Top Travels From Florence: Day/Weekend Trips By Alycia Oliver

Florence is a spectacular place to set base camp while in Europe. Florence is essentially in the middle of Italy and Italy is sandwiched between beautiful Spain and Croatia/Greece. With a variety of transportation you are almost guaranteed to find a cheap way to the destination you want to reach. Alternatively, there are many student services companies that will take very good care of you. If you do not have the travel agent gene, do not worry the trips are pre-planned and a guide will show you the top attractions of the city! Here are a few of my personal favorite trips from Florence that vary from day trips to weekend trips. Stop by  the When In Florence Office for more information or to book your trip!

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Venice (Day Trip). Sail the canals of the remarkable city of Venice while sipping on processo and listening to talented musicians. Your eyes will never be at rest in this stunning floating city!  After taking a gondola ride and floating down over 150 canals, make sure to see the Murano glass factories. Hopefully you will get to see a glass blowing demonstration, which will surely blow your mind. Other attractions that you can see are the St. Mark Square and the Rialto Bridge. If you don’t want to go with an organized group the best way to reach Venice is by train.

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Cinque Terre (Day Trip). Lace up your sneakers, grab your bathing suit, and head to the home of pesto! Explore the 5 towns that hang amongst the cliffs over the Mediterranean Sea while hiking through the colorful villages. While admiring a breath taking view of the crystal blue sea you can enjoy amazing pesto pizza or seafood. At the end of your day there is a long sandy beach you can relax on before getting on just a 2 hour bus back to Florence.

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Barcelona (Week-End Trip). The home of the ultimate Spanish beach life intertwined within a lively city is a perfect combination for a weekend vacation. The mix of modernity and old Spanish town is found in Barcelona. Some of the top sights you will see are The Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and La Rambla. Last but not least, the nightlife is unimaginable, pack your dancing shoes and expect to stay up until the early hours of the night!

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The Amafli Coast (Week-End Trip). This will be a very eventful, action-packed weekend. Sail around the Island of Capri and visit the outstanding Blue Grotto (if your lucky you will get to swim in it!). Taste the freshest lemon cello while relaxing on many beaches. Visit Positano to cliff jump and swim in caves to keep yourself cool from the hot summer sun. Get another perspective and see Italia from sea as you can ferry from Capri to Positano or Naples!

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Taste of Tuscany (Day Trip). For something a little closer to home we head to Florence’s backyard, the Tuscan Hills. This is all about wine wine and more wine. Taste some of the world’s best wines and go on wine tasting tours as well as vineyard tours.  Walk through the medieval villages and see the Montepulciano and Montalcino.

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Interlaken & Lake Como (Weekend Trip). For all the adrenaline junkies out there, this is your ideal trip. Hiking, rough water rafting, sky diving, paragliding, and canyon jumping are all possible in Europe’s adventure capital, Interlacken! After an eventful day head to the spa or watch a chocolate show for relaxation. Lake Como, the home of many celebrities get-away’s, can be toured in one day as well. The third largest, beautiful lake in northern Italy is worth a visit!

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Croatia (Weekend Trip).   If you are looking for a tropical get-away then Croatia is the place to be. From river rafting, to island hopping, to the Krka waterfalls you come back with amazing photos, memories and maybe even new friends! Exploring the ruins of the Dioceltian Palace and the old town of split should be in your itinerary as well.

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French Rivera (Weekend Trip). Visit the notorious southern France to experience the lifestyle of the rich and the famous! Sun bathe on Nice’s long beautiful beach or take a hike up a small hill to see an aerial view. With Monte Carlo only being a 20 minute subway ride away indulge in the amazing restaurants and test your luck at the famous Casino! Expect beautiful cars, people beautiful, beautiful scenery and a beautiful time!

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Cinque Terre Vs. Amalfi Coast By Alycia Oliver

The Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are two comparable and very popular destinations along the coast of Italy that travellers generally have difficulty deciding between. Both towns are situated on the edge of the cliffs hanging over the Mediterranean Sea, however a couple differences separate travellers either in one direction or the other.  I am fortunate enough to have been able to experience both towns and I will use my experiences to differentiate the two.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

First of all, you have to ask yourself what you want from your experience. What activities do you enjoy the most? What kind of people do you like to surround yourself with? Cinque Terre is known for their intricate hiking trails that give you amazing views of the towns and oceans. Although you must be careful, if the weather is not in your favor some of the trails may close (for safety reasons). Positano (one of the biggest towns along the Amalfi) has many roads strictly for pedestrians.  A lot of walking and hiking must be done here as well, yet the town does not have many trails that are simply for hikes, most of the hiking is done during your daily activities such as getting to the beach and going shopping. For the ladies who enjoy their shopping as much as I do, the Amalfi Coast is the better route for you. There are many shops lined very close to each other that allow you to see a lot in one street. The types of things they sell are; linen men’s dress shirts, beach throws, bathing suits, art, and some unique fancy boutiques. In Cinque Terre there are a few shops that are directed towards tourist attractions and artifacts.

