Is it the fact that it hosts some of the best (literally) food on the face of the Earth? Is it the opera houses and streets lined with Venetian carnival masks? Is it the romance rising from the canals in the form of a gondolier’s operatic tones? Or is it simply that in Venice the wine flows like water and is probably easier to find?

If we are being honest, it is all these reasons and more that makes Venice one of the absolute best places to visit in the world. 

Getting Around

One thing that makes Venice so tourist friendly is the accessibility. You can take a train from virtually any major European city right to the center of the old town. If you fly into Marco Polo Airport (VCE), all you need to do is grab your luggage, walk a few steps outside, pay a small fare at an automated kiosk, grab your small ticket and hop on a bus. After a 30 minute bus ride you will be dropped off at the main bus stop right on the edge of the old town. There are no roads or cars in old Venice.

Best Things to do in Venice

1. Eat If there is one thing I recommend it is eat, eat, and eat some more. Italian food is to Venice as abandoned buildings are to Detroit. Between the noodles and pastas, wine and champagne, cannolis and  zeppoles, it is a carb-lover’s dream. Challenge: See if you can finish your gelato before reaching the next gelato stand. Then repeat. 

2. Sightsee Get the camera ready and head out to see some of the most beautiful buildings and waterways in the world. The larger than life structures are a mixture of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic architecture set in a backdrop of the most romantic waterways your heart can handle. 

3. Gondola Ride There are certain things that you must do in certain cities and a gondola ride in Venice is one of those things. It really is a cool experience to lay back and take in the sights as a charming Italian man serenades you, but keep in mind, it comes at a price. A gondola ride cost roughly $100 USD for 30 to 45 minutes and seats up to six people. This is something you should do so just budget it into your trip from the beginning. You do not need to go to a specific place to find a gondola they are all over the canals. 

4. Visit Murano Murano is a small series of islands about one mile off off Venice. Murano is known across the world as for it’s glass art work.  Here you can see glass blowers at work, take tours, visit the Murano glass museum, and grab some very fragile souvenirs. You can access Murano by water taxi, vaporetto, or ferry for about $5 USD.

5. Go to an Opera If you are the fancy cultured type, nothing is says fancy culture than an Italian opera and Venice is the place to see it. The Teatro La Fenice is toted as the most extravagant and prestige opera house in Venice and lives up to the reputation with opulence fit for a king. Performances range in prices roughly around $150.  

6. Do A Walking Tour There is so much history to know about this 2,000 year old city. The best way to hear the stories from those who live there and are passionate about sharing the stories of their homeland. Tours range from $25 and up

7. Wine Tasting It isn’t hard to realize what brings people from around the world to this location. The wine is some of the best in the world. There are tons of wine tours that keep you inside the city or venture into the countryside. The prices range from $30 and up

8. Make Your Own Carnival Mask If you are looking for something unique to Venice that the whole family will enjoy you can hide your face in fashion at a mask making workshop as the tutelage of real Vancian craftsman. These workshops last an hour and cost about $55 USD.  

9. Pasta Making You can enter Venice a mer cooking novice and leave as your own Giada De Laurentiis. These authentic Italian kitchen trades can be taught to you in courses of an hour or up to three. Prices range from around $100 to $150 USD

10. Get Lost In a world of unique places, Venice is near the top of the list. There is no other place on the planet with more wondering splendor. The tall stone corridors seem to entrap you like a maze as you pass interesting shops connected to ancient churches. Just let yourself go aimlessly and see where you end up.  

Free and Cheap Things to Do in Venice

1. Take Pictures If you’re not doing for the gram then why do it at all. Price: Free

2. DIY Wine Tasting Buy a couple bottles of cheap wine and sit on the edge of the canal and drink away as the sunsets. Price: $15

3. Get Lost There is no better place to put your phone away, put one foot in front of the other, and take in the atmosphere that only Venice has to offer. Price: Free

4. Go People Watching at Piazza San Marco Go to the main town square and laugh at the hundreds of tourists stumbling by with their roller bags. Price: Free

5. Visit the Ghetto Ebraico (The Jewish Ghetto) The first “ghetto” in the world was originated in Venice when the Jew were forced to segregate almost 500 years ago. The area is still full of life and culture and doesn’t cost anything to enjoy.  Price: Free

6. Explore the Hotel Danieli This over the top $1,000 a night hotel is worth popping into to cool off. Just grab a drink and act like you belong there. Price: Free

7. Shop the Rialto Market Toss a couple Euros to the vender and enjoy some fresh fruit while you walk this colorful market.  Price: Free

8. The Crypt of San Zaccaria This is a creepy and super unique basement crypt which has surcome to Venice flooding giving indescribable eerie feel. Entry Fee: $1

9. The Scala Contarini Del Bovolo A vertigo inducing spiral tower leading to a picturesque view of the city. Price $8 

10. Libreria Acqua Alta Book Store Because in Venice flooding is a way of life, this book store has made inventive ways to store their books (in tubs and boats) to keep them safe creating a picture worthy sight. Price: Free

Veteran Tips For Venice

1. Take a backpack. DO NOT TAKE A ROLLER BAG!

I repeat: DO NOT TAKE A ROLLER BAG! I always recommend taking a carryon-size backpack as your luggage on any trip, if possible, but in Venice it is almost a commandment. Between the the thousands of steps, bridges, and cobblestone walkways, you will be so frustrated at your roller bag it will end up at the bottom of the Grand Canal. 

2. Get a hotel close to the train station/main bus drop off. 

The train station and main bus drop off are pretty much right next to one another. The reason I have this rule is because Venice is so so so easy to get lost in. Venice is an actual maze and one of the easiest places you will find the get disoriented. If you get a hotel/hostel near the train station it will be a thousand times easier for you to find and you wont have to spend half your day walking in circles in the blazing Italian heat searching for your hotel. 

3. Bring a travel fan. 

Like so many other places in Europe if you stay in a hostel and some hotels or Air BnB, you may not have air conditioning and if you do, the cool air will be as faint as a hummingbird. Last time I visited Venice the only way I could cool off was to jump in a cold shower and air dry to stay cool. 

Lodging Recommendations

At this point it is getting harder and harder to find lodging under $100 in Venice. If you happen to find one, check it out before you book. 

NH Venezia Santa Lucia

This a very nice hotel located right beside the train station steps with an amazing view of the San Simeone Piccolo church. Price: $180 – $250 USD/night

Hotel San Geremia 

I have stayed in this compact hostel three times. You will not find a lot of luxuries, but they do have a large luggage room if you arrive early and want to drop off your bag and it has an absolutely gorgeous view of the opera house. It is located about 2 minute walk from the train station. Price: $100 and up USD/night

Restaurant Recommendations

Ristorante Quadri

Located in the center of St. Mark’s Square this is a world class, high end, fine-dining Italian restaurant that turns food into art with a price. Price: $$$$

Ristorante Da Nino

This is an out of this world tiny Italian restaurant with outdoor seating on the canal located across from the train station. I have eaten many places in Venice and always come back to this one. Price: $

Best Sights To See in Venice

1. The Grand Canal 

This is the iconic Venice canal we have all seen in paintings and photographs for centuries. This is the spot we all flock to Venice to enjoy. MUST SEE

2. Saint Mark’s Basilica

This Roman, Gothic style cathedral is the church of the Roman Catholic Patriarchate of Venice built around 1063. MUST SEE

3. Piazza San Marco

Also known as St. Mark’s Square, this is the main social square in Venice filled with restaurants and shops and the iconic Venusian constructions including Saint Mark’s Basilica. MUST SEE

4. Venetian Lagoon

This breathtaking view runs between the Piazza San Marco leading and Murano with picturesque gondolas lining the docks just waiting to fill your Instagram.  MUST SEE

5. The Rialto Bridge

The oldest bridge that crosses the Grand Canal, you can use this Venice icon to fight other tourist to take perfect photo of gondolas cruising down the canal. MUST SEE

6. San Simeone Piccolo

When you enter Venice by bus or train this will be the giant green-domed cathedral that takes your breath away. IF YOU HAVE TIME

7. Teatro La Fenice

Considered the opera house of all opera houses it is hollowed ground for Italian theater and one of the most extravagant buildings you will ever see. IF YOU HAVE TIME

8. Doge’S Palace

This massive gothic style palace was the home of the Doge of Venice for over 1,000 years and still sits on the Venetian Lagoon like a monument. IF YOU HAVE TIME

9.The Bridge of Sighs 

This limestone bridge is actually part of the Doge’s Palace, stretching over the canal to connect the palace. IF YOU HAVE TIME

10.Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salue

Located at Punta dell Dogana, this minor basilica is a less crowded, though just as beautiful Catholic church on the canal. IF YOU HAVE TIME

Best Venice Souvenir 

Carnival Mask

Venice is known for their hand made masks and they are easy to find as you will see shops filled with these masks lining the streets.

Anything Murano Glass

This famous glass comes in all forms, from jewelry to plates to small trinkets in the form of animals. They can be a cute and cheap souvenir to show a loved one you were thinking of them.

Saint Mark’s Basilica


Every time someone tells me they are going to Rome I always tell them the same thing:
“you have to go to Naples and Pompeii.” Besides the Vatican, Naples and Pompeii have
things that are specific to their respective cities that are better than anything you will
get in Rome. That might sound blasphemies, but it is how I feel. Naples has better pizza
than Rome and Pompeii is the best preserved city of Roman times on the planet. If you
do not spend a day of your Italian tour visiting these two cities you are doing yourself a
disservice and depriving yourself an experience of a lifetime.

