Santorini in a Hike

How to see Santorini? Take the scenic 10k hike from Fira to Oia.

Here is the map of the Hike with all the worthy stop points.

  • Start early if it’s a hot day.
  • Have plenty of water  There are no more than 2 snack shops on the way.

Start the hike in Fira, by the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral along the Caldera. You will pass by all the cafes, restaurants and little shops. Keep going up. The view gets better and better.

View Fira

You will pass by the Three Bells of Fira before arriving at the first village, Firostefani.

Firostefani

Next village is Imerovigli. Make sure to explore the small alleys, they all lead to the blue Caldera view. Make a stop at the Anastasia Church.

You can add a side trip by going to the Skaros Rock , it will add about an hour to your hike.

From there, keep hiking up, You will walk along the Caldera passing by the resorts like Cavoo. There will be no snack shops or any restaurant for a while. You will pass by beautiful churches like the Ekklisia Profilis Ilias on top of the hill. After that long stretch, you will finally get to a snack shop. Time to refuel.

You will then have to go up a hill; if there is a donkey, take it. It will save you some sweat. At the top of the hill, there is the Church of Panagia.

You can finally see Oia on the horizon. Oia is a smaller town than Fira but very charming. Explore the alleys and art galleries. Stop at the unique bookshop called Atlantis.

End the day at Amoudi Bay where everybody gathers to watch the sunset.

Oia sunset

Take the bus to get back to Fira at night.

 

 

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Go to Guadalajara

No need to travel far for an exotic gateway. Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico is the perfect town to enjoy the Mexican culture and Tequila, of course.

Day 1: Guadalajara Old Town

Check out the Guadalajara Old Town with its beautiful architecture and its amazing food markets. Here is your free walking tour:

GDL walking guide

Have Breakfast/Lunch at the Libertad Market (San Juan de Dios Market). On the 1st floor, you have small vendors, which are perfect for souvenir shopping. On the 2nd floor, you have a huge food court with authentic Mexican food. The beef tacos are to die for.

 

Then, head out of the market, towards La Plaza de Los Mariachis. From there, take the pedestrian boulevard called Calle Pedro Moreno – The Street of Weddings, well you can see right away why it is called that way. The end of the street will take you to Plaza de Armas, Guadalajara Cathedral, and Plaza de La liberation. At the square, there is a giant sign of the name of the city; the perfect picture stop. On one side of the plaza, enter the Palace of the Governor and check out The Mural Painting “Lucha Social” by Jose Clemente Orozco depicting Miguel Hidalgo issuing the Cry for Independence. It is an impressive mural.

 

Take a break at the Teatro Degollado cafe and enjoy the architecture of the old town.

Continue your walk toward the back of the building. Another great architecture design. Walk down this other walking street, Paseo Hospocio. You will pass by the Children’s Fountain on Devils Corner and the huge flame sculpture inspired fountain at Plaza Tapatia, to get to the Chairs “La Sala de Los Magos” designed by Alejandro Colunga by Hospicio Cabanas Museum. If you have time enter the Institute Cultural Cabanas and check out the man on fire Mural on the roof and other art installations.

 

 

Day 2: Sunday Funday

Spend a day at the artsy neighborhood of Tlaquepaque. The pedestrian street has art boutiques perfect for some souvenir shopping. The restaurants are very lively and they all have Mariachis.

Tiaquepaque

If you get to be in town on a Sunday, make sure to go to the Charro show, a competitive event similar to the rodeo, at the Lienzo charro Charros de Jalisco. Charreada has become the official sport of Mexico. The charreada consists of nine events for men plus one for women, all of which involve horses, cattle or both. It is a fun Sunday event where families go to encourage their man. Boys can start as early as 5 years old.

 

Day 3: Jose Cuervo Tequila Day Tour

Refer to my worthy tours article

 

 

Eat authentic Mexican food and Dance:

For happy hour:

  • Trasfonda – Restaurant in a garden for the best guacamole

Trasfonda

For dinner :

  • I Latina is a great restaurant with a unique bar and decoration. Don’t hesitate to seat at the bar if needed. The food and the ambiance are worth it.
  • La Tequila has great food and ambiance. The Tequila Bar wall by the entrance is very welcoming.

 

Drink and Dance at:

  • La Lupita Cantina in the old town with its unique wall decoration and amazing reggaeton music is a must go place on the weekend.
  • Pare de Sufrir is the Iconic Mezcal bar. Get a shot of Mezcal to sip with a cold beer. On the weekends they have live bands. It’s an amazing local bar.

 

 

Athens and Greek Mythology

Athens, the city of Gods, is where many myths and Greek mythological legends were born. Here are some of them as we are walking through the remains of that ancient world. Here is a guide on how to wander in Athens and relive the Greek Mythology stories in 2 days.

The name Athens is coming from Athena, the goddess of wisdom, intelligent activity, arts, and literature. Athena was the daughter of Zeus, she came out of Zeus‘ forehead. She became the city’s patron goddess after winning a contest against Poseidon. The victory came to the one who will offer the best gifts to the Athenians and Athena with her offering of the olive tree, a symbol of prosperity and peace, won and became the patron goddess.

