Holiday in Tuscany – Florence

Florence is more than just another place to visit. It is a flame that reignites your inner artist or poet. Perhaps in all of us there is a passion for beauty and genius – for deeper connections with people – for celebrations of the bounty of marvelous food brilliantly prepared, accompanied by great wine. It is in Florence, “Cradle of the Renaissance,” where these inner gifts reemerge for a life well lived and beauty fully absorbed. Your holiday in Florence will claim its spot in your mind and memory well after you return home, and you will forever be the better for it.

Prepare to be awed as you fly into Florence, locate your lodgings, and head towards the river for your first view of the Ponte Vecchio. Plan to spend at least five days here (more, if possible), residing on the left bank of the Arno River, called the “Oltrarno” (Oltr-Arno- “other side of the Arno”), within a short walk to the Ponte Vecchio. Here you will become 21st-century “neighbors” of the Medici, around the corner from their opulent Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. You will be close to restaurants and bistros too, as well as to neighborhood grocery stores that offer an abundance of luscious produce, delectable deli items and freshly baked bread, along with excellent and very affordable local wines.

By staying near the river on the “other” side, you will be within a short walk to two convenient bridges, one of which is the Ponte Vecchio, that will take you quickly to the busier side of the river where the dome of the Duomo dominates the skyline. As you walk along “your” side of the river, or lunch at a window table at the Golden View, you will have before you the full spectacle of the Ponte Vecchio, with the imposing Uffizi Gallery bordering the river across the way, and the Duomo dome behind it.

Start Your Florence Visit with the Bridges and Piazzas

There is no better way to learn any city than by seeking out its main bridges (if it has a river), as well as its major squares or piazzas. Florence has the most photogenic bridge of them all, the Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”). It is likely that what inspired you to visit Firenze (Florence) in the first place was seeing one of the many stunning images of the Ponte Vecchio.

The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge across the Arno until 1218, and it will be your primary route across the river during your stay in Florence. And what a delightful pathway this will be, coming and going, with its views and its intriguing shops.

There have been shops on the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Initially these were shops of all types, including butcher and fishmonger shops that created an offensive stench in the area. So, in 1593, Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers would be allowed to locate their shops on the bridge. This ruling was “in order to improve the well-being of all as they walked over the bridge.”

As well as learning the bridges, you will need to master the Piazzas. Florence is a city of narrow, serpentine streets, bordered by tall canyons of buildings. So, whenever you approach a Piazza, you will feel like you are bursting forth into a vastness of wide-open space. These expansive town squares have been used for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years as gathering places for the populace. It was in the piazzas that important news was announced, and preachers delivered their messages. And it was in the piazzas that public executions were held.

Piazza della Signoria will be your place to start learning the piazzas of Florence, located directly outside the Palazzo Vecchio, palatial home to the obscenely wealthy Medici family. This square is filled with sculpture and fountains, including a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the real David is now preserved and displayed at Galleria dell’Accademia). The Dominican priest, Savonarola, staged his vehement burnings of books and art in Piazza della Signoria. And it was here that he himself was burned after his reign of terror ended.
Piazza della Republica comes next, surrounded by majestic arcades, with an imposing triumphal arch as an entrance, and a Merry-go-Round. This square was the Forum during Roman times. Now it is a favorite place for outdoor dining at one of its canopied restaurants, with plentiful opportunities to people watch.
Piazza Santa Croce was once a gathering place where public meetings were held, and Franciscan monks preached to the crowds. This square is now home to local artists, showing and selling their creations, and many charming local shops. Meetings and monks now have been replaced by street entertainers.
Piazzale Michelangelo, with its bronzed replica of Michelangelo’s David sculpture, is perched high up on a hill in the Oltrarno, offering one of the most panoramic views of the city. As you sit on this hilltop, high above the Oltrarno neighborhood, you will be at eye-level with the iconic red roof of the Duomo across the river. Return here late in the day to see one of the most stunning sunsets in Florence.

See Some of the “Must See” Sights

Take ample time to attend to the “must see” sights of Florence. Start with these five:

The Duomo and Baptistery: The 13th-century Duomo had no dome until two centuries after it was built, when construction of such an architectural marvel became possible. Walk inside to take in the celestial vastness of its interior space, and to marvel at the carpet of mosaics covering the tile floor. This structure was designed to shock and awe. Sit at an outdoor table for lunch, in full view of the intricate white, green and pink marble mosaic of the exterior. You will need at least a full hour to take this in.

