Ireland – part 3, Galway & Dublin

After a sumptuous breakfast of waffles, freshly baked croissants, and smoked salmon, we set out for Connomarra National Park, a 2.5 hour drive from Corrofin. As we approached the area, our eyes were greeted by stunning lakes, and lush green mountains with waterfalls streaming down. Our first stop in the park was for lunch at the visitor center, after which Ariana played with her grandparents in the park while Ayaan joined Gaurav and I for another hike. As we walked up the mountain, we could see a spectacular view of the valley and lakes below. After the hike, we drove to the beautiful Kylemore abbey which was set against the backdrop of a lake. After strolling the grounds, we drove to Galway and checked in to our apartment. Gaurav brought dinner for the kids and grandparents, and then we enjoyed a date night out! Our first stop was at Cava Bodega where we enjoyed pinxtos and tapas with a carafe of Rioja. Next we headed to the popular pub, Tig Cioli where we each enjoyed a strong Irish Coffee. We learned that Tig Cioli was the first pub that ever opened in Galway and they’d listed the price of a pint for nearly every year since 1900! I’ve begun to really appreciate the pub culture in Ireland because it is extremely kid friendly with baby changing tables, kid menus and live music to drown out any tantrums :). The pubs have become what I look forward to for each meal, and possibly what I’ll miss the most about Ireland! This time though, we were kid free and we decided to make the most of the night. Our next stop was Tich Neachtain where we were able to hustle our way into a fantastic seat right by the live band. We started off with a black Jameson reserve which was fantastic and then proceeded to have several pints of Guinness and whisky flights interspersed with shots of Jameson. We stumbled home and woke up to a heavy hangover the next morning.

It was dada’s birthday so after breakfast at home, everyone enjoyed a treat of the famous Murphy’s ice cream. We walked to Eyre Square and then strolled the medieval streets of Galway taking in the live music at nearly every corner. We made our way to the Galway cathedral which was beautiful. Finally we enjoyed lunch at a pub near our home and then headed back for the kids nap. Ayaan and Ariana have been to over 50 playgrounds during this trip and we took them to another before dinner. It was one of the densest playgrounds we’d been to with a train in addition to the usual and the kids loved it. It was dada’s 73rd birthday and we celebrated with dinner at Buddha Bar. The kids enjoyed singing “happy birthday to Dada”, blowing out the candles and eating up the cake.

In the morning we drove 2.5 hours to Dublin and arrived at our apartment in the heart of Dublin near O’Connell St. Gaurav returned the car to the airport after 1600km of driving, while I picked up groceries and lunch. We spent the afternoon strolling through the historic streets of Dublin – Trinity college, Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral. Ayaan wanted sweet corn chicken soup again so we found a nearby Chinese restaurant called M&L which worked out great, and also gave us the opportunity to walk down the touristy city center. After putting Ariana to sleep, Gaurav and I sneaked out to check out the night scene in Dublin. We stumbled upon the Quays bar with a live band that played many of our favorite Karaoke songs! We also visited the famous Temple Bar which is a huge indoor-outdoor pub with Irish local music. The Jameson Black Barrel became our go to drink for the night. Overall we really enjoyed Dublin’s vibe with its historic streets, canals and live music everywhere.

On the last day of our European adventure, we woke up to a sunny Dublin. We took the tram to St Stephens Green, a lovely local park with beautiful flowers, ponds and a playground, and neighborhood. The kids and parents enjoyed the short tram ride. We spent the morning strolling through the park with our coffee, and ate lunch at the mall next door. To celebrate the end of our 2.5 month journey through Europe, Gaurav and I had a special meal at Taste of Rustic, a new age Japanese restaurant in Dublin. After enjoying some Nigiri, we visited the Church bar, a unique experience since neither of us had previously had a drink at a converted church!

It’s been a wonderful journey and we’re thankful that Ayaan and Ariana did incredible, and the grandparents joined us for some of it. On to Bombay for the next phase of our journey!