Another factor I would consider is; what other destinations you would like to see in Italy and which one is closest to it. Being logical and realistic can save you a lot of time and money when travelling Europe. Cinque Terre is located in Northern Italy while the Amalfi Coast is in Southern Italy. In the summer months both locations are very warm, however geographically it would make sense that the Amalfi would be slightly hotter. The vibes in each town are quite different which is often the deciding factor for travelers. Cinque Terre is a lot smaller in size then Positano and there are many more activities in Positano. If you want to stay for more then a day or two I would recommend going to Positano as it has double the amount of beaches, shops and restaurants. It is popular for its fine dining, day trips to Capri and boat rentals. The Amalfi Coast has an older, wealthier crowd while Cinque Terre is great for backpackers and younger people looking for a relaxing night.

Positano, Amalfi Coast

Positano, Amalfi Coast

The food is exceptional anywhere in Italy, but each city has their own food they are known for. Cinque Terre is notorious for their pesto and anchovies! While I was there I had the best pasta with tomato sauce and pesto (so rich in flavor).  White wine is their wine specialty; you will be amazed at how many vineyards are along these big cliff sides. The Amalfi has the best variety of seafood you have ever tasted which includes lobster, crab, muscles, clams, squid and octopus. Either option you will not regret, as they are both very scenic and relaxing places to visit!

5 Things To Do ‘For The Story’ By Alycia Oliver

When coming to Europe, it is truly impossible to not come back with stories for your family and friends back home. With the culture being so different (Click here for article about culture differences) you are bound to push your boundaries and try new things. For some this is a little nerve-racking while for others this is a complete thrill. The following are top five things to do “for the story”, and obviously the spontaneously good time you will most likely have.

1) Go into an Original Palace. Back in the day Florence was known to be one of the wealthiest places in Europe. A couple families were very well known, the biggest one being the Medici Family. There are a couple original Medici palaces in Florence, your goal is to befriend someone who can bring you to one. Yes, I realize this is difficult but if you are open to meeting everyone you never know whom you will meet. It is not impossible!IMG_0168

2) A Day with Someone Culturally Different. When travelling you will be surprised at how many new people you will meet in the span of one day. Here’s your task, spend a day with someone who does not speak your language and lives somewhere completely different to you. Although the language barrier might be challenging you will learn a lot! Being culturally aware and diverse is important in today’s world, so you might as well start while you are travelling!

3) Be a Yes Man. Has anyone ever thought about what it would be like to be Jim Carry for a day? His goofy personality makes him seem like he is having so much fun. For those of you who know the movie “Yes Man” starring Jim Carry now is your chance! Be a yes man for the day. Here’s the rule: you are not allowed to say no… to anything (clearly with safety in mind). Be open and see where the day takes you.

4) Try a Food from a Different Culture. Apart of experiencing a new place is immersing yourself into their culture. You want to look, talk and eat like them…at least try for a day!  If you go to the San Lorzeno Food Market you will find many Florentine specials. IMG_5042For example, pig ears and  cow stomach are something people enjoy here. Although something may disgust you, be adventurous and try something unusual.

5) Take A Spontaneous Day Trip. It is this simple, go to the train station and get tickets for the very next possible train you can catch. Wherever the destination may be, plan your day trip on the train and wonder the new city completely blind. This could be really fun and you may find a place you have never even heard of to be quite spectacular.

Inside the Suitcase: How to Pack for Florence By Alycia Oliver

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Going on a trip is meant to bring relaxation and happiness into one’s life, however many can admit packing gives comes with anxiety. What am I going to forget? Did I pack too much? Will I have enough room to bring back a few things? To eliminate these packing anxieties here are a couple strategies I use myself when packing.

1)   Head-to-Toe.  Begin at your head and move down your body thinking of everything you need as you go. For example; hat, sunglasses, shirts, shorts, pants, shoes. Obviously this would be done in further detail, but you get the jist!

