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Travel

European Destinations, Italy

A Luxury Guide To Florence

May 13, 2016

The view of Florence from the famous bridge Ponte Vecchio [Copyright Vinita Marwaha]

The view of Florence from the famous bridge Ponte Vecchio [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

A long weekend in Florence conjures images of stunning Renaissance architecture, romantic walks by the River Arno and delicious Tuscan dishes. After recently spending time in Florence it’s certainly all this and more. Having travelled around Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia for the past 9 months I had been craving amazing Italian pasta, it being my favourite food. I wondered how many amazing meals of gnocchi with burrata mozzarella I could fit into four days in Florence..

When travelling we try to #LiveLikeALocal as much as possible, usually staying in guesthouses or B&Bs with friendly hosts that have been an integral part of our travel experience. Florence was no exception. We stayed at the stunning Palazzo Belfiore, in the Oltrano quarter of Florence. A neighbourhood as full of local Florentines as tourists. The location couldn’t be better and we loved being on a quiet street closed to traffic, only a 3 minute walk from the celebrated Ponte Vecchio bridge and 2 minutes from the majestic de’ Medici Palazzo Pitti. Upon arriving at Palazzo Belfiore we were welcomed warmly by the wonderful Federico. He, along with his sister Francesca, transformed seven apartments set in a 15th century noble house and opened them up for the world to visit. We entered the gorgeous Leone X apartment to find a lovely gesture of fine Tuscan Rosé wine and a delicious custom-blended tea, created especially for Palazzo Belfiore by a local tea and chocolate artisan Oro Nero (it even contains chocolate!).

The bedroom in the stunning Leone X apartment at Palazzo Belfiore [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

The bedroom in the stunning Leone X apartment at Palazzo Belfiore [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

Federico can even arrange a cooking class for you in your apartment, artisan workshops or programs for children. Our apartment certainly felt like home with thoughtful touches including a homemade recipe to make the Florentine classic “Pappa al pomodoro” along with the ingredients,  a fantastic salon hairdryer and hair straightener!

The spacious bedroom of our Leone X apartment at Palazzo Belfiore [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

The spacious bedroom of our Leone X apartment at Palazzo Belfiore [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

Each room is scented by a fresh oil home fragrance called AquaFlor Parfum that we had to go and get for ourselves!

The AquaFlor shop on Borgo Santa Croce, 6, Florence! [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

The AquaFlor shop on Borgo Santa Croce, 6, Florence! [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

Unique AquaFlor Parfum

Unique AquaFlor Parfum

 

A Gift of Oro Nero Chocolates!

A Gift of Oro Nero Chocolates in the Leone X Apartment!

We loved our stay in at Palazzo Belfiore and it’s a perfect way to feel like a local immersed in the Oltrano quarter of Florence! It’s truly #YourHomeAwayFromHome!

Steps away from Palazzo Belfiore is the Ponte Vecchio bridge leading to the famous Duomo, which we explored during a fantastic walking tour around the city! The Medici tour is fantastic and we loved learning about the Vasari Corridor. An enclosed elevated passageway was built and used by the Medici family in Florence to connect their two homes (or palaces!) as they felt insecure in public. It runs from Palazzo Vecchio, across the River Arno and on top of the ancient bridge, Ponte Vecchio, to Palazzo Pitti.

Part of the Vasari Corridor, an enclosed elevated passageway built and used by the Medici family in Florence to connect their two homes (or palaces!

Part of the Vasari Corridor, an enclosed elevated passageway built and used by the Medici family in Florence to connect their two homes (or palaces!)

 

Giotto's Campanile part of the complex of buildings that make up Florence Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, Italy. [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

Giotto’s Campanile part of the complex of buildings that make up Florence Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, Italy. [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

Apart from relaxing in our gorgeous apartment and walking around the streets of Florence, we spent the rest of our time enjoying traditional Tuscan dishes.

To celebrate a special occasion (we were celebrating our anniversary!) or just to enjoy a taste of quintessential Tuscan food, look no further than Hotel Brunelleschi. A spacious 4-star hotel nestled in a courtyard in the centre of Florence, giving rooms a magnificent view of Florence’s famous cathedral, Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

The stunning view of Florence's Duomo from Hotel Brunelleschi [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

The stunning view of Florence’s Duomo from Hotel Brunelleschi [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

Hotel Brunelleschi, immortalised in Dan Brown’s books ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and the recent ‘Inferno’, allows you the opportunity to stay in a Byzantine Pagliazza Tower from the 6th century and a medieval church. The interior however is anything but medieval. The hotel was fully refurbished in 2013 and combines luxurious features and stunning vistas to provide a memorable experience.