Electra palace sunset

Day 1: Objective Acropolis

Practical advice: get a 2-day pass at one of the sites that will allow you to go to all the must-see archeological sites without having to wait in line and pay for each separately. And of course, it does come out cheaper as well.

Start your day at Syntagma Square where, every hour, you can witness the change of Evzones, a special unit of the Hellenic Army, in front of the parliament. Their old fashion guard outfit is what makes those guards unique. Other info, they are doing this for free. It is a service to the nation.

Behind the square, you have Athens beautiful and peaceful National Garden. It is a Greek heaven in a middle of a busy city. Take a morning walk through the park and when you get out from the opposite side you will found yourself in front of The Panathenaic Stadium.

The Panathenaic Stadium, which means “beautiful marble”, was built by Herodes. The stadium steps and seats are indeed made out of marble. It held the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and the latest one in Greece in 2004. Today, you can visit it and take a seat where the emperors used to seat. I will talk later on about Herodes, as he has other monuments dedicated to him.

Next stop, The Temple of Zeus. Tall columns and ambitious layout, the temple of Olympian Zeus reflected the height of the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. The ruins are still impressive. You can take a close look at the Doric Column, a vertical fluted column shaft, thinner at its top, with no base and a simple capital below a square abacus. It is one of the marks of Greek Architecture. The Temple was built over several centuries starting in 174 BCE and only finally completed by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 131 CE.

Hadrian was a Roman emperor from 117 to 138. As an admirer of Greece, he wanted to make Athens the cultural capital of the Empire.  Between 124 and 132 CE a monumental arch, 59ft high, Hadrian’s Arch, was built by the entrance of the temple of Zeus, in honor of his many benefactions to the city.

Hadrian Arch

From there, head to the Acropolis Museum. How amazing it is to visit a museum and have under your feet the ruins of an ancient world. The museum is filled with the ancient history statues.

Acropolis museum

Acropolis museum

Take a Break: The small streets around the museum will lead you to Plaka, where you can have lunch or do some souvenirs shopping.

Plaka stairs

You can finish the day by going to the Acropolis. Start from the bottom and make your way to The Parthenon. You will pass by:

Athens

Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, wine, and theater in ancient Greek religion and myth. The Theater of Dionysus in Acropolis was built at the time when ‘drama’ or ‘theater’ was first being created in the late 6th Century BCE. The plays were performed during the Dionysiac festivals, as part of the cult celebrations of Dionysus.

Theatre of Dionysus

Herodes Atticus, the “patron of the arts and letters” built the amphitheater below the Parthenon in 161 AD in memory of his wife. It is one of the rare ancient constructions that is still used today; one of the best places to experience a live classical theater performance.

Herodes Atticus Odeon

Asclepius, the God of Medicine as told in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, was a physician to soldiers wounded on the battlefield at Troy. By Hippocrates’ day, he had become elevated to the status of a god. His temple, on Acropolis, was a healing temple, a place where patients would visit to receive either treatment or some sort of healing, whether it was spiritual or physical.

The Parthenon, like all temples in Greece, was designed to be seen only from the outside; no need to step inside to see the statue of Athena it once housed. As you can notice, the Greeks loved marble. When you walk around the Parthenon you will realize the floor was in marble. The best marble came from the islands of Naxos or Paros.

The Temple of Athena built in Acropolis was to honor Athena Nike, the goddess of victory and Athens’ patron goddess.

Athena

 

Day 2: Agoras

The discovery of different Greek Gods and Goddesses continue with a visit from the Ancient Agora and The Roman Forum – Agora which means market-.

Take a Break: On your way there, you will pass by Monastiraki Square. It is a colorful square with a beautiful old church. You can head to the small streets from some flea market shopping or go towards the water for relaxing at one of the cafes.

Monastiraki

Hadrian, he again ordered the construction of Hadrian’s Library that was created in AD 132 by the Ancient Agora.

 

Hephaestus was the Greek god of blacksmiths, sculptors, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes, has his temple on top of the Roman Agora. There were numerous potters’ workshops and metal-working shops in the vicinity of the temple, as befits the temple’s honoree.

A stoa, another mark of Greek Architecture, is a long, narrow row of columns backed by a plain wall and roofed. It is often placed at right-angles to create an enclosed open space. The Stoa of Eumenes in the Roman Forum is the perfect example of it.

Stop Ancient Agora

 

Last Mythology Story:

If you go towards the port of Athens, you can take the boats to go on the Aegean Sea. The city was also the starting point for the story of Aegeus and Theseus. Aegeus was the king of Athens; When the son of King Minos of Crete was killed,  Minos waged war against Athens, emerging victorious. As punishment, Athens was forced to send young men and young women to Crete annually, in order to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, who dwelt in the labyrinth under the palace of Minos. At some point, though, Theseus, son of Aegeus, decided to go as part of the sacrifice, planning to kill the Minotaur. He was successful in his quest, but upon returning to Athens, he forgot to change his ship’s sails to white; when Aegeus saw the black sails, meaning that Theseus had died in the labyrinth, he fell into the sea, and drowned, giving his name to what now is called the Aegean Sea.

