2017 – Welcome

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Dear World,

2017 could not have come any sooner. 2016 ahhh, was not a year of firsts anymore. It was a year that I wanted over from the moment it started and now it’s gone. Thank the heavens for that!

2016 was a year that I traveled outside the UK into Europe and Africa for the first time ever. Those were exciting days. I soaked myself in those moments, but deep down, my heart was in a dark place. My heart remained in a dark place and dragged my head down with it. Every time I took a breath out a small part of my soul left with it. So last year, I had no power to stop myself, I just let myself grieve. And I must say that I’m so very very grateful for my friends, new and old – my family that keeps growing; for pulling me through. It was a year where I had to make a difficult career choice so that I could go on to achieve my 5 year goals.
It was also a year where some of the loveliest couples I knew got married, and I wish them a world of happiness through all the hardship they took to get there. I couldn’t be more excited for you!

I’m ready for this year. To get on with things head strong, to travel with my heart free, to look forward instead of looking back, to focusing on what is instead of what if. The year I can finally begin again, awaken my dead bones, and restart my heartbeat. I hope this year will be our saving grace where we get in touch with ourselves and regain our humanity. Let us not forget those who need us, stuck in situations beyond their control, in poverty and war-striken regions around the world. May we all hope to make a small difference in our lifetimes.

I shall leave you with that and some lovely words from Ms Leav.

With love, always,
K

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Night Traveler

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I see snow covered mountain peaks
peeping over peppering clouds,
the rugged land below
enjoying the perils of sunlight.

I see the sea weaving
along the shoreline, silently
and clusters of white
forming villages, towns, cities, capitals.

I see the harnessing of wind
to create energy for the masses,
life being lived gloriously
from the wings that carry me home.

Alas, I brave the journey
in the light of day!

Dangerously

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Fresh mountain air.
Tainted desert sands.

Dreams.
Eyes that hide secrets.
A smile that ignites fire.

Words so constant.
Actions of the subtlest nature.
I-miss-you never aloud.

You waited.
I waited.

Lace against body.
Sweet chemical combustion.
Triggers perspiration.

Heart in shards.
Thousand glittering pieces.

Ghosts of my mind.
Haunting breaths.
Passion slow to diffuse.

Take me back.
Be my lover and my demon.
Don’t leave me like this.

Holding my breath.
Waiting.

Travel: Paris

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Hell again everybody! Here is a quick insight into my short trip to Paris – the city of lovers ❤

As you know I like to pack my trip with plenty of things to do which is exactly what I did. Loads of research and planning into this trip. I went for 4 days. With much consideration, I spent for the 3-day Paris Pass and after the end of the trip – I should say it was definitely worth it.

I took the Eurostar and arrived at Gare du Nord. I was hijacked by family there and that sort of threw off my plans, but hey – it’s family. We made a trek from one end of the city to the other end and back. My initial plan was to go straight to the hostel – I usually stay at YHA hostels as they are safe and reliable, then go pick up my Paris Pass and venture out to the Eiffel Tower. That didn’t happen. However, we did end of finally getting to the hostel, leaving my bag there and jetting off towards the Eiffel Tower.
I was lucky, the queue was not 5 hours long. After all the cathedral climbing in Germany, I wasn’t too keen to climb up to the top of the Eiffel. So I took the lift up. The view is breath-taking. The ticket isn’t the most expensive thing in the world. However, I don’t recommend it – maybe taking the stairs to the 2nd floor just to appreciate the beauty of the built is generally sufficient. Have a drink. Leave.

