited The Uffizi and Museo Accademia, two of the most famous art museums in all of Europe. She came along both times, and boy do we have some advice to share for traveling parents.
If you ever plan to take your little angels into a room full of centuries-old marble nudes this list is for you. If you don't have a toddler, we can still help you use your time wisely and see the best of the Renaissance. Here's how to do it:
1. Book the museums in advance
We highly suggest booking your visit date and time at least a month prior, especially during tourist season, which is mid July through early September. With a lofty price tag, Florence does offer a Firenze Card as well, which grants you access to nearly all the major museums and sites in a 72 hour period. This could work for a lot of people, but it can be tough to squeeze everything in with a toddler. We didn't get the card, but if it works for you, let us know!
Even if you have an advanced ticket or the Firenze Card, you could end up waiting up to 30 minutes to enter the museum on any given day. Nearly everyone else visiting Florence will plan to see The Uffizi and The David at Museo Accademia, so beat them to the punch. Don't be one of those unfortunate souls stuck in the line when it wraps around the entire city block. If you don't schedule in advance, you may not even get in at all.
For you parents out there: don't forget to order a free child's ticket in advance online, too. The attendants are more concerned with the number of bodies within the walls than the dollars in the coffers. You'll need to account for even the youngest of your brood.
2. Be an early bird
But shit happens, right? Especially as a parent. If you have a booking time or just decide last minute to go visit these world-renowned museums, with or without a child, just bite the bullet and go before 8AM.
That's right, even with an advanced reservation you'll still want to chug down an espresso and get there early. Bringing your baby or toddler? It will still be worth the early trip. It is known that waiting in line can be boring for a kid, and you'll be frazzled before you even start if you have to sit around for 45 minutes. The lines are just an indication of what's to come, too. Both of these sites are crowded nearly shoulder-to-shoulder by 11 with eager tourists from around the world gazing at the masterpieces. No one wants to be rushed, so don't expect a quick prance through the Renaissance.
Whether your child sleeps through the early visit or is rambunctious and running all over the place, you'll have less to worry about around you if you start first thing. This is The Uffizi hallway at 9:30 in the morning on a Tuesday, for reference:
We suggest one parent or guardian standing in the entry line while the other grabs the printable tickets (with your confirmation number) at the office across the street from each museum. The museum attendants will be happy to help you, especially if you have a child. Have we mentioned how much Italians love babies?
3. Evaluate your must-see pieces
Now that you've booked your visit, do a little research in advance. If you'd rather us do that for you, scroll down to our list of the top stops to hit along the way.
What are the absolute must sees for you or your museum partners? We're big on planning all the details, and this is an important step in making your day go smoothly. Winging it won't get you the experience you want. Knowing when and where to spend time in the museums will ensure you get everything you want out of your visit. Remember, you don't have to see everything.
4. Set your expectations
Here's the big lesson we learned. With a toddler, don't expect them to sit still while you contemplate just why Michelangelo decided to sculpt one hand larger than the other on The David. You probably already know this, but in this kind of atmosphere it's especially unnerving. The best thing you can do is to go slow and steady. Your visit will take 50% longer than you expect it to. That extra time will come in handy.
PS: Bathrooms in The Uffizi and the Museo Accademia are at the end of the museum. We found that out the hard way.
5. Create a museum plan-of-action
Some of the greatest things in life are about compromise. And with a toddler, everything is about compromise. If you're with someone who cares more for Renaissance art than you do, take the reigns and offer to spend more time with the kid while they get to REALLY experience, ponder, and enjoy the artwork. All of our advice and planning would be for nothing if no one in the group could enjoy themselves. We learned this the first time through.
Tag-team parenting is a hard-learned and very valuable skill, and in this scenario it truly can get to professional wrestling levels of tagging in and tagging out. It may seem counterintuitive at first if you're trying to have a family outing, but having a plan for meeting points, splitting time, and alternate methods of communication can open up the museums for each of you to enjoy.
If you decide you'd like to experience every masterpiece together, there's a chance you'll be frustrated and so will the people around you. Everyone there paid good money to a check this off their bucket list, including you. A pragmatic plan, complete with 50% extra time budgeted in, breaks, and downtime will do wonders.
