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Europe

Florence in Three Days

 

“Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of Jewellers and Goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space of one house, in the centre, being left open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge, is exquisite”. Charles Dickens, 1846

Charles Dickens said it all, really. I wish I can write a vivid and beautiful description of the city. Sure, it felt  nice to walk along the streets  of Florence . The ‘old world vibe’ is everywhere. There’s something delightful in  knowing that early Florentians  ambled on the same cobblestone pavements  centuries ago; who knows what kind of tragedy or victory transpired on those streets.

From Venice, we took the high speed train to Florence. Frecciarossa highspeed trains, reach a maximum speed of 250km/h and 300km/h respectively. After two hours, we were at Santa Maria Novella Train Station which was a mile away from  our Bed and Breakfast, Palazzo Graziani.

This is a view of the Duomo from the rooftop of our Bed & Breakfast.

I love the wood beams inside our B&B. That afternoon light from the outside passing through the door and highlighting the dining area is lovely.

For dinner, we checked out this restaurant, Boccanegra for our first bistecca alla Fiorentina.

First on the list for the next day was the Uffizi Gallery, we did not have any tickets, so we wanted to queue up early for a chance to see the museum. On our way to the Uffizi Gallery, we walked from our B&B to see Ponte Vecchio.

We lucked on getting tickets early to check the Uffizi ,which  displayed beautiful  artworks  of great artists  like Michelangelo, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Titian, etc.

After  admiring the beautiful  artworks at the Uffizi, we had brunch at this neat breakfast place which was recommended by my sister in law Claudette, the  Cantineta dei Verrazzano. Of course, I ordered two cups of cappuccino, I only learned about the Italian’s preference for cappuccino as a ‘morning only’ coffee during my initial research about Italy while planning for the trip.

Next stop was Pisa, I’m amazed that we were able to squeeze Pisa in this visit. We did not linger in Pisa  since  it was very hot and crowded;  but we can’t NOT visit the Leaning Tower of  Pisa. It was great to see such famous architecture, and we could not help but do the obligatory touristy poses.

After Pisa, we had a little nap at our B&B to recover from the heat . We walked again to Piazzale Michelangelo and waited for the sunset.  It was a great place to just people -watch and wait for the sun to go down.  It was beautiful. I loved seeing the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio , the Arno River transformed by the different colors of the setting sun .

On our way back to our B&B, we tried the pizza at I’Pizzacchiere. It was too good, I forgot what we ate, something with mushroom,  prosciutto and cheese, of course!

Next day, we visited the Basilica di Santa Croce. It is less illustrious than the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, but it boasts of being the burial place of a few famous Italians like Michelangelo, Galileo and Macchiaveli.

We spent an extra day in Florence on our way to the Chianti region since we missed the pickup time for our car rental.We explored Florence again where we actually enjoyed it since we didn’t have an itinerary, We haggled with a Bangladeshi vendor selling “firenze” leather goods; had dinner at the Mercato Centrale and enjoyed another round of pistachio gelato from Grom .

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Lost in Venice

We had booked and cancelled this trip in 2020 at the start of Covid pandemic . This time, we  didn’t finalize our itinerary until the last few days before the trip  and only booked accommodation with free cancellation policy. We were anticipating  flight cancellations and  reinstatement of travel restrictions up until we left for our layover  at JFK.

First  and last stop was Venice. From Marco Polo Airport, we took the Alilaguna water bus Orange line to Ca’  Rezzonico and walked for half a mile (backpack and all ) to The Hotel American Dinesen where we stayed for  the night. Despite the heat and humidity, it felt great to enjoy the sights and sounds of Venice for the first time.

After checking in, we rested and freshened up a bit. Afternoon was spent  exploring the island of Murano . We   had fun exploring the shops which showcased  murano glass items  . It was hard to decide which souvenir to buy and take home, but  finally decided on a colorful  gondola decor  which we thought would make a nice addition to our travel souvenir collection at home.