A beautiful 360 panorama of Florence from your room [Hotel Brunelleschi]

A beautiful 360 panorama of Florence from your room. It looks absolutely stunning! [Hotel Brunelleschi]

Exclusive Dr.Vranjes toiletries are provided at Hotel Brunelleschi

Exclusive Maison Vranjes toiletries are provided at Hotel Brunelleschi

The courtyard of Hotel Brunelleschi, Florence

The courtyard of Hotel Brunelleschi containing the outside terrace of the Osteria della Pagliazza restaurant

The Pagliazza Tower of Hotel Brunelleschi originated in the 6th century and was previously a prison. It even contains a private museum in the basement featuring Roman baths and artifacts. The museum is open to hotel guests, accompanied with a hotel member of staff.  The breakfast room of the hotel retains the original features of the building of St.Michael’s Church, including the baptism font. Culture, history and luxury for guests under one roof.

Roman baths and the basement of a Roman house in Pagliazza Tower of Hotel Brunelleschi

Roman baths and the basement of a Roman house in Pagliazza Tower of Hotel Brunelleschi

 

The Santa Elisabetta Restaurant in Hotel Brunelleschi

The Santa Elisabetta Restaurant in Hotel Brunelleschi

 

A stunning chandelier adorning the Breakfast Stemma Room

A stunning chandelier adorning the Breakfast Stemma Room [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

We were excited to try the traditional meets contemporary Tuscan menu at Osteria della Pagliazza, which featured a welcome drink of Prosecco ‘Valdo’ Doc Extra dry, a selection of cold cuts of meat, home made pasta, Tuscan soups, a bottle Santa Cristina, I.G.T, Farm Antinori wine and mineral water for 49 Euros. The hotel also has the Restaurant Santa Elisabetta resaturant, the ‘gourmet temple of Florentine gastronomy’, the Tower Lounge bar and a stunning Breakfast Stemma Room for guests. The Santa Elisabetta restaurant is the perfect spot for that special proposal or a romantic dinner.

 

A delicious selection of tuscan cold Meats and Cheeses [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

A Delicious Selection of Tuscan Cold Meats and Cheeses [Copyright: Vinita Marwaha]

The picturesque terrace of Osteria Della Pagliazza

The Picturesque Terrace of Osteria Della Pagliazza

 

Amazing Ravioli Fiilled with Eggplants, Salted Butter and Dried Tomato Sauce

Amazing Ravioli Fiilled with Eggplants, Salted Butter and Dried Tomato Sauce

 

An amazing anniversary lunch at Hotel Brunelleschi

An amazing Tuscan lunch at Hotel Brunelleschi

 

Our Secondi Piatti of Scottona’ Grilled Beef and Grilled Vegetables

Our Secondi Piatti of Scottona’ Grilled Beef and Grilled Vegetables

 

For Dessert, a Tasting of Three Flavors of Gelato Prepared Daily

For Dessert, a Tasting of Three Flavors of Gelato Prepared Daily

 

A wonderful end to our Tuscan meal (the teabag is made out of silk!)

A Wonderful End to our Tuscan Meal (the teabag is made out of silk!)

Our meal was incredible and Hotel Brunelleschi’s Tuscan menu is perfect to experience the best food that Tuscany has to offer with a luxurious touch.

Have you visited Florence? Let us know in the comments below!

Palazzo Belfiore, Via dei Velluti, 8, Firenze, Italy
+39 055 264415. Email: info@residencebelfiore.it

Hotel Brunelleschi, Piazza Sant’Elisabetta, 3, 50122 Firenze, Italy
+39 055 27370. Email: info@hotelbrunelleschi.it

All opinions expressed are my own.

Asia, Thailand

A Photo Tour of Loy Krathong: Celebrating The Festival Of Lights In Thailand

November 29, 2015
Not Stars But Thousands Of Lanterns Took To The Sky

After 6 months of travelling through Eastern Europe and South East Asia we arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand just in time for the annual Loy Krathong festival, or lantern festival. Loy Krathong is a Buddhist festival celebrated in Thailand to honor Buddha. In Northern Thailand, where Chiang Mai is located, this festival coincides with the Lanna festival of Yee Peng.  The festival involves the beautiful Sky Lantern release followed by floating handmade krathongs (or floating lotus made of banana leaves and flowers) in the river. With Chiang Mai being the former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, it holds a spectacular annual Yee Peng Festival and cultural celebration, falling on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month when the tides are highest.