Getting Around
Naples airport is the Naples International Airport (NAP). You can access the city center
by bus for cheap. It will be about a 40 minute ride to most tourist destinations.
Most travelers will be coming in by train, probably from Rome. It takes only about 1.2
hours to travel from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale by train for about $30 USD.
Depending on what you want to do you can head out on foot or take a bus or taxi to
your desired destination. Attractions like the Piazzo del Plebiscito are about 3 miles from
the train station.
You can also take a bus from Rome to Naples for around $20 but it will take closer to 3
Pompeii is very similar as train will be the most the efficient form of entry. From Rome
you will leave Roma Termini and connect in Naples to continue to Pompeii for another
35 minutes. This trip could cost around $60 to $70 USD.
A Bus is also possible from Rome, which will be cheaper at $25 but takes over three
hours to get from Rome to Pompeii.
When you arrive at the Pompeii train station the Ancient City of Pompeii is a 10 minute
walk down a road straight from the train statin to the ancient city entrance.

Best Things to Do in Naples and Pompeii

  1. Visit the Ancient City of Pompeii
    The city that was flash frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD
    covering the city in ash preserving it intact. Pompeii is not only one of the top
    things to do in Italy it is one of the must see sight in the entire world. Entrance
    Fee: $16 USD
  2. Eat at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
    Naples is the birthplace of the pizza and da Michele is considered the best
    pizzeria in the world. This is a tiny, simply pizzeria with the authentic Naples feel
    because it is truly authentic. Price: $5 / Per Pizza
  3. Pay Your Respects to the Preserved Dead
    A walk through the city of Pompeii is fascinating yet haunting. The most obvious
    reminder of this are the plaster cast preserving the bodies of those who fell
    victim to the volcanic eruption 2,000 years ago. Price: Included in Pompeii
    Entrance Fee
  4. Take a Walk Through the Homes of Pompeii 
    What separate Pompeii from other ancient Roman sites is that nearly all of them
    are ruins, but Pompeii is preserved so well that the homes of the citizens feel as
    if they left only months ago. Check out the House of Vettii and the House of
    Mystery for bright and vibrant walk art. Price: Included in Pompeii Entrance Fee
  5. Enter The Amphitheater of Pompeii
    This Roman amphitheater was once the sight of gladiator battles and held
    thousands of spectators. Today you can actually walk onto the battlefield of this
    miniature Colosseum and feel just like a real roman gladiator. Price: Included in
    Pompeii Entrance Fee
  6. Walk The Pompeii Forum
    This main social quarter of Pompeii is a great example of how advanced this
    civilization was 2,000 years ago. The Forum still has the city stage and
    picturesque archways. Price: Included in Pompeii Entrance Fee
  7. Take a Naples Pizza Cooking Class
    What better place to learn to make pizza than the place that invented it?
    Regardless of your skill level, these chefs will turn you into Naples pizza experts.
    Price: $50 and up.
  8. Hike Mt. Vesuvius 
    Lace up your hiking boots and make the roughly hour trek up the ACTIVE volcano
    to the crater at the top. If you wish you can take guide but it is not required. It
    doesn’t cost anything to hike but the park does have an Entry Fee of $10.
  9. Burrow through the San Gennaro Catacombs
    Naples has a number of catacombs but this one is the most interesting. It is a
    two level Christian burial ground carved deep into the ground which is made of
    hardened volcanic ash. Price: $11 USD
  10. Walk Through the Gladiator Barracks The preservation of Pompeii is unprecedented and that is because it leaves us with things you can see only here, like the living quarters of the competing Gladiators. These barracks are so cool you can sense what it felt like to be a real gladiator. Price: Included in Pompeii Entrance Fee

Free (and Cheap) Things To Do in Naples and Pompeii
Do Your Own Pizza Tour
As you may imagine, there are a ton of fantastic pizzerias in Naples. You can go pizzeria
hopping and make a day of trying the best in the world. Do your own research but the
route I recommend is :
First Stop: Pizzeria Oliva
Second Stop: Starita
Third Stop: Gio e Toto Sorbillo
Fourth Stop: L’antica Pizzeria da Michele
Final Stop: Osteria Mttozzi
People Watch at the Piazzo del Plebiscito
The main city square of Naples is quite beautiful and can be crowded. This makes the
free area a perfect place to relax and watch the crowd go by. Price: Free
Catch the View from the Royal Park of Capodimonte
The best view you will get of the city of Naples will be from this large park in front of the
Royal Palace of Capodimonte. The overlook is a wonderful panoramic of the city skyline.
Price: Free
Duomo di Napoli
This opulent gothic-style church is stunning but famous because it houses a vial of blood
of Saint Januarius. The vial is only on display a few times a year when the dried up blood
liquefies, but maybe you will get lucky and catch one of these few times.

Best Sights To See in Naples and Pompeii

  1. The Forum of Pompeii
    As far as sights go, the Pompeii Forum if a breathtaking image. The picturesque
    view of the broken pillars, archways, and stage with the towering Mount
    Vesuvius in the background is a picture you can’t get wrong.
  2. Cappella Sansevero
    This magnificent church in the heart of Naples historic district is filled with
    amazing works of art from bright frescos to morbid yet stunning marble statues.The most famous of which is Giuseppe Sanmartino’s masterpiece, “Veiled Christ.” Entrance Fee is $8
  1. Ruins of Herculaneum
    Don’t let Pompeii take all the glory. This ancient Roman town was also covered
    in the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius and preserved in ash. This city also
    touts its own murals and homes to explore along with a number of skeletal
  2. Castel Nuovo
    Sitting in the center of Naples, this is a massive medieval castle dating back to
    the 15 th century that is well intact today. It is a very complete castle that doesn’t
    disappoint like some other castles you may visit throughout Europe.
  3. San Gennaro Catacombs
    These carved out tunes filled with ancient Christian graves is an eerie trek
    through the underground world of Naples and a sight to capture in photos.
  4. Piazzo del Plebiscito
    Bound by the Royal Palace on the east side and the Church of San Francesco di
    Paola in the west, this sprawling town square of Naples is a sight to see and a
    place to take photos for hours.
  5. House of the Vettii
    This ancient home in the middle of Pompeii was once owned by a wealthy family
    who left us with vibrant murals that are still stunning to this day.
  6. Villa of the Mysteries
    Another home left to us in Pompeii, the walls are covered in rich depictions of
    acts of the day and preserved in a way that is absolutely unprecedented to other
    artifacts of the time period.
  7. Castle of Lettere
    This castle placed high on a hilltop overlooking Pompeii is a stunning sight of
    midlevel architecture.
  8. Mt. Vesuvius 
    Still considered active, this mountain still dominates the skyline of Pompeii as an
    unnerving reminder of the past.

Veterans Tips For Naples and Pompeii

Stay in Rome or Amalfi Coast
Naples and Pompeii both are places you don’t really need to say long. They are day trip
spots from Rome or Amalfi Coast. You can get off the train in Naples, walk and be in
front of da Michells’ in less than 10 minutes. It is less than a 10 minute walk from the
train station to the Ancient City of Pompeii as well. Ideally you could hit the cities on
your train stops from Rome to Amalfi. With that said, stopping in these two places is a
must. The pizza in Naples and the Ancient City of Pompeii are two of the highlights of
my life.
Naples Has Pickpockets
Naples has a reputation for being a bit seedy. When on holiday you should always keep
your guard up, here that goes double.
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele Only Takes Cash
This place is old school and doesn’t feel like changing. Bring cash or you will miss out on
the best pizza of your life. The restaurant is very small and because of this will likely have a long line and does not take reservations so plan your stomach accordingly. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele Only Makes Your Pizza Four WaysThat’s right. They keep it simply and always have. Here are your pizza options:Margherita, Marinara, Cosacca and Marita
You Can Take A Ferry from Naples to Capri
You can very easily take a ferry to Capri from Naples. It is about an hour one-way and
costs around $45 round trip.

Lodging Recommendations
Don’t stay here. Stay in Rome or Amalfi Coast.

Restaurant Recommendations
Once again, the pizza in Naples is everything. There are many world-class pizzerias to try
and you will love them all.
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
It has all the hype and the clout as the best in the world. Between the authentic
environment, the skilled pizza chefs, and the quality of the product, I can not disagree.

The Perfect Souvenir from Naples or Pompeii

Naples and the region of Campania have been known for their world class ceramics for
centuries. Today you can still buy handmade art to take home.

By: Ricky S.


Florence is the Tom Brady of Italy. It isn’t anybody’s first pick, or second pick, maybe not
their third, but once you see it in action you instantly realize you screwed up. Florence
doesn’t have the monuments or the ancient ruins, that’s because that’s not what
Florence is. Florence is the vibrant, romantic, relaxing countryside of Italy God painted
with his personal paintbrush. Say what you want about Rome but no one retires and
buys a villa in Rome. That’s what Florence is for.
Did you know there is an actual term, “Stendhal Syndrome,” coined in Florence
because the city’s beauty can actually make people pass out? As the birthplace of
Michelangelo and considered the cradle of the Renaissance, the Tuscany area of Italy
meant to remind you to slow down and smell the Sangiovese. In Florence the sun seems
to lay on the countryside rather than beat it down as if there is an agreement with
nature in this part of the country. All the complaints you will have about the bigger cities
in Italy will be forgotten after your stay in the beautiful Florence.