Ireland – part 2, the west

The west of Ireland is where it’s at, with its stunning coastline and 5 peninsulas. After exploring the Dingle peninsula the previous day, we got a very early start to explore the famous Ring of Kerry drive. The weather wasn’t great in the morning and unfortunately our boat tour around Skellig Michael got cancelled – but we were sort of glad since the ocean was rough and the kids wouldn’t sit still for 2.5 hours. We anyway drove to Portmagee, our first stop on the ring. It’s a small fishing village with the typically colored houses and a breathtaking view point overlooking Skellig Michael and the boats departing to it. Our next stop was just 1.5km away at the Kerry’s Cliffs. The signs are right to call this the most magnificent cliffs of Kerry! We continued down the beautiful Skellig ring drive and were often reminded of the 17 mile drive in Monterey. We stopped for lunch at a pub in Waterville and it was once again a warm experience. We continued driving around the loop making small stops along the way at some sights, and taking a break for coffee and Irish apple cake at Kenmare – another cute town with colorful houses. Ariana and I explored the church here and we took the kids to the playground where they made new friends. Our last section of the ring was through the Molls gap pass and the Killarney national park. We stopped to see the Ladies view and the waterfall along the way, before stopping in the town of Killarney. All of us loved walking around the slightly larger town of Killarney and we ate some Asian street food for dinner.

We started our fifth day in Ireland driving to our next stop in Corrofin, near the Cliffs of Moher. On the way we passed Adare, a small town with thatched roof houses, a castle and a Methodist church. We stopped at Limerick for lunch where we had some delicious Italian food. Before checking in at our next B&B, we visited The Burren National Park, with its limestone rocks and large formation. Ayaan, Anjali and I walked on the 40 min nature loop and we were so proud of Ayaan since he walked the entire loop himself. Our B&B (Burkedale) was lovely as it was a large top floor of a house with meadow views. Joanne our host was very warm and welcoming – as we expected in Ireland at this point. She also gave the kids toys to play with including train tracks and the cars to sit on. The kids loved the house as it had a cat and dog as well. In the evening, we visited the quaint town of Ennis and ate at a recommended pub which was fantastic as well. We tried the Irish coffee which then became a regular for us.

We slept in late in our comfortable B&B and woke up to a good breakfast – having a fulfilling breakfast is one of the best perks of this trip so far! We drove 40 minutes to the famous Cliffs of Moher. We were early enough to beat the rush as we took in the beauty of the magnificent cliffs. As we strolled along the cliff side path it became clear what this place special with its humongous cliffs, green meadows and clear waters. We spent a few hours here and then drove to the nearby Doolin for lunch at a locally recommended pub. We relaxed in the B&B as the kids played with their toys, and later visited the town of Ennis again for dinner.

Ireland – part 1, the south and some west

To end our 2 and a 1/2 month adventure in Europe, we boarded our Norwegian air flight to Dublin. Ireland is a new country for all of us and Ariana’s 20th country! We were excited to be meet my parents who were joining us for this last leg. We arrived to a typically rainy Dublin and rented a large 7-seater to ensure we’d all fit comfortably. I was excited to drive through Ireland on the other side of the road and not have to catch another flight for 10 days. We picked up my parents from their hotel in central Dublin and drove straight to the town of Kilkenny 1 hour 45 mins away. It worked out great since the kids napped after the flight and were overjoyed to meet Dada and Dadi. We stayed at the Springhill Court Hotel which was quite nice and had a pool and spa and most importantly a playground. As soon as we arrived we could tell the Irish were super nice and kid friendly, which was a pleasant change from the recent countries we’d been to where it seemed like they had forgotten how to smile. We spent our first evening eating at Lemongrass, an Asian fusion restaurant, in the heart of Kilkenny. We loved the food and the town with its castle and quaint brightly colored beautiful houses (which we learned through our travels was typical of Irish towns). Anjali and I put the kids to sleep and enjoyed a Guinness at the hotel bar with live Irish music!