The next day morning, I took a short walk through town to go collect my Paris Pass. Then I walked towards the Big Bus stop cutting through Place Vendome – quite a posh part of Paris, where all the designer outlets are. Definitely worth a walk around peering into store windows. Now when you get to the main Big Bus stand – please note that there is a blue line and a red line. I got on the blue line which took me to parts of town that I had already gone to the previous day and that was a real waste of my time. When I finally got onto the red line my whole morning was gone. I got off at Notre Dame, and it looks just like the disney cartoon. No surprise. It is free to go in, so that’s a plus, they also have tours every hour in different languages which are also free, so I advice making use of that. I was hungry and had some time to kill before the tour, so I walked across the bridge towards St Severin Church and there are loads of choices for food, even the local delicacies that you should try – French Onion Soup, Bouillabaisse, Citron Tarte, etc. Or if you aren’t that hungry, there are several crepe stalls just on the opposite side of the Notre Dame. With your Paris Pass you can go to the top of the Notre Dame and have a heart to heart with the gargoyles, but be prepared to queue for at least an hour. They are quite popular.
After the tour, I headed off to Sainte Chapelle – it is one of Paris’ biggest secrets.  It is a small church not too far away from Notre Dame, but it is breath-taking, jaw-dropping, heat-pounding. It is majestic. It is also expensive to get in. The Paris Pass allows you free entrance and all you need is 15 minutes in there. Please, I’m begging you to make time for this place. If I could married in there, I would.
I then moved on to the Louvre –  it is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays, till 10pm, and those are the best times to go as it’s not well known, if you want to pace yourself without being mobbed. I just wandered around, there are lots of interesting things to see. As always I suggest that you download Rick Steves audio guide, I didn’t and walked past many paintings and sculptures that I should have recognized. The Mona Lisa always has a healthy audience, be warned.
It was nightfall when I exited the Lourve and my legs were tired (my mistake – I wore sandals instead of sneakers). It is a good idea to lounge outside the Lourve for a while – you get a good view of the Eiffel Tower from there and every hour on the hour – the Tower is a joy of shimmer as it sparkles away. It is beautiful. Don’t miss it. From there I hopped on a bus down the Champs Elysee – again because my legs were killing me and I wasn’t ready to just give up and go home just yet. It’s quaint. I got off at L’Arc De Troimphe, with your Paris Pass again you can get up there. I didn’t, I imagine it is an amazing view to see 9 open roads without any traffic lights joining up.

The next morning I was out early to get myself to Versailles – you do need to pay extra for that train ticket. The transport you get with the Paris Pass doesn’t cover that region, but it’s free entrance to the Palace. The Palace is worth the visit. The queue is long, but it moves quick enough. I was unlucky again, the gardens which is also a massive highlight and usually free to the public was ticket entry only due to fountain shows. If you don’t have the whole day, get on a tram to take you around. It’s a humongous area of land to cover. Go see the pink marble palace of Marie Antoinette, it is a mini wonder. I had a cup of hot chocolate at Angelina – one of the best places to have hot chocolate – melted anadultered chocolate in a cup.
Back to Paris I went then and straight to the Museum D’Orsay. This time I did download Rick Steves Audiobook in advance and had a much better museum self-tour. I had some time to kill before I was to get on the Bateaux Parisienne so I ventured towards Jardin Du Luxembourg to just sit and people watch for a while and ended up at the Pantheon instead. An incredible structure, lots different than the one in Rome. It was closed so I’m not sure what it houses. I strolled down towards the park, passing the University of Paris, overwhelming building. I went through the park, it is the home of the original Lady Liberty which is still there and walked towards Saint Sulpice Church. There was just something about it that caught my eye, so I sat there instead.
You can catch a bus from there directly to the dock of the Bateaux Parisenne. I had every intention to go on the river cruise at sunset and my timing was impeccable. I must admit, Paris is gorgeous at night. There is life along the Seine with young and old, sitting and picnicking, drinking, dancing and catching up. People waving at you from every bridge you pass.
I took the tube from there to Tour Montparnasse. The Paris Pass gets you access to the 56th floor and the rooftop where you can get wonderful views of Paris including high tech telescopes to look at the stars. They close at 11pm. Last entry was at 10 30pm and I made it by 10 25, nick of time. Now that was worth. You can always come earlier and spend sunset there, there is no time period for how long you can stay.