Make time to study the three sets of gilded bronze doors on the exquisite octagonal Baptistery. The first set of doors, facing south, were designed by Pisano and took 6 years to complete. Ghiberti’s north doors required 21 years of work, then another 27 years to complete the east doors, for a total of 54 years of work by the masters to create the doors that now stand before you. For the east doors, Ghiberti employed the recently discovered principles of perspective to give depth to his compositions. Michelangelo declared these doors to be the “Gates of Paradise.”

Palazzo Vecchio, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens: Imagine the lifestyle of the wealthy and powerful Medici family as you visit their place of business in town center, Palazzo Vecchio, and their opulent residence across the river, Pitti Palace, surrounded by the lush Boboli Gardens.

Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned these two locations, work and home, to be linked together by a private passageway, the Vasari Corridor, positioned above the city streets and crossing the top of the Ponte Vecchio. This passageway spanned a full kilometer, from the seat of government in Palazzo Vecchio to the Medici home in Pitti Palace, exiting beside the famous Grotto of Buontalenti in Boboli Gardens. This private corridor allowed the family and their guests to move freely and safely back and forth, observing the people below while they themselves remained unnoticed. A small carriage for two took the Medici and guests back and forth along the passageway when they preferred not to walk.

Medici Chapels: Add one additional Medici monument to your “must see” list-the Medici Chapels. Visit the sumptuous octagonal Chapel of the Princes, another lavish testament to the greatness of the Medici. The crypt beneath this chapel became the mausoleum for this notable family. Michelangelo himself worked on the sculptures of the sarcophagi, completing the statues of brothers and co-rulers Duke Giuliano and Duke Lorenzo. The master sculptor also created remarkable allegorical statues of Dawn and Dusk, Night and Day, as well as the Madonna and Child.

Michaelangelo’s David at Galleria dell’Accademia: Your visit to the Galleria will focus on the glorious sculpture of David. Stand beneath this towering marble masterwork, pristine and aglow under a circular skylight. It will take your breath away. Spend some time just to take this in. But also explore the other intriguing works by Michelangelo, including the Hall of the Prisoners that leads up to the David statue. The pieces on display here are ones that Michelangelo never completed. His unfinished work creates the effect that each of these figures is trapped for all time inside his own block of marble.

Uffizi Galleries: Enter the Uffizi (arrange in advance for an assigned time!), then move up the grand staircase to the gallery, with its frescoed ceilings and labyrinth of rooms crammed full of masterworks. Follow the U-shape of the building, veering off into the side rooms to see the displays. Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned Vasari to create this grandiose building beside Palazzo Vecchio to house the offices of government. A secret entrance to the Vasari Corridor lies behind an unmarked door on the first floor.

This building that was once the locus of Florentine government, is now home to a vast treasure chest of art. Find the large works by Botticelli first (Halls 10-14)- Allegory of Spring and Birth of Venus. Locate the portraits of Michelangelo and Raphael (Halls 35 and 66), and also Leonardo da Vinci’s one-and-only panel painting. From the far end of the corridors, pause to look out the windows to spot San Miniato, high on the hill across the Arno, just above Piazza Michelangelo. Look more closely at the Ponte Vecchio to see the windows of the Vasari Corridor that runs along the top of it.

Visit the Markets to Interact and Find Treasures to Take Home

Florence has a vast heritage of craftsmen. When it comes to shopping, you will find on offer a tantalizing variety of goods, including leather jackets, bags, shoes, belts and gloves, marble mosaics, intricate jewelry and cutting-edge fashions. At a minimum, visit the leather market near the Medici Chapels and shop for original artwork in Piazza Michelangelo.

Visit the outdoor market in Piazza Santo Spirito and the Mercato Nuovo, the covered loggia with a bronze sculpture of a pig out in front. Watch the fun of children petting the pig’s nose for luck. And feel free to haggle a bit if you decide to make purchases. Also stop in at some of the shops along the Ponte Vecchio to admire the hand-crafted jewelry and select a unique pendent or two to take home.

Your travel to Florence will be a life-changing, deeply enriching experience. “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things” says Henry Miller. And Florence is a destination that consummately inspires such new ways of seeing and living.