Next morning we woke up to an average breakfast in the hotel, before going into the town of Kilkenny. Street parking was easy and we started by walking the grounds of the famous castle from the 12th century. My parents took the kids on a chu chu train tour of Kilkenny which they really enjoyed as it gave them a flavor of this unique town. Anjali and I meanwhile walked through the quaint streets and explored the local Abbey and the church, both of which were worth a visit. Kilkenny was my favorite little town in Ireland! After about an hour of exploration, we drove to the Rock of Cashel that was on our way to our next stop at Kilbrittain. The Rock of Cashel is a historic must-do site, a medieval rock castle, overlooking vast meadows and fields with cows and sheep. Walking through the rock got us hungry and we ate at an Irish pub. The pubs became our go to for meals since the atmosphere, food and service were uniquely Irish and very relaxing. We were also pleasantly surprised to find Indian curry in many of these pubs. After filling our stomachs with yummy food and Guinness, we drove for about 2 hours to our B&B in Kilbrittain called Seafield farmhouse. It was located at the southern tip of Ireland with stunning views of the bay and ocean, hundreds of cows, bright green meadows and to the kids delight had its own dog. The host was very sweet and welcoming as well. Oh yes – and the rooms in Ireland were large unlike much of Europe. We were in love with Ireland to our delight and it was very different than our travels in the mainland. We ended the night with a ocean view dinner at the Pink Elephant with great wine and local food.

We woke up to cows mooing and birds chirping, ate some home made scones and breakfast, and set forth to explore the nearby town of Kinsale. Weather was typically Irish and wet, so we first decided to go to the Charles Fort, a rock fort overlooking Kinsale and the south of Ireland. The kids loved their time here playing with the grandparents and running around with umbrellas in the light rain. We stopped in the town for lunch to devour some pizzas, only after a stop in the playground!

Our stop for the next couple of days was on the west coast in Castlemaine and it was a couple of hours drive from Kinsale. We decided to drive further to the stunning Dingle peninsula since the kids were sleeping. This wasn’t originally part of our itinerary but we were so glad we did this. The Slea Head drive at the tip of the peninsula is one of the most amazing drives I’ve done. It’s extremely narrow and we often got stuck and had to back up – but still worth the drive. We ended our drive at Coumeenoole, a gorgeous view of Skellig Michael and the great basket islands. We drove an hour back through the town of Dingle to the Murphy’s Farmhouse B&B in Castlemaine where we stayed for 2 nights. We ate at yet another local pub that night called Anvil while thoroughly enjoying the live music!

Copenhagen

We arrived into Copenhagen on a rainy evening so we checked into the AC hotel and dined at the hotel bar before calling it a night. The next morning, we took the subway to downtown and the kids were delighted to find a toy store where they could play and ‘test drive’ a large majority of the toys. We spent an unanticipated 45 minutes there since the kids have been deprived of their toys for two months now (save for a few favorites that we were able to squeeze into our suitcase). We then strolled to Nyhavn, a picturesque (albeit touristy) harbor with colored homes and restaurants lining the canal. We ate lunch at one of the restaurants overlooking the water and my burger was pretty good (most other places in Europe where I’ve tried a burger haven’t been able to match up to American / SF standards). We decided to take a canal cruise which was a good start to getting a ‘lay of the land’. We then walked to Christiania, which is meant to be a bohemian, eclectic neighborhood. It may have been the rain but we didn’t get what was special about the neighborhood. The rooftop bar at our hotel had just opened so we decided to dine there. The build-out was impressive and the ambiance hip and energetic. However the service left a lot to be desired. We enjoyed several rounds of Japanese-inspired cocktails that were fantastic but didn’t end up getting our entrees well past the kids bedtime, forcing us to leave somewhat hungry. Not entirely surprising for a restaurants first day but a disappointing experience nevertheless.

I was excited the next morning as my Cornell bestie, Bumjoo was flying in from London with her husband Adam to meet us. We spent the day at the Tivoli Gardens, a creative amusement park that was celebrating its 175th year, and from where Walt Disney reportedly got his inspiration. The park was unique in that it was also appealing to adults with nice restaurants and lounge chairs in the grass. It was a perfect way to catch up with Adam and Bumjoo while the kids were well entertained with a live show, trams, the famous carousel and driving cars and boats. Ayaan was thrilled to finally find cotton candy after searching for it through all of Europe. Luckily, by lunch time the kids were exhausted and napped instantly and soundly, allowing us to enjoy lunch with some local Carlsberg beer! We ended up spending the better part of the day at Tivoli and then retreating back to our hotel through another Pride parade (we experienced pride in Lisbon and Madrid as well!). Dinner was perfect at a nice Indian restaurant Rasoi near our hotel where the kids chowed down on butter chicken and saag paneer with rice.