My last and final day, I headed back into the heart of Paris. Starting at Museum De L’Orangerie (all museums are free the first Sunday of every month). I do recommend it if you are a fan of impressionist and post-impressionist art. It is the smallest of the 3 main art museums in the capital. From there, I jetted off towards the Palais Garnier. I highly recommend going there. The beauty and elegance of this place is absolutely out of this world considering the period it was built in. It is also the home of the phantom of the opera. The entrance and tour is included in your Paris Pass.
Across the road is Fragonard, the Perfume Museum. They do have a lovely collection, and I probably spent far too much money there.
From there it was off to Sacre Coeur. Because it was Sunday there was a lovely service going on and oh my god the nuns were singing and I could have just cried. It is very simple in comparison to Notre Dame, but there is life and soul in there. You do get a lovely view of the city from up there, and again your Paris Pass allows you access to the top of the Cathedral but I didn’t have the time for it. A short walk from there is a dedicated Dali Museum – if you’ve got 15 minutes for a quick browse, by all means go. There are also loads of places to eat there in a lively outdoor environment.

Tips: Be very careful of your belongings. There were so many thefts in the subway. The police are everywhere and are quite vigilant. And you don’t have to go to posh place to get good quality macarons, there are equally good ones at Maison Georges Larnicol. Or you could do the macaron tour and hit up Laudrees and Pierre Herme and Carette. Enjoy the french food. People watch. If time is on your side – go watch a show at the Moulin Rouge!

And It All Falls Down

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I hope the memoirs in your box have gotten rusty,
while the memories in my mind remain vibrant;
filled with hello goodbyes, joy and eternal highs.

As the time has now come to an end,
we have gone from strangers to friends and back, a complete circle of life;
once doused in color, all burnt out.

The air has gotten thicker and the oxygen concentration
has dropped since you walked away;
making it harder to breathe, but it won’t conquer me.

It’s not that I ever wanted to live without you,
I just had no say in it;
please remain safe junkie, may the world always be your oyster.

The distance grows yet the world gets smaller,
and while the jagged dagger causes chaos in my heart;
I wish you peace in yours and the infinite silence of demons.

May you forever live buried in the depths of my being,
as the light in your eyes, your quirky smile and fierce heart;
resonates through me.

To us, to yesterday, to never after.

Travel: Cologne, Dusseldorf, Bremen, Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin

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Hello everyone – this is a much delayed post, so do forgive me. I will try and remember all the things I’ve done and the tips. My first travel blog was with the family, so it was a lot more relaxed. I am not a relaxed traveler. I try and do/see/eat as much as I can when I travel.

General travel tips: 1) Take a brand new marker with you – leave your name everywhere you go. 2) The Germans are lovely people – although most may not speak English. 3) Book all your train/bus tickets in advance if you plan to go to several cities.

I landed in the early afternoon at Cologne quaint little airport. The man at immigration was lovely (phew*), gave me a lot of good advice and sent me on my way. I purchased a Kolncard which cost me like some 10 Euro and gives you access to public transport and some of the sites of interest – but I was in such a mess that I managed to lose it in 30 mins. I stayed at the only YHA hostel they had which is pretty magnificent but got off at the wrong metro station and had to walk a distance carrying my bags. “I’m a backpacker, not a drag bagger.” Anyhow, enough of the moaning. I loved Cologne. I spent 2 nights there. The day I arrived, I met up with my cousin and his gf – we did a quick walk around the city. Lock bridge, passing the philharmonic, and ended up in the center of the market where some of their friends were performing some acrobatics alongside an opera singer. Big turn out. We then sat on the river bank, had dinner and parted ways. The next night my cousin insisted that I stay with them, and the hostel was very accommodating with refunding me my next nights stay.

Travel tip: 1) If you don’t have anyone in Cologne, the Kolncard might be worth it. 2) You are not allowed to walk over the Philharmonic as your footsteps mess up their acoustics. 3) Cross lock bridge and photograph the cathedral from the other side of the river – at night. Trust me you won’t be disappointed.

The following day, my cousin and I grabbed breakfast – chocolate pretzel, took a few pictures of the 4711 store and went on to brave (me more than him) the steps to Koln Dom. It’s definitely worth the climb, and it was better because it was a Saturday – you could hear the philharmonic practicing in the square below. The inside is spectacular, worth the visit, it’s also free. We then went on through town to the local Lindt chocolate factory, it’s small, it smells heavenly but I’m not sure it’s worth the price, maybe would have been had I not lost my KolnCard. We then set of home to have a small little BBQ. It was a chilled out afternoon – watched some surfing on TV, enjoyed the BBQ, then later we all went out a gathered so that they could do some skateboarding. I did get on it, I stayed on it mostly with support. It was just nice. Peaceful.