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Guide for Traveling With Your Pet

Keeping pets has grown quite popular in recent times. People who own pets will tell you that making travel plans (for either business or pleasure) involves making a decision whether to bring the pet with you or leave them under the care of an animal boarding facility.

Most pet owners, however, grow so fond of their pets that they would rather travel with them wherever they go than leave them behind. This, therefore, calls for preparation for a pet-friendly trip. This article provides you with a pet travel tips checklist for this preparation.

1. Identification Tags

Pets cannot identify themselves. No matter the mode of travel chosen, it is necessary to tag your pet with proper identification before heading out. This would help ensure your pet finds their way back to you in case you get separated. It also helps prevent confusion between owners in cases where two pets could resemble each other

2. Permanent Identification for the Pet

The wise say that you can never be too cautious. In addition to tagging your pet with the necessary identification tags, it is recommended for you to fit them with a more permanent mode of identification, such as a microchip. This would also help in tracking of your pet in case they wander off or you become separated.

3. Train Them While They are Young

It is important for you to train your pet while they are still young because animals take some time to completely master commands and expected behaviour. You should train them remain calm during travel, and correctly respond to commands. A reward system is highly recommended as it helps the lessons learned stick more. If you have more than one pet, it is advised you train them separately.

4. Secure Your Pet for Their Safety

After training the pet, most people assume it is safe to let them wander around the car/plane during travel. This is however wrong. Just like people, pets could get injured when the vessel of travel assumes a sudden movement or in the case of an accident. It is therefore recommended to crate the pet to keep them safe.

5. Choose a Suitable Travel Crate

Carriers made using fabric are a good option to transport your pet. Plastic pet carriers, however, are preferred for their versatility as they offer safety for different modes of travel.

6. Pets and Cars

Pets such as dogs and cats are fast and agile. They will therefore naturally make use of these abilities when their safety is threatened. It is, therefore, important to ensure the pet feels safe and comfortable throughout the trip.

7. Sedating the Pet

Pets, like all other humans, tend to grow anxious when exposed in an unfamiliar setting. Sedating them could help ease their anxiety and save them from trauma and even accidents that result from fear.

8. Carry a First Aid Pet Kit

We can never tell if or when accidents may happen. The best way to counter this is being ready just in case they happen. Pet owners are advised to carry a pet first-aid kit that includes bandages, gauze, and hydrogen peroxide just in case inducing vomit is necessary. You should also always follow steps given by an animal health care specialist first before personally treating your pet from suspected exposure to toxins.

9. Carry Pet Food and Water

Unexpected events such as train delays are inevitable. So during travel preparation, it is important that the pet owner puts this into consideration and packs extra food and water for the pet just in case these events happen.

10. Be Extra Cautious

Regardless of how well you know your pet, you can never tell how they are going to react to new stimuli. Your cat, for example, may decide to seek refuge between your legs while driving after hearing a loud noise such as a truck honking. This could result in a fatal accident, and hence it is strongly advised that you keep your pet safe at all times during the trip.

11. Dealing With a Dog During Air Travel

Most airlines will allow you to carry your pet in the cabin of the plane only if the pet fits in the pet carrier under the seat. It is a requirement that the size of the pet will allow it to stand and move in the carrier. You will also be required to pack a few essentials for the dog, such as a poop bag, a water bottle, a collapsible bowl, a recent picture of the dog, and a leash.

The above tips mainly focus on safety and wellbeing of your pet during travel. It is, therefore, important that preliminary safety precautions, such as ensuring your pet is in a good physical state to travel, are observed. It is also important to make sure that the destination of travel is free from animal diseases such as rabies. By following the above tips, travelling with pets becomes less of a hassle and a comfortable experience.

How to Choose the Right Travel Luggage for Your Vacation

As exciting as traveling can be, it also comes with some stressful aspects. Hurling luggage to and fro can be a breeze, or it can cause strain on your travelling experience. The first thing you need to do is consider your travelling style and cater specifically to those needs when choosing the right travel luggage for your vacation. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of some important things to consider beforehand.

Suitcase or Backpack?

We mainly focus on suitcases rather than backpacks in this article for the following reasons:

Convenience

Maneuvering through airports with a lot of people and traffic, while carrying a large weight on your back is not easy. Suitcases are a lot simpler to maneuver through traffic with ease.