At night, we explored  the streets and shops and followed everyone’s recommendation, “ just get lost in Venice” We found this nice osteria  in a neighborhood which served fresh seafood.  We even   met a Filipina  who lives in one of the apartments above the osteria . She told us how Venice is just starting to recover economically with the influx of tourists this summer season; how isolated and eerily quiet Venice was during the peak of the COVid pandemic; how   they were ‘ quarantined’ with only one pass given per family to buy food and essentials;  that large cruise ships  will soon be banned  from entering Venice’s waters , a move that will protect its already fragile ecosystem.After dinner we walked some more, exploring Piazza San Marco at night .

On our second day, we woke up early and waited  for sunrise at Ponte dell Accademia , It’s always nice to see  the sun transform the sky and waters from black to orange, and golden and the buildings from mere silhouettes to structures defined by centuries-old  art and sculptures. Venice awakens. St Mark’s square early in the morning was also wonderful; the  sound of bells was exhilarating.

 

 

We headed back to the hotel for a nice breakfast buffet. The Hotel American Dinesen is a boutique hotel which overlooks the San Vio Canal. It’s in a quiet neighborhood in Dorsoduro, but still very accessible to the city’s main attractions. We were given a room which had a wonderful view of the canal. Loved the decors,  it gave me that modern meets old world  vibe . 

Outside our hotel , there was a gondola station where we found Ricardo. He  owns his gondola and like his father and father’s father, they’ve lived as gondoliers in Venice for generations . He didn’t sing to us while he maneuvered  the gondola, but he did regale us with stories about Venice and the mechanics of navigating  its narrow canals. No the canals didn’t stink ! maybe because of our masks? or maybe because it’s not the season for  ‘ acqua alta’  .  I didn’t  tell him but I thought his face bore a strong resemblance to Michaelangelo’s David , haha! He did give me a flower after the ride . 

Next stop  was the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) . Gorgeous ceilings and flooring ! And I love seeing Carpaccio’s The Lion of St Mark being restored by a fine art restorer. 

In the afternoon , we checked  out and headed for Florence .

 On our way back home, we travelled back to Venice to explore the city even more , bought goodies for the kids’ while we stored our luggage at the luggage hero for a few hours . Tried some pistachio flavored cannoli (one of my musts ). We then took the bus route to  a bed and breakfast near the airport where we spent our last night.

Ciao and arrividerci, Venezia. 

 

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Barcelona in Three Days

 

We will be back! for sure. A quick tour of this beautiful region in Spain and three days is never enough to explore this city. I lost my cellphone to a pickpocket in Barcelona, but even that is negligible compared to the wonderful experience we had there.

We took the late night flight from Marrakech, so we arrived Barcelona’s  El Prat  at around 2 in the morning. Utilizing the not so comfy airport benches, we tried to catch some zzz’s while we waited for the car rental to open at 6:00  in the morning. It was uncomfortable, but it was one of those money saving efforts we did for this trip. We rented a car via Costco for 2 days which cost us 27 euros per day, saved us a hotel cost for a night and allowed us to visit other places in the Catalunia region at our own pace.

First stop so early in the morning was the beautiful city of  Tarragona.

The Castle of Altafulla or Castell dels Montserrat is a castle palace of the Tarragonès dating from 1059 . It is not open for public viewing.

Esglesia de Sant Marti d’ Altafulia is built between 1701 to 1705

Clear skies with a few clouds,a gorgeous view of  the Mediterranean sea from the Tarragona amphitheater ruins, a plate of black seafood paella and just walking aimlessly in the the alleys of the city square was our idea of a good time.

Tarragona Amphitheater

Tarraco Arena Placa

Pont del Diable

After devouring that delicious black seafood paella, we headed back to Barcelona to prepare for our most awaited activity of the night. We really worked hard to get tickets for this game and even cancelled our booking in Cadaques just to watch Messi and the FC Barcelona play against Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou. Every night we checked the website for ticket availability. Finally got a couple of tickets  2 days before the match. This is when I lost my cellphone in the train (we took the train from our hotel so we didn’t have to worry about parking, etc) and DSLR battery died! Photos here are from the Iphone but I’m glad we decided to watch them.  Just being in the crowd of passionate soccer fans, joining them sing and cheer for Barca, hearing the curses and praises; that was a great once in a lifetime experience.

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