In Italy with mom, indulge but let someone else take photos

By COURTNEY BONNELL, Associated Press
FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — 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.

In this May 7, 2017 photo, the Ponte Vecchio bridge spans the Arno River in Florence, Italy. The bridge features jewelry shops and connects major tourist sites on either side of the river. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 8, 2017 photo, visitors take photos of Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia in Florence, Italy. Reservations help cut down on the long lines that form, and early-risers can be among the first inside the museum, which quickly fills to capacity. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 9, 2017 photo, climbing the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, offers stunning views as seen here. Found next to the Uffizi Gallery in the famed Piazza della Signoria, the Palazzo Vecchio features a foundation of Roman ruins, palatial rooms and a replica of Michelangelo’s David out front. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 9, 2017, photo, a monk’s small quarters boasts a religious fresco at the San Marco church and museum in Florence, Italy. A series of rooms formerly for monks is a highlight of the lesser-visited landmark around the corner from the Accademia, containing Michelangelo’s David. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 17, 2017 photo, the Piazza Michelangelo offers some of the best views of Florence, Italy. The viewpoint is a short cab ride from the city and is a favorite spot for watching sunsets. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 19, 2017 photo, produce packs a stall at the Mercato Centrale food market in Florence, Italy. Visiting Tuscany is all about indulging in delicious food, and the market provides a unique experience with its stalls of meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables on one level and a diverse food court upstairs. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

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.

In this May 11, 2017 photo, Associated Press writer Courtney Bonnell, right, and her mother, Cathy Bonnell, pose in front of a view of San Gimignano, Italy. When taking a parent to Tuscany, a private tour helps get visitors to the scenic towns found off winding countryside roads. (Courtesy of Courtney Bonnell via AP)

In this May 11, 2017 photo, a small, family-run winery in Castellina in Chianti, Italy, features a black rooster that is a symbol of the Chianti region of Tuscany and is printed on its famous wine. A visit to Tuscany wouldn’t be complete without indulging in Chianti Classico wine. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 12, 2017 photo, a distant home emerges from the green hills and vineyards outside the city center of Siena, Italy. Villas converted to hotels offer a taste of the countryside but are still close enough to the medieval town to enjoy its restaurants and shops. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 12, 2017 photo, the Tuscan staples of wine and cheese are shown for sale in the town of Pienza, Italy, famous for its pecorino cheese. A private tour through the Tuscan countryside will bring visitors to a series of picturesque towns tucked into the rolling hills of the Orcia Valley. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 13, 2017 photo, the Duomo in Siena, Italy, is pictured. Exploring the ornate cathedral with works by Donatello and Michelangelo is a must-do in the Tuscan town, and it’s a short walk to the Piazza del Campo, the main square that attracts picnickers and tourists.
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.

In this May 14, 2017 photo, the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy, draws visitors and locals to its views of the famous Gothic cathedral and the high-end shops of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the world’s oldest shopping mall, at left. The plaza is a heavily visited stop before or after taking in “The Last Supper” by da Vinci. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)

In this May 16, 2017 photo, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” is seen in Milan, Italy. It’s a must-see in the high-fashion city, though tourists only get limited time to take in the masterpiece in a climate-controlled room. (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell)
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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