We started the next morning by climbing to the top of the Round Tower, but not before stopping at a Lego store (LEGO is from Denmark) where the kids played and Ayaan bought a little Lego train. We noticed that all the toy stores in Copenhagen have created an experience for the kids, likely allowing them to survive (and thrive!) despite the proliferation of Amazon and other online retailers (Toys R Us couldn’t learned something from here by creating an experience and potentially preventing their downfall!). The kids did great climbing to the top of the Round Tower by themselves (it helped that there was a ramp nearly the entire way) from where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city. After retreating back down, we headed to the Rossendberg castle and some gardens where the kids played in a unique park. We then met Bumjoo and Adam for lunch at the fresh food market and enjoyed some delicious fresh fish from sushi, sashimi, and a smorgasbord of seafood delights. We strolled to the nearby botanical gardens and a beer garden where they told the history of beer. Next we went to some food trucks in Christiania where we got another small bite with a round of drinks. The Copenhagen Iron Man was inspiring to watch! We bid goodbye to Bumjoo and Adam that evening and enjoyed dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant before retreating to our hotel. Onto Irelend tomorrow where we’ll meet with Gaurav’s parents!

Budapest

After spending the morning eating a nice breakfast and walking in the gardens surrounding the European Parliament in Brussels, we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Budapest, Hungary – a new country for everyone except me. I’d been there on a road trip from Prague for a day and really enjoyed it. The flight was short and kids napped and did well overall as Brussels airways was very kid friendly. One thing that’s not great about traveling with kids in Europe is that you don’t get the stroller at the gate when you arrive. Anyway our bags came quickly and we took a taxi (no uber here) to our amazingly situated apartment at Molnar utca. The one bed apartment was great with air-conditioning (90 degrees here too) although no crib. It’s great to see the kids adapt as we’ve gone from a 3 bed apartment to sleeping in suites and 1 bed apartments, to a single hotel room and finally to 4 of us on queen bed! That evening we walked along the Danube and ate lunch at a fantastic kid friendly Greek restaurant nearby. The server was extremely nice as he gave Ariana a toy horse and Ayaan some lights that made their night!

Next morning we ate breakfast at the apartment and then strolled along the Danube to the magnificent Chain Bridge, crossing it to the Historic buda side. The funicular was closed for maintenance (reminded us of our hillevator!) so we took the open air tram up to the Buda castle. The kids of course enjoyed yet another new form of transportation. The view from the castle of the Pest side is breathtaking, but there’s not much else at the castle. Our next team stop was the Fisherman’s Bastion and Mattheaus’ church which are incredible pieces of architecture in white stone with a great view of the Hungarian parliament and chain bridge. We ate some local Hungarian food at a nearby restaurant before retreating back to our apartment to have a nap. We decided to relax that evening so we took the kids to the nearby park, bought some groceries and a bottle of wine and Anjali cooked us a nice meal.

Next morning we walked across the bridge to the Gellert thermal baths that were 10 mins away. It’s a must-do Hungarian Experience to go spend the day at the baths with its mix of different temperature indoor thermal pools in a historic building, an out door pool, bath and a restaurant. We spent most of the day here as relaxed, drank some Hungarian sparkling wine and the kids enjoyed their pool. A bonus was a live orchestra playing while we chilled poolside. That night Anjali and I celebrated the close of our home by getting a babysitter and dining at the Buddha Bar restaurant. We were very happy with the result although the process had been quite stressful.

We spent our last full day in Budapest, walking the streets. We first visited the Great synagogue, the largest in Europe. We found a great park after that where the kids enjoyed “the swing and the slide” as Ariana says. We then walked down the posh Andrassy Ave to the Heroes square, and it was clear why Budapest is sometimes called the Paris of the East. The Heroes square is situated in the main park that also houses the zoo and the most famous baths. We lost our way a bit as we exited the park in search of Doner kebabs, but eventually caught a bus back to the center – quite stressful with kids. We did eventually get some Doner kebabs that the kids munched down. We were all tired and headed back to the apartment where the kids napped while Anjali and I took turns to get a much needed Thai massage next door. The evening was predictable as we visited the children’s park again and ate some yummy Italian food accompanied with decent a Hungarian red wine. We ended the night by going to one of the open air bars on top of a boat with the kids overlooking the lit up monuments along the Danube river.

