I don’t know that we had the typical Florence tourist experience, but we very much enjoyed our visit. We stayed in the Oltrarno area, across the river from the major tourist sites, near the Church of Santo Spirito. The neighborhood was much less touristy than the areas near the attractions. We drank our Prosecco and Campari spritzes standing on the sidewalk outside a local bar, watching folks go by, listening to but not understanding the conversations around us. For anyone planning a trip, Rooms Althea was a great place to stay.
The square at Santo Spirito has many restaurants and cafes. Mornings, there is a street market with produce, clothing, housewares. The church itself is quiet. There is a crucifix there, in a side room, made by Michelangelo, in his early days. It features a Jesus much skinnier than one usually sees in church art. According to some guidebooks, the square is home to drug dealers. We didn’t see any, but did see a few indigent folks, enough to make us feel at home.
The afternoon of our arrival, we saw that there was no line to climb the bell tower next to the Duomo so we went for it. Four hundred fourteen steps up to a fine view of Florence, the surrounding hills, and the Duomo itself. As far as other tourist activities, we did visit the Duomo (crowded!), the crypt below (remnants of several older churches that had once occupied the site), and the Bapistry. I enjoyed the colorful Bapistry ceiling, the painting of the devil and serpents and what happens when you are on the left hand of Jesus. It’s not good. Continue reading
We very much enjoyed Venice. I would highly recommend the Hotel Locanda Sant’Anna, run by a lovely couple. It is in a quiet, residential neighborhood near the Giardini. We had a room with a canal view (the small hotel is pictured in this post, but I don’t think my iPad blog skills are good enough to label the photo). Some folks might think they want to be closer to Piazza San Marco or Ponte Rialto, the big tourist areas. We timed ourselves and our hotel was a 20 minute walk to San Marco, which evidently is enough to keep the hordes of cruise ship tour groups and other tourists away from the area near our hotel. That was fine with us. I find the crowds maddening and I can see why the Venetians are not too keen on tourists. There are just way too many here, which, in a way, made me feel bad for being one. We try to be courteous tourists and good representatives of the USA — not clogging up space with lengthy photo-taking, walking single file to let locals go by, trying to speak Italian, saying “per favore” and “grazie,” not complaining about how things are different. After all, if you want everything the same, you should just stay home. And, honestly, different is often better.
We spent the majority of our time wandering around the quieter areas, just looking at the beauty of the architecture and enjoying the car-free atmosphere. Stopping for Prosecco or Campari spritzes at tiny bars was a pleasant way to enjoy the city. One night, we split the cost of a gondola ride (100 Euros) with friends from back home. We took the ride right at dusk and it was lovely, worth the money to get a different perspective on the city. And our gondalier pointed out to us the place where George Clooney is getting married this weekend. “Hey, is that George Clooney?! I see him on the bridge!” We were bummed that our invitation must have gotten lost in the mail. At Bar Refolo last night, a man who was allegedly the concierge at the hotel where the Clooney party is staying confirmed that he had indeed arrived in town. When I joking said he might stop by the bar for a drink, another (drunker) fellow said it could happen — just like in ancient times in Venice when the rich and famous mingled with the regular people.
Ah, the magic of Venezia! Ciao!
It is easy to overpack toiletries when travelling. One thing I have heard from friends is: “My make-up bag is as big as your carry-on!” Or “My wife’s make up bag is as big as your carry-on – can you teach her to pack?”
The photo below shows the great toiletry bags that my husband and I share when we travel. The two bags zip together (if desired) — one holds liquids that you need to separate for your airport security adventures and the other holds non-liquids. The photo shows some of the items that may go into these bags, depending on the trip.
The usual list is:
– Vitamins. I count them out and put them in a ziploc. For humid climates, add a little packet of dessicant that you have saved from the vitamin bottle.
– A small bottle of ibuprofen (yes, it says Excedrin, but it is really generic ibuprofen).
– A twisty clothes line (from Rick Steves).
– A rubber jar opener thing that can be used in sinks without a plug in order to do your hand laundry.
– Nailfile. Add nail clippers for longer trips.
– Deodorant. We pack a travel-sized, neutral-scented one that we share.
– Dental floss.
– Hand sanitizer.
– Tiny bottle of cleanser.
– Tiny bottle of face lotion.
