Fabulous Florence

Florence is one of Italy’s most visited cities. Delectable food, magnificent shopping and some of the most beautiful works of art in the world. I have visited Florence a few times but always on very short trips so I still feel the need to experience more of it. Florence does not disappoint, plenty to see and do. I would also love the opportunity to explore more of the Tuscan towns, which make great day trips from Florence. I have been to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano, which are all breathtakingly beautiful as well.  On our last trip we were fortunate to stay within the pedestrian area of Florence in the beautiful Hotel Calzaiuoli. Our room was spacious and very comfortable, not to mention it had a magnificent view of the Duomo from our window.  Staying in this area was wonderful as we were a very short walk from all of the sights.

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Lobby of Hotel Calzaiuoli

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View of the Duomo from our room window

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Our room

Piazzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo is my favorite place to visit in the city.  Not only can you catch a perfect sunset here, but the 19th century piazza has the absolute best panoramic view of Florence. The square is decorated with copies of Michelangelo’s sculptures, but it’s truly the view people come here to see. 

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Enjoying this view!

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Views of this amazing city from Piazzale Michelangelo

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View of Ponte Vecchio

Duomo & Giotto’s Campanile
The Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore (The Virgin of the Flower), nicknamed the Duomo after the enormous octagonal dome on its east end, is the cathedral of Florence and considered by many as the birthplace of the Renaissance. There are many other Catholic churches in Florence, many of them associated with the Renaissance, including Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, and the Brancacci Chapel. However, the Duomo is the home church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence and the third largest church in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London).

The Duomo dominates the Florentine landscape and can be easily spotted throughout the city.  Whether you are seeing it from the outside or inside, it is truly a beautiful piece of architecture not to be missed. Now I will warn you that if you are visiting during the peak of the summer months, the lines to enter the Duomo can stretch for hours in the summer heat.  I strongly recommend you purchase tickets in advance.

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The front of the Cathedral

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Artwork inside of the dome.

Once at the Duomo you must also visit Giotto’s Campanile, a free-standing campanile that is part of the complex of buildings that make up the Florence Cathedral.  If you are brave enough (and in shape) to climb the 144 steps to reach the very top (there are no elevators), then you will most definitely find incredible panoramic views of the city, not to mention a totally unique perspective from which you can admire the Cathedral and the Cupola of Brunelleschi (the dome).

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Galleria dell’Accademia
The Galleria dell’Accademia, usually referred to as the Accademia, is without a doubt most famous for its sculptures by the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo, primarily the magnificent statue of David within the Tribune. No doubt, most everyone visits David before leaving Florence. Again, if your time is limited, make sure you purchase advance tickets, as the wait times can be pretty long, especially during the summer.

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The amazing sculpture of David.

But don’t get confused, as there is another statue of David situated right within the heart of Piazza della Signoria, however this is a replica that was placed here to protect the original. If you really want to see the original David you must visit the Accademia.

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Entrance to Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria.

Ponte Vecchio
I love the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).  It is the oldest bridge in Florence and possibly the most recognizable bridge in Italy. The Ponte Vecchio is full of tiny little shops and stalls mostly selling gold jewelry and it’s always pretty busy with visitors. Make sure to wander the banks of the river Arno, as you can also find beautiful views of the bridge from there as well.

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On my visit in 1992.

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The beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge.

And after you are finished seeing all the sights and museums, feel free to enjoy getting lost in this amazingly gorgeous city. There are so many beautiful little streets and open piazzas in Florence, with great restaurants, top designer stores, coffee shops and gelato places. Here are a few more photos from my trips:

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The Church of Ognissanti (All-Saints Church)

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Gelateria Perche no!…   An amazing little gelato shop around the corner from our hotel selling many flavors including lavender gelato, which I loved!

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Basilica of Santa Croce, another one of my favorite sights in Florence.

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Views along the Arno River.

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Our daughter posing by the Leaning Tower.