 

Florence in 2 days

Florence, the symbol of the renaissance is an open-air museum. No need to go inside any monument; the walk through the city is the way to see the beauty of the 600 years of artistic work. Here is a 2-day walking guide to admire that chef-d’oeuvre.

My travel App: Ulmon. It has all the sightseeing places saved and most of the restaurants and bars as well. It can be used offline which is very practical.

My booking site: Tripmasters.com . This is my 3rd time going through them to arrange my travel plans and I love the site. They have a great itinerary suggestion, hotels and all for a great price.

My Hotel: Hotel Vasari Palace, a former monastery, is a beautiful traditional hotel situated by the train station in a pedestrian zone.  I love to stay in traditional hotels where I can feel the charm and the history of the city. Great location, great service, great room and great price.

Must eat : Hotel Chocolate at Café Rivoire. Lunch at Le Volpi e L’Uva. Happy Hour at Caffe Cibreo . Dinner at Cantinetta Verazzano. Gelato at la Carraia.

Day 1

Start at the Train Station from where you can see the Church of S Maria Novella. Take the small pedestrian streets to get to San Lorenzo Basilica and Palazzo Medici. You can quickly go inside both monuments if you want, but again I don’t think it’s worth it. However, take a moment to admire the San Lorenzo Basilica from outside and go to the courtyard of Palazzo Medici to see the David by Donatello. Then, head to San Lorenzo Food and Flea Market. The covered food market is the perfect stop for lunch and the flea market is the perfect place for some souvenir purse shopping. After that cultural break, walk to the Duomo and the Baptistery. The entrance to the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is free but to go up the Duomo you will have to get tickets in advance. In front of the Duomo, in the middle of the Piazza you will see the Baptistery and the east door of it called Gate of Paradise. The Duomo Piazza and the Cathedral are just breathtaking. The Piazza next to it via the pedestrian passage of Via de Calzaiuoli is where is Piazza Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi, a lodge full of inspiring statues. Palazzo Vecchio is not an impressive palace if you have been to Versailles. You can easily skip it. You can seat at one of the cafes on that square like the Rivoire Café to take a moment to absorb all that beauty. Walk then towards Ponte Vecchio by passing by Uffizi Gallery Courtyard where you can admire statues and check out the work of the painters in the courtyard.  You can admire the sunset from there or even better from the bridge next to it Ponte Trinite. The neighborhood of San Spirito next to those bridges is not that touristy yet and is full of great locals’ restaurants and bar. Great way to finish that first walking tour day.

Day 2

Start your day at Galleria dell Academia. Make sure you bought your ticket in advance as the line can get very long very fast. The museum is fairly small and the main attraction is the Statue of David by Michelangelo. David is enthroned in the middle of the museum.  You should then walk towards Via de Tomabuoni the shopping street of Florence for why not shopping session. Then cross that Ponte Trinite to go to Pitti Palace. The ticket will allow you to visit the palace, the exhibition, the Boboli Garden and the Bardini Garden. The only attractions worth visiting, I believe.  The palace is beautiful and you will get the feel for the grandeur of the Italians monarch. The Boboli gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a cave on the corner of the garden; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence. You can go up the small narrow street of old Florence, classified UNESCO World heritage to go to Giardino Bardini Gardens. The Building is a museum and has a very interesting exhibiting. The gardens are bigger than Boboli garden and majestic. Finish your walk uphill at the Forte di Belvedere where you will have the best view of Florence and the sunset. For dinner, you can head across the Arno River to Santa Croce.

Rome History and Beauty

There’s a French proverb that says “Rome wasn’t built in one day” which means it takes time to do things. Indeed, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Per the Roman Mythology, the twins, Romulus and Remus wanted to found a new city to reign. Romulus wanted to build the city on the Palatine Hill and Remus on the Aventine Hill. After a battle between the two brothers, Remus is killed. Rome is then built on Palatine Hill. We can now visit the Roman Forum Ruins on the Palatine Hill by the Colosseum. Not too far from there, Romulus was entertaining the city with a Festival of horse racing at Circus Maximus. The temples on Capitoline Hill became later on the political center of the city. 

One of the new 7 wonders is the Colosseum. 2000 years after the ancient 7 wonders have been defined, the new 7 wonders of the word committee decided to create global memory again with the new 7 wonders. After the voting in 2007, the Colosseum became one of the new 7 wonders. The majestic amphitheater is well conserved and still breathtaking even after the earthquake that damaged it.

Other attractions :

Trevi Fountain: Per the legend, you need to drink the water for good luck. Nowadays people just toss a coin over their left shoulder for good luck and to come back to Rome.

Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain

Piazza Navona: Construction from Renaissance and Baroque periods like Piazza Novano and Piazza del Popolo are now part of the must-sees in Rome. They can both be accessed from the shopping alter Via del Corso. Piazza Navona has few fountains and the main one is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, majestic in the middle of the Piazza. The Piazza has a delicious gelato place called Tre Scalini. Go through the small street to have a drink at Bar el Fico and shop at the latest Roma store Zaporazzi. 

