FLORENCE, ITALY

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
    sunglasses.
  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.
    MUST SEE
  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.
    MUST SEE
  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
    YOU HAVE TIME
  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
    YOU HAVE TIME
  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.

Goin’ up, On a Tuesday: Gordon’s Wine Bar, London

The perfect combination, wine and cheese, are nectars of the gods. I can’t even remember how I learned about Gordon’s Wine BAR. Several years ago I enjoyed a glass of wine on the patio with friends. Fast forward to this year, I remembered Gordon’s Wine BAR when meeting up with a friend who shares my passion for refreshing white wines.

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Gordon’s Wine Bar is located just off the Embankment stop on the Tube and is the oldest wine bar in London. Located in the basement, you step down into a grotto style establishment, detailed with an original wine cage, antiquated wood and candlelight. The bar is located in the back and there is an amazing variety of whites, reds, roses, ports, bubbles, basically if its made from fermented grapes, you will find it at Gordon’s. Stepping outside the box we grabbed a Hungarian Savingon Blanc, which the bartender highly recommended. Now comes the other important decision of the night: which cheeses are going to make the best dinner ever. You can purchase a plate of 1, 2 or 3 cheeses and you need the three cheese plate, because there are so many amazing options. Our hands-down favorite is the Taleggio from Italy. The cheese portions served are insanely large and accompanied by chunks of delicious bread.

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A fair warning though, this bar is always crowded. The indoor seating never seems to be enough, so it is recommended you arrive by 4 pm to guarantee a seat inside. There is additional seating on the patio sidewalk which flanks up next to Victoria Embankment Gardens. Typically one can find a seat outside quite quickly or a spot at one of the standing barrels. Heat lamps hang over head and keep you warm in the chilly months, but after a bottle you wont feel the cold anyways and after two you wont care about anything…. Needless to say, we returned three days later to order the exact same thing.

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Way Too Wanderlust Recommends

Gordon’s Wine Bar: 47 Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NE +44 207 930 1408 www.gordonswinebar.com

~By: Amanda

Throw back Thursday: Santos Winery, Santorini Greece


If I could choose a favorite activity on vacay, wine tasting is definitely the winner! Santos Winery was by far one of the best wine tasting experiences in which I’ve ever participated. The winery is set on top of the cliff over looking the volcanic caldera, which is now a lagoon, after a large eruption thousands of years ago. The view from this point is breathtaking and you have the option to enjoy the wine inside or outside on the covered deck.

The menu choices include a tastings of 3-18 wines based on the tasting tour you choose. While we did not participate, there are options of a walking tour also to accompany your tasting experience. The pours are large enough to share the 12 or 18 wine tastings with a friend and have a wide variety of red, white and rosé. Did I mention snacks?? Each tasting comes with a set of cheese, olives, bread and tomato paste. Also provided is an information sheet with a description of each wine. Our waiter was kind enough to alter the 6 glass wine tasting for our friend Cait who prefers only white wine. Timed just right, we had the opportunity to watch the sunset over the caldera before heading into Thira to start our night. If you love wine, you must go, the atmosphere and wine selection are a perfect way to spend the afternoon! No excuses!


Way too Wanderlust Reccomends

Santos Winery: Pirgos, Santorini 84701, Greece + 30 22860 22596 www.santowines.gr 

~By: Amanda

YACHT WEEK: A True Picture

 

It has been a month and two glasses of wine and now I’m finally ready to write about The Yacht Week. Keep in mind Croatia sits on the top of my favorite places list and The Yacht Week ruined Croatia. In all fairness I also feel my previous expeditions and knowledge of Croatia also ruined The Yacht Week.

As a group our travel philosophy is epicness on a budget, basically don’t get too crazy. It didn’t work this time, The Yacht Week is an amazing party, however the YouTube videos are not as they seem. Would I use Yacht Week again, probably not, but I also don’t want to steer interested individuals from the experience. I just want to give my perspective of the realities of The Yacht Week.

 

The “Yacht”:

This is not a Jay ­Z music video, sooo…..The first thing you must ask yourself and friends before booking “Do I like camping?” If you answered “yes”, hooray you may continue to browse the yacht cards on the website www.theyachtweek.com This is basically camping on a boat, while still attempting to look fantastic for the parties every night. We embraced mermaid baths, no AC, pumping the toilet, washing dishes in the ocean, spooning with friends and other hardships that come when basic conventional amenities are absent. It is true you will not sleep for a week, if you can find a good sleeping pill script before you depart; they will become best friend and don’t forget earplugs and eyeshades. The shower situation is dismal; we ended up bathing in the ocean and then rinsing off in the small cramped shower on the boat, who knew that beer pong raft would double as a shower caddie. In the marinas shower facilities are available, ALWAYS use them when you can, although hot water is scarce #firstworldproblems. The conclusion on the “yachts” is they are cramped and short the modern amenities we all know and love. YACHT WEEK 15

 

 

My suggestions are:

* Book the biggest boat you can afford and don’t fill it to max capacity, if you can avoid anyone sleeping in the living area, this is best.