6. Opt for an audio tour
Once you get there, you'll have to decide if you want to pay for the guided tours. We wanted to experience the masterpieces with as much relevant information and historical context as possible. It did lengthen our stay at each place, though. We went into The Uffizi thinking we could read about it in our guide book, wrangle in a child and enjoy ourselves. Well, we were so incredibly and utterly wrong. Hubby had to backtrack through the crowds to get the audio tour contraption, after finding a bancomat outside of the building to pay for it. Still, all of that was worth it to experience the museum properly.
So, we highly suggest opting for the self-guided audio tour or downloading one on your phone before-hand. We prefer these over human guided or large group tours, too. That said, paying for a guided tour is fine if one person wants to take over baby duty. Also, you can often mooch and put an ear in on other tours. Don't tell anybody, but they don't seem to mind too much, especially if you have a kid in your arms.
7. With a wild child?
If your toddler or kid starts acting up, step outside of the exhibit (whether that be in the bookstore, bathroom or hallway), compose yourselves, and reset. Those sculptures aren't going anywhere, and if you started early you'll have plenty of time to see everything you want.
Michelangelo once said "genius is eternal patience." He was right, as usual. Just as patience is required to paint ornate frescoes and sculpt perfect masterpieces, an immense amount of it is needed to help little humans through a building with no moving pictures or Disney characters.
8. Have fun, and take all of the pictures
We just talked about being respectful of others and keeping your kid on the straight and narrow, but you can let it go for a little bit here and there. These places can get a bit stuffy, so sometimes you just have to let it flow and laugh a little. You surely won't be the only one with a kid, and as long as you act with a decent amount of decorum, you're in for a great time.
Also, document the event! Set up the shots you want and don't be bashful about it. This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime event, so snap away.
Hopefully you're lucky enough to capture a nice photo of your little one in front of the world's most famous sculptures and paintings. Maybe someday they'll look back and appreciate it, because our baby sure didn't give a crap while we were there.
To help guide you through some of the most important pieces of each museum, keep reading the quick & dirty highlights below.
Highlights of the Museo Accademia
1. The David - Quite possibly the finest piece of sculpture in existence. A must-see for anyone and everyone. That is all.
2. The Rape of the Sabine Women - A pioneering feat of technical sculpture that tells a vivid story of the brutality of Roman rule.
3. The Prisoners - Ever wonder what it would be like to watch Michelangeo work? Well, this collection of larger-than-life unfinished sculptures will give you a glimpse into the mind of a genius.
4. The Sculpture Room - Take a leisurely stroll through an enormous collection of classical sculptures and just take it all in.
Bonus - There's some cool Byzantine bronze work that was hung in the city's most famed cathedrals. You will also find a small exhibit of musical instruments played by some of Italy's most renowned musicians. Here's a link to the Accademia's must-see recommendations.
Highlights of The Uffizi
1. The Great Long Hall - Some of these sculptures and portraits have sat in the same exact spot for 300 years. This is a great place for the kid to run around. In the exhibit rooms, not so much.
2. The Trio of Madonnas with Child - Representing the medieval period and its flat perspective form, three different artists paint the same subject, the Madonna and Child. It's an important introduction to the entire museum because you can witness the mastering of 3-D illusion right before your eyes.
3. The Annunciation - Martini paints the stories of the Bible as an attempt to appeal to the common folk who maybe couldn't read so good. This pre-renaissance work focused on utility, not beauty. This is where the audio tours come in handy to really appreciate the details of this fantastic piece.
4. Double Portrain - They may not seem as impressive as the other works, but these paintings marked a turning point in the Renaissance. People weren't painted idealistically, but realistically in true human form. You don't know the name, but you've seen it before, we guarantee it.
5. The Birth of Venus - Botticelli's most famous work is no less stunning in person. The skills, storytelling, and scale of the work in this room is second to none. Spend some time here as it is one of the most important pieces in the museum.
6. View of the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno - One of the best views in the city. Not for it's scope, but for the angle.
7. Leonardo da Vince's Annunciation - If it weren't for the name, you'd maybe walk right past. But seeing an early work from such a master is a nerdy thrill. He didn't even get paid for this one.
8. Michelangelo Room - The room is a sight to see, but the gem inside is the only finished easel painting by the greatest sculptor in history. Take a chance to see his work up close, because the Sistine Chapel won't give you this kind of access.
9. The View from the Cafe - Check out the Duomo from a very unique vantage point in the shade of the Palazzo Vecchio. Don't pay for the food, though. It's not worth it.
Thanks for reading our guide to conquering museums with a tiny human. Hopefully it will come in handy for all you parents out there, and for anyone else who wants to see some of the most famous art in Florence's marvelous museums.