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Duomo di Siena

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Piazza del Campo in Siena, regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares.

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Typical shop in Siena

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View of Siena from outside the city.

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Walls outside of San Gimignano.

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Typical ceramic shop in San Gimignano.

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Duomo di San Gimignano

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Hilltop views from a side street in San Gimignano

Have you been to Florence or Tuscany?  I would love to hear what some of your favorite spots are.

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Leap Year Fun Facts

February 29th only comes around every 4 years, but this leap year is a little special, as evidenced below:

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I’ve always found Leap Day fascinating, especially for those who were born on that day.  Here are a few fun facts I would like to share about Leap Years:

  • Every leap year features an extra day added to the end of February, giving February 29 days instead of the usual 28. This bonus day happens because there aren’t actually 365 days in a year, but rather 365.242190 days. To compensate for this extra time, an extra day needs to be added approximately every four years.
  • If you’re born on February 29, you’re known as a “leaper” or a “leapling.” Around 4 million people in the world have been born on February 29.
  • Leap year babies celebrate their original birthday only once every four years.
  • The chances of having a leap birthday are one in 1,461.
  • The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies is a club for people born on February 29. More than 10,000 people worldwide are members.
  • February 29 became the official leap day because of the ancient Romans, who added this extra day to the Roman calendar used during the Roman Empire. Roman emperor Julius Caesar also incorporated the leap year into the calendar he created, known as the Julian calendar.
  • In Hong Kong the legal birthday of a leapling is March 1 and in New Zealand it is February 28.
  • In Taiwan, married daughters return home on leap month because it is believed that lunar month can bring bad health to parents.
  • Greeks believe getting married on a leap year will only bring bad luck. However, other cultures like Great Britain and Ireland believe a leap year is the time when women should ask men to get married instead of the usual custom of men asking women.
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  • The frog is the symbol associated with February 29.
  • Leap year is also called known as St. Oswald’s Day, named after the Archbishop of York who died on February 29.
  • Head to Anthony, Texas, or Anthony, New Mexico. Both claim the title of “Leap Year Capital of the World.” To celebrate the leap year, the town in Texas holds a large festival that features square dancing, fun events, and activities on a nearby farm, and it even offers a tour through an Aztec cave.
  • Astrologers believed children born on leap year have unusual talent, unique personalities and even special powers.

So, what are your thoughts on Leap Day, do you celebrate this day in any special way? Were you born on February 29?  I’d love to hear.

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Pie Oh My…

I have always had a sweet tooth. Well, truthfully, everyone in my family does.  I love cake, cookies, cake pops, cupcakes and of course a great slice of pie.  A few years ago I was introduced to Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop, a family owned and operated South Florida based bakery specializing in handcrafted pies, cakes, cheesecakes, cookies and decadent one-of-a-kind desserts. The bake shop was established by retired Miami fireman Derek Kaplan, who created his vision through a love of baking at a very young age.  Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop in Wynwood opened up in July 2014 and instantly became a hit.  By 2016, after years of juggling two careers, Kaplan retired from the fire department to pursue his baking career full time. In March 2019, Kaplan opened the Coconut Grove location located right on Main Highway (here’s the amazing backstory).

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Wynwood location.  All photos courtesy of Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop.

I have yet to visit the original Wynwood  shop, as I live very close to the Coconut Grove store. Needless to say my family has visited numerous times, as they offer a variety of amazing pies, cakes, brownies, cookies, bread pudding, etc.  Here are my Top 5, although you really cannot go wrong with any of them:

  • Stuffed Guava White Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie.  Imagine a soft, chewy white chocolate cookie cheesecake pie stuffed with gobs of guava.  Melts in your mouth!

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  • Guava Cheesecake.  Graham cracker crust signature guava cheesecake filling and guava and white chocolate sauce (can you tell I am slightly obsessed with guava).