On our last morning before catching our flight to Copenhagen, we strolled down to the European Parliament building while stopping for a ride on the Budapest eye overlooking the skyline. Our stay in Budapest was pleasant and quite different that the other places we’d been to! We now traveled for 2 months and to 10 countries.

Belgium

A short 1.5-hour flight from Munich brought us to Brussels. The kids we’re fairly tired by the time we reached our hotel because they were too excited to be on an airline after nearly two months, and skipped their afternoon nap. We walked around in Schuman, the neighborhood where our hotel was located and enjoyed some frites with mayo at the famous Maison Antoine which were delicious! We then enjoyed dinner at an outdoor cafe in the square with some local beer and decided to call it a night.

The next morning, we took the train to Brugge which had he kids thrilled, singing chugga chugga choo choo” and enjoying the sights of numerous cows along the way. The walk from the Brugge station to the Belfry tower and main square was beautiful with ornate small houses lining quaint cobblestone streets. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of mussels with garlic, shrimp scampi and frites washed down with leffe blonde. We then strolled to the chocolate museum where we enjoyed some delicious samples, sculptures made of chocolate and learned about the origins and history of this treat! Later, the kids napped while Gaurav enjoyed a drink in the square and I climbed up the Belftry tower for views of the city and canal. While beautiful and quaint, Brugge attracts heavy crowds of tourists which detracts from some of its charm.

The next day, the forecast was rainy so we decided to stay in Brussels. Our first stop was the Royal Palace which was grand. The kids loved the interactive science exhibit at the end where they danced with their illuminated shadows! Next we walked to Grand Place, the city’s main square which is lined on all sides with exquisite buildings. It was absolutely stunning! Soon, the rain forced us into an indoor gallery mall where I enjoyed a massage and Gaurav enjoyed some Belgian chocolate tastings while Ayaan napped. After a brief rest at the hotel, we were excited to dine at Tai Hon, a Taiwanese restaurant that I found in a blog where we had a reservation. The kids devoured the entire platter of appetizers before either of us could get a bite in, and we knew we had a win! The entrees were delightful too and we made a reservation to return in a couple of days.

The next morning, we took a train to Gent, a beautiful university town with a river running through the old town. We stopped for lunch at a pizzeria and then made our away to the old town. A ‘bubble man’ in one of the squares had the kids entertained for a while! Next we saw the church and the castle and once the kids napped, we stopped at a riverfront bar for a glass or rose. A few more cafes and drinks later, we made our way back to Brussels and enjoyed sushi at a restaurant near our hotel. Gent was a charming town without the crowds of Brugge which made it very desirable.

Our last day in Brussels was fairly relaxing with no real agenda. We strolled to Parc du Cinquantenaire where we found a large park and sand pit for the kids. We walked past Autoworld, a museum of vintage cars, to a beautiful fountain where we caught a rainbow! We then took the train to the Notre Damn du Sablon, a spendid church and then walked to the famous Mannekin Pis which was somewhat underwhelming. We enjoyed a local lunch and then it was Gaurav’s turn to get a massage while I did a bit of shopping while the kids napped. We returned to Tai Hon for another memorable dinner! We’re off to Budapest tomorrow.

Salzburg & Munich

We drove early this morning to Salzburg, a return visit for me after 20 years, on our way to Munich. The city seems to have developed considerably since I last visited, but maintained its charm. Our first stop was the Mira bell palace and gardens where I reminisced about the songs from Sound of Music. Next, we headed to see the Salzburg Cathedral but it was closed for Sunday service. We strolled around the beautiful baroque quarter, and stopped in a beer garden for a tall mug of beer while the kids played in the fountains and sand pit nearby. After a satiating Indian meal, we continued our journey to Munich while the kids napped.

Gaurav and Ayaan were thrilled to be checking in to the Westin Grand, a hotel with air conditioning after several nights of apartment living. Gaurav’s insights and love for hotels while traveling (and lack of appreciation for apartments) should give us lodging real estaters some comfort in the midst of the sharp rise in shared lodging establishments. After some rest, we headed to the famous Hofbrauhaus for some mugs of beer with sausages, roast chicken and pretzels. The kids enjoyed the live music and the meal. We then strolled around the various squares and made our way to Marien platz where the sounds of beautiful live music at every corner had us stopping several times to appreciate the beats. Later that evening, Gaurav and I enjoyed the remainder of our Tignanello after putting the kids to bed.