Pisa Walking Guide

Pisa is all about the Leaning Tower. Half a Day is sufficient to see the city.

From The train station, take the main artery Corso Italia which is the pedestrian passage to get to Piazza Dei Miracoli. By there you have the Piazza del Duomo, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. The Piazza is the place where all the Pisa must see are including the famous leaning tower of Pisa that “had a great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century.” You can go inside the tower and while going up you can feel the tower is leaning. You will always be attracted to the walls which make the walking up the stairs a little bit difficult. From the top of the tower, you will have an amazing view of the Piazza and its monuments, the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Cemetery as well as the whole city.

Exit the Piazza to go see the Cathedral of Saint Caterina d’Allessandria and you can stroll in the park in front of it.

Then head the other main square, the Knights’ Square. On that Cavalieri square, that used to be the political center of the city, you have the Church of Santo Stefano dei  Cavalieri, Palazzo de Corovana, and the Clock Tower. Stand in the middle to have a 360-degree view of that beautiful Piazza.

Finally walk back towards the Arno River. Take a leisure walk along all the colorful houses by the river. By the rover, you will see a very small Gothic church. It is the Church of Santa Maria della Spina. It is very unusual to see that small church in the middle of the city between the River the houses. Unfortunately, we can’t go inside of it.

Pisa is a small walled city and if you are on a busy tourist schedule, it is the perfect city to slow down and just enjoy Italy.

Italy and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Did you know Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world?

UNESCO, the United Nations for Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, establishes each year and handful of sites around the globe, World Heritage Sites since 1972. That means those unique and diverse sites are landmarks that have some cultural, historical or scientific value that is important to humanity and they should be legally protected by international treaties. By accepting the World Heritage Site label, the countries where the site is located, promises to carry on the mission established by UNESCO to safeguard the site and promote the awareness around it.

As the UNESCO Committee said: “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”

Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world with 51 sites; 47 cultural and 4 natural sites.

By going to Italy and cross the country from North to South with train I got the chance to come across many of those UNESCO World Heritage Sites.Here are the Cultural World Heritage Sites I passed by and their amazing history and heritage:

Only one hour away from Naples, the ruins of Pompeii “provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world”. Despite the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 that destroyed a lot of the town, there are still a lot of remains of that ancient Roman civilization that show us how they used to live. As I walked  through the streets well structured, pass by the very first pedestrian crosswalks ,the houses, temples and  theaters , I could see how smart and sophisticated they were , how they were managing their city and how they gave importance to art, religion and politics. We did lean from that civilization and it is indeed important to preserve that past.

Assisi, the hilly medieval city few hours away from Rome, is a Religious town since it is the birthplace of the Franciscan Order. As a matter of fact, the day I visited the city the Pope was in the Basilica and so nobody was allowed to go in the premises. You will see there the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli that was built around Chapelle Porziuncola to preserve the Chapelle.

I went to Milan few years ago and I had the chance to be able to see “The Last Supper” by Da Vinci. It is impossible to get a ticket as an individual and you have to go with a tour. They make you go to a small room first and then to the big room with the painting on. The first room looks like the disinfestation rooms that you see in the movies. You can’t stay in front of the masterpiece for too long but they give you enough time to appreciate it.

The Amalfi Coast is formed by small villages that are clinging to the mountain. The bus ride between the villages through the very curvy road can be hard to handle for some people but the view is priceless.  The famous villages that you can go to with the SITA bus are Sorrento, Positano, my favorite, Amalfi, Ravello and Salerno. Each village will dazzle you with its colorful houses, breathtaking costal view and amazing food. ‘Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution.”

Florence, symbol of the renaissance is an open air museum. No need to go inside any monument; the walk through the city is the way to see the beauty of the 600 years of artistic work. Here is a 2 day walking guide to admire that chef d’oeuvre.

Start at the Train Station from where you can see the Church of S Maria Novella. Take the small pedestrian streets to get to San Lorenzo Basilica and Palazzo Medici. You can quickly go inside both monuments if you want; but again I don’t think it’s worth it. However take a moment to admire the San Lorenzo Basilica from outside and go to the courtyard of Palazzo Medici to see the David by Donatello. Then, head to San Lorenzo Food and Flea Market. The covered food market is the perfect stop for lunch and the flea market is the perfect place for some souvenir purse shopping. After that cultural break, walk to the Duomo and the Baptistery. The entrance to the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is free but to go up the Duomo you will have to get tickets in advance. In front of the Duomo, in the middle of the Piazza you will see the Baptistery and the east door of it called Gate of Paradise. The Duomo Piazza and the Cathedral are just breathtaking. The Piazza next to it via the pedestrian passage of Via de Calzaiuoli is where is Piazza Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi, a lodge full of inspiring statues . Palazzo Vecchio is not an impressive palace if you have been to Versailles. You can easily skip it. You can seat at one of the cafes on that square like the Rivoire Café to take a moment to absorb all that beauty. Walk then towards Ponte Vecchio by passing by Uffizi Gallery Courtyard where you can admire statues and check out the work of the painters in the courtyard.  You can admire the sunset from there or even better from the bridge next to it Ponte Trinite. The neighborhood of San Spirito next to those bridges is not that touristy yet and is full great locals’ restaurants and bar. Great way to finish that first walking tour day.