Traditional Thai Costumes During Yee Peng and Loy Krathong

Traditional Thai Costumes During Yee Peng and Loy Krathong

 

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Thousands Of Lanterns High In The Sky Like Stars

Thousands Of Lanterns High In The Sky Like Stars

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Miss Chiang Mai

Miss Chiang Mai

A Float During The Festival Parade

A Float During The Festival Parade

A Beautiful Float By A Chiang Mai Old Town Gate

A Beautiful Float By A Chiang Mai Old Town Gate

Travel Tips

7 Things I’ve Learnt After Travelling RTW For 4 Months

October 24, 2015
Experiencing traditional Bosnian tea in a quaint teahouse in Sarajevo

Experiencing traditional Bosnian tea in a quaint teahouse in Sarajevo

After being on the road for 4 months I’ve learned a lot about what makes you a good traveller. Having travelled through 30 countries and counting, over the last couple of decades now, here’s my take on what you should know before you leave.

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Climbing a steep hill in Sarajevo in 40 degree C heat

1. Home Is Where Your Bag Is

Four months ago we packed up our belongings into storage and sold most of our larger possessions. In the time since then my concept of home has changed considerably. No longer do I commute through a city and put a key in my front door to arrive home. Home is now where my bag is (and husband in my case..). Whether that’s in a Bosnian hostel, in a traditional Albanian farmhouse, in a house in the hills of Barcelona, on a boat (where I’m writing this from!), in the rice paddies of Ubud, Bali, or on a night train to Belgrade. Although I sometimes do miss getting home and being able to relax on the couch in front of the TV,  I wouldn’t trade this experience for home comforts and slippers just yet!

A beautiful silk skirt I bought in Indonesia for only $5!

A beautiful silk skirt I bought in Indonesia for only $5!

2.  You Don’t Need As Much As You Think

My life now consists of 10kg in a backpack, carry-on only (hand-luggage for the Europeans). That’s it. After our first stop in Barcelona I ended up donating at least 4 items of older well-worn clothing from this realising I just didn’t need them. Using a one-in-one out philosophy when it comes to packing, I’ve replaced them with a pair of light-weight Mango shorts and a H&M dress for 7 Euros that I wear at least every other day. You just don’t need the 25 pairs of shoes lying in your closet (truthfully of which you probably only wear less than 5 on a regular basis), a wardrobe bursting full of shirts, dresses, skirts, blouses and boxes of jewellery. Buying unique items of clothing along the way also make fantastic souvenirs along with being functional. An example is the beautiful long silk skirt that I bought in Indonesia for $5 that’s perfect for the climate and culture in Asia. I also simplified my travel makeup the day I left, from 3 separate bags to 1 plus a small pouch of 3 travel brushes. Moving from Europe to Asia I’m finding that I hardly wear a lot of makeup, focusing on items such as serum, BB Cream and concealer with SPF. In the heat wearing a lot of makeup isn’t practical and it also lets you start your day a lot quicker!

Wading through the ocean is sometimes the only way on and off a boat!

Wading through the ocean is sometimes the only way on and off a boat!

3.  Cultural Open Mindedness

I’ve learnt the importance of being open minded and respectful of other cultures. Be respectful of other people, their traditions, religions and styles of dress when travelling. Sometimes there isn’t going to be a laundromat, or even a dock for the boat that you’re on. You’re going to jump of the boat and walk through the shallow ocean to shore or let someone kindly wash your clothes by hand. Be open minded. Try new food, you might love it! Learn about local history and traditions. We were lucky enough to attend a traditional Albanian wedding with fantastic food that included an entire roasted pig that was brought out to the guests.