Getting Around
The interior of the town will not have a metro system and walking is your best bet to
get around. Taxis are abundant if needed. If you want to venture out to the countryside
I would recommend buying a tour over renting a car. Both are options but the tiny
cobble stone streets of Florence are hard to navigate, narrow and congested.
One of the many perks of Florence is how easy and accessible it is from the outside. You
should have no problem arriving by plane or train.
Coming from the Florence Airport (FLC) the best way currently is to take the T2 line from
the airport straight to the city center in about 20 minutes for around $2.
Busses and Taxies are also available if you would rather have the stress-filled car ride
through the city as tourist dodge your cab in the narrow alleys for $22 USD.
If you come in by train you will enter the Santa Maria Novella train station, which sits
right in the middle of the city center. Wherever you are staying should not be a far walk
from this train station.

Best Things To Do in Florence

  1. Tuscany Wine Tasting
    This area is one of the premiere wine countries in the entire world. People come
    from across the globe just to throw back glasses of the some of the world’s bestwine. You can rent a car and do your own tour or purchase one of the many wine and vineyard tours starting about $50 USD and up.
  1. Gawk at the Galleria dell’Accademia and Michelangelo’s David
    You can’t really travel all the way to Florence and not see one of the most
    recognizable marble statues in the world. Pictures do not do justice to the
    majesty that is Michelangelo’s David marble masterpiece. The Accademia also
    has a vast collection of Italian art covering several time periods. Price: $25
  2. Admire the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore)
    Not that you could miss it, but the Duomo is the massive gothic cathedral
    dominating the Florence skyline. The 600 year old Catholic Church is the iconic
    image of Florence and a must see sight in the city. Admission is free but you
    must dress to their standards showing no shoulders or legs and no hats or
  3. Take a Day Trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa
    It’s time to take that picture of you saving the world from the falling tower. It
    takes about 1.5 hours by train or 1.2 hours by car one way to get from Florence
    to the most famous mistake in Italy. Here isn’t much to do here besides check
    out the tower but it’s one of those things you want to see in person. Bus: $10,
    Train: $20, Taxi: $15 round trip.
  4. Watch A Sunset from Ponte Vecchio
    The Ponte Vecchio is one of the most interesting and confusing bridges you will
    ever see and a tourist staple in Florence. Fairly narrow and not very long, the
    stone bridge is lined with gold and jewelry shops. But the payoff is the view you
    get if you can manage yourself to the center. Hit the bridge at the right time and
    you will get an amazing picture to take home with you.
  5. Rent A Vespa
    You can rent your own or go in a group tour but a Vespa is an Italian right of
    passage and there is nowhere better to zip around than the streets of Florence
    and into the Tuscany country side. Rent: $55 USD
  6. Take A Pizza Cooking Class
    Imagine telling everyone the place you learned to make pizza was no other than
    Florence, Italy. Even if you are terrible at it, you still have that clout. Learn the
    secrets of the trade from those who grew up doing it best. The classes vary in
    time from an hour to four hours. Price: $70 and up.
  7. Stand Around in the Piazza della Signoria
    Because Florence is not very big, if you walk around for a while you will
    eventually make your way to this town square. The square is lined with amazing bronze statues and eye-catching buildings like the Palazoo Vecchio. This is a must do in Florence.
  1. Hike to the Piazzale Michelangelo
    This was one a secret spot for those of us in the know, but has grown in
    popularity over the years. This piazzale is a short hike up a hillside where you will
    come to an oxidized bronze statue of David. But what will take your breath away
    is the panoramic view of the Florence skyline. Take a few pictures but remember
    to relax and take in the view.
  2. Cinque Terre Day trip
    The bright colors of the costal town built into the mountainside is something you
    have never seen before. Besides taking pictures for your Facebook friends you
    can also do some shopping and grab some great food here. NOTE: You can also
    do the Pisa/Cinque Terre combo by train or tour. It will be about 3 hours on a
    train and 2 hours in a car from Florence one way. Train: $50 round trip. Bus: $20
    (but schedule is less convenient)
  3. Horseback Riding in Tuscany
    Who wouldn’t want to throw back some tasty win and take a romantic stroll
    through the Tuscan hillsides? This once in a lifetime experience engulfs you in
    the laidback Florence style. The tours run about 5 hours and price at around
    $280 USD.
  4. Meander the Uffizi Gallery
    The best museum in all of Florence they harbor some of the best examples of
    Renaissance artwork in the world including works by Rembrandt, da Vinci,
    Michelangelo, Raphael and the famous “The Birth of Venus.” Entry Fee: $20
  5. Munch on Some Aperitivo
    Aperitivo Is the Italian version of happy hour (6:30pm – 9:30om), but with a
    classy Italian spin. Do as the locals do and have a midday snack of cheeses,
    olives, and shaved meets washed down with local wine. This is what I mean
    when I say Florence is amazing. Price: Around $10-$15
  6. Leonardo Interactive Museum
    This is the only museum of its kind as it takes actual Leonardo da Vinci inventions
    and allows you to put them into action. This is a cool experience, especially if you
    are looking for family activities. Price: $8
  7. Check out the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
    The bland exterior of this art museum is a work of deception because the interior
    is its own work of art, itself. Besides the marble statues on exhibit, the
    architecture will leave you awe-inspired. A ticket also gets you access to off limits areas of the Duomo including the dome. Price: $30 – Check official website as they have three different ticket types with stipulations.

Free (and Cheap) Things to Do in Florence

  1. Watch Sunset from Ponte Vecchio
    Translating to the “Old Bridge” this one of a kind medieval stone bridge is the
    perfect spot to make your way to as the sun goes down over the Arno River.
    Price: Free
  2. Piazzale Michelangelo
    One of the best things to do, (free or not) in Florence is take the short hike up to
    this small town square. Grab some gelato while you relax and take in the
    priceless panoramic view of the Florence skyline. Price: Free
  3. Piazza della Signoria
    The town square that is essential to a Florence visit isn’t your average town
    square. The Piazza della Signoria is lined with priceless bronze and marble
    statues that date back half a century. Price: Free
  4. Do Your Own Wine Tasting at Le Cascine Park
    This sprawling park just outside the city is an ideal place to grab some cheap
    bottles of Tuscan wine and sit on the bank of the Arno River and take in the
    Tuscan sun. Price: Free
  5. Have Aperitivos at the Oblate Library Terrace
    This public library welcomes you to relax under the terrace of this city overlook
    while you snack on Italian appetizers with local bookworms. The view is an
    unbelievable picture of the city including the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
    dome. Price: Free
  6. Find The Fake Davids
    Of course Florence is home to the Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece, Dave, but
    it is also speckled with dozens of fake (or replica) David statues. Walk the streets
    and see if you can discover all the fake Davids in Florence. Price: Free
  7. Mercato Centrale Firenze
    This large glass-walled market is full of fresh fruits, vegetables, wines, pastas,
    and butcher shops. This is basically your one stop Italian shop in the middle of
    the city. Entrance Fee: Free
  8. Check Out the Piazza Santo Spirito
    Highlighted by the Basilica of Santo Spirito, this piazza is the center of the artisan
    quarters and a great place to hit a market or antique fair. Price: Free
  9. Walk the Vasari Corrido
    Is a unique elevated corridor that connects Palazzo Vecchio, the Palazzo Pitti, the
    Uffiziz Gallar, runs the bank of the Arno and crosses with river with the Ponte
    Vecchio. It is an underrated piece of picturesque architecture spawning through
    the city. Price: Free
  10. Check out the (OTHER) Last Supper
    The Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia is once place of worship, turned museum, which
    harbors Florence’s very own version of the famous Last Supper fresco. Not
    painted by da Vinci as the one in Mulan is, but by Andrea del Castagno in 1450.
    40 years before the da Vinci painting.

Best Sights To See in Florence

  1. Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore)
    The grandest sight in the whole city has to be the larger than life cathedral dome
    that dominates the city skyline. It is a landmark in itself and creates a great
    photographer out of all of us. MUST SEE
  2. Michelangelo’s David
    Galleria dell’Accademia holds quite possibly the worlds most famous marble
    statue. David’s commanding presence can only be fully comprehended in person.
  3. Leaning Tower of Pisa
    A short half day trip away brings you to one of the most recognizable sights in all
    of Italy and one of the best photo opps you will get. MUST SEE
  4. Piazza della Signoria This is not your simply outdoor public square. With statues and gorgeous buildings surrounding you, you wont know where to look. It is a must see. MUST SEE
  1. Piazzale Michelangelo
    If you want that postcard panoramic view of the city with the Santa Maria del
    Flore dome on display, you can’t pass on this small town square at the top of the
    hill. MUST SEE
  2. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
    This museum is packed with dazzling Renaissance artwork that was originally
    made for the Duomo but now on display in a more viewer friendly display.
  3. Basilica di Santa Croce
    This is an incredibly unique basilica made in a perfectly symmetrical Gothic and
    Renaissance style. Its all white exterior is simply heavenly as it stands among the
    other structures in the city. IF YOU HAVE TIME
  4. Baptistery (Battistero)
    Also known as the Baptistery of Saint John, this building commands your
    attention while the other building surround it. As interesting as it is on the
    outside, the best sight is inside when you look up at the octagonal mosaic. IF
  5. Ponte Vecchio
    You will never see a bridge exactly like this one. It is not only interesting and
    unique but also beautiful, simply waiting to turn you into a photographer. IF
  6. The Palazoo Vecchio From Between the Uffizi
    This sight has to be done just right. Wait till night fall when the buildings are
    illuminated, then walk in-between the pillars of the Uffizi Gallery to capture a
    magnificent sight as the Palazoo Vecchio emerges. MUST SEE

Veteran Tips For Florence
Some Lines Will Be Long

Because I was cheap I remember waiting in line to enter the Galleria dell’Accademia and
see the David for a very long time. If you have more money than time it could be worth
it to purchase skip the light tickets.

