Paris Shopping

Wandering the streets of Paris and popping in with a “Bonjour” to all the neighborhood shops is a true delight. You just never know what you will find! I will caution you that if you find a treasure, buy it. On my trips, there will be times I see something and pause to consider before making a spendy purchase. I’m still regretting not picking up a vintage Louis Vuitton bag I saw in a little store in the Marais. From grand department stores to quaint little shops to flea markets, enjoy the journey!





VINYL (My husband’s addiction-we buy vinyl wherever we go from Amsterdam to Moscow)


  • Paul Art & Design a little shop at the bottom of the steps to Sacre Coeur filled with fun art design items that you will want to buy. Visit with the shop bulldog terrier (shown above) who inspires many of the designs.
  • Sobral at 76 Temple. Sobral jewelry creations are made of resin, by hand, in our eco-ethical workshops-laboratories where reuse and recycling are paramount. Each piece is unique and colorful. I like these pieces because they are unusual, not heavy and reasonably priced. Wished I had bought more when I was there.
  • Discounted last year fashion at:


THE bookstore in Paris to go to is Shakespeare and Company which is an English-language bookstore opened in 1951 and located on Paris’s Left Bank. Check on their website for special events such as author book readings. Buy a book and, when you purchase, ask them to stamp their “Shakespeare & Co.” logo in it. Great souvenir or gift for book lovers! The book pictured above was purchased for our granddaughter and will be cherished forever.

Value Added Tax (VAT) Refund

If you plan on shopping in France, you need to know about the Value Added Tax (VAT) so you can get some money back when you leave! It’s not that complicated so here are the guidelines:

  1. Must be 16 years old and not a citizen of European Union.
  2. Must have your actual passport with you to get the paperwork from the shop when you purchase over $100 euros of merchandise.
  3. Tell shop owner you want a “VAT Tax Refund Document”. The big luxury stores will definitely provide and fill it all out for you. Some smaller shop owners may not do it but instead sometimes they offer a discount on your purchase. Ask for it!
  4. Submit your VAT refund paperwork at the airport or rail station-go to the website of wherever you are leaving from to find out where the VAT refund office is located.
  5. You may have to drop the paperwork in a box and it will be processed within 90 days OR there may be a staff person there to scan it and process it immediately. Depends on the place. Credit goes back on credit card you purchased it on.

Paris-Getting Around Town


Walk. Everywhere. It’s fast, dependable and free. I typically walk 10,000 steps minimum on any day in Paris and have on occasion done 20,000+. There is no better way to soak up the French culture than by walking the arrondissements on foot. Enjoy the journey!


One of my favorite moments in Paris was when we were riding the Metro and sat beside a woman who was using her commute time to sketch the people in the car with us (see picture above). It’s these type of experiences you won’t get in a taxi or Uber.

Paris is a walking city but there will be times when you need to get somewhere far away or it’s raining and then you should take one of the trifectas of public transportation: Metro, bus or RER train. Unfortunately, Paris hasn’t implemented “tap to pay” for their public transportation like the UK has. You still have to buy a paper ticket at the local convenience store or automatic machines at transportation stations. Info here: Metro map of Paris and the île-de-France region | RATP. Video to check out if you are a visual learner: how to get around Metro and RER video.

Caution: you must validate your ticket for subway and RER train in Paris. We saw a couple sitting next to us get a 35 Euro fine a piece because their tickets weren’t validated when security walked through and checked everyone. Being validated means you put in your ticket at stations to open gates and go to your platform. Leaving Versailles today, I checked my ticket after I went thru the gate and it didn’t show validated, so I went to the service desk, and they had to do it for me and then let me back through. Avoid fines. Check your ticket.


G7 are the official taxis so look for the G7 placard before you get in. Don’t think you can just wave down a taxi on the street. Either get your hotel doorman to get you one or use the G7 app. The train station and some major tourist sites/shopping areas will have a taxi stand so get in line and wait your turn. We’ve used Uber more than taxis in Paris. On one eventful Uber trip, we were in the car and driving toward our destination when the driver pulled over and asked us to get out so that he could do a quick U-turn and escape a protest that had popped up nearby. He didn’t want any harm to come to his beautiful Mercedes, which I can appreciate but it was quite the adventure. Leaving the car, we saw the protest quickly catch up to us and, as we ran in the opposite direction, the tear gas exploded nearby. Quite the story to tell when we returned home. Strikes and public protests are very common in France as a means for citizens to express their displeasure at the government. When these happen, transportation is disrupted, and walking is always your best option.