Attending a traditional Albanian wedding

Attending a traditional Albanian wedding

4. Meet Locals And See The Country Through Their Eyes

The best way to experience a country is like a local. It’s an experience that we strive for. Little nooks and rituals that you may have overlooked suddenly take on a new meaning. That plain wall with 7 windows in Sarajevo is really the shrine of 7 brothers where every local comes and prays at each window for good luck. History also changes depending on your perspective. This was paramount to us in Bosnia, and hearing about their perspective on the siege of Sarajevo was something we wouldn’t have heard had we not talked to locals, each with a powerful story. Our favourite local host was Oskar in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, who took time to take us to experience fantastic local restaurants every night and even the movies (The Martian on opening night!) from an Indonesian perspective, complete with food service from your movie seat!

5. Learning A Global Language

Smiling and purposeful hand gestures can get you far. Fact. However learning some words of the the local language is an asset. Having a pocket phrasebook was a godsend in Spain, especially as we tried to go to local restaurants off the beaten track. It helps you integrate into a country especially if you’ll be there a while. Alternatively downloading the country’s language through the Google Translate app helps if you take a photo of text and automatically translate it. The low-tech way of a notebook and pen to write down your question when buying train tickets can be effective too! If all else fails smile and be patient!

6.  Adapting Your Travel Style

As someone who used to travel with 23kg of luggage plus carry on and stay in hotels, my life being condensed to 10kg and hostels is a big change. But it’s a change I’ve learned to embrace. Your travel style is individual and it may be luxury resorts, but over the last few months I’ve learnt to try new types of accommodation and made some good friends along the way, enriching my travel experience and learning from their stories.

After climbing a hill to the top of the fort in Ulcinj, Montenegro

After climbing a hill to the top of the fort in Ulcinj, Montenegro

7. Versatility (or Bring Good Shoes)

With a backpack, there’s a good change you’ll be on your feet a lot. The importance of having good walking shoes can’t be emphasised enough. Make sure the few clothes and shoes that you’ve packed are versatile! Versatility is key! The shirt and skirt you can dress up for a night out with black ballet flats or dress down during the day to walk around on the cobblestoned streets of Europe or dusty roads of Asia with walking sandals. Leave your cute LBD at home, or for that matter anything sentimental or irreplaceable. Definitely don’t bring any expensive jewellery or that pretty heirloom bracelet. I’ve brought 3 pairs of shoes including light trainers (sneakers) that are good enough to hike up the hills of Montenegro with my backpack. My black ballet flats are essential (already 5 years old!) along with a good pair of walking sandals from Clarks. Bringing or buying a cheap pair of flip flops is handy for the beach and double as shower shoes. For the boys, Kevin bought 2 pairs of shoes, lace up smarti-sh shoes that double as sturdy trainers (sneakers) and walking sandals. Girls, don’t bring that pretty statement necklace just in case you’ll need it! When you’re walking up a steep hill from the bus station to your hostel in the blazing 2pm Adratic summer sun, you’ll wish you hadn’t. I replaced my old safari shorts, an old summer dress and 2 tops in the first week of my trip for lighter, comfier and importantly more versatile clothing. Inevitably along your trip you’ll want to buy that gorgeous top but the one-in-one out rule is good for buying clothing whilst travelling. Especially when working within the 10kg carry on limit for most airlines in Europe and 8kg in Asia (plus laptop/purse)!

With ~4 months still to go I’m hoping that the first few months have helped me acclimatise to a different style of travel with less needs and fewer belongings, allowing me to experience a whole new part of the world.

About, European Destinations

Change

July 28, 2015
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Change is inevitable.

Seasons change. People change. Fashion changes. But travel, travel changes you. Travel changes who you are at your core.

Deciding to leave behind everything we knew, our jobs, our home, our family & friends, most of our belongings, to travel wasn’t an easy decision. We knew what we’d be missing; birthdays, weddings, births, celebrations, Christmas and most importantly we wouldn’t be able to provide a shoulder for our family to lean on when they needed us. But we had an urge to travel, to explore, to learn about new cultures and see the world. To learn how to cook Pad Thai in Thailand with fresh ingredients from the market to living like a local at home in Denmark for a month.

With Kevin and I a few years either side of 30, and both due for a career change, this was the time, if any. From the moment we had met over 4 years ago, in a grocery store fortuitously whilst based in Cologne, Germany, to our wedding day in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, we had always agreed about one thing, we wanted to travel (although I admit I hadn’t initially envisioned travelling with solely a small backpack, but more on that later). This blog will follow our journey from Canada to the UK, across Europe to Southeast Asia and beyond. Join us as we travel around the world. – Vinita

Hiking to Montserrat in Spain

Hiking to Montserrat in Spain