The next morning, it appeared that Gaurav was more excited than either of the kids as we planned to visit Legoland! A first for me, it was pretty incredible to see miniature cities replicated entirely in LEGO – Venice was particularly impressive due to our recent visit. The kids enjoyed riding in the LEGO train, boat, car, helicopter, and following the boats and trains in the miniature models.

Today is our last day with a car; we return it at Munich airport tomorrow and fly to Brussels. The past seven weeks have been incredible! Ariana has blossomed into a lively toddler that loves to sing – she awakens singing and often sings during the car rides. Her favorites are “baa baa black sheep”, “how far I’ll go” from Moana and “Five Little Monkeys” complete with the act of jumping on the bed! She’s also extremely talkative and expressive and her comments often leave Gaurav and I looking at each other in wonder going “did you hear what she just said”. Keep that going, Ariana. Ayaan continues to be very caring particularly about his little sister which is also very gratifying to see. Nearly 7,500 kilometers later, Au Revoir to our white Puegot, you served as well.

Tuscany

Tuscany was the only place in our entire trip that Gaurav and I had been to together, but had always wanted to return, and so we decided to repeat! A short drive from Florence, and we entered the beautiful town of San Gimignano. The heat was oppressive though, and the kids weren’t cooperating. Surprisingly and much to our dismay, Ayaan has developed somewhat of an aversion to pizza which made meal time challenging. And then, when we asked Ayaan to stop being on the phone once lunch was served, he uttered the dreaded bad word. And for that moment, the heat combined with the tantrum made me wonder whether coming to Tuscany (and the entire trip in general) was a good idea. We retreated to our agriturismo and after an unsuccessful attempt at getting the kids to nap, spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool overlooking the sprawling vineyards. The kids eventually had a late nap and Gaurav and I decided to leverage the opportunity to enjoy dinner without the kids at a beautiful restaurant back in the town of San Gimignano. We tried the pici – a simple spaghetti with garlic and the dessert Ive long craved since I left Italy – a chocolate panna cotta…that first bite, and it made me feel for that moment, that coming back to Tuscany (and the trip in general) was all worth it!

The next morning, we were off to a better start. We drove to Chianti for our appointment at Antinori, extremely excited to be visiting the ‘alma mater’ of one of our favorites – Tignanello. The winery was exceptionally stunning – founded back in the 14th century, it underwent a 100 million upgrade in 2012. From the wine making process and equipment to the tasting rooms and experience and of course, the wines itself, we were blown away! Following the tour and tasting, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch overlooking the vineyards and left several bottles of wine later.

Our next stop was Amorelli where a very friendly server talked us through a wine, olive oil and balsamic tasting paired with cheese, prosciutto and olives. We were surprised to learn that balsamic was the most expensive item on their menu (the best, and what Italians consider only real balsamic) is made only from grapes and aged for 10-36 years. Wow! That evening, in anticipation of Ariana’s second birthday, we went to a toy store to buy her gifts. We were pleased to find a wonderful kids play area above, complete with bouncy houses, water play, slides, ball houses and much more! The kids spent a fantastic hour there playing with each other and local kids. It’s fascinating to see that kids don’t really need to speak the same language to have a blast.

The next morning, Ariana opened her gifts and was thrilled with her new walking/talking (albeit in Italian) doggie and baby stroller. We then drove to Montalcino because we love Brunellos! We started at Altesino and then headed to Barbi for lunch where the kids enjoyed playing outdoors with their new toys. Our last stop was Banfi where I was excited to see the association with Cornell’s Hotel School #hotelieforlife. That evening, Gaurav had reserved a table at a wonderful terrace overlooking he vineyards to celebrate Ariana’s birthday. We started off by allowing her to open her bubbles and entertain herself until the food arrived. After a dinner of chicken and French fries, she devoured a panna cotta while we all sang to her. Later that evening, the kids enjoyed coconut gelato in the square before calling it a night. happy Birthday Ariana – we love you!

Being a part of Ariana’s exponential growth over the past six weeks has been particularly gratifying for us. Traveling with kids isn’t always easy but, for us, it’s been so worth it!