Everyone visiting Paris has to take a boat ride on the Seine. This can be as quick and easy as a boat taxi (just go to boat stand on the river to get a ticket and then hop on and hop off as you desire) or as long and expensive as a dinner cruise. Choose one but experiencing Paris from the Seine is a “must do” for any first-time visitor. Book dinner cruises in advance on TripAdvisor/Viator after you see the weather forecast.


You’ll be flying into Charles De Gaulle (CDG) or Orly (ORY). Paris traffic is terrible so I recommend public transportation that is not only cheaper but faster. Check out all your options here for both airports: Access, maps, routes – Paris Aéroport (

Arriving by train? Then just use the Metro (subway) system to get to where you are going from the train station.


Transportation apps that I have found helpful:

  • G7 for taxis
  • Uber
  • Paris Metro for subway
  • Citymapper to get around walking
  • Rome2rio for transportation
  • FLUSH for public bathroom
  • Toilettes Paris


I hope you never lose your passport, but it happens. If you do, it’s best to be prepared with the knowledge of what to do:

  • Pack a photocopy of your passport and keep in separate place in your luggage for safe keeping.
  • Go to the US Embassy located right near the Place de Concorde next to the Hotel de Crillon.
  • Arrive early by 8 am (no appointment needed for emergencies).
  • Process takes a few hours at best so plan accordingly.
  • No cell phone allowed in the Embassy so leave it at home or they will hold for you while you get business done.
  • There is a photo booth onsite to take a passport photo or even better, travel with an extra passport photo with your photocopy of your passport.
  • Cash or card to pay. No ApplePay or GooglePay.
  • You’ll get an “emergency” passport that day to travel home with.
  • Good luck!

Paris Museums and Street Art

There are so many wonderful museums in Paris that it can be overwhelming when you start to plan your trip. How can I see them all? (Hint: you probably can’t!) Which one to go to first? How do I prioritize? Which is best? So much art, so little time. Even after going to Paris several times, I haven’t seen them all, but I’ll try to help guide you on how to choose the best experience for you.


  • Louvre Museum go at opening time, enter through Port de Lions entrance and go directly to the Mona Lisa-you can see from the picture below that we got a clear shot of her when we visited. You could spend a week at the Louvre and not see everything. Based on how much time you have there, prioritize what you want to see and go for it! You can book a guided tour or wander aimlessly like we like to do.


  • Musee Picasso is located in the heart of the Marais, one of my favorite neighborhoods. This museum is an art-filled oasis in a beautiful mansion with a courtyard cafe. Heaven! What I really appreciated was the pictures and stories about the artist himself. I’ve always enjoyed his art, but I never knew much about the man behind the art. I also love goats and there was quite the collection his goat art on display! More info:
    • The museum collection includes more than 5,000 works of art (paintings, sculptures, drawings, ceramics, prints, engravings and notebooks) and tens of thousands of archived pieces from Picasso’s personal repository, including the artist’s photographic archive, personal papers, correspondence, and author manuscripts. A large portion of items were donated by Picasso’s family after his death, in accord with the wishes of the artist, who lived in France from 1905 to 1973. (Wikipedia)
  • Musee Rodin has both outdoor gardens with sculptures and an inside art museum Definitely plan a visit here on a sunny day so you can walk the gardens and enjoy the fabulous sculptures in their natural setting. More info:
    • While living in the Villa des Brillants, Auguste Rodin used the Hôtel Biron as his workshop from 1908, and subsequently donated his entire collection of sculptures – along with paintings by Vincent van GoghClaude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir that he had acquired – to the French State on the condition that they turn the buildings into a museum dedicated to his works. The Musée Rodin contains most of Rodin’s significant creations, including The ThinkerThe Kiss and The Gates of Hell. Many of his sculptures are displayed in the museum’s extensive garden. The museum includes a room dedicated to the works of Camille Claudel and one of the two castings of The Mature Age.The gardens around the museum building contain many of the famous sculptures in natural settings. Behind the museum building are a small lake and casual restaurant. Additionally, the nearby Métro stop, Varenne, features some of Rodin’s sculptures on the platform. The building is served by Métro (Line 13), RER (Line C: Invalides) and bus (69, 82, 87, 92). (Wikipedia)

Musee Marmottan Monet showcases all Monet all the time and is the perfect museum for the Monet superfan, which I am. We went to his home in Giverny on another Paris trip-see separate blog post on that adventure! This museum flies under the tourist radar. The day we visited we were one of the few visitors, allowing us to sit (yes-there are benches!) and just soak in the panorama of Monet art. My husband took the panorama shot below of the empty gallery when we got there-Monet all to ourselves.



