By Gavanndra Hodge for Tatler
One of the most fun things about parenting is that you get to create a human. And I am not just talking about the walking, talking thing with legs and a beating heart, I am talking about their minds - the things they love, the things they can take or leave. This might sound sinister, but it is deeply satisfying to nudge them gently into liking what you like; and, likewise, to completely eradicate what you don't like, such as One Direction and McDonald's, from the unique universe you create for them.
And so it was that I decided to take my seven-year-old daughter to Florence, the place I love the most, a jewel box of art and food and history cradled in a Tuscan landscape of hills and cypresses in many misty shades of green. But also a place of pizza and ice cream and statues that you can climb and exciting stories about princesses and poison and duels. It would be, I hoped, a city where our passions would meet and mingle. Often, holidays with children are all about them. I wanted this one to be all about us.
We left a rainy London on a Friday afternoon and arrived to a warm Florentine evening. The helpful elves at our hotel, Portrait Firenze, had left popcorn for Hebe, as well as extraordinarily good chocolate biscuits (sort of posh Jaffa Cakes) and her own iPad. At this point, she never wanted to go back home - she didn't even want to leave the hotel, but I did manage to winkle her out. We were about two seconds from the Ponte Vecchio, and I explained how all the little shops selling jewellery had once been butchers, and that they would chuck their slimy off-cuts into the Arno. We walked to the Piazza Santo Spirito, where children played on the church steps, firing small spinning plastic contraptions into the air that lit up the black sky, and where we ate pizza and chatted about ninjas.
Hebe catapulted herself out of bed the following morning because she was so excited, but that was nothing compared with how she felt on first sighting the 'children's breakfast bar' - a pyramid of pink iced doughnuts, chunks of honeycomb, glass jars of sugary sprinkles, mini-pots of Nutella... I let her go for it. We had a busy day planned; I reasoned she needed all the energy she could get.
Our first stop was the 15th-century Villa Medici in Fiesole. It is private, but the owners will do pre-booked tours. The villa was one of the first built in the hills that crowd Florence for the leisure and pleasure of its moneyed residents. OK, so this was probably more my thing than Hebe's, but while the owner's son, the incredibly elegant Lorenzo Mazzini, talked to me about the intricate 17th-century grottesche wall paintings and Renaissance water pipes, Hebe spun around the polished floors and rucked up expensive rugs. And while Lorenzo and I sat down outside for tiny cups of black coffee and homemade pine-nut biscuits (wine was offered, even though it was 11am - told you he was suave), enjoying the view of the sunbaked Duomo, Hebe zigzagged between the lemon trees. The Medicis were obsessed with lemons and would swap cuttings with Egyptian potentates. Lorenzo let us pick some to take home with us - lemons, that is, not potentates.
Back in Florence, fortified by lunch at the hotel (mainly involving a tiramisu with the biscotti soaked in vin santo), Hebe and I did the classic sights. Piazza della Signoria, where the statue of Perseus holding the head of the Medusa, complete with trailing gore, was a big hit. In the Baptistery we were told off because Hebe lay on the floor so she could get a better photo of the Devil eating a human, legs dangling out of his mouth. And she declared the view from the top of the Campanile 'awesome'. After all that, it was definitely time for a mango and strawberry gelato from Venchi.
The following day, after another epic breakfast, we were met by Molly, an American who came to Florence as a student and never left, and now specialises in educational tours for children. Our destination was the Boboli Gardens, created in the 16th century for Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de' Medici. Molly had concocted a treasure hunt for us - we had to find an obelisk, monkeys and a grotto. When Hebe's attention waned (the inevitable sugar low after her breakfast of boiled sweets and chocolate cake), Molly whipped out a calligraphy pen and some purple ink and Hebe composed poetry while I meditated on the view of the countryside from Eleonora's Rose Garden, where Medici princelings and principessas would once have listened to lute- based music. Molly dropped us off at Il Papiro, where we were given a demonstration of the ancient art of marbling, which, even in this age of iPads and Minecraft, remains magical.
I was very keen to complete our trip with a visit to the Uffizi, to see the Caravaggios, the Titians and the Botticellis. Hebe was already a little tetchy, and there was a lot of complaining about the steps up to the gallery, but then she came up with the genius plan of photographing every naked bottom in the place. There are a lot of bottoms in the Uffizi. After two industrious hours, including a grisly five minutes with the statue of the flayed Marsyas, we were virtually the last people in there and could enjoy the Primavera in peace, our efforts rewarded by a hot chocolate (for Hebe) and an Aperol spritz (for me) on the terrace as the Palazzo Vecchio bells chimed - it was the perfect meeting and mingling of our passions. And it was awesome.