Monthly Archives: June 2012

Florence: The Real Deal

Florence is the city that gave me clarity in my life and for that I’m eternally grateful. It’s the city that showed me what life is truly about and is the city that kick-started my passion for travel. Before visiting Florence, I was concerned about the irrelevance that surrounded me; stresses from work and working hard but for the wrong reasons. It became very clear, very fast that life….true life… about appreciating family, good friends, fantastic food & wine, and amazing conversation.  Florence taught me a life lesson in less than 24 hours. Pretty incredible, right?

When I describe the “energy” of cities in my other posts, I don’t think I get the message across. It’s almost like an X Factor. Something that makes it so unbelievable and incredible that you would live there or return at the drop of a dime. Florence is that to me. There’s a special place in my heart that I have for this magical city and aside from the important life lesson it taught me, there is also so much to do.

So here’s where to start:

Piazza della Signoria – The most famous square in Florence and very busy one at that. Should you want to visit this historic area, I recommend visiting it  first thing in the morning.

Il Duomo & Campanile – You really can’t miss this. This extraordinary cathedral spans across the middle of Florence. Climb the bell tower for unbelievable panoramic city views.

Ponte Vecchio – You can buy gold jewelery or stop for gelato. It doesn’t matter, you just need to go! This bridge is awesome as you walk towards it and even better when you’re on it.

Baboli Garden – Once you cross Ponte Vecchio, you will be lead to this hillside park. It’s such a peaceful area in the middle of such a busy city.

Piazza Santa Croce – This square is worth the visit.  It’s in front of the cathedral and pretty happening in the evening.

Shopping – You haven’t experienced true retail therapy until you visit Florence.

Statue of David  – Outside of the Palazzo Vecchio sits this grand marble statue.  But don’t be fooled! The real statue of David is inside the Galleria dell’Accademia.

San Lorenzo Market – An experience in itself! If you’re looking for some good deals head towards this market. There are tons of street vendors and so much to buy!

Like I said before, Florence is more than a city…it’s an experience. The people, the food, the vibe is just something that can not be captured in words.  My hope for everyone is that at some point in your life you visit this unbelievable city. I hope it changes your life the way it has mine.

Safe travels…..

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Back at it in September!

Booked and ready to fly….See you soon Hawaii!

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London: Hit or Miss?

I guess it really depends on who you ask and what their preference is. Personally, I found London to be the most disappointing European city I have visited to date. I went to visit friends who were living there, so I feel confident that I had the “full British experience” during my stay. I did some typical London tourist activities, but also lived like a local in a suburb and shopped at grocery stores and hung at the local pubs. In my opinion, I feel like I did enough to warrant me saying I would never go back to London again.

So what’s disappointing about London? I hardly want to focus on the negative, but it’s just too easy. I think the overall feeling of London is very plain and simple. The energy lacks. When I compare London to other large European cities like Madrid, Milan or Paris; London falls very short in a lot of categories. There is a lot to do, but once you do them…you kind of don’t care to ever do it again. So let’s start:

The London Eye: It’s the slowest moving “ferris wheel” I’ve ever been on. You get  awesome views of London, but by the time you get to the top….you just want to get to the bottom. The London views are nice…..but not that nice.

Tower Bridge: “London Bridge is falling down….” Yep, that’s the bridge we sing about! Is it as breathtaking as the Golden Gate? Negative.

Big Ben: Right out of the subway, you will see Big Ben. It’s just about as exciting as I’m describing it!

Tate Modern: I’m not one for art so maybe I’m being a little harsh here. But I hardly think the combination of bobby pins, ripped cloth and spray paint or birds made from metal clothes hangers should be deemed as “artistic” or even interesting for that matter. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.

Westminster Abbey:  If you didn’t hear about it before, I’m sure you know about it now. This is the church where Prince William and Kate married. It certainly is beautiful, but again, I felt like this Cathedral was missing a certain element about it. It’s a lot colder and unwelcoming compared to other cathedrals I have visited.

St. Paul’s Cathedral: Although similar to St. Peter’s in Rome, it’s quite unimpressive. This church is just smack in the middle of the city and tons of people eat lunch on the steps giving it a really bad curb appeal. I judge based on first impressions…..clearly!

Buckingham Palace: So everyone told me I must go. The palace itself is impressive. It’s huge and the grounds are well kept. However, the changing of the guard I didn’t quite get. I waited an hour to watch one guard replace the another guard’s shift. I would call this uneventful, not interesting.

Trafalgar Square: This is the heart of London in my opinion. Ok, it’s nice! There are tons of people and some cool places to grab a drink. Does it compare to Puerta del Sol or the Piazza della Signoria? Sure doesn’t.

Picadilly Circus: London’s response to New York’s Time Square. Again, it’s cool. But I would hardly say it was a highlight.

Leicester Square: A statue, a theatre, some benches. That’s about it.

Hyde Park: Now Hyde Park was a treat. It’s a very large park in the city. Super clean, but eerily quiet. Nonetheless, I would recommend the walk through. Wear some comfy shoes because it’s a pretty big park. If you want to take a break, sit on the lawn chairs that are spread throughout the park.

Regent’s Park: I will actually say that Regent’s Park is cool. It’s very peaceful and along the lake. It’s certainly clean which is a huge plus. Again, compare it to El Retiro in Madrid….it doesn’t hold a candle.

Primrose Hill: Home to celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, this area is just steps from Regent’s Park. The homes are nice, the area nice. Is it worth the walk through? Again, depends on who you ask.

Abbey Road: I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles….however, this was actually a highlight. Abbey Road had a great energy. Tons of die-hard fans cross this famous street and take photos in hopes of replicating the album cover. My hubby is a huge fan and I actually signed his name on the studio wall where the recorded. It was a great experience and I’m glad I went.

Harrods: Harrod’s is the Mecca of shopping, I cannot dispute that. Every floor has something to offer; clothing, furniture, groceries, Christmas ornaments. It’s spectacular….if you’re willing to dish out some cash.

Hamley’s Toy Store: It’s definitely not FAO Schwarz, but worth stopping in. If you have children, add this to your to do list.

Primark: If you get here early enough, you can find some pretty amazing deals on accessories, shoes, clothing and housewares. I recommend it if you like to sift through stuff to get the best deal.

Oxford Street & Carnaby: Home of great stores like Top Shop, Mango, Zara and tons of vintage stores. It’s worth the visit if you want to make some additions to the wardrobe.  Note that British fashion though is very trendy. If you’re looking for statement pieces that will survive a few seasons….good luck it’s tricky to find!

Canary Wharf: The professional area of London. Kind of cool with some hip bars where people go after work to unwind. It’s good for a Wednesday night and worth the visit.   

The Tube: I will give credit where credit is deserved. London’s subway system is simply incredible and very reliable. The only thing that sucks…..they stop at 11PM. Not good if you want to pub crawl! Oh ya, taxis are super expensive and not a good option.

Cleanliness: Call me a snob….I don’t care. Brits standard of cleanliness are completely different from mine. When things get old, they should be replaced! Maybe that’s a North American way of thinking, but personally restaurants and pubs should not have rusty toilets and antique faucet dials. Again, just my opinion but I know there are people out there who agree.

There is a lot to do in London, there is certainly no shortage.  If this is your first trip to Europe and you choose London I think you would enjoy it. However, if you have visited a few other places before, I think you may be on the same page as me. It’s very unimpressive and lacks the European feel of most countries. Is it lack luster? For sure. Is it worth the visit? Maybe.

Until next time!

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