Start you day at Galleria dell Academia. Make sure you bought your ticket in advance as the line can get very long very fast. The museum is fairly small and the main attraction is the Statue of David by Michelangelo. David is enthroned in the middle of the museum. To see the rest of the museum, you should follow that 2 h guide– click here.  You should then walk towards Via de Tomabuoni the shopping street of Florence for why not shopping session. Then cross that Ponte Trinite to go to Pitti Palace. The ticket will allow you to visit the palace, the exhibition, the Boboli Garden and the Bardini Garden. The only attractions worth visiting, I believe.  The palace is beautiful and you will get the feel of the grandeur of the Italians monarch. The Boboli gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a cave on the corner of the garden; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence. You can go up the small narrow street of old Florence, classified UNESCO World heritage to go to Giardino Bardini Gardens. The Building is a museum and has a very interesting exhibiting. The gardens are bigger than Boboli garden and majestic. Finish your walk uphill at the Forte di Belvedere where you will have the best view of Florence and the sunset. For dinner you can head across the Arno River to Santa Croce.

I had the chance to stay in the old town defined by the Aragonese walls where the streets are narrow but full of life with its shops, busy cafes, pizza places and churches (Naples has 448 churches). The old town life doesn’t stop at night as it is close to the university and the students gather in the piazzas to enjoy a drink. By the bay you can enjoy the port and the castles or you can go up the hill to have the view of the whole Naples and Mt Vesuvius.

Capital of the Christian world since the 4th century, Rome is an open air museum with monuments of antiquity  like the Colosseum, the complex of the Roman and the Imperial Forums, construction from Renaissance and Baroque periods like Piazza Novano and Pizza del Popolo and civil and religious buildings like Capitoline Hill.

How many modern cities can say they’ve been built around ancient monuments and they have been able to preserve and promote that heritage? You can add to that heritage the beauty from sites like the Fountain of Trevi or the Spanish Steps. To have energy to visit those sites make sure to have enough past and wine.

San Gimignano is a Tuscan gem. It is a medieval hilltop town. I had the chance to walk through the old narrow passages of that medieval town; the small shops have great souvenirs. You can see the triangular Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza del Duomo where you will found painters working on their art. What you will see a lot on those paintings is towers; indeed the patrician families who controlled the town built around 72 tower-houses as symbols of their wealth and power, however only 14 have survived. Go towards the walls, and it is a high town you will get to enjoy the view of all the nearby wineries.

I took a tour of that city and met the guide at the main square Piazza del Campo. “This Tuscan city developed on three hills connected by three major streets forming a Y-shape and intersecting in a valley that became the Piazza del Campo.” Piazza del Campo is the home to Siena’s Horse race called Palio. That race, organized twice a year, see ten of the seventeen contrada or districts  of the city circle the narrow piazza three times or usually 90 seconds after which there is only one jockey left on his horse. The palio maintains the rivalry that exists between all the contrada and reanimate all the passion people have for their contrada.  We then had and chance to visit the Contrada’s Museum for Contrada of Aquila (Eagle) and learn the history behind that contrada. We then headed to Piazza del Duomo to admire the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta; what a majestic cathedral. We finally walked through the historic center of Siena that has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site to get to Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico.

The Boboli Gardens that you can visit with Pitti Palace are the proof of a sensibility for landscape aesthetics that was developed during Renaissance. The Boboli Gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up the garden you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a bizarre cave on the corner of the garden, the Buontalenti Grotto; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence showing the Florentine Mannerist style in a magical and beautiful way.

The Piazza is the place where all the Pisa must see are including the famous leaning tower of Pisa that “had a great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century.” You can go inside the tower and while going up you can feel the tower is leaning. You will always be attracted to the walls which makes the walking up the stairs a little bit difficult. From the top of the tower, you will have an amazing view of the Piazza and its monuments, the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Cemetery as well as the whole city.

Cinque Terre has a “cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value. The layout and disposition of the small towns and the shaping of the surrounding landscape, overcoming the disadvantages of a steep, uneven terrain, encapsulate the continuous history of human settlement in this region over the past millennium.” Cinque Terre National Park situated in Northern Italy, is probably the most famous hiking area in Italy. Trails connect the colorful fisherman villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. The most popular trail is the Blue Trail; it will take you to the perfect hiking journey in that Rainbow Land.

“Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.”

Take a half a day tour of some Venetian Lagoon islands Murano, Burano and Torcello. The boat takes the San Marco Canal and passes along the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and Arsenale to get to Murano. Murano is famous for its glass manufacturing industry. Hence, we got to see a Glassmaking master at work in a factory. It was impressive to see how one can in just few minutes make an animal out of a liquid glass. We then went to Burano, famous for its lace and colorful fisherman houses. It was magical to be able to walk along all those colorful houses. You start your walk at the main square Piazza Galuppi, where you can visit the church of S. Martino, and then walk along the canal to discover the picturesque bright island. The tour ended with the 3rd island Torcello, the first center of civilization in the estuary. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the cathedral and the Church of S. Fosca.