Wheels

Simply roll your luggage with ease. This is our top reason for picking a suitcase.

Organization

A backpack does not give much organization leeway. You’ll only have access to a top-loading packing mechanism where you will be forced to remove everything to reach an item at the bottom. A suitcase gives you a clear view of all your belonging as soon as you unzip or open it.

Impressions

Carrying a backpack doesn’t really look good.

Hard or Soft?

You should choose your travel luggage based on your travelling needs. For example; are you travelling for business, or for fun? Are you planning to carry any expensive items that might break easily? A hard carry-on is perfect for anyone carrying items such as an expensive camera, or if your vacation is going to be in areas with harsh weather conditions. Hard casing will offer protection to any item prone to breakage.

Soft luggage is perfect for anyone looking for added storage. These bags can expand making them ideal for anyone wanting to carry some souvenirs back with them. Also, soft carry-on cases are easy to stuff into an overhead compartment.

Size

One main thing to keep in mind is to never purchase a carry-on that’s larger than you can actually lift over your head. Next, how long is your vacation going to last for? Many people are able to survive with fewer items than others but when visiting a foreign place, a smaller carry-on is more ideal. Before purchasing a carry-on, inquire about that specific airline’s international and domestic size requirements.

Some airplanes allow smaller carry-on’s so it’s best to always restrict yourself to buying a suitcase that’s approximately 21 x 13 x 9 and aim for a weight of 15 – 20 pounds.

Here’s a breakdown of some popular carry-on sizes:

International carry-on size is mostly 18 – 20 inches
The most popular size of a carry-on is 21 – 22 inches – This is a great size, offering ample space, yet light enough to lift. You can travel for a month without much hassle.
If you’re travelling with a loved one, then a medium size would be perfect. So, consider purchasing a 23 – 24 inch carry-on.
For those who love having extra space, then 25 – 27 inches will provide you with lots of room to carry your souvenirs or your clothing items. Also, if you are vacationing with your family, then you can easily fit everyone’s belongings into just one of these suitcases for easy handling.
A 28 – 32 inch size is simply too large for a travel suitcase. It’s very bulky and can be very hard to maneuver. This size is simply best suited for anyone planning to move abroad or anyone thinking of going to live in another country for long durations of time.

Sometimes it might be better to purchase two smaller suitcases as opposed to buying a large, heavy one. Granted, you’ll have to pay extra but it’ll be worth it because you won’t have to worry about stuffing everything into one bag or, incurring overweight fees when travelling back home with some souvenirs.

Color

It’s best to purchase a bag with unique prints and colors. This way, you’ll find it easy to spot it on the luggage carousel. Also, you won’t accidentally mistake it for someone else’s bag.

Wheels

Wheel choices come in two options; two or four. Two wheels is the most common as these bags tend to be lighter and easier to run with. You can also yank your bag over stairs with ease without having to manually lift it. However, these type of cases tend to tip over easily.

Four wheels stand upright allowing you to easily roll them sideways in crowded or shallow pathways, such as inside a plane.

Look for bags with locking wheels – this will prevent your bag rolling away.

Material

Always make sure that your luggage has water resistant materials or it has at least been treated with a sealant on the inside to keep your belongings dry. This is quite important as sometimes your luggage might be placed on wet, sticky, or dirty surfaces by baggage handlers.

If your bag doesn’t have a moisture-resistant sealant, then simply line the top and bottom of your suitcase with plastic bags (a garbage bag or a dry cleaning bag will do just fine.) This simple trick will keep your clothes dry even if your suitcase gets wet on the outside.

Straps

Purchase a suitcase that comes with adjustable straps. These straps will help keep your belongings secure and compressed.

Piggy Back Clip

Have you ever seen those looped clips located on top of some travel bags? They are called piggy back clips and they allow a traveler to clip a smaller second bag on top of the larger one – this way, your items will stay secure together throughout your travels.

If your carry-on doesn’t come with any piggy back clips, you can go online and buy one for a reasonable price.

Compartments

Compartments come in handy when you want to organize your belongings. For example; instead of storing your small shampoo, or liquids, with your clothes, store them in an external pocket (this will prevent your clothes getting ruined in case of any spillage). Plus, they’ll be easy to locate when the need arises.