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  • Key Lime Pie. Kaplan’s classic Key Lime made with condensed milk, egg yolks and freshly squeezed juice from nearly two pounds of local key limes.

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  • Cookies & Cream Pie. Chocolate cookie crust, layer of chocolate ganache, cookies and cream mousse with crushed cookies and white chocolate drizzle. My daughter’s favorite!

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  • Salty Monkey Pie. Chocolate cookie crust, bananas in chocolate ganache, white chocolate and peanut butter mousse, with pretzels and chocolate drizzle. My husband loves this one!

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As you can see they all look heavenly.  If you cannot decide on just one, you can always sample a few different ones, as they are also sold by the slice. Below is the menu, although I believe they also offer unique creations for holidays and special occasions.

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Have you stopped by Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop?  If you live in South Florida or are visiting, make sure to check them out.  I would love to know which pies/cakes are your favorites.

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Valentine’s Gifts for All

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that tends to sneak up on me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s advertised everywhere since December 26th, impossible not to realize it’s coming up.  But for me it’s right after Christmas AND hubby’s birthday.  So, gift ideas are running scarce for me by the time February comes around.  Every year I like to come up with a Valentine gift guide to help those that are in my same situation.  Here are a few options for all the loved ones in your life:

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  1. Kate Spade Pop Hearts Oblong Scarf, available at Kate Spade stores or katespade.com, $98. Great gift for any young lady.
  2. I Love You Like Lavender Gift Set, available naplessoap.com, $125. I love the scent of lavender and this is a great gift set which contains a Lavender Vanilla 9 oz. Body Butter, Lavender Vanilla 9 oz. Sea Salt Scrub, Lavender Buds Natural Soap, Lavender Vanilla Moisturizer Stick, Lavender Vanilla Bath Bomb, Lavender Infused Honey, Lavender Floral Elixir, and Primal SWAK and Heart of Hearts.
  3. Double Heart Pendant Necklace by Lily Nily, available at lilynily.com, $23. A perfect gift for the little girl in your life.
  4. Beaded Neck Heart Print Dress by Stella McCartney, available at Nordstrom, $168.  A little pricey for some, but sure makes for a special Valentine dress for any little girl.
  5. Lavender 4 Elements Bundle with Genuine Badger Brush, available at theartofshaving.com, $95. To keep in theme with the lavender scent I love, this makes a very nice gift set for the special man in your life.
  6. Kate Spade Tom & Jerry Key Fob, available at Kate Spade stores or katespade.com, $78. For all the Tom & Jerry lovers in your life, very cute.
  7. Valentine’s Day Collection – 12 Jars, available at Goldbelly.com, $120. This is a great gift for anyone who has a sweet tooth!
  8. Valentine’s Day Pie Punches, available at any Williams Sonoma store or williamssonoma.com, $19.  These are great for the baker in your life.
  9. Valentine’s Day Pajama Pants, available at vineyardvines.com, $60. Very comfy and cozy for a night in.
  10. Color Infusion Heart Huggie Hoop Earrings, available at alexandani.com, $58. I really like these hoops, very nice for the special lady in your life.
  11. Instax Mini 9 Camera, available at instax.com, available at amazon.com, $70.  These also come in sets which include a camera case and packs of film.  Great gift for a teenager.
  12. Stripe Monogram Petite Bag in Red, available at apolisglobal.com, $78.  These bags can also be customized and personalized.  Comes in several sizes as well.

Do you typically buy Valentine’s Day gifts?  If so, I hope you enjoyed these suggestions. What would you like to receive?

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Surviving College Road Trips

It’s that time of year.  College acceptance letters are beginning to arrive and your child will soon be heading on a new journey.  All you can think about is how much you will miss them and if they are truly ready to be on their own. But first, they must choose a school, and choosing the right one will be a challenge for the entire family. It doesn’t help that the complete college preparation and selection process nowadays is beyond overwhelming for both parents and students. There are so many schools to choose from, so many scholarships and programs to consider, SAT/ACT scores, extra-curricular activities, on and on and on, and I will say, not every school is for every student, as with most situations in life.