Don’t drive in Florence
The cobble stone roads are so narrow, sometimes two cars can not pass and one has to
reverse. Meanwhile the locals drive like they are in the Monaco Grand Prix. Just skip out
on the driving. You can walk basically everywhere in the city you need to go.
First Sunday Free
Between October and March you can get into select landmarks for free! This service
includes the Uffizi, Accademia, Medici Chapel, Piti Palace, Boboli Gardens among others.
Free With Student ID
Many of the museums and monuments have completely free entry if you flash a student
ID. It never hurts to try.

Lodging Recommendations
If you want to get the most out of your stay in Florence you really have two options:
inside the historic center or the Tuscan countryside. The historic center of Florence is so
easily accessible by train or pane, which will make it easier and cheaper. The city is
surprisingly small and very walkable from any hotel.
The Student Hotel
10 minutes walk to all attractions, this hip and modern hotel stands out for its swanky
rooftop pool and patio looking out over the city. Price: $180 – $250/night USD
YellowSquare Florence Hostel
This is the hostel version of The Student. Just as hip with a rooftop pool to match. You
can get a six-person dorm for $55/night USD.

Restaurant Recommendations
Trattoria Za Za
This stone building, once an Italian inn turned restaurant in 1977, is an environment to
die for with food to match. This is a must stop in Florence, but keep in mind it is popular
and may be crowded. Price: $$
La Giostra
This white tablecloth restaurant is what every Italian restaurant across the world tries to
be. With an authentic five star atmosphere and food this is the fine dining spot in
Florence. Price: $$$$$

Best Florence Souvenirs

Bottle of Tuscan Wine
Tuscan wine is world renown and for good reason. Take a few home to share with your
friends. Just be sure to package them securely in your checked luggage.

By: Ricky S.


When backpacking across a country, one never knows what unplanned destinations
might unexpectedly catch your attention. You might be on a train from Lisbon to
Barcelona and when the train connects in Madrid, you hop off only to discover that this
city that wasn’t even on your itinerary has the best blood sausage and sangria you have
ever tasted. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that Milan and Verona, only two hour train
ride apart, are stops you need to make if you are shooing down from the top of the
bootleg. Each city has their own distinct personality with some of the most recognizable
destinations in the world.

Getting Around
The main train station in Verona is the Verona Porta Nuova, which is approximately 1.5
miles from the Verona Arena and 2 miles to the Casa di Giulietta. Both are walking
distance but a cheap taxi will save some time.
The main train station in Milan is the extravagant Stazione Centrale. It sits almost 4
miles from the Santa Marla delle Grazie. I have made this walk and I regret it. It had to
be 100 degrees and I was carrying 30 pounds on my back. I recommend getting a cab for
about $5. You can take the Line 3 Metro line from the Santa Maria to the Duomo di
Milan but a taxi might be quicker and around the same price.

Best Things To Do in Milan and Verona

  1. Experience The Last Supper – Deep inside the unassuming church of Santa Maria
    delle Grazie rests one of the most iconic pieces of art on the planet and viewing
    Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece truly is an experience just to view. Note: YOU
    MUST MAKE AN APPOINTMENT and we highly recommend doing it far in
    advance. Price: $15 USD 
  2. Climb to The Duomo di Milan Rooftop – To begin with, Duomo di Milan (Milan
    Cathedral) is one of the most immaculate cathedrals on planet Earth. The secret
    to this amazing structure is the ability to walk on the rooftop to grab a once in a
    lifetime photo opp.   
  3. Attend the Arena di Verona – I know the draw to Verona is the Romeo and Juliet
    attractions, but this ancient Roman amphitheater is more spectacular than all of
    them. Built in 30 AD this still operating amphitheater is one of the most well preserved structures of its kind. The condition of this 2,000 year old mini Colosseum is unprecedented.
  1. Look Down From Juliet’s Balcony – This is the premier destination for fans of the
    Shakespeare play. You can actually enter the home of the Capulet family and
    make your way to Juliet’s actual balcony. Hours 9am-7pm Price: $6 USD
  2. Pinacoteca di Brera (MIlan) – This is one of Italy’s most complete exhibits of
    Renaissance art including a number of pieces by Raphael and Bellini. Price: $15
  3. Attend an Opera at Teatro alla Scala – If it’s your thing to get some Italian
    culture, this opulent opera house is the place to go in Milan. Opened in 1778,
    this structure is as extravagant today as ever. Prices vary according to
  4. Leave A Love Letter at Juliet’s Home (Verona) – Just outside the Capulet home is
    a small arched tunnel where lovers from across the world have covered the walls
    with letters to their loved ones. Price: Free
  5. Visit the Church Where Romeo and Juliet Married – The Church of San
    Francesco al Corso is believed to be the location where much of the plot of the
    story takes place including the secret wedding of the young lovers. Price: Free
  6. Visit the Tomb of Juliet – The Church of San Francesco al Corso is also the resting
    place of Juliet’s tomb. Now empty and in a museum, it is still interesting to
    envision the story unfolding. Price: $3.00 USD
  7. Catch the View From the Torre De Lamberti – This 275 feet tall tower stands in
    the main square of Verona. Take the 368 steps to the top for the best panoramic
    view of fair Verona. Price: $6 USD
  8. Get Lost in the Castle Vecchio – This 14th Century castle in Verona was a vital
    military stronghold, an archaeological wonder, and is in impeccable condition
    still today. Price: $2.00 USD
  9. Walk the Naviglio Grande – Who knew Milan had canals? This waterway is a
    romantic stroll with shops and water taxis perfect for an evening outing. 
  10. Go Chic at the Milan Fashion Week – Two times a year (Spring and Fall) Milan
    hosts the world’s premier clothing trade event. There are fashion shows, clothing
    sales, celebrities, food, and more. The event is free but some shows you must
    pay to attend.  
  11. Find Romeo’s Palace – The small medieval palace is sat right in the middle of
    Verona crammed in by other stone buildings. The once Montague estate is now
    a private home and can not be toured but you can still take in the exterior and
    understand the close proximity the two families lived.   
  12. Leonardo da Vinci Museum – With over 200 reconstructions of da Vinci’s
    inventions, (some brilliant, some wild) this stop in Milan will get you inside the
    head of the genius. Price: $14 

Free (and Cheap) Things To Do in Milan and Verona

  1. Call For your love at Juliet’s Balcony – The Casa di Giulietta is believed to be the
    home of the tragic young Juliet. There is a fee to enter but if you simply want to
    stand under Juliet’s balcony you can enjoy the small courtyard and have a
    perfect and close view of the famou balcony at no cost. Price: Free
  2. Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – This Milan is the oldest active shopping
    gallery in all of Italy and (I’m sorry Dubai) the most extravagant and beautiful
    mall in the world. Price: Free
  3. Naviglio Grande – This colorful and romantic canal through Milan is an ideal
    place to grab some gelato and take in Italy in a free environment. Price: Free
  4. Pose for Photos in the Piazza del Duomo – This piazza  is an ideal location to set
    up for a new profile picture with the opulent Milan Cathedral posing in the
    background. Price: Free
  5. Leave A Love Letter at Juliet’s Home – In Verona, lovers come from across the
    globe to add to the thousands of love letters pasted to the walls outside Juliet’s
    home. Add one of your own for your star-crossed lover. Price: Free
  6. Monumental Cemetery (Milan) – If you want to fill an album of creepy yet
    beautiful photos, this ominuse cemetery, with its marble monuments, is more
    like an eerie museum. Price: Free
  7. Stroll Centro Storico – This old area of Verona filled with statues and
    Renaissance buildings will take you back 2,000 years. Price: Free
  8. Catch the View From the Torre De Lamberti – Standing 275 feet high This tower
    in Verona will give you a breathtaking view of the city from its highest
    point. Price: $6
  9. Walk the Brera District – This Italian neighborhood is like a painting come to life
    with the flowered pots swaying from balconies as the sun rays hit just the right
    angle on the narrow stone streets.  Price: Free
  10. Have a Picnic at the Parco Sempione (Milan) – The Parco Sempione is a spraling public park near the Arco della Pace with
    tranquil ponds and bridges, perfect for a midday picnic. Price: Free