* Don’t bring too much stuff, Anna and I are epic over packers, we are American dammit and maybe we need those floating flamingo beer Koozies, thank you amazon.com. You don’t need a hair dryer, straightener or curling iron either, no power for it, buy some salt spray and get over it.

*When it comes to food and drink, purchase breakfast and lunch items, maybe plan for one dinner on the boat. Think basic! Kitchens on the boat are small and storage is limited, besides that precious space in the refrigerator should be reserved for beer and mixers and champagne.

 

Let’s start with the basics:

The storage compartments are small no matter how large your yacht, we suggest investing in a backpackers backpack, 45-­55 liters is usually a nice size. Other options are duffel bags or soft sided luggage, there is nowhere to stow a large hard side roll bag on the boat.

 

What the ladies should pack:

A different bathing suit for everyday with cover ups, shorts etc.

A fun dress or outfit for each night

One pair of pjs that are not scandalous and maybe one that is

Flat shoes, no heels necessary

Whatever you need for effortless hair, thank god I had Dano the braid master

Basic make­ up, this is not the time to perfect cat ­eyeliner. A little pop­ up folding mirror will help immensely.

Small and cute clutch or wristlet that holds the basics, not three Longchamp purses (guilty)

 

What the guys should pack:

Bathing suits and board shorts

Tank, tees and chill stuff

A nice shirt for each night to pair with 2­3 shorts

Topsiders and flipflops

You’re a guy, this really is not hard.

 

As a group, you should pack: 

Fun rafts: I would suggest sharing with a friend, everyone from our group bought a float and two were never even blown up.

Towel clips: The boat provided a few, however this is how you dry everything. The extra towel clips are great for hanging bathing suits and cover ups. No one wants to sacrifice that $150 J crew bikini to the Adriatic Sea.

Personalized cups: before yacht week I ordered plastic cups with everyone’s name, you can find a variety on etsy.com and they kept the drink mess at bay. We had one made for our skipper, as well, he loved it. A sharpie and a solo cup will work also, but its def not as fancy!

Play list, play lists, and play lists!!! New boats have the aux; you can use an auxiliary cable connection you can purchase a cord from amazon for about $5-­7 they connect straight into everyone’s phone or MP3. Older boats only have cd players. Our boat was a 2011 model, we had the aux connection, (note: 2011 standard does not include air conditioning.)

Flags and lights: Country flags, State Flags, University Flags, whatever.YACHT WEEK 2

Battery powered Christmas lights, they make finding your boat a breeze from the shuttle boats when you’re drunk and its dark.

Enough alcohol for a small army, mixers and don’t forget beer and a lot bottled water; enough said.

 YACHT WEEK 7

It’s the little things: We brought out the body paint and it was an instant hit, glow sticks are also fun, be creative!

 

Don’t even think about it:

High heels, pants, running shoes and work out clothing (no you won’t use them, seriously), laptop.

Keep in mind you’re on a boat and your drinking, things get lost easy. Be prepared, someone will sacrifice something to the water. In our boats case it was an Iphone, buy a buoy buddy and every other phone protection device. I also recommend taking knock off sunglasses, you can purchase fake Ray Bands in an assortment of fun colors pretty much everywhere in the world.

 

The Parties:

This is where they lost me. The parties are fun, but def drink before you go! I have traveled in Croatia before and drinks are relatively cheap, compared to the rest of Europe. Not so the case at Yacht week parties, at least in NYC when bars rape you with drink prices the drink actually tastes good and is strong. The transportation to and from the marina or your boat is also usually double the cost you would pay as a normal tourist. That said the Fort Party is pretty amazing, how often do you party in a fort? There is a piano player who can play any song ever created and this point I had learned just buy beer or a shot. Also pack a flask, they never checked.

As for the other parties I could take them or leave them, they are okay if you have never been to Thailand.

Everything said, I had fun at The Yacht Week and had an experience I will never forget. I’m glad I went and experienced the week. My review is not meant to bash the week or steer people from the fun, yet to paint a honest picture of the week from someone who was not paid to go, cough cough.

Would I change that I went to The Yacht Week in Croatia, absolutely not! I would however change the way I approach Yacht Week had I known what I know now. I hope this gives prospective travelers a true insight of this week . You are not that fancy, this is not really Croatia and you will spend a ton of money. That said, I would rather be sitting on that boat with a cold Ozujsko beer laughing with my friends than this dumb airplane, going to work. And you seriously won’t work out so don’t bother with the shoes!!!

~By:  Amanda

Check out our other blogs about Croatia:

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