Our daughter started college last fall and we are blessed that everything is going well so far.  She just headed back to school from winter break and was excited to return (a very good sign).

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Our daughter at the University of Notre Dame during freshman move-in weekend.

We visited several schools throughout the selection process and learned many lessons along the way, here are a few of them:

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Plan accordingly.
So many schools, so little time.  Make sure your child has done research and has an idea of what they are looking for and then as a family, decide which ones are on the short list.  Sometimes there are so many schools to visit, we as parents may try to cram in as many in one visit as possible. Please do not make this mistake. There is usually a lot of driving involved between schools. Additionally, visits can sometimes seem overwhelming with information overload.  At times, our daughter preferred to skip the information session and just tour the grounds (after a while, most of these sessions all start to sound similar).  Also, if you visit too many schools on one trip, you may risk your child being exhausted by the end and not really showing interest in the final few (this happened to us as well).  And if you live in the south, make sure your child visits schools up north during the winter months, as the extreme temperature changes will be eye openers for some!

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Have fun.
Just because you will be visiting college campuses does not mean you cannot have fun (a day trip to Disneyland was a must on our UCLA and USC trip). Visits are comprised of more than just information sessions and campus tours.  Our daughter and a friend from high school were on the same trip and they met up with some students from the university that had previously attended their high school. This provided a great opportunity for them to visit dorm rooms and get a perspective from current students.  Get to know the town, this may be your child’s home for the next 4 years. Where are the nearest restaurants, shopping centers, movie theatres, etc. Do a bit of sightseeing if time permits. There will be something captivating about each school, even those that will eventually get eliminated as choices.

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Talk.  A lot.
In the evenings, usually while we were having dinner or settling in for the night, we would ask our daughter how the day went and if the school met her expectations.  Many times, schools that she was excited about were quickly dropped off the list and vice-versa.  But let your child express their thoughts and feelings and only provide advice as needed.  After all, this is (mainly) their decision.

I hope you enjoy your college road trips when the time comes.  I would love to hear how they went…

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Netflix & Binge…

So when I first heard of Netflix a few years back I couldn’t understand what the craze was all about?  After all, I religiously continue to watch Grey’s Anatomy, House Hunters, Blackish, Modern Family and many other network shows, including programs available through HBO, Cinemax and Showtime (The Affair was amazing).

So why would I need Netflix in my life?

Well, flash forward a few years and I can now completely understand.  I am OBSESSED.  So many great series and original movies to watch, and the best part is the binging (is there any other way)?  It’s also great to watch older series that were once on network TV such as Gilmore Girls, Jane the Virgin and The Good Place, which I had never gotten around to watching.  Even my husband has been hooked on a few series. In addition to the fan favorites such as The Crown, Outlander, Ozark and Cable Girls (all highly recommended), here are some of my off the beaten path favorites:

Schitt’s Creek – 5 Seasons

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By far one of the funniest series I have ever watched.  Can’t even choose a favorite character because I love them all.  A wealthy couple, video store magnate Johnny and his soap opera star wife Moira, suddenly find themselves completely broke. With only one remaining asset, a small town called Schitt’s Creek, which the Roses bought years earlier as a joke, this once-wealthy couple must give up life as they know it. With their two spoiled children in tow (who you will fall in love with) and their pampered lives behind them, the Rose family is forced to face their newfound poverty head-on and come together as a family to survive.

 


If I Hadn’t Met You – 1 Season
    
If I hadn't Met YouThis is a series I accidentally stumbled upon and the story line captivated me. It is a Spanish (Catalan) series so you will need subtitles.  If you could go back and do things differently in your life, would you?  I think we all have a moment in time when we ask ourselves that question. The plot revolves around Eduard who loses wife Elisa and their kids in an accident. Later, a mysterious woman known as Dr. Everest teaches Eduard how to travel to alternate universes, which leads him to try to find a world in which his family can be saved. It does start off a bit slow, but keep watching the ending is fantastic.  I even got our teenage daughter hooked on it as well, and she loved it.

