Culture Vultures in Florence

After several days on the Cinque Terre coast, our next stop was Florence. We were ready for history, art and architecture. When we arrived mid-afternoon, it was sweltering hot — felt like 100 degrees. We walked from the train station (Santa Maria Novella), with one rolling luggage each in tow, to Giglio Bianco Bed and Breakfast, across the River Arno.

Gourmet dinner made by Vary, owner of Giglio Bianco Bed and Breakfast.

Gourmet dinner made by Vary, owner of Giglio Bianco Bed and Breakfast.

We were dripping from sweat. We could have taken the air-conditioned taxi, but decided we might as well from the get-go get a flavor of the city, since 3 days would go by so quickly. We dodged throngs of tourists and passed by many fashionable clothing shops (lots on sale), pizzerias, gelaterias, Ponte Vecchio and the Pitti Palace. We did not stop because our first priority was to get rid of our load and to cool off in our air-conditioned rooms. Eduardo and Vary, the friendly, gracious owners, welcomed us with ice-cold bottles of water. Ahhh! Water never tasted so good! After the 2 1/2-hour train ride, heat and crowded streets from the Cinque Terre coast, we plopped ourselves on the beds and expressed a sigh of relief, savoring the cool air. Our next thought was, wow, we have arrived in the historical city of Florence, the cultural center of Italy.

Here are the highlights of an amazing 3 days:

– the River Arno

florenceriver

– Pitti Palace (former home of the Pitti and Medici families)

– Piazza Signora (grand statues)

piazzasignora

– Uffizi Gallery (the Botticelli paintings were our favorites). I would highly recommend getting a private tour guide to take you through the gallery. We appreciated the history and background he shared in front of selected paintings. Otherwise, the Gallery becomes overwhelming if you tried to look at everything.

– Palazzo Vecchio (with the massive and artful Salone dei 500)

sala2

– La Accademia (with the original David statue)

The "pink" David in the outside courtyard.

The “pink” David in the outside courtyard.

– the Duomo

duomo

– the Baptistery (with Ghiberti’s door)

baptistery

Top 12 Trips to Take Your Family

The March issue of Travel + Leisure outlined the “12 trips to take before you’re twelve”. With Easter and summer vacations on the horizon, perhaps one of these could be your destination. Contact me to plan your itinerary for any of these trips, or other exciting locations.

1. Costa Rica’s rain forest

2. Skiing in Colorado

3. Kauai by land, sea, and air

4. Disney done right

5. Alaska’s inside passage

6. Maine family camp

7. A great urban getaway — Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City

8. Your family’s annual destination

9. Yellowstone adventure

10. Affordable Atlantis

11. Colonial Williamsburg

12. Ultimate road trips — Florida Keys, Utah’s National Parks, Olympic National Park, Washington

Siena’s il Palio — short, thrilling horse race

While in Florence, we took a day trip by bus to the medieval town of Siena. On a previous visit, my husband and I remember it as having the most picturesque piazza — the Piazza del Campo.

The highlight of our day was watching the preliminary events of il Palio, a popular horse race in which jockeys ride bareback, circle del Campo 3 times, lasting less than 2 minutes. It is held twice a year, July 2 and August 16. This is the most celebrated event in Siena and we were part of the thousands gathered in del Campo on the day of the lottery, which determines which of the 10 horses will run for each contrada (district). (Seventeen contrade in all, but only 10 are selected to race each year.) Originating in 1656, il Palio continues to be one of pageantry, allegiance, competition, celebration, and pride. The winner of the July 2nd race is onda (wave).

Bugles announce the start of the lottery

Horses are paraded in del Campo

Jockeys await to hear which horse they will ride

The pageantry…

The crowds…

The winner…onda

The onda contrada decorates its streets

Sample Itineraries

I’ve taken many trips over the years (U.S. and overseas), quite a few with my family. Each trip has had its own unique experiences, like riding an elephant or renting an RV. Here is a sampling of itineraries including the U.S., Europe, and Asia, from as few as 5 days to as long as 4 weeks. If you are inspired to take any of them, or have other destinations in mind, please contact me and I can plan an itinerary to suit your preferences.

EUROPE

Spain, Italy, Croatia (4 weeks), Madrid, Santa Margherita Ligure, Cinque Terre, Florence, Siena, Verona, Lake Garda, Venice, Rovinj, Opatija, Plitvice Lakes, Zagreb

Italy (10 days), Milan, Venice, Florence, Siena, Rome

Switzerland (1 week), Zurich, Andermatt, Bellinzona, Ascona, Lake Lugano

Tenerife, Canary Islands (1 – 2 weeks), Puerto de la Cruz, Santa Cruz, La Laguna, Los Gigantes, Icod, Garachico, Costa Adeje

Barcelona (9 days), Barri Gotic, Tibidabo, Las Ramblas, Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi buidlings, Parc Guell, Montjuic, seafront, Picasso museum,

London and Paris (via Chunnel) (7 days), London Eye, Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the Louvre, Jardin des Tuileries, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, Musee D’Orsay

ASIA

Thailand and Cambodia (4 weeks), Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Ko Samui, Ko Tao, Siem Reap

Bali, Lombok, Gili Air (2 weeks)

U.S.A.

U.S. History, plus outdoor adventures (2 weeks), Washington D.C., Virginia (Charlottesville, Shenandoah Valley, Winchester), Pennsylvania (Hershey, Philadelphia), New Jersey Shore

Glacier National Park with an RV (2 weeks), Washington (Spokane, Seattle, Anacortes Island), Montana (Glacier National Park), Idaho (Coeur d’Alene, Route of the Hiawatha Rail-Trail)

Anza-Borrego Desert with an RV (5 days), San Diego, Anza-Borrego, La Jolla

California Coast (5 days), Monterey, San Simeon, Cambria, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach

Kauai (1 to 4 weeks), Hanalei, Haena, Poipu Beach, Waimea Canyon, Princeville, Kapaa, Kilauea, Hanapepe

San Francisco and the Bay Area (5 to 10 days), Nob Hill, Golden Gate Park, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, Angel Island, Tiburon, Marin Headlands, Point Bonita Lighthouse, Golden Gate Bridge, Point Reyes National Seashore, Palo Alto, Apple headquarters, Napa Valley