Best Sights to See in Milan and Verona

  1. The Last Supper – If you go to Milan the one thing you must see is the most
    famous fresco in the world painted by the hands of the world’s most famous
    painter. MUST SEE
  2. Milan Cathedral – If you go to see The Last Supper, stay for the Milan Cathedral
    and make your way to the roof for a truly memorable experience. MUST SEE
  3. Juliet’s Balcony (Verona) – We all know the story of the tragic lovers, now relive
    the most iconic scene from any play ever penned. MUST SEE
  4. Arena di Verona – This amphitheater is the Tom Cruise of amphitheaters. It looks
    the same as it did 2,000 years ago, giving you the feeling of transporting you to
    another time in history. MUST SEE
  5. Tomb of Juliet – The Church of San Francesco al Corso holds a number of pivotal
    moments in the Romeo and Juliet saga, but the tomb of the young Capulet still
    remains. MUST SEE 
  6. Naviglio Grande – When the colorful buildings reflect off this canal as a water
    taxi motors by, you will understand why this is one of the best sights to see. IF
  7. Castle Vecchio – This well preserved Verona castle is a sight to see and a
    photographer’s dream with complex angles at every turn. IF YOU HAVE TIME
  8. Teatro alla Scala (Milan) – One of the world’s most lavish opera houses is
    majestic on the inside and out. With its trademark red chairs and curtain with
    gold accents, the Scala will no doubt leave you awe inspired. IF YOU HAVE TIME
  9. Arco della Pace – The gate to the city of Milan is a magnificent sight to capture as
    golden hour rolls in and the Arco is backdropped with a milky Italian sunset. IF
  10. The San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore – This unassuming building has an
    interior covered with vibrant 16th Century frescoes and sculptures was once a
    church, though now a very cool concert hall. IF YOU HAVE TIME

Veteran Tips For Milan and Verona
You Can Do Milan in A Day…or less. 
You can knock out the Last Supper and Milan Cathedral in one hour (on foot). Take that
information and do as you wish. 
You Can Not View The Last Supper Without A Reservation
Just in case you didn’t get that, YOU MUST HAVE AN RESERVATION TO SEE THE LAST
SUPPER! You have to go online and make an appointment on the Santa Maria delle
Grazie’s official website and even then they are not always taking reservations. Check
the official website for more:
You Only Get 15 Minutes To View The Last Supper
You read that right. You gather in a lobby and meet your guide. The guide takes you to
get sanitized before entering the room of the Last Supper. Then you get 15 minutes to
take in the aged fresco and then you are ushered out. When time is up, time is up. 
There Will Be Crowds At the Juliet Home
Despite the other sights, the Casa di Giulletta is the reason people travel to Verona. The
courtyard facing the house entrance is quite small causing the crowd to congregate.
Expect it to be crowded but you can still get some good pictures even with the crowd. 

A Copy of “Romeo and Juliet” 
Why not pick up a copy of the world’s most famous play in the city it takes place in? You
can find them in English and Italian.

Miami Ultra

~By:  Amanda

Sometimes the stars align, dates line up and days collide. While vacationing in Ibiza, stretched out in the sand with my Bloody Mary, I discovered that Miami Ultra would transpire the same weekend as my birthday next March. If you have read some of our past posts, the three of us definitely enjoy our share of house and trance music. For me it’s a true love. My soul marches to the beat and establishes me in my true spirit. It took approximately three minutes to convince the usual clan to go.

Music festivals are everything! For a multi-day festival you had better come armed and dangerous with a liver of steel and a small fortune in savings. Based on the line-up from the previous year, we knew per-purchasing the $350 three day ticket would be well worth it. Conveniently Miami Ultra sells tickets with a payment plan option. Therefore, if you don’t have tons of cash sitting in your savings you do not have to miss out. If you are looking for the most cost effective way to go, the earlier you purchase the ticket, the cheaper the cost. Don’t fear, if you are a last minute decision maker you can purchase tickets by the day through outside “retailers,” which is how most of our local Miami friends attended each day.


The tickets arrived in a shiny box with all kinds of toys, about three weeks before d-day. If you ask me this was a little extra; just mail me the tickets. I do not need hot pink ear plugs or any for that matter, I was ready to hear every manner of sound these DJs would conjure. About a week before the show the time schedule was released on Deciding who to see, when and where was one of the most difficult life decisions I have made to date. We booked a King room at the Hampton Inn Brickell; this was the most convenient location in our price range, giving us the ability to walk home. Miami is a gigantic sprawling city, so if you plan to stay further than a mile away or in South Beach, expect a challenge getting home at night. My motto is go with whatever is easy, so I will gladly pay $25 a night to make life simple.


The festival itself was a shitshow, compared to any festival we had attended in Europe. It felt like a group of 5 year olds had planned the event. Arriving on Friday night we waited over an hour to enter the event, have the security staff check our bags and scan our tickets. I feel like Europeans could make millions on teaching classes to Americans on how to organize events. The port-a-potty situation was so insane; we all thought fondly back to the Flying Dutch festival in Amsterdam where there was only a 5 minute wait time for the toilet.


We parked ourselves at the main stage, where the line up was incredible. Arriving later than planned we were just in time to catch Armin van Buuren, who has achieved god status in my mind. We spent the rest of the night parked under a tree, slightly away from the crowd. By finding a home base in this area we were able to enjoy the music, without being suffocated by the huge crowd surrounding the stage. Also this convenient spot gave us the opportunity to make several amazing new friends. When I get the itch to be in the middle of everything, I’m always thankful for Julie, who will spend a few minutes deep in the crowd dancing with everyone!


After the festival we headed back towards Brickell down S. Miami Ave, which was stacked with bars. Considering the state we were in we decided on the Fadó Irish pub and refreshed with cold beers. Perfect way to end the night. Everyone settled off to sleep….except ME. Someone (who shall remain nameless) in our group was sick and snored like a old Scottish man and I had been assigned to snuggle with her. I’m the lightest sleeper on the planet, so my solution was to grab a blanket and sleep in the closet. Do not judge me…. the door closed and blocked out the sound and I was fast asleep!

SATURDAY, before heading out we dropped by Coyo Taco on the corner for some tacos, breakfast of champions. The group goal of the day was to see Axwell ^ Ingrosso, the two remaining members of Swedish House Mafia. Having missed the opportunity to see the trio preform and living thought their podcasts, they were the essentially the missing piece of my life. The day was packed with Afrojack and Tiesto, amazing! As always, Tiesto opened his set with “Split,” and coincidentally Julie and I were right in the middle of the crowd at the main stage, jumping with everyone from the adrenaline. We kept our home-fort under the big tree with the neon orange decorations. As the afternoon changed to evening the sky opened up with a torrential down pour, many people ran under the various vendor tents to seek shelter from the rain. Thankfully our tree provided a decent amount of protection. I try to never let rain spoil my day, as you cannot control the weather. I even found an inflatable kangaroo to kiss. As the night closed we finally got to see Axwell ^ Ingrosso, they finished their set with “Sun is shining” as the clock passed into midnight and it became my birthday. As they finished their set, the whole crowd of old friends and new, erupted into “Happy Birthday”….best birthday moment ever!

After another closet “nap,” we headed to bay brunch. Wandering out in the far too bright Florida sun, we luckily ran into the Batch Gastropub right next to our hotel. They offered a weekend Brunch special with unlimited mimosas or Bellinis so we committed before even bothering to look at the food menu. However breakfast was delicious and it’s kinda hard to complain with bottomless fizzy drinks. Always a good idea to get one steady meal in our stomachs before heading out, I get so into the music I forget to eat. There is always this excitement/sorrow feeling when attending the last day of the festival. If I ever become a DJ (actually working on that) I wouldn’t want to close, because as amazing as your are, its still the end. Nobody wants to go home.

That didn’t stop us from enjoying every minute of that Sunday. My only regret is missing Showtek. Getting this many girls on my level of energy is incredibly difficult and no one was prepared to leave early enough to see the set. Remember what I said about finding a place and making it yours? We parked ourselves under that same tree again. At this point all of our friends from the past two days knew where to find us and we all settled down into our little village of happy. DJ Snake closed the night, maybe I was just sad Ultra was over, but I’m still trying to determine why he decided to close one of the biggest EDM festivals in the world with “The Middle.”

The saying goes, “Don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad that it happened.” The next day I boarded my flight home with those little white apple headphones hanging from my ears the whole way– my playlists were my attempt to keep reliving the weekend. My Uber driver told me there was a continuous 24 hour after party at Space Night club still raging on, but not even I am that crazy. Everyone should attend a multi-day music festival once in their life; there are so many to choose from for every genre of music. So grab some friends, wave your freak flag and be ready for the weekend of a lifetime.


Check out our other festival blogs

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

Miami Ultra:

Hampton Inn Brickell:  50  SW 12th Street, Miami FL 33130

Fado Irish Pub:  Mary Brickell Village 900 South Miami Ave. Miami, FL 33130

Coyo Taco:  1111 SW 1st Ave Miami, FL 33130

Batch Gastropub:  30 SW 12th Street, Miami FL 33130

Las Vegas


Sin City isn’t just about legalized gambling and prostitution; it has so much more to offer than people think. I’ve been to Vegas quite a few times and wasted my afternoons at poolsides sipping colorful drinks with umbrellas, exploring the insides of all the fancy hotels and being taken in by the lights and shows. But there is more to Vegas than that and once you’re done relaxing it’s time to explore!

On one of my solo trips to Vegas, I decided to explore nature. I looked up in TripAdvisor the best hikes and headed over to Red Rock Canyon which is only a 35 minute drive from the strip. I spent my afternoon in the sun with fresh air covered in dirt. I love a day where I end up covered in dirt. I explored the area, studied the cacti until about sunset.

