My mom can't take a good picture. It's not that she needs time to adjust the lighting or find a better angle. It doesn't get better after the 10th try.
But her terrible shots didn't matter on our mother-daughter trip to Italy. Neither did her aversion to stairs, her preference for taxis over public transport or the fact that wine isn't part of her lifestyle like it is mine and most Italians.
Travel is our passion. So are history, museums and conversation over a good meal, making Florence, Milan and the Tuscan countryside ideal destinations for a trip to celebrate her 70th year.
Here are dos and don'ts if you're considering a trip with older relatives or anyone who doesn't know their way around a smartphone camera.
Do: Find a quality hotel with a patient concierge to handle a barrage of questions about where to go and what to do. Enjoy the change if you're an active traveler who typically charges out to discover. Grab a gelato and slow down.
Don't: Push your non-photo-taker to go to four museums in one day. Even if you fear missing something, it's too much to hit the Accademia for Michelangelo's David, San Marco church and museum, the Palazzo Vecchio and the famed Uffizi Gallery in such a short span.
Do: See those landmarks, at a more leisurely pace, including lesser-visited San Marco. Poke your head into a long series of tiny monks' rooms to glimpse religious frescoes. Note the level of detail in the veins in David's hands. Ask your hotel to make early-morning reservations to get some quiet time with the statue before tour groups and artists arrive. The Palazzo Vecchio deserves more time than we had, with its foundation of Roman ruins and palatial rooms, though I did climb its tower for incredible city views.
Don't: Try to do the Uffizi on your own. The museum is massive (with lines to match). A guide can direct you to the must-sees: Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" and Michelangelo's only surviving painting. Make reservations for other top sights, including the Duomo complex, to avoid lines. Luckily, we breezed through many churches, including the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli are interred.
Do: Focus on food. That's easy to do in Italy, where wine is like water and pasta choices are endless. Between restaurants, encourage parents to try the Mercato Centrale, packed with food stalls on the first floor and a diverse food court upstairs.
Don't: Forget to simply enjoy the city. Relax in open-air cafes with an aperol spritz between sightseeing. Most places provide snacks with alcohol, so dig in to those olives and reflect on the beauty you've seen. Then take a cab to the Piazza Michelangelo and bask in some of Florence's best views.
Do: Book a private tour through the famous northern wine region of Chianti and the southern Orcia Valley with its distinctive rolling hills filled with red poppies and medieval villages. It won't be cheap, but it might be your parents' favorite part of the trip. Our guide shuttled us to a family-run winery atop a hill in Chianti, the competition-ranked world's best gelato shop in San Gimignano and tucked-away castles. The next day, we went south to explore the square of Montepulciano and taste wine and pecorino cheese in Pienza.
Don't: Expect to get around easily. You need a car to get to those charming villages and the desire to navigate the serpentine roads. We stayed in a villa outside Siena, with a terrace to play cards by the late-setting sun, but we were still 20 minutes from the heart of the medieval town and its restaurants and shops.
Do: Explore Siena. It's worth spending a day or two trudging through the hilly city center. This was a slight problem for my mom, who doesn't do well walking uphill, but the Piazza del Campo provides a perfect pit stop after exploring the ornate Duomo, with its black-striped pillars and works by Donatello and Michelangelo. The bowl-shaped square splays out downhill, attracting picnickers, tourists and groups of teens. We spent a few hours people-watching from the cafes ringing the square.
Don't: Wait too long to book reservations for "The Last Supper" because tour groups buy out tickets online. Even a month and a half before our trip, all that was left was a six-hour walking tour (way too much for Mom). Luckily, we started at the church housing da Vinci's masterpiece so she could drop out when she got tired.
Do: Explore the city on your own when your parents want to rest. I beelined up the main pedestrian street, circled over to a museum of Renaissance art, then strolled through the hip Brera district with outdoor cafes and trendy boutiques. Head to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world's oldest shopping malls, which features some local shops among high-end brands like Prada. It opens up to the jaw-dropping Gothic-style Duomo.
Tuscany's food, art and compact city centers allowed mother and daughter to share a vacation we both truly loved. We connected over a place she's wanted to experience for decades, and I got to share in her joy. We even ended up with some good pictures of the two of us.
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