2)   Inside out. Another approach is starting with your under garments and then moving outwards. This strategy works well for clothing items but do not forget to make a mental note to include electronics, toiletries and for the girls make up and jewelry.

3)   Activity list. Thinking about what you do in a day from when you wake up until you go to bed can really speed up the packing process. As you do so think about everything you need and use while doing these activities.

If one inherited the forgetful gene (like myself) it is best to write a checklist on paper when using all the strategies above. When I arrived in Florence I wish I had read a couple blog posts on what to bring and what not to bring. First of all, each item you pack you must be sure you will wear atleast twice. 8-18-travel-list-1When you are traveling “the never wear the same outfit twice rule” NEVER applies. Ladies, your suitcase is only so big- you will have to outfit repeat, get used to it! In order to make sure you are bringing the right things to Florence, here is what I recommend:

-Sunglasses

-Sunscreen: the sun is a lot hotter then you can imagine, protect your skin!

-Long skirts: not only are these comfortable and in style, you will fit in perfectly.

-Maxi dresses

-Strappy sandals: don’t bother bringing flip flops, Italians always walk in style!

-One pair of walking shoes: all you do in Florence is walk, walk, and walk.

-Light pair of pants

-Mosquito repellant: It’s do or die over here, a constant war humans vs. mosquito’s!

-Only ONE pair of heels (preferably wedges): the cobble stone streets are hard to walk on and most people go out in dressy sandals or flats.

-Small side purse with good zipper: avoid those pick pocketer’s as much as you can.

In general, bring light clothing and in a diversity of options (shorts, pants and skirts). Florence is known to experience all seasons in one day. In the summer months you may experience a few storms, which I personally find quite amazing. Sitting back and watching the thunder and lightening can sometimes be relaxing if you are in the right place at the right time. What you need to know is that in Florence it will down pour very quickly and suddenly then usually it will pass. Bringing an umbrella would be a good idea! Hope this helps and takes some time off your packing. Happy Travels!

Grand Theft Bicycle: A Florentine Tradition – By Andy Shepherd

It only takes a few minutes walking the city of Florence to realise just how important bikes are to the people who live here.  For those of us who own bikes this relatively small city is made even smaller, and even a quick trip to the supermarket can be transformed from a slow, sweltering trudge to a moderately exciting, substantially quicker comute, especially when traditional Italian road laws are observed (i.e. ignoring the legally prescribed direction of the traffic).

The advantages of owning a bike are not limted to mere practicality: the world outside and on the periphery of the city are also opened up, with local gardens, rivers, beaches and trails being substantially easier to reach.  So what do you have to lose?  Go out and buy a bike!

Or don’t…  The truth is you probably won’t have it for more than a few weeks before some ne’re do well with a well equiped tool box rides off into the night with it.

With bike thefts at near comical levels, even serial victims will rarely meet their latest misfortune with anything more than a shrug and a possible, “Oh shit.  My bike got stolen again!”  Then will walk off reluctantly content in the fact that their bike is gone forever, never to be seen again.  Of course, it won’t be that last time the bike hits the streets of the city.  Within a few days it’ll be back with a new owner (and new lock), happily ignorant of the fact that they’re riding a stolen bike, and of the fact that they themselves probably won’t be its last owner.

Having borrowed one of the shiny new bikes we have in our office for a couple of hours last week I felt confident that it wasn’t at risk.  How could it be?  I’m only leaving it locked up here for an hour!  On via dei Benci too, and it’s only 10pm!  Yeah, it’ll be fiiiiinnnneee…  I won’t put any more effort into setting the scene, you know where I’m going with it.

Having lived here for nearly three years, I’ve seen countless instances of friends having their bikes stolen and invariably greeting their discovery with the usual casual acceptance.  However, this was my first personal experience of such a theft.  I returned to the place I locked the bike (in amongst twenty or thirty other bikes, most in various states of disrepair or decomposition) to the (sort of ) shock that the spot I had taken before was now occupied by a completely different bike.  This being my first experience of such an incident, I looked around the area, double checking that I hadn’t made a mistake.  However, I could never muster the confusion and anger that a similar theft in my own country would have caused.  Not that England is any safer you understand, but simply because whether you are a regular victim or not, it is a generally accepted risk of being a bike owner in Florence.

The moral of the story… Don’t get a nice bike!  Crap bikes live longer!  Now I’m going to the hardware store to buy me some bolt cutters… I’m clearly in the wrong business.