S O R R O W 
I didn’t have anywhere to stay that night and things got a little pricey at the last minute. So I thought I’d try something a little adventurous and booked a $17 bed at “Hostel Cat” figuring I’d at least make some new friends and get some interesting stories. It did not disappoint. As I drove up to the hostel there were two strippers outside on a swing. Already proving interesting. I felt a little uneasy as I realized I wasn’t in the best part of the strip. A part I had yet to discover. When I got inside I was given a code and instructions. Once inside the main gate, after two codes that change daily, I felt a bit safer. I chose the mixed bed dorm as I usually make more friends with guys than girls, who in my experience tend to be cliquish and extra messy. I secured my belongings, showered and headed to the common area to make friends.

img_2190I just happened to be there for the first Friday of the month. All the food trucks were out, local bands, artists and performers. We had a great time and I highly recommend it. As many nights in Vegas end, we ended up at a local dive gay bar. Thank goodness for my new hostel mates because a lesbian couple tried to make me their new roommate!

The next day one of my best friends just so happened to be in town so we made a lunch and headed out to the Hoover Dam. If you haven’t been, it’s a landmark worth seeing. Powering three states with electricity, the Hoover Dam supplies power to over 18 million people. Where Mother Nature is never a force to reckon with on its own, absolutely never mess with a construction where man and nature combine forces. The death toll numbers are controversial from even the birth of the construction; the death from flooding, accidents and the suicides are incalculable. There is definitely an eerie feeling when you look over the edge of the railing. Honestly, it was so fascinating and you can even cross another state border off your list if that’s your sort of thing. We saw loads of military helicopters and airplanes circling above and we came up with a couple of good conspiracy theories about Area 51. The drive back is a bit brutal with traffic (especially with a full bladder) so I recommend you time the drive home around the traffic.

We made it back in time to hit up a couple of poolside happy hours and if you plan Vegas properly it doesn’t have to be expensive. As soon as you land in Vegas and Instagram your selfies with #vegas or anything similar, club promoters will start messaging you with deals. I personally am not a club person although I’ve had some pretty memorable experiences in some; usually ending the night with at least one marriage proposal. I’ve had a guy give my friends $100 to promise to keep me safe. (They gave him change as $100 seemed like too much for me at the time; apparently I need new friends.) I’m more of a dive bar kinda girl and people watching is my main game. Vegas dive bars are like “people of Wal-Mart” on steroids at prime time. Everyone has a story and they all are waiting to tell you if you’re up for it. Be ready to hear a lot of doom and gloom and tons of terrible decisions. It’s amazing!

img_4356Another highlight of Vegas and what would America’s City of Sin be without the tastiest of the deadly sins… Las Vegas buffets. You can eat your way around the world for $25-$200 depending on your quality of poison. Again, I’m not really one for flash and crowds so you can usually find me people watching and soaking up that cheap happy hour booze with $5 steak and eggs or at Ellis Island where they have steak, gambling and Karaoke.



There is something for every budget and lifestyle in Vegas. I’m not much of a gambler,personally, but occasionally you can find me at the wheel of fortune slot machine earning some free drinks. If gambling isn’t your thing, you can hike, learn history, site see, live your flashiest life or finally get that envious “hangover movie” kind of night and wake up with a tiger. I was accidentally an extra in a movie once while tanning by the pool. The world is yours in Vegas and all the possibilities are at your fingertips. Careful what you wish for and live semi responsibly, you could also end up at a drive thru Elvis chapel marrying a stranger… it is Vegas after all.

Pereira: Pretending I’m a local

~By: Amanda

If I could have a friend from every country in the world my life would be complete. Nothing is better than experiencing the culture with a local, especially one whom is like a sister. This is how you find places you typically wouldn’t know existed. Locals know the true places, not the ones with mobs of tourists or lining the glossy pages of guidebooks. Typically, I am the group planner for every adventure, but when it came time to plan our trip to Colombia, I handed over the reins to our friend, Patty. The first places people generally explore in Colombia are Bogota, Medellin or Cartagena. Our first city was Pereira, which is where Patty spent every childhood summer, visiting family and friends. So this is where we showed up, ready to absorb the true Colombian culture.

We arrived fashionably late, thanks to a Viva Colombia airlines cancellation. However for the inconvenience they more than made up for the delay with a free round trip airfare (for which we have big plans…. a Salsa weekend in Cali). Patty greeted us at the airport with family and our hired transportation for the next two days, a 8 person van for $180 ($23pp). How I love South American prices! Patty had everything sorted and we arrived at Kolibri Hostel where we had booked the 6 bunk room for ourselves. Clean and with modern upgrades I could not have picked a better place to rest my head.

As quickly as possible we traded our travel leggings for swimsuits and flip flops and hustled downstairs to our waiting van driver. Our pressed time did not keep us from picking up a couple bottles of red wine for the drive, which the hostel gladly sold to us with a stack of plastic cups! The perfect evening had been planned, we were on our way to the hot springs. The Santa Rosa de Cabal area, is about one hour outside of Pereira. Here, several hot springs dot the side of the mountain and of course Patty had chosen the bougie-est of them all. Termales is the highest hot spring on the mountain, in theory you always want to visit the hot spring settled on the highest point, the water there is the purest. As we entered the lobby it was almost as we had stepped back in time, the decor was top to bottom traditional Colombian.


I love hot springs, there is no better way to spend an evening relaxing in the heated water than with cocktails. This particular hot spring had several pools which progressively get hotter, fueled by waterfalls gushing the geothermal heated water. On the furthest end of the spring is a waterfall plunging freezing cold water into the mix. If you dare, jump under this invigorating experience… which only two of us had the balls to try. The only thing that could possibly make the night better was empanadas, which guess what, are available in the cafeteria. It always amazes me how cafeterias or snack bars everywhere else in the world can serve such amazing food. Meanwhile in ‘merica we always settle for the soggy hot dog or burnt pizza.

We headed home for sleep, because the next day we were headed to the coffee park. I love coffee and I love rides, so image learning there is place in existence which combines the two for them, National Coffee Park. This entire amusement park is dedicated to the celebration of coffee, I love Colombia, seriously amazing. There are several packages available at various prices to enter the park. Of course we selected the full ride package, because we were going on every ride.

The park is beautifully manicured with immaculate green spaces. After a quick coffee with whiskey, because well it is us, we jumped on the gondola which expedited us down the section with the rides. Running full force we headed towards the go-carts, because that was the first thing we saw. Working in an insane pattern we snaked our way through the park, hitting every ride that wasn’t designed for someone under 4 feet. As the day grew hot, it was time for the log flume! All five girls piled into the plastic hollowed out log and belted out screams as we zoomed down the shoots; soaked! The boys watched from a distance, with some lame comment about not wanting to be wet– they suck anyways.

Our other goal for the day was to attend the performance which highlights the history of coffee in Colombia through song and dance. The production was amazing, especially the vivid costumes, the only possible improvement would have been beer sales! Time for lunch, the Patacon appeared delicious and we always try something new everyday; food in South America never disappoints. Maybe Guinea pig, but we dodged that bullet. Most of the group chose fried chicken. The Colombians have a thing about getting their hands greasy which is bound to happen with properly fried chicken. Each meal is sold with plastic gloves, now I would prefer to lick the last of the golden deliciousness off my fingers, but every culture has their thing. Still no beer available, this is pretty much the only issue we found with the whole park.

After lunch, we set out to finish our original quest. Here is where we encountered the two best rides we found all day. First the bumper boats, which involved 5 minutes of petty competitiveness trying to shove each other under the various fountains. Finally the roller coaster that we had noticed the bright red track peaking though the landscape all day; and it was time. We all ran up to the gates ready to experience the “biggest thrill” of the park. The ride was amazing, fast, drops, twists and turns and the best part… zero line, zero! So, we rode again and again; three of use rode the coaster five times. Why not, there was no wait and in the U.S. a similar coaster puts us waiting in the heat for hours.

We walked out of the park like we owned the joint; we had pretty much conquered our goal with the exception of kiddie rides, for once I was too tall. Our van transport picked us up at the exit, but not before Julie and I ran across the street to purchase as many beers as we could carry. It was a two hour drive to return, but what else did we have to do… and we had been deprived all day after all.

Because that was not enough action for one day, we later headed out to Circunvalar, which I imagine means “road of bars” in Spanish….am I close? Several amazing bars pumped full of salsa music lined the streets, our favorite was an eclectic little bar exclusively dedicated to shots called Mister Shots. Here is where the night gets fuzzy.

The next morning we jammed out of Pereira early headed for Medellin. Our group was large enough to make the price of renting a private van equilivant to individually buying tickets on a scheduled tourist bus. Traveling in a group often has its perks, in South America always shop around for ground transport, likely you can find an amazing deal.

It’s cities like Pereira that I crave to visit, they have a magical calmness to them, over the hectic bustle of your typical tourist haunts and major cities. This is why I prefer to see the country with a local, they will show you the true flavor of the country. And with that being said we are now accepting applications for you to be our friend and show us your country, we will not disappoint…just kidding, kinda!