See Venice like locals:

By the St Mark Square area you will see the Bridge of Sighs. You will pass by the uncompleted church of the Pietà by Canaletto but unfortunately it is in restoration and you can’t go inside for now. Then go to the Famous St Mark Basilica, admire the St Mark’s Clock Tower right next to it. You can go visit the tower and learn about the clock machinery by reserving in advance and go on top of St Mark Campanile Bell Tower. That elevator ride is worth it. You will have a beautiful view of St Mark Square and Venice in general. Visit the Dodge Palace or Palazzo Ducale. While visiting the palace you will pass inside the Bridge of Sighs and you will be able to see Venice from the inside.

Get a Vaporetto Ticket and ride along the Grand Canal. You will get to see all the Venetian style buildings like Palazzo Balbi, Ca Rezzonico by artist Canaletto or Ca D’oro, the 15th Century Gothic Palace and the Venice Casino, the world’s oldest casino built in 1638 and the beautiful city architecture. Hop on Vaporetto No 2 and go to island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Situated in front of St Mark Square. The Church of the same name built in the 16th Century, has a bell tower that gives you a great view of Venice.

Don’t lock yourself in the museums and explore the Dorsoduro neighborhood by foot instead. Start your walk at Rialto Bridge. The Bridge is being restored but you can still enjoy one side of it. Walk along the canal to get to San Toma Vaporatto Stop. From there you can walk towards Frari Church inside of which you can see art from Venetian artist Titian. Along the walk you can see the Ca Fasconi University and Scuola Grande di San Rocco Museum where all the arts in the building are from artist Tintoretto. Around the same neighborhood, by Squero San Trovaso you can pass by a little construction site; it’s where they make the gondolas. Walk towards the end of the island, Punta della Dogana, to go to see the Guggenheim garden. Gorgeous. Visit the Santa Maria della Salute Church and just relax by sitting on those stairs and admire the Grand Canal. Cross the Accademia Bridge and go to La Fenice Theater. If you have time, go see a representation at night. If not, you can take a tour of the inside during the day. If they are having rehearsals some parts of the theater will be closed.

Hiking at Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre National Park situated in Northern Italy is probably the most famous hiking area in Italy. Trails connect the colorful fisherman villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. The most popular trail is the Blue Trail; it will take you to the perfect hiking journey in that Rainbow Land.

Take the train to La Spezia. At the train station, go to the Cinque Terre National Park Office to get your 24h pass. You will need that pass to be able to access the trails and take the train and buses between the villages.

For a while now, the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola called Via del Amore and the trail between Manarola and Corniglia are closed for security reasons.

Cinque Terre Hiking
Cinque Terre Hiking Trail Start

 

You should then start the hiking journey at Corniglia. When you get off the train at Corniglia, you can walk to the village or take a bus. You are here to hike so start to walk to the village by taking the Lardarinato stairs. You will have a taste of what that hiking adventure will be; sometimes hard but the rewarding is so worth it. You should visit Corniglia before starting your hike. You can already sit down and catch your breath at Largo Taragio square or enjoy the best lemon Gelato at Alberto Gelateria.

 

Before starting the hike make sure you get your pass stamped at the village. All the hikes will start with an uphill since the villages are at sea level, then flat and finally downhill to the next village. The hikes between each village will take about 1h30min each. They are not that difficult at all, take your time during the uphill parts and enjoy the view. There are a lot of people on the trail and it is very easy to follow.

Corniglia to Vernazza– On that hike, you will have the sun behind you. The reward is when you get close to Vernazza and you can see the colorful village and port from far.

 

Stop at Vernazza for lunch at any of the seafood restaurants by the port/beach or grab a seafood cone and seat down by the beach to enjoy the view. You can also go to the castle called Doris Castle. You can go up that castle for a colorful view of the village.

 

Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare – On the way to Monterosso, you will pass by some wineries. If you are planning to spend few days in Cinque Terre, you can take a tour of those wineries. You will have breaking view of the ocean during the whole hike. Approaching Monterosso, you will see the private beaches with their colorful beach umbrellas.

 

Monterosso Al Mare has amazing beaches especially the private ones with their hypnotic blue and orange beach umbrellas. Seat down at one of the cafes now that you finished your hike.

 

You should now go back to the first two villages by train.

Manarola is the smallest village. Go down towards the beach with its colorful fisherman boats and the fact that there is no sand beach but only concrete sections don’t stop anybody from laying down and tan.

Cinque Terre Manarola
Manarola
Cinque Terre Manarola
Manarola
Cinque Terre Manarola
Manarola
Cinque Terre Manarola
Manarola

was one of the favorite villages. Grab some seafood in a cone and go on top of the port to enjoy the food and the unique view. On top of the train station, at the start of Via del Amore, there is a restaurant called Bar e Vini a Pie de Ma and no other restaurant can beat that view. Finish your day with a glass of wine and the sunset.

