Continuing from how everyone met up in Rome and how we found a way to see the rest of the country in Part 1 linked here 

Deciding Where to Stay

Naturally, we all wanted to stay together in one place. But this being a peak month (June) and the fact that planning had begun only 3 months prior(!), most accommodations we had our sights on no longer had room for 16 people.

All was not lost, however. We were on a pilgrimage trip after all, so it made sense to consider staying in retreat houses or B&Bs run by nuns. They had the room, were economical for our group size, were located in safe neighbourhoods and close to a religious site or two.

In this aspect, our family friend who organizes religious tour groups came to the rescue – again. She ran a list of accommodations by us, we checked them out online, then asked her to arrange the bookings with the accommodations of our choice.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner…Oh my!

Designing a trip for a group like ours required taking into account the most minute of details. Possible sources of stress – and it’s different for every group – must be identified and dealt with. I really can’t stress this enough (no pun intended).

One of these, without a doubt, has got to be mealtimes. Just imagine leaving to chance 3 meals a day for 16 people for 16 days. The order-taking alone – ayayay! Therefore, we made sure all our breakfasts were included in our bookings and some of our dinners were pre-arranged as well.

Lunch was usually wherever we found ourselves to be in at the opportune time. More often it would be in a local trattoria, at times in a gas station en route to our next destination, a few times it was fast food in a modern commercial area.

Whenever possible, though, we would choose to eat wherever the locals ate so that the kids could get a more genuine feel of even just a slice of Italian life.

Because summers in Italy are extremely hot (and I do favor much cooler climates), I must admit that as the designated tour leader, it was mealtimes that overwhelmed me. So luckily, the other adults in the group pitched in, taking down orders and placing it either at the counter or with the wait staff.

Keeping it Fun

Though the main purpose of our trip was religious in nature, praying wasn’t the only thing we did. We had kids (and kids at heart) with us after all.So we included various activities to mix things up a bit, such as:

* kid-friendly art and history tours (an excellent guide like the one we had in Florence made these otherwise-boring topics come alive!)

* physical activities like climbing up hills or cathedral domes (a break from all the carbo-loading and all the sitting during those long drives)

* meals in extraordinary (some truly breathtaking) settings

* outlet shopping (just a wee bit for the kids at heart)

* simply hanging out in the main squares (think chasing pigeons in Piazza San Marco)

* spooky side trips (exploring the early Christian catacombs found along the Old Appian Way)

* the all-important gelato and coffee breaks (we’re in Italy, after all!)

* touristy stuff (like photos of everyone pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or what could be more memorable than an authentic gondola ride in Venice, as my parents got to do with their grandchildren?!)

Overall, the goal of any family holiday is to create great bonding memories. That I believe we were able to accomplish, thanks to our Papa and Mama who, even in their 70s, continue to out-walk many of us. For a family like ours, separated and living in different countries with three of those grandkids now in college, we don’t know when we’ll ever be together and complete again.

BUT….we’ll always have Italy.

Main photo: A view of the Tuscan countryside from our bedroom window in Assisi