After having spent the majority of the last decade living in the center of Florence, I became one of ‘those people’ who high-tailed it to the outskirts as soon as baby came along. Amidst romantic notions of ambling through the Santo Spirito morning market and frolicking in the Boboli Gardens came the harsh reality of a stroller bigger than the Oltrarno sidewalks and a park designed for princes-not for toddling babies.
While our search for greener (and bigger) pastures didn’t bring us any closer to having a garden, now that we are ensconced on the Le Cure side of Quartiere 2, Florentine living does feel a bit more spacious. As soon as we got there, the first order of business was finding that coveted green space where baby Giacomo could play outside.
The first time I saw the Area Pettini on via Faentina was while whizzing by in a car. I noted the small entrance and the stream of kiddies going through the gates and thought it seemed like a quaint little park. The first time I entered the Area Pettini, I swear the Disney song ‘A Whole New World’ swelled in the background. Could it be that I had just entered kid-and mamma-paradise, in Florence? Jungle gyms, swing sets, picnic tables, huge stretches of green grass, all clean and inviting. I swooned.
By the time I came to, Giacomo had already zigzagged through the miniature olive grove and was staring up at the basketball hoop. Just like that, we had found our greener pastures.
We now visit the park every day, in the morning and in the afternoon. It’s that good. As is to be expected, mornings are reserved for the littler folk with their nonni, babysitters or freelancing parents. Afternoons are when the place really comes to life. Everyone is there: soccer-playing elementary school kids, just-out-of-asilo babies, groups of teenage girls talking not so demurely about Lapo’s finer points. The far side of the park is the anziani hangout, where there is almost always a card game in progress; tombola is organized on Tuesday afternoons.
The Area Pettini is a little outdoor microcosm of Florentine life-a cultural smorgasbord, if you will. While pushing Giacomo on the swings, I talk to anyone and everyone who is up for a chat (usually grandmothers). We lament the wind coming in from the Atlantic (this is not the time to get on my scientific high horse about the impossibility of catching a cold from, well, the cold); the best way to do chestnuts at home; the small jealousies that have cropped up between Cosimo and his new sister, and so on. Every once in a while, a shrill whistle pierces the air, blown no doubt by one of the members of the vigilanza ambientale who have no tolerance for monkey business when it comes to safety.
Blessedly, (sorry, animalisti) there are no dogs allowed in the park, and smoking is technically forbidden, though there are the odd cigarette butts in the grass. It is remarkably clean and extraordinarily tidy, thanks to the efforts of the environment monitors and a maintenance service that should be given a hearty pat on the back for a job well done.
A small playground area includes jungle gyms and swings for the littlest babies. Three other large play areas feature bigger slides, swing-sets, monkey bars and more for the 2+ range. The pergolas can be reserved for birthday parties (speak with one of the ‘vigili’ at the entrance for more information). Keep an eye out for the elaborate puppet shows (usually Disney-themed) that take place every other week or so.
Parents of teens should definitely check out the Spazio giovani CURE, open Monday through Saturday from 4pm to 7pm. Located in the back corner of the park, the space is dedicated to teens and their diritto all’ozio (right to relax). The Comune provides free wi-fi and the CAT Cooperativa Sociale coordinates the various events (see the Spazio Cure page on MySpace for details).
Area Pettini, via Faentina 145. Open 7:30am to 7:30pm
Parking is extremely limited. By bus, take the 1A (Il Lapo) to the first stop on via Caracciolo; take a left on via Sercambi and follow it straight down to the park. If you need to fuel up, there is a bar and a small bakery with schiacciatine and pizza a taglio on the corner across from the entrance. Clean bathrooms are located inside the park.
Savvy Mom Tip #1:
Baby changing rooms in the center.
‘My top pick is COIN on via dei Calzaiuoli, which has a great baby changing room on top floor, hidden away with no queue. Just ask the cash desk for the key.’ Sarah, mother of Samuel, 17 months