– A few Bandaids.
– Some Q-tips.
– Razors (his and hers!).
– A tiny aerosol of shaving cream.
– Hotel-size shampoo and conditioner (only if you are going somewhere where this might not be provided).
– Bottle opener. This is not technically a toiletry, but it sure is handy when you really really need a cold beer in your hotel room.
– Eye liner pencil.
– A tiny container of mineral make-up powder.
– A tiny make up brush.
– Pony tail holders and hair clips.
– Small container of hair oil or leave-in conditioner.
– A small ziploc of assorted feminine protection items, in case you need these at a time when you are not close to a store.
– A small bottle of bug repellent (depending on where you are going). I like those bug-repellent wipes, too, but they seem kind of wasteful. If you are out of room in your liquid bag, though, go for them!
– Cologne, if there is room left in the liquid bag.
– A washcloth in a ziploc (so you can pack it up when it is wet). I need one to wash my face and many places outside the US don’t provide them.
Yes, all of this WILL fit into the two bags pictured, except the washcloth, feminine protection items, and hair clips. The key is tiny containers. Our longest trip so far has been a month. The only item we needed to up-size was toothpaste. The rest of the stuff lasted just fine. And it is not the end of the world if you run out of deodorant or dental floss and have to buy some. You’d have to buy it if you ran out of it at home anyway.
Travel light, travel often. And fellow females (is that an oxymoron?), no one will notice or care if you are not wearing your usual make-up, if you haven’t used your regular shampoo and scented body wash or if your hair is in a headband or ponytail instead of an elaborate blow-dryer-curling-iron-flat-iron coiffure. Your happy, smiling person will carry the show when you are travelling light and having fun.
When travelling with only one carry-on, having the right bag is critical. I am on my second convertible carry-on bag and would recommend both of the models I have used.
Here are the things I like in a bag:
– comfortable backpack straps
– main compartment with a large opening (not access through the top where you need to pull everything out to find something)
– small outside compartments for travel papers, magazines, snacks
– (obviously) within airline carry-on size requirements
– small enough for my body size (5’5″)
My former bag was the Rick Steves Classic Back Door Bag, which is currently a great price of $79.99 on his website. This was a very good bag. Comfortable straps, nice outside pockets, lightweight and it even comes in cool colors! I didn’t buy another one when mine finally wore out because I found a slightly slimmer bag with better compression. I like to tighten up my bag as much as possible so that it will easily fit on the plane — even under the seat, if necessary. I still highly recommend this RIck Steves bag, and you can’t beat the price. (First photo)
My current bag is the Osprey Porter 46. It is a little bit sleeker and more rounded than the Back Door Bag and I think it has better compression and slightly more comfortable straps. I got mine at REI (my husband got one too!). You will likely pay $98 to $130 for this bag. (Second photo)
But you may also want a … purse/plane bag…
At home, I carry a teeny tiny purse. When travelling, I want something that will hold my iPad (and/or a book) as well as a charging cord, money, passport, notebook, sunglasses and other items I will want on the plane or during a long day of sightseeing.
I have taken this bag on one trip so far and I loved it. I wish it had a detachable strap so you could clip it onto your chair while you are having dinner and not have to worry about it. To that end, I have a clippy strap from another bag. Before my next trip, I will be cutting off the exisitng strap and using the clippy strap. Then it will be perfect! It easily holds the iPad, some snacks, a pashima for cuddling on the flight, as well as usual purse items. It has an expandable zipper to slim it down when you don’t need to carry so much stuff. It is the RIck Steves Veloce Guide Bag for iPad ($39.99). (Third photo) I notice he sells a detachable strap on his website, too — a good companion for this bag.
I wish I kept better records as to when I planted this cauliflower! Then I could plant at the same time next year. Usually, I plant too late or too early and don’t have the best results with cauliflower and broccoli. But this beauty is a welcome addition to our menu this week.
Today, we filled our Excaliber food dehydrator with apples and grapes. We love those home-grown raisins and apple rings in the winter. I would highly recommend this food dehydrator. They are in the $200 range and I am happy to report we got ours for $75 at a yard sale.
Lots of green beans in the garden right now. The other day, I sauteed some with serrano peppers, garlic, and previously-frozen tofu. I added a quick mix of brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce to coat them. They were spicy and delicious.