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If you want to know more about Pereira, check out: 8 Awesome things to do in Pereira

Kolibri Hostel:  Calle 4 #16-35 Circunvalar, Pereira Colombia +57 6 331 39 55

Termales: Calle 14 #15-52 Santa Rosa de Cabel-Risaralda

National Coffee Park: Km 6 via Montenegro Pueblo Tapao, Montenegro Quindío, Colombia National Coffee Park (information though Wikipedia in English)

Mister Shots:  Av Circunvalar 8-94, Pereira

Paris: The Love Story

~By: Anna and Julie, with “salt bae” from Amanda

Girls trip to Paris!


When I was 3 years old, my parents took me on a six week tour of Europe, and some of my very earliest memories originate from that trip. My most vivid memory was going up the Eiffel Tower at night, and I remember stepping off a crowded elevator holding tight to my Dad’s hand, feeling the rushing breeze of the night air. We stepped to the edge at the top and I will never forget my father saying, “Anna, look, this is the Ville de Lumière– this is the City of Lights!” And all the lights of Paris twinkled magically below and around me that night in 1985.

For 32 years I held onto the beauty of that night, and from that moment on, the Eiffel Tower would always be a special place for me. My love of travel began with that trip. I started traveling on my own in 2008, but in all the trips that I’ve taken back to Paris, and in all the times I’ve picnicked under its beautiful structure with my friends in the grass of the Champ de Mars, I’ve never been back up to the top. Somehow, my heart knew that I should wait to take that trip back up when I could hold the hand of a man who would love me just as much as my father. The Eiffel Tower and Paris became a sacred place for me that I would wait to share with the man of my dreams.
I’m a Leo, and I have always been extremely sentimental and romantic. My best girl friends have known about my love affair with Paris since basically the day they met me. They always knew that if the right man ever came along, that Paris was my dream engagement. I’ve been dating for seventeen years and in all that time, no one I dated ever quite understood how important Paris was to me or quite understood why.

When Midnight in Paris came out in 2011, it was my favorite movie. My girl friends and I watched it over and over, wanting to find the magic church steps that transported you back in time to the Paris of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. So we took a girl’s trip to Paris that summer, and it would be the spring step to all of our future travels together. Paris is what first originally bonded us as travel buddies and best friends for life. We wrote about our first trip to Paris together here. This is where we first started to get an idea that one day we wanted our own travel blog.

For the next six years, us girls have traveled to more countries together than we can count. I continued living the single life in New York City, dating around the world and had some serious heartbreaks or ten. Ultimately, I made a decision to stop looking so hard for love. I wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle of NYC that was making me hard and jaded, and I found my heart yearning back for the south. I am a Kentucky girl after all. It was time to focus on me, and what made me happy in life: my job, my family, and my vacations with my girl friends.

In the fall of 2016, that all changed when I met Ben. Ben lives in New Orleans, but he works two week shifts in the oil and gas industry in North Dakota. I flew to Minot, North Dakota on a trip over Labor Day weekend to see my family. I was out to dinner with my cousin Josh, and he invited along two co-workers. One of those friends I already knew, who had traveled to both Bali and Ibiza with Josh and I. The stranger who I didn’t know showed up a little late, but when he sat down across from me at the table, and I suddenly looked over into his warm brown eyes, my whole life changed.

They say when you know, you know. I didn’t know right away immediately, but I think Ben might have! Ever the southern gentleman, he slowly taught my heart to love him and trust him in a way that I didn’t know possible. He fit right into my life, and I his. I thank God every day that Ben found me. He is my happy ever after and now I will let the girls chime in with their version of how they managed to plan the engagement of my dreams. Everyone’s part is so important to telling our love story.



How do you pull off a secret engagement in Paris when the fiancé-to-be is a Leo? Anna always told us her dream engagement and we knew when the day came that she met her perfect man, Amanda and I would have our hands full with planning.

4 months prior to D-Day, Amanda, Anna, Danielle and I were on a bus in Bolivia when we received a picture of the diamond from Ben. I have to be honest: I am a terrible secret keeper. You can’t send 3 of us a picture of a diamond and not expect us to squeal with delight leaving Anna pouting that we knew something she didn’t know. Immediately we have to either start planning everything in Paris or break it to our friend that an engagement in Paris is a bleak and an unattainable dream. Amanda contacted Ben and started the scheming. I asked her all the “what if” questions. What if it was the perfect man and the perfect ring but the location wasn’t exactly Paris? Her response “Well then he wasn’t listening, then was he?” Touché. (Anna: In my defense, this was months and months before)

It took 8 friends, 4 months, lots of scheming, the miracles of the universe aligning and the perfect fiancé to be. We worked closely with Ben to pick a date. Then we scoured the internet for what events were happening in Paris said week. One of us suggested we needed a girls trip. Someone else suggested Paris, where we faked plans with a friend of a friend for Jazz fest. Who couldn’t say no, right? Finally, after a lot of work she agreed to the dates and the location but we were positive she would start to catch on. She already knew the ring existed and she knew Ben had the days off.

The universe intervened magically by mail one day when Ben opened a letter and it was for jury duty the exact date he was supposed to leave to Paris! It was perfect! He left the letter out so she would find it and then he secretly got out of it with a copy of his airplane ticket.


You can always get me to agree to a girl’s trip to Paris over any excuse, but Jazz Fest was particularly diabolical because I love jazz. So going to JazzFest in Paris for a reunion girl’s trip was a perfect cover. At first I begged Ben to come along, but his initial excuse was that he needed to take care of his bees, so I (eventually) dropped it. I know that his beekeeping is vital to him; it was one of the many reasons I fell in love with him in the first place.

I already knew that Ben wanted to plan a life together, because he openly tells me so on a regular basis. As girls do, I had created a Pinterest board over the years of all my favorite engagement ring ideas for that future someday, so I let Ben have access to it, but it must have been a bit confusing. I remember when Amanda, Danielle, Julie and I were on our backpacking trip in South America and we were on a bus to Puno that Ben all of a sudden texted me asking, “Princess cut, right?” And I immediately texted back, “No, Asscher!” Ha!  After that I was kept in the dark, they immediately made a chat group without me. It nearly killed me because curiosity kills the cat and I usually like to know everything!

So about a month before our trip, Ben and I were home in New Orleans and as he was opening his mail, he came upon an envelope for a Petit Jury Summons on the very day I was to depart for Paris with the girls. Any little lingering hope I had that he could go along at the last minute was crushed. Ben was elated. He even told my Dad over lunch how excited he was, he was looking forward to doing his civic duty.

I was even beginning to have doubts that I even wanted my long-held dream of a proposal in Paris. After some soul-searching conversations, I realized that what I truly wanted was simply to be with Ben–to be engaged, and to wear his ring. A ring of his choosing, a proposal of his choosing. I already know how romantic Ben is, so I knew that any proposal from Ben, whether or not it was in Paris, was going to be a lovely surprise, and all that mattered to me was his heart.

So I took off for Paris with joy to meet the girls!



We got Anna to Paris the day before Ben’s arrival and kept her busy and entertained and away from the part of town he was staying in. We even had to keep her busy when he got on the plane by scheming that he had been sequestered for a jury duty case and so he couldn’t call her. Once we had sufficiently thrown her for enough loops, we came up with a story that we needed to dress up and take photos like we had done on our first girl’s trip in Paris 5 years prior. At this point there were so many loops that I didn’t even know what the truths for our day plan was anymore. I think only Amanda knew what was true and what we had staged to keep Anna’s always wandering mind from asking too many questions. One of our friends had told her that we had special lunch reservations at a Café near the Louvre. He went early to meet with Ben and to communicate with Amanda, who was trying to time everything perfectly (I always joke that she is really Mrs. Peregrine as far as timing goes).

We arrived to the “Locks of Love” bridge (the Pont des Arts) and we found our friend in the middle of the bridge talking with “friends” (which were actually strangers but he made conversation with them to legitimize the story). There was a man with a violin playing “la via en rose” and by this point we were sure she knew. All of our energy was buzzing. We managed to assemble everyone for a group photo facing away from where Ben would walk up behind us. Now here’s the really special part for me: I was playing the role of photographer so I was able to capture the whole thing as Ben was walking up behind her, and I had to remind myself to stop shaking and click the button. He walked up holding a bouquet of pink roses and a ringbox. When she finally turned around and saw him, it was probably a full very long second before it set in on her that the love of her life was actually there. She sobbed. We all sobbed. Continuing to take photos and videos when you’re shaking is so hard. You want to live in the moment and enjoy it but an engagement in Paris only happens once in lifetime so we all rallied.

Ben and Anna hugged and cried and as she finally began to calm down he got down on one knee and proposed. In the middle of the Locks of Love bridge with “La vie en rose” playing on the violin, with all of her best friends around her, and another perfect universe moment when Anna’s adopted mom just also happened to be there that day and that day only. Dreams really do come true. Ben brought along a lock for them and they found a little section on the bridge where more locks have started appearing to revive the tradition. They locked their love together and threw the key into the Siene. After that he told her that he had dinner reservations at the Eiffel Tower and her face of surprise was absolutely priceless. Even the coldest of hearts were warmed and there wasn’t a dry eye on that bridge. Its adorable how much the French also love to love and strangers stopped to enjoy the moment with us.

We took all of our beautiful pictures and headed to the nearest cafe to regroup, celebrate with rosé and aperol spritz. We Facetimed Anna’s cousin Josh and our closest friend Abi who has been with us from the beginning. We called her dad and her grandma and as she recounted the story to each of them we all cried more tears of happiness.