Travel tip: 1) There’s a lovely bakery (Merzenich) close to the KolnDom which has all the German delicacies. 2) If you are going to climb the steps to Koln Dom – go before 11am and take water! 3) Definitely buy 4711 souvenirs. 4) There’s a chocolate shop somewhere that only sells chocolate KolnDoms which are excellent gift items.

The next day, after a complete German breakfast of eggs, a multitude of breads, jam, honey, nutella, and spreads – I caught my train to Dusseldorf. Again, it was quite a walk to the hostel, this time truly. There isn’t much to do in this city. I spent less than 24h here, because I only came for one thing. It’s still a lovely city to walk around in. The riverbanks were busy due to a French-German festival. There’s a few odd things you can do in town – the city is an art capital, there’s plenty of galleries to go to, but if you really want to try something special go to the Kunst Im Tunnel. It was free the day I went, or it’s generally free, I don’t know. It’s an old underwater tunnel that has been transformed into a gallery. Every (few) month(s) there is a new theme and sculptures, drawings, paintings, mixed media, robotics, videos are brought together to get the message of the theme. Sometimes it doesn’t make much sense, but there are plenty of art enthusiasts around to ask. And finally after much walking about, waiting for the sun to set, I headed down Konigsallee. It’s in the heart of the branded shopping district. A lovely little canal that runs through with ?Zeus on the far end and trees on both sides and lights that reflect in the water. Definitely worth the photo opportunity.

Travel tip: 1) You don’t need to go to Dusseldorf. 2) If you do, just relax and enjoy the city, sun bathe in Hofgarten, have loads of ice cream. 3) The Rheinturm gives you a good view of the city, also has a revolving restaurant on the top. 4) They don’t have female only hostel rooms.

I was knocked out with all the walking but I had an early morning bus to Bremen and dashed to the station, just in time. It was a journey that took forever going through German country roads. Bremen is a quaint little village I must say. It is a village that has some interesting history and has built it’s popularity on that. The story of the traveling musicians by the Grimm brothers was born here – and every turn is a traveling musician statue. It is also one that has a Roland – a guardian statue. Very few of those remain. The one in Bremen is from 1404. Bremen cathedral is a spectacular beauty – modern and well lit. Of course it costs next to nothing to go up to the top to get a view of the city. Another thing I discovered about Bremen was it’s “shopping district” – colorful shops built on weaving cobbled paths with cafes tucked in between. You get all the delicious local delicacies and pastries as you make your way through. I haggled my way onto a delayed earlier bus and got to Hamburg just in time for bed.

Travel tip: 1) When booking your bus out, book it earlier because there will always be a delay even on the sunniest day. 2) Sit outside and enjoy a hot cup of italian coffee and local macaroons while listening to the musicians play.

Hamburg is by far the best definition of a harbour town. Just like in every other major German town that given you passes, so does Hamburg and I got one. It gives you discount on attractions and allows you to ride all the public transport available. The first thing I did was to go on a walking tour that covers most of Hamburg that needs to be seen. We ended the tour near the Miniatur Wunderland so the first I did was go get a ticket for the day because you have to book your slot. I got a slot towards the end of the day and since it was still mid day I had some 6 hours to kill. Because I had my travel pass, I just took the metro everywhere – saved me time. I went to St Michaels Church – it’s got an impressive tower and a lift that takes you to the top.  Off I went on the lift – it’s pretty busy up at the top, but the views are worth it as always. Following that I went to the harbour – there’s a ferry that takes you to the far end. It’s about a 40 min trip back and forth, you can sit on the deck and watch the containers and cruise ships pass you by. There’s plenty of places along the harbour to grab a bite but the best food is down Deichstrabe. While you are at the harbour, I recommend going down to the Elbtunnel – an old tunnel that connects both sides of the harbour now only open to pedestrians and cyclists. Miniatur Wunderland, no matter how childish it sounds is a damn marvel. It’s mind blowing the attention to detail and the way it’s all been placed to work. I recommend it. After that tiring day, I ventured on to Planten un Blomen looking for the dancing fountain show – but I couldn’t find it. The park is huge and I was just too tired. However, it’s a beautiful park, very serene, very feng shui and all that jazz.