Bloodline – 3 Seasons    
BloodlineThis series has an excellent cast, and I personally love Kyle Chandler. Bloodline is a dramatic thriller that explores the demons lurking beneath the surface of a contemporary American family. The Rayburns are hard-working pillars of their Florida Keys community, but their past contains dark secrets that they hope remain buried. Paranoia and mistrust build as lies pile up, alliances are shattered, and an unthinkable crime takes place. The tight-knit family’s formerly harmonious relationship deteriorates, and good people are forced to consider doing very bad things.

Dead to Me – 1 Season

Dead to MeThis is a great series starring two of my favorite actresses.  Jen’s (Christina Applegate) husband recently died in a hit-and-run, and the sardonic widow is determined to solve the crime. Optimistic free spirit Judy (Linda Cardellini) has recently suffered a tragic loss of her own. The ladies meet at a support group and despite their polar-opposite personalities, become unlikely friends. As the women bond over bottles of wine and a shared affinity for “The Facts of Life,” Judy tries to shield Jen from a shocking secret that could destroy her life as she knows it. The dark comedy explores the weirdly funny sides of grief, loss and forgiveness.

 


Living With Yourself – 1 Season

Living with YourselfPaul Rudd is one of my favorite actors, so right away I was intrigued, not only by him but by the plot as well.  Miles Elliot lives an ordinary and routine life with a wife and a job. His job is not going well and he and his wife are struggling to conceive. A co-worker, Dan, tells Miles he can improve his life by going to a spa called Top Happy Spa. Despite not knowing what the spa involves, Miles decides to take a risk and spends all of his family’s savings on a visit. Hours later, Miles wakes up buried in a forest, digs his way out and tries to return home. At home, he finds another version of him. Confused, the two Miles decide to return to the spa, which was the site of his last memory before the grave. There he discovers that he has been cloned.


Santa Clarita Diet – 3 Seasons

Santa Clarita DietThis one is so quirky and definitely worth seeing, just for laughs.  Our daughter started watching it before I did and she kept telling me I would love it.  I have always really enjoyed Drew Barrymore as an actress, but to me it felt as if Timothy Olyphant (plays Joel her husband) stole the show. His character is exceptionally funny.  The story centers around Sheila and Joel, who are living a quiet life, raising their teenage daughter in Santa Clarita, California. Their world unexpectedly changes when Sheila goes through a dramatic transformation that sends her down a road of death and destruction — but leaves her looking and feeling better than ever.

 

Velvet – 4 Seasons

VelvetAnother Spanish series so again, subtitles, but I promise it will not disappoint.  In 1958 Spain, Galerias Velvet is the place to be seen and shop and it hides one of the most wonderful love stories ever told. The love story of Ana and Alberto. She is a humble dressmaker. He is a young man destined to inherit the majestic empire of fashion that his father manages until now. Amongst fabrics and haute couture dresses that recall a dream life, both of them are willing to break the rules of that time and live their love despite of what others might try to impose them. However, destiny holds for them too many things that will put their true love to the test; so many that will even turn it into something forbidden.

 

Which Netflix series are you hooked on?  I’d love to hear…

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Happy 2020!

Happy New Year to all of my readers! I apologize, I have not been on here for a while (very busy past 4 years) but I finally have some time again to dedicate to this special place, which I have always enjoyed so much. I look forward to continue sharing travel tips, vacation planning (my personal favorite), restaurant recommendations, book reviews, gift suggestions, parenting advice, etc. I’m certainly not one to stick with resolutions but I will share this one quote, which I believe is a great one for starting the new year:

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May 2020 bring all of you many blessings, good fortune, love, health and happiness!!!

What are you most looking forward to in the coming year? I’d love to hear…

 

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