Our first couple nights in Paris were simply amazing. Amazing friends, amazing food, amazing rosé. We went to visit the Sacré-Coeur and Montmontre, Amanda and I had a morning run along the canals of the 10th Arron., and we checked into our beautiful mid-eighteenth century apartment. Amanda had found it through a friend, and it was centrally located right next to Notre-Dame Cathedrale on the Isle de la Cité. We took a ride on a bateau-bus down the Seine to the Eiffel Tower along with five bottles of wine for a picnic in the shade. We took photos everywhere.

On Monday night, when Ben told me the Petit Jury might turn into a Grand Jury and that they were going to be sequestered at a hotel without their phones, I realized that I didn’t know when I was going to hear from him again, and I broke down in tears at dinner. He had to call me to calm me down. Amanda took me to the bathroom and dried my tears as she always has. We found some dive bars in the Marais and I spent the night distracted by shots, dancing, and Amanda DJing.

By Wednesday the rest of our friends were expected to arrive so we were planning a dress up photo shoot that day. I woke up with quite the hangover that morning but still managed to get a shower and curl my hair. I had bought a few new dresses online to bring to Paris, and my favorite was a navy blue “swing” dress for dancing in the jazz clubs. It took a few hours for seven girls to get ready, but there was a good supply of champagne on hand from a little wine shop around the corner. Julie was already “shooting” as Amanda danced around the living room. Our guy friend was looking very dapper in a brand new blue suit from Milan but he left early, saying he had friends to meet at 2, who were preparing a special wine and cheese lunch for us at a café near the Louvre.

“Make sure you get my shoes!”, she said.

Finally when everyone was ready, we left the apartment to meet at the café at 3. Meanwhile, we took photos everywhere along the Seine. When we got to the famous Pont des Arts, I remember being distracted into taking more pictures when we were about halfway across. While we were standing there smiling, I felt someone’s hand on my arm. I thought it was one of the girls. But when I turned around, I heard the familiar violin strains of “La Vie en Rose,” and I saw Ben standing in front of me with an armful or pink roses.
My initial reaction was pure shock. I couldn’t quite believe he was there, in person, in Paris, standing on that bridge. I just started shaking and sobbing uncontrollably, and wrapped my arms around his neck. I can remember him holding me close, both of us crying, and he whispered in my ear, “I have something to ask you.” Even when I finally calmed down enough to let go of him, I remember reaching out to touch his face, to know that this was really happening and wasn’t a dream.

The next thing I knew, Ben got on one knee, presented me with a ring box and said those sweet words, “Will you marry me?” I said “Yes I will” through tears of happiness. I nearly reached for the ring before I realized in my stupor that I should put out my hand so that he could place it on my finger. I was shaking like a leaf. It was the most joyous moment of my life. Meanwhile the violinist switched into Besame Mucho, and everyone around us was clapping and crying.

Ben had already bought a lock, and wrote Ben ❤ Anna on the side. We went to the railing and found a section of bridge where other lovers had already begun to leave new locks. Ben bent down to turn the key, and then after we both blew it a kiss, he tossed it far away into the Seine. It made me infinitely happy that he knew how much that little bit of sentimental tradition meant to me.

And then Ben had one last surprise. He pulled out some papers from his inside his jacket pocket and presented me with dinner reservations that night at 58, where we would dine at the Eiffel Tower. Somewhere there’s a priceless photo of my face. It was a culmination of all my little hopes and dreams. I couldn’t stop crying or shaking. My cup of joy runneth over.

After what seemed a million photos later, we crossed the bridge and found ourselves a spot at the Café Restaurant Le Grand Louvre. We had many rounds of champagne and kir royale to celebrate! When I finally could sit down, I was able to fully appreciate the beauty of my new ring.
Ben had looked at all my Pinterest saves and then had it designed especially for me, with little gold twists in the band that gave it a slightly antique look. Sweet and simple and classic. I could not have imagined anything more elegant. My entire day was perfect from beginning to end, and when I called my Dad and my Grandma to share the happy news, they cried too. I truly felt as if all the universe was in the right place for once, and that I was the luckiest girl alive. No other man would have the patience or persistence to give me the engagement of my dreams, and do such an incredible job surprising me. My favorite photo is when I am standing there unsuspecting, and Ben is walking across the bridge behind me, broad smile across his face.





Anna’s favorite photo

Keeneland, My Kentucky Derby

~By:  Amanda

I make fun of “fly over” states all the time; however I can’t really talk, as I’m from a fly over state. Anna and I were both born and raised in Kentucky. I know what you are thinking: there is literally nothing there. True, some parts are not worth spending more than the five minutes you would need to gas up your car and grab a bag of Cheetos. However we do have our claims to fame, including by far the best college basketball team in the country– I am not biased, google it! Bourbon, which speaks for itself, no explanation needed! Finally horses, specifically horse racing. This is not a post about the Kentucky Derby, it’s about my favorite place in Kentucky, located just outside of Lexington, Keeneland Race Track.


Keeneland is one of the most beautiful horseracing tracks in the country, with much of its original 1930’s style architecture. Every April and October, they showcase live horseracing and in my opinion surpasses the beauty of the twin spires at Churchill Downs. For most Kentuckians, Keeneland is an event, so dresses and ties are the favored dress code. Just don’t wear a hat, as those are for the Derby. We will know you are from out of town even before hearing your accent. Everyone shows up early to tailgate, complete with cocktails and homemade southern style appetizers, before the first post at 12 noon.


Every time I return, nostalgia pulls. This is where I spent most of my Fridays when I attended the University of Kentucky, skipping that last afternoon class. As you enter you almost feel as if you are pulled back in time; the grounds have been perfectly maintained since the track was constructed in 1936. My first stop is always the “Sports Bar” on the second level, which is the prefect place to grab a Bloody Mary and make your bets for the first race.

The $5 general admission grants you access to most of the grounds and the free seating on the benches at the racetrack’s edge. It’s incredible to watch the horses fly by. To sit in the fancy box seats, located in the covered Grandstand, you better know someone. These boxed areas are pre-owned and are passed down though families from generation to generation. You can also purchase Grand Stand Reserved seating or make reservations in various dining and club venues. Its the bougie way to go and should be booked in advance, since reservations go fast.

I am a weirdly traditional person, so my day here always starts with a Bloody Mary first, and then moves on to bourbon, which pairs well with a beef frank with spicy mustard for lunch. However, if you are a Kentucky virgin, I highly recommend the burgoo, a delicious stew. I always end my day down near the long finish at the Equestrian Bar–this is where my father and his friends typically set up post. At this point I have spent all my money on bets and I can usually count on a cocktail or two from him, citing that I am unmarried and therefore still his responsibility.

I rarely win, mostly because I solely choose my horses based on their names. However this place is still magical to me, maybe because it transports me back to those treasured days I spent at university or maybe it’s because the sights and sounds are the feeling of home. For me it’s not about winning, it’s about the atmosphere: Keeneland embraces the true Kentucky spirit.



Teaching your 9 month old nephew to gamble, totally normal!


Check out  Keeneland from one of their own’s prospective… my dear friend Isaac Hickman from the Broadcast Department at Keeneland created this video titled “Family and Friends”


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Keeneland Racetrack:  4201 Versailles Road, Lexington KY 40510

Cairo, Egypt

~By:  Julie

In 2011 I received the opportunity to travel to Cairo, Egypt, one of my most memorable trips even to this day. I was only given a small window of time to prepare before the trip and I didn’t know when I’d ever return, so I hired a tour guide/ driver to take me and a couple of my co workers at the time to see the things you are supposed to see. Our hotel was directly on the Nile River, with the most incredible views that immediately gave me the warmest feeling. It’s been 6 years and I’m still pinching myself about this opportunity.


A few things that surprised me:
1. The Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza are located right dab in the middle of Cairo. No joke. When we were flying into it, I saw a huge city with bare land in the middle like an abandoned dusty golf course and upon closer look I spotted the pyramids and the Sphinx from above. It still blows my mind.

2. Now, I had a certain expectation of camels when I came to Egypt… I figured I’d see one… but I really didn’t think I’d get to interact with them. They are really the oddest looking creatures and call me crazy but I couldn’t stop looking at their weird butts.

3. I’ve now stood in front of the giant stones that are the base of the pyramids and I really do question how they got there. ET? I’ve crawled underneath the smaller pyramids, touched the hieroglyphics, and was thankful for the shade of any shadow from the torturous sun. I came as close as possible to the Sphinx and she’s entirely much smaller than I anticipated, which doesn’t happen often to me based on my size. But all of it is a wondrous marvel.

4. I learned to not judge a book by its cover in Egypt because no house is finished. They never finish the top floor or roof of the house in order to avoid paying taxes. I was told the dirtiest looking places can really be the most valuable palaces inside. From the street you really get a different perspective on things.

5. After a necessary food stop for street-side doner Kabob, a voice came over the public loudspeaker chanting in a religious tone and the entire city paused in the most eerie way. No one made us feel uncomfortable for not practicing the way they did. We just kept quiet and reserved to the side out of respect until it seemed ok to continue our journey.

The video is long but I’m so grateful I have it after so much time has passed.

I had plans to return to Egypt to visit Alexandria before things became tense… I’ve lost some of the memories. But I still wear my cleopatra cartouche, display my papyrus paintings with pride and can’t wait to explore the rest of this incredibly mysterious country.