Travel tip: 1) Speicherstadt Kaffeerosterei is a gem of a place. They serve coffee from all parts of the world and local Hamburg pasteries (slightly pricey but worth it). 2) Buy the Hamburg Card – it’s worth it. 3) I never managed to have anything to eat at Deichstrabe, but it’s not too pricey – quite reasonable for the portion sizes. 4) You can walk across the Elbtunnel if time permits. 5) Allow yourself a minimum 2-3 hours at Miniatur Wunderland 6) Enjoy a picnic at Planten un Blomen.

I had half a day in Hamburg before I took the bus to Hannover to meet my uncle and aunt. I just wandered along the canal, got a Franzbrotchen from Dat Backhaus – it’s a cross of a cinnamon rolls without the raisins and a croissant – genius!, visited the elb tunnel because I didn’t do that when I should have and then ran back as usual to catch my bus. Uneventful journey to Hannover. Very much a university town. Walked around – went to the top of the goverment building via elevator. Unique elevator that goes up to the top slightly slanted. Then went to the river crossing and watched this interesting engineering marvel of getting ships across the river that has unleveled banks. Went home to a nice German meal and good conversation.

Travel tip: 1) Dat Backhaus is some seriously good stuff. 2) You don’t have to go to Hannover.

After another fab German-Lankan breakfast – I was packed onto my train to Berlin. Made it just in time for the last Sandeman Free Berlin Tour, which of course as I said earlier takes you through most of the tourist attractions and gives you a rough idea of how to plan the rest of your days. Then I nipped into the Ritter Sport store – if you haven’t had their chocolates, you are missing out!

Travel tip: Try and do your souvenier shopping on day 1 if you have to as many of the bigger souvenier stores all line the road to the Brandenburg Gate.

I purchased the Berliner Card for 48 hours – again it gives you all access to Berlin and if you plan ahead and want to go to Potsdam which is on the outskirts of Berlin, you can buy a travel pass which allows you up to zone C. I headed off to Potsdam in the morning. It’s a small city famous for the palace grounds, now hosting an university. Again the tickets to go into Sans Souci Palace were for 2 hours later and I didn’t have the luxury of time so I opted to go around the palace grounds instead. It’s a magnificent place even if you don’t have the opportunity to go inside. The gardens are lavishly designed and all the fountains still work. Once back from Potsdam – I went to the Palace of Tears museum in Freidrichstrabe station. It takes you through the division of the east and west Berlin, the ideologies of the people, and what it was like in those times. After that, I met up with a friend in town and just caught up before I got back home.

Travel tip: Potsdam is worth a visit, even if you don’t go inside the palace. You can book tickets to the palace online as well.

The next day morning I headed to the East Side Gallery – it’s a part of the wall which has now been repainted with modern art by different people, showcasing Germany and just other really good art. It’s a good 2 hour walk, back and forth. I then went on to Kochstrabe station, grabbed a bite at Checkpoint Charlie and headed to the Topographie of Terror. This museum takes you into the minds of those that lead the separation, their backgrounds and the lengths they went through to get what they wanted. I next went strolling past the Brandenburg gate and the Reichstag, hopped on a bus and landed at the heart of the Tiergarten. There’s a golden angel smack in the middle and you’ll probably have to cross the road several times before you can get to the underground that leads you to her. It’s a good climb to the top again for a view from the city from the outside. And that’s all folks.

Travel tip: 1) You can have a lovely view of the city from several places including Berliner Dom and the Reichstag. 2) If you’d like to go into the Reichstag, you will need to book online early. It’s free, don’t worry. 3) Just like any capital, Berlin has the most variety of shops and some duty free products, do shop here.

Travel: Rome, Florence and Venice

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So the family and I spent about a week in these 3 cities in Italy – they went ahead of me and spent a few more days in Venice visiting the islands of Murano and Burano. From what they say and bought, I recommend going there.