 

 

 

 

Colorful Venetian Lagoon Tour

I booked my tour with Local Venice Tours and the tour as well as the guide were both great.

If you have a cramped schedule the half a day tour is the way to go to see the Venetian Lagoon islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello.

The tour starts by St Mark Square. The boat takes the San Marco Canal and passes along the island of San Giorgio Maggiore with its church of the same name from the 16th Century and the Arsenale, the former Venetian industry site from the 13th Century

Arsenale
Arsenale
San Giorgio Maggiore Island
San Giorgio Maggiore Island

Murano is famous for its glass manufacturing industry. Hence, we got to see a Glassmaking Master at work in a factory. It was impressive to see how one can in just a few minutes make an animal out of a liquid glass. We had the occasion to buy some work either jewelry or decoration for home at the factory after the demonstration. Or, we could go explore the island. Unfortunately, you won’t have enough time to explore fully the island. I wish I had another 30 minute.

Murano Glassmaker Master at work
Murano Glassmaker Master at work
Murano Glass Factory
Murano Glass Factory
Murano
Murano

We then went to Burano.

abandonned-island-by-burano
Abandoned Island By Burano

Burano is famous for its lace and its colorful fisherman houses. We had 30 minutes on the island.  It was magical to be able to walk along all those colorful houses. I just wanted to sit down and stare at them for hours. You start your walk at the main square Piazza Galuppi, where you can visit the church of S. Martino, and then walk along the canal to discover the picturesque bright island.

The tour ended with the 3rd island Torcello, the first center of civilization in the Estuary. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the cathedral and the Church of S. Fosca. Definitely the less impressive island.

I know the company also offers a Burano and Murano only tour and it is fine to skip Torcello and only take that 2 islands tour. The tour, as well as the guide, were great. I just wish I had more time to spend in Murano and Burano and enjoy those rainbow islands.

Venice like locals

Forget about the pricey gondolas and get ready to use the public vaporetto and walk around the island. The best way to see Venice is to get lost on those streets and you will discover beauty in every corner.

My travel App: Ulmon. It has all the sightseeing places saved and most of the restaurants and bars as well. It can be used offline which is very practical.

My booking site: Tripmasters.com . This is my 3rd time going through them to arrange my travel plans and I love the site. They have a great itinerary suggestion, hotels and all for a great price.

My Hotel : Hotel Canaletto beautiful traditional hotel situated between St Mark Square and Rialto Bridge.  I love to stay in traditional hotels where I feel like I’m in an authentic Venitian Palace. The rooms can also have a view on the Canal, perfect spot to just relax and enjoy a glass of wine. Great location, great service, great room and great price.

Day 1:

Start the day with a half a day tour of some Venetian Lagoon islands Murano, Burano, and Torcello. If you have time to spend a day in those islands, then take the vaporatto and go by yourself and fully enjoy Burano and Murano. If you have a cramped schedule the half a day tour is the way to go. The tour starts by St Mark Square. The boat takes the San Marco Canal and passes along the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and Arsenale to get to Murano. Murano is famous for its glass manufacturing industry. Hence, we got to see a Glassmaking master at work in a factory. It was impressive to see how one can in just a few minutes make an animal out of a liquid glass. After the demonstration, I went to explore the island but I have to say, there was not enough time to fully explore. We then went to Burano, famous for its lace and colorful fisherman houses. We had 30 minutes on the island.  It was magical to be able to walk along all those colorful houses. You start your walk at the main square Piazza Galuppi , where you can visit the church of S. Martino, and then walk along the canal to discover the picturesque bright island. The tour ended with the 3rd island Torcello, the first center of civilization in the estuary. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the cathedral and the Church of S. Fosca. I booked my tour with Local Venice Tours and the tour as well as the guide were both great. I just wish I had more time to spend in Murano and Burano.

Full Tour description https://leilaspassport.com/2016/10/12/murano-burano-and-torcello-tour/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

Torcello Santa Fosca Church
Torcello Santa Fosca Church
Burano S. Martino Church
Burano S. Martino Church
Murano Glassmaker Master at work
Murano Glassmaker Master at work

You will get back to St Mark Square by 2pm. Stay in the area to go to :

  • See the Bridge of Sighs

    Bridge of Sighs
    Bridge of Sighs
  • You will pass by the uncompleted church of the Pietà by Canaletto but unfortunately, it is in restoration and you can’t go inside for now.
  • The Famous St Mark Basilica – if you want to skip the line get your ticket online. If not make the line. The entrance is free. You can pay 5 euros and go on top of the basilica but it’s not worth it
    St Mark Basilica
    St Mark Basilica
    St Mark Basilica
    Inside St Mark Basilica

    St Mark Basilica
    St Mark Basilica
  • Admire the St Mark’s Clock Tower right next to it. You can go visit the tower and learn about the clock machinery by reserving in advance

    St Mark Basilica Clock Tower
    St Mark Basilica Clock Tower
  • Go on top of St Mark Campanile Bell Tower. That elevator ride is worth it. You will have a beautiful view of St Mark Square and Venice in general.
    St Mark Basilica from the Campanile Tower
    St Mark Basilica from the above
    Venice from the Campanile Tower
    Venice from the above
    Venice from the Campanile Tower
    Venice from the above
    Venice from the Campanile Tower
    Venice from the above

