Montopoli memories

Toby, Isaac and Kara carefully examining the inside of their eyelids Toby, Isaac and Kara carefully examining the inside of their eyelids

Or ‘Tuscany trivia’, if you prefer. We’ve been back from our Italian holiday for just over 48 hours, and I wanted to capture the key things that made this holiday experience both personal and unique to us. As I noted in my iPhone photo journal, this was the third time we’ve holidayed in Tuscany, so although we were based in Montopoli sull’Arno, almost halfway between Florence and Pisa, both those major tourist traps were firmly off the agenda this time. Instead – and in no particular order – here are the small yet important minutiae from our week away that will be forever locked away in my treasure chest of memories.

1. Pedalling on top of Lucca’s wall

We travelled with old university friends – Robin and I lived together for a year, as did Anna and Heather – and our rag-tag collection of six children. I have to say that hiring a six-seater pedal car to ride up onto and along Lucca’s city wall – once a fortification, now a gentle pedestrian/bike promenade – wasn’t my idea of a gentle pre-lunch amble. After half an hour of sweaty leg-churning under an unforgiving midday sun in 35°C heat I think it’s fair to say I won’t be mistaken for Mark Cavendish or Chris Froome any time soon. However, the kids – that’s Toby and Isaac acting as useless ballast in the front – thought it was hilarious. Next time they can do the hard work!

It doesn't look this hard on TV!
It doesn’t look this hard on TV!

2. A Tuscan feast

It was Heather’s 40th birthday while we were away. To mark the occasion we arranged to have caterers come in and cook up a celebratory lunch of traditional Tuscan dishes. It may have been seven courses, it may have been eight – we lost count and were past caring by then – but it was lovely not to have to travel further than our front terrace and for the kids to have the freedom to come and go as they pleased while the rest of us attended to the serious business of drinking chianti. We really should have done a ‘before’ and ‘after’ weigh-in – or maybe it’s just as well that we didn’t.

Who's hungry?
Who’s hungry?

On the whole, we had a great time food-wise, including possibly the best antipasti and pasta dishes we have ever tasted while in Lucca, not to mention regular trips to a gelateria in search of a cooling ice cream. You can’t go wrong with pistachio or lemon, although if you’re feeling adventurous track down ‘puffo’ (the Italian for ‘smurf’), which is indeed smurf-blue and apparently tastes of either liquorice or bubble-gum.

I wish I'd tried that puffo ice cream ...
I wish I’d tried that puffo ice cream …

3. He sings like Rihanna

Just like Isaac before him, Toby has suddenly developed a real love of music in the last few months. Unlike his brother, though, his sense of pitch is, shall we say, a little off. However, that doesn’t stop him launching into an increasingly wide array of pop songs with gusto, with his favourite being The Wanted’s ‘Walks Like Rihanna’. (Sing along. You know you want to.)

We had brought along a CD containing a playlist of the boys’ current favourite tracks, to which both Isaac and Toby would belt out the words to Walks Like Rihanna and other current hits from the back seat, with Kara cackling with delight alongside them. It certainly helped to pass many a journey up and down the Fi-Pi-Li (the highway connecting Florence, Pisa and Livorno) and brought a smile to our faces.

4. Wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang?

The respective sets of children weren’t unfamiliar with each other but with ages ranging from 12 years to 15 months you never quite know how they will get on over an extended period. In the end, they all seemed to gel well in varying combinations.

Everyone looked out for Kara. Robin and Anna’s youngest and Isaac (who were born a week apart) spent the week locked together like an old married couple. And Toby hung out with both those two and his fellow middle sibling, even though the age difference between those two boys is more than five years.

It lightened the parenting burden considerably, and it was great to see them having fun together. In fact, I’d attribute Isaac’s breakthrough in learning to swim to the presence of having similar-aged friends to teach and encourage him all week.

5. Sleeping

There is something inordinately cute about watching your children sleep. And to observe them all sparked out in the car together – what Heather and I call the ‘trifecta’ – knowing that they’re exhausted from all the fun they’ve been having is particularly satisfying. One minute we’d be rolling along with me cursing the day Carly Rae Jepsen or Daft Punk were ever born, and the next there would be utter silence from the back other than Isaac’s (not so) gentle snoring. This was the back-seat tableau on more than one occasion during the week:

Toby, Isaac and Kara carefully examining the inside of their eyelids
Toby, Isaac and Kara carefully examining the inside of their eyelids

Even now, two days after getting home, they’re still recovering. I guess that’s one sign of a successful holiday.

6. The last word …

Diet coke bottleYou know that campaign that Coca-Cola have been running? The one where every bottle has a name printed on it, and you’re encouraged to seek out appropriately named bottles and ‘Share with’ your friends? Well, here’s what I was greeted with when we turned up on our first day.

Sometimes – in fact, most times – it’s the little things that really matter. The things that turn a good holiday into a great one. For a variety of reasons – none of them to do with actual sightseeing – I’ll remember this holiday for a long time to come.