Firenze (or Florence)

Our second stop in our favorite Italy was in the city of Florence. After a straightforward 4 hour drive, we arrived at the riverfront Westin Excelsior. At this point we’ve driven more then 5,000km on the journey and I am so proud of Ayaan and Ariana for being fantastic on the drives. It was my first time in Florence and it was quite different than what I had expected. It was quaint, sleepy, romantic and historic with an incredible skyline and amazing food (which I expected). The hotel was majestic and smelt really nice and most importantly the staff were super nice to the kids unlike in France or Switzerland.

After checking in, I first got a much needed haircut at a local barber. We then walked along the river passing the famous bridges until we came upon the Ponte Vecchio – initially we weren’t blown away by this bridge but only after looking at it for sometime did the beauty sink in – and the amazing architecture where they actually have houses and shops on a bridge! We then strolled to the nearby Piazza degli Uffizi, after getting some tiramisu gelato. We spent ample time in the Piazza della Signoria with the open air sculptures, the over arching Palazzo Vecchio and the buzzing square. Ariana loved her time saying Hi Horsey to the horse carriages and looking at the lion sculptures. We then walked to the Cathedral di Santa Maria with its tile outdoors. The kids had done enough sightseeing so we treated them to the carousel in one of the squares, before they were too tired and threw tantrums that required us to call it a night.

We woke up late the second morning and took a taxi to Piazza Michealangelo that offered sweeping views of Firenze and it’s skyline. We relaxed with a glass of Prosseco as Ayaan played with the stroller and Ariana was amused by the birdies. We then took a bus to Mercato San Lorenzo – a huge marketplace with the freshest ingredients and restaurants to devour. We had a simple Spagehtti Carbonara with our Brunello followed up with a Tiramisu. We were too tired from the food and heat, and we decided to nap back in our hotel.

When we woke up, we went to the rooftop bar of the hotel with amazing views of the main monuments. Anjali and I were excited since it was date night and we had a babysitter coming! After getting the kids set with some Indian food in the room, we walked over to a rooftop bar about 10 mins from the hotel. The weather got really nice in the evening and it was a perfect setting. We wrapped up the night with a delicious meal at Caffe dell’Oro. Starting with a tempura style fried vegetables along with a Brunello, followed by a yummy pasta and risotto, and ending with a local Tiramisu with hot coffee poured over it and a Moscato. Perfect end to a romantic couple of days in Firenze!

Como / Bellagio

After a long journey from Switzerland, we were thrilled to cross the border into Italy where we knew we’d be greeted with amazing food (the only country in Europe we all have been to)! The kid-friendly attitude of the Italians was a welcome respite after several days in France and Switzerland! We ate at a Pizzeria in Como where Gaurav and I were delighted to dig in to our favorite marina pizza which we’ve seen only in Italy. The kids played in the lakeside park and Ayaan jumped through the water fountains, becoming drenched for our short car ride to Lezzeno, a small town bordering Bellagio. We stayed in a lovely apartment with a 180 degree view of the lake which was perfect after the smaller rooms in Switzerland.

The next morning, the rainy weather, combined with a long and grueling journey the previous day convinced us to relax in our house and enjoy the beautiful vistas of Lake Como. Once the kids awoke, we drove to a park near Bellagio where Ayaan enjoyed a mini zip line! We spent the evening strolling in the beautiful town of Bellagio with its mansions and amazing views.

The next morning, we hit the Lido di Bellagio beach club where the kids enjoyed playing in the outdoor showers and with their sand toys, while Gaurav and I relaxed with a bottle of Prosecco. After a few hours of sun, we took a dip in the cool lake.

That evening, we rented a boat from Lezzeno and passed the beautiful palaces and gardens of Bellagio. Although we were worried about being on the boat with both kids, they were fairly cooperative with Ayaan serving as co-pilot with his daddy while Ariana enjoyed the thrill of the boat and the beautiful view! We enjoyed dinner at Pizzeria Aurora before retreating to our home for a nightcap of Brunello di Montalcino from Banfi. Our time in Como / Bellagio was relaxing and filled with a lot of fantastic food and wine – just what we needed!! Italy is one of our favorite countries so we weren’t surprised that both of us wanted to return back to the area someday.