    St Mark Campanile Bell Tower
    St Mark Campanile Bell Tower
  • Visit the Dodge Palace or Palazzo Ducale.Again if you want to skip the line you can buy your tickets online. While visiting the palace you will pass inside the Bridge of Sighs and you will be able to see Venice from the inside.
    Dodge Palace Gold Stairs
    Dodge Palace Gold Stairs
    Dodge Palace
    Dodge Palace
    Dodge Palace
    Dodge Palace Architectural details – Gothic Architecture

    Inside Bridge of Sighs from Dodge Palace
    Inside Bridge of Sighs from Dodge Palace

Have a gelato at one of the best gelato places in Venice: La Mela Verde.

La Male Verde Vanilla Gelato
La Male Verde Vanilla Gelato

 

You can relax at one of the famous cafes on St Mark Square: Caffe Florian the oldest one where Goethe used to go to grab cappuccinos, Grancaffe Quadri where Proust used to go and have a cappuccino at Café Lavena. You can go to any of those places at night to have a good drink and enjoy their live music.

Caffe Florian
Caffe Florian

 

At night, you can also stop by Harry’s Bar, a very posh small bar between St Mark Square and Grand Canal

Day 2:

Get a 24h Vaporetto Ticket and ride along the Grand Canal. You will get to see all the Venetian style buildings and the beautiful city architecture.

Hop on Vaporetto No 2 and go to island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Situated  in front of St Mark Square. The Church of the same name built in the 16th Century, has a bell tower that gives you a great  view of Venice.

St Mark from San Giorgio Maggiore
St Mark from San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore Island
San Giorgio Maggiore Island
San Giorgio Maggiore Island
San Giorgio Maggiore Island
Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore
Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore
Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore
Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore

Along the ride you will pass by the Cannaregio Neighborhood also known as the Jewish neighborhood.

Venice Cannaregio Neighborhood
Cannaregio Neighborhood
Venice Cannaregio Neighborhood
Cannaregio Neighborhood
Venice Cannaregio Neighborhood
Cannaregio Neighborhood

You will see the front of Palazzo Balbi and Ca Rezzonico ( artist Canaletto)

You will be able to admire Ca D’oro, the 15th Century Gothic Palace and the Venice Casino, the world’s oldest casino built in 1638.

Casino Di Venezia
Casino Di Venezia
Ca D'Oro
Ca D’Oro

 

Day 3:

Don’t lock yourself in the museums and explore the Dorsoduro neighborhood by foot instead

Start your walk at Rialto Bridge. The Bridge is being restored but you can still enjoy one side of it. Have a Gelato at Gelateria Da Suso. Great way to start your walk around Venice.

Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge
Gelateria Da Suso
Gelateria Da Suso

Walk along the canal to get to San Toma Vaporatto Stop. From there you can walk towards Frari Church inside of which you can see art from Venetian artist Titian. Along the walk you can see the Ca Fasconi University and Scuola Grande di San Rocco Museum where all the arts in the building are from artist Tintoretto. The best Gelato in the area can be found at Gelateria Il Doge.

frari-church
Frari Church
scuola-grande-di-san-rocco-museum
Scuola Grande di San Rocco Museum
Gelateria Il Doge
Gelateria Il Doge

Around the same neighborhood, by Squero San Trovaso you can pass by a little construction site; it’s where they make the gondolas. Go to Gelateria Nico to get a Gelato and come back to watch them building the gondolas.

Gondola Construction Site by Squero San Trovaso
Gondola Construction Site by Squero San Trovaso
Gelati Nico
Gelati Nico

Walk towards the end of the island, Punta della Dogana, to go to Galleria dell Academia Museum and Peggy Guggenheim Museum. If you are not a museum person you should still go and see the Guggenheim garden. Gorgeous. Visit the Santa Maria della Salute Church and just relax by sitting on those stairs and admire the Grand Canal.

Cross the Accademia Bridge and go to La Fenice Theater. If you have time, go see a representation at night. If not, you can take a tour of the inside during the day. If they are having rehearsals some parts of the theater will be closed.

La Fenice Theatre
La Fenice Theatre

P.S: The Accademia Bridge is the perfect stop to catch the sunset.

Venice
Venice

Must go places for Happy Hour and Dinner:

They are a lot of amazing places by Rialto Bridge in San Polo neighborhood that is full of locals and younger crowd contrary to the expensive cafes on St Mark Square. Try the local drink Spritz and eat Chiccheti Tapas at :

  • Naranzaria with Canal View

    naranzaria
    Naranzaria
  • Al Merca – Must go for happy hour as all the locals and students come to the piazza for a drink.

    al-merca
    Al Merca
  • Cantina Do Mori

    cantina-do-mori
    Cantina Do Mori
  • Bancogiro with Canal View
  • Cantina do Spade
  • Da Fiore

The good thing is that all those bars are next to each other … a bar crawl in Venice anybody?