The day I landed, we went off to Rome. Now Rome, unlike other capital cities, doesn’t give off that grandeur of a stately capital. It’s got graffiti everywhere – the home of graffiti. Most of it is really good stuff, but it’s mixed with amateur graffiti which ruins the whole feel for it. That night, we hopped on the metro to Barberini and walked the short distance to the Trevi Fountain, which is an architectural marvel. Don’t forget to toss a coin in there in hope of returning back to Rome and if you are lucky enough (which you should be on most nights) you might be the witness of a proposal. A few minutes walk from there are the Spanish steps, now called that as the Spanish Embassy is currently in that Piazza. **Also recommend doing the Pantheon on this stroll as the first stop, around the same area furthest away from a metro station.

Travel Tip: 1) Except for the Spanish Steps, none of the others are just out of the metro station. So be prepared with google maps as Italy is notoriously bad with tourist signs and many don’t speak English. 2) Ask for a taste at the multitude of Gelato shops around the Trevi Fountain as some are just downright disgraceful. 3) Based on the number of days you are in city, get a travel pass – it time based and not day based, fully worth it – allows you on to buses and the metro.

The next day we set of to the Vatican. I recommend getting off at Ottaviano as there is always a crowd to get in. Go early. Security check is intense. We made the mistake of going on a Sunday – wasn’t able to witness any mass even though they have 4-5 on that day. Additionally, the Sistine Chapel and the museum was closed. However, St Peter’s is mind-blowing. From the floor all the way to the roof. It’s majestic. If you’ve got the stamina for it, do pay and make your way to the top of the dome of the Basilica. It’s a marvellous view of the oblong Piazza below. There is a free tour (again not on Sundays) at around 2pm from the tourist information office on your right before entering the main square lines on your left side. The guards within the Vatican don’t seem to know about this office, but there is a sign on the outside while you are queuing showing St.Peters on the right, tourist office and piazza on the left. You would obviously want to get some souvenirs, and my advice is to take your time and shop around. Prices vary greatly from shop to shop as does quality, and like any tourist destination, the further away, the cheaper price and lesser quality.

Travel tip: Walk towards the Lepanto station on your way out of the area and check yourself into Gelarmony (34, Via Mercantonio Colonna). It has the best gelato in the city, it is where the locals go, it is very busy but totally worth the queue. They also have pastries on the opposite side, slightly expensive but again – totally worth it. Don’t miss out on this.

And finally the Colosseum. http://www.the-colosseum.net/around/visit.htm That site gives you a lovely low down of getting into the Colosseum. Although Italians don’t really do much work and nothing runs on time, for the amount of tourists they get, planning your journey in advance does very well for you. I recommend booking your tickets in advance or if you’ve got an extra day, to go a get it an entire day early. No matter the time of year, the lines are long – and please don’t make the mistake of paying extra to tour guides in abundance around the Colosseum. It’s not really a scam, but it doesn’t give you the flexibility to enjoy the Colosseum and the Roman Forum at your own pace. As any other popular tourist destination, go early. There is a lot of history to these structures, so read ahead or download audio guides and just soak up the sad tragedy of events that has transpired along the years. It is free to enter on the first Sunday of each month, if you get lucky – however, I wouldn’t want to think about how long that line is going to be.

Travel tip: I like to travel light, but due to security reasons many of the places in Rome don’t allow for luggage. There is luggage storage in many Italian train stations, and again, the lines are long. So plan ahead. Getting your luggage back, takes half the time though.

We then hoped on a train to Florence. We stayed on Via Palazuolo, not too far from the station. It’s in a slightly foreign-based part of town so don’t be alarmed if you barely see any Italians. In the morning, we headed towards Mercarto Centrale and San Lorenzo Market. It might be slightly pricey, but the products are good and if you aren’t sure – there are the odd Italian store owners and you can check the authenticity of products from them. The top floor of the market and one of the bottom rows has ready made food. Everything tastes good – you can’t go wrong. You can go a quick walking tour on your own around Florence, covering the Duomo, which you can see from a distance, but is nothing compared to its magnificence up close. Again if you want to go in, you’ll have to buy tickets, come early. You will pass Piazza Signoria which is home to an imitation of Michelangelo’s David (the original is at the Accademia Gallery) on the way to Ponte Vecchio which used to be a street filled with butcheries, but has since been converted to house all the gold stores in town. Following that to the Pitti Palace, which is now a museum. There are several bridges that cross over the Arno river, and will give you a look to the Ponte Vecchio. In the evening, I left the family behind and headed to Piazza Michelangelo. It’s a steep 15-20min walk from the Ponte Vecchio but worth it if you don’t have time to make it inside to the top of the 400+ steps of the Duomo. You get a beautiful overview of the city of Florence.

Travel tip: 1) The tourist information main desk is located close to the baptistery near the Duomo and they are very helpful. If you are staying long in Florence it may be worth getting a pass to the museums and what not. We weren’t so I don’t know much about that option. 2) There are lots of places to eat in Florence – portions are hearty, so keep that in mind when you order. Also, do try the local specialties – you won’t be let down.

Take a trip to Pisa which is 40mins-1hour away by train – or you can book a half day tour. There isn’t much price difference. It will be crowded, but you can manage the mandatory pushing photograph. You can climb up to the top if you wish, but there isn’t much around to see. You will pass the University of Pisa which sits just outside where Galileo taught. In the afternoon, we booked a tour to the Chianti wine country, visiting two local wineries using different methods to produce their wines. The drive there is beautiful, very organized lines. We did a half day tour, but they also have full day tours – so at your convenience. We stopped over at the small local town of Greve, nothing spectacular but very different from the big cities – simple sophistication.

Travel tip: The tour office suggested CiaoFlorence and MyTours. We went with CiaoFlorence due to it’s excellent tripadvisor reviews. We weren’t let down. There are many tour offices that are open till 7pm, so you don’t have to go to the CiaoFlorence office specifically. You can also book online. If you do go to the office, and are in a family or group, ask for a discount. Many are happy to oblige. It also comes with a free walking tour around Florence which is worth it.

The next day, we went to the Uffizi Gallery. https://www.italybeyondtheobvious.com/visit-uffizi-gallery-florence-tours-how-to-buy-skip-the-line-tickets This site has the best advice. I recommend following it. I reserved it online, thinking to go to the Accademia and Uffizi both, but later changed my mind and headed only to the Uffizi. I had an hour to spare before collecting the tickets I had reserved and luckily the lines were not long in the AM, so we stood in line and had gotten tickets within 15 mins. I downloaded the Rick Steves audio tour which is great. I highly recommend it. They say it takes about 2 hours for the complete tour, the audio guide is just under an hour, and we took 3 hours in total. The museum has a lot to offer, and there is much to see. Pace yourself. We then hopped on a train back to Venice.

Travel tip: Italians are lovely, thoughtful hosts. We mostly stayed in apartments through airbnb. Completely worth the peace of mind.

We did a tour of the Doge’s Palace and walked about the calles of Venice, with fingers crossed to not get lost.  Don’t forget to buy your Venetian masks here. And very much worth a trip to Accademia to Gelateria Squero – completely homemade by the guy there. Absolutely delicious without leaving a dent in your pocket for otherwise quite a costly city. Either at the corner facing the canal at Calle Nani or Calle del Pistori. Two stores down is a lovely wine shop, that sells a very different type of bruchetta. Not a complete meal, but worth a tasting experience. Further down, to your left (facing the canal) is Osteria de Squero which is highly recommended by Lonely Planet for its cicheti, which is between 6-8pm.

Travel tip: 1) If you are excessively using public transport ie. the tram, bus and vaporetto – get the day pass, and don’t forget to tap in to avoid fines. 2) Beware of pick pockets in any public places – the locals will warn you of them. 3) Ristorantes have a cover charge per person unless included in meal rates, so skip them and go to a trattoria instead – usually family run business, equally exceptional food.

I’m sad that I didn’t know about Rick Steves audio guides earlier, but after the Uffizi gallery tour – I highly recommend his audio guides. https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/audio/audio-tours There is a lot more to do in these cities, do explore more if time allows you. I know I’m definitely going back.

On later research I found the oldest ice cream parlor in Rome called Giolitti, near the Pantheon – one of the city’s most celebrated gelato shops, serving such unusual flavors.