We love to wander the streets of Paris and look for street art, whether it’s a mural or artistically hung umbrellas. Make sure you allow enough time to see this type of art. Enjoy the journey!

Paris-Day Trip to Giverny

If you are a lover of art and especially Monet, take the time to do a day trip from Paris to Giverny. Walk the lily gardens, stroll through the artist’s house and studio, and immerse yourself in all things Monet-an experience you will never forget. Go on a beautiful day and you will swear you are walking inside a Monet painting. Some of the most beautiful photographs I’ve ever taken (with my phone camera-see below) came from our trip to Giverny. Enjoy the journey!

We visited Giverny in September and it was the perfect day-sunny with the gardens in full bloom. Make sure you dedicate a whole day to this trip, so you have adequate time for the trip from Paris and time to wander the fields dotted with haystacks and walk through the house and gardens. The lily ponds in person look exactly like Monet’s paintings-so surreal. I kept pinching myself that after viewing Monet’s paintings in museums all over the world, I was finally there at the epicenter of his inspiration. I am definitely not a gardener but even I could appreciate the layout and variety of plants and flowers. Well done, Monet!


Giverny sits at the confluence of the river Seine and the river Epte in the region of Normandy. While the big draw in Giverny is Monet’s garden and home, this village has existed since neolithic times and there is a church dating from the Middle Ages to explore as well as a Museum of Impressionism and plenty of cafes and shops.

Seeing Giverny from a train window, Claude Monet rented and eventually bought a house living there from 1883 to his death in 1926. He created an amazing garden, partially diverting the river Epte for these gardens that inspired his many famous paintings of the lily pond, weeping willow trees, and Japanese bridge. His house and studio have been restored and you can wander through to get a feel for how this famous artist lived and worked. Giverny is now managed by a nonprofit Fondation Claude Monet | Giverny (


Monet’s gardens are open every day including public holidays from April 1st through November 1st, 2023. Buy timed entry tickets online at Claude Monet’s house in Giverny. We didn’t spend much time in the house/studio because it was such a beautiful day, so we were outside walking the gardens. They do have a great store there so bring a bag to carry home some souvenirs.


Giverny is 75KM (47 miles) from Paris and 4KM (2.5 miles) from the small town of Vernon where the train will stop coming from the Saint-Lazare Paris station. The fastest trains (don’t book a “local” with many stops) complete the journey in about an hour. Book your train ticket from Paris to Giverny here: Trainline : Search, Compare & Buy Cheap Train Tickets ( You could also take a bus or drive, but I prefer the train ride to sit back, relax and take in the French countryside.


When Giverny is open, a shuttle bus or tram (so cute-we took this one!) can take you from the train station to Giverny’s parking lot. The round-trip costs 10 euros or less and only takes about 15 minutes. You can buy your ticket on board.

If you really want to walk, it’s about 5KM or 3 miles and mostly flat following the tracks of an ancient railroad. Go down the Albufera street and cross the bridge over the Seine. At the roundabout ignore the signs for Giverny which are meant for cars. Go straight on, cross the first street “Route de Giverny” and take the pathway to your right just before the drugstore. Maybe next time I’ll try walking!

A Perfect Day in Paris

I’ve had the opportunity to visit Paris several times and it’s become one of our favorite places. Now, I want to share with you my idea of a perfect day in Paris.

Our love affair with Paris began with a wild and crazy nine-hour layover in between flights from the US to Lisbon. At CDG, we jumped on the RER train to the Eiffel Tower, walked beside the Seine River, and then hopped back on the train to the airport to continue our journey to Portugal. The sun was shining, we marveled at the beauty we had only dreamed about, and immediately began planning a return trip. Yes, Paris is magical. I hope that once you experience it, you will love it as much as I do. Enjoy the journey!

On subsequent trips for both business and pleasure, we stayed in various arrondissements and in Boulogne-Billancourt, which was close to the Microsoft office where I worked when I was here. I can’t say any areas disappointed, as each neighborhood had its own distinct personality. In Boulogne-Billancourt, it was like staying in a small French town close to the river and parks but accessible to Paris by a 15-minute Metro ride. Staying within Paris proper was convenient for seeing the top sites.

If I had to draw from all my experiences in Paris and put together what a perfect day looks like in Paris, here it is:


No matter where you stay in Paris, a café is not far away. They are all good. Take an outside seat, enjoy a coffee and a croissant, and people watch. Simple and perfect way to start the day.

Wander the Marais neighborhood and stop in any shop that catches your eye. I’ve found so many treasures doing this-jewelry handmade by the artist that I got to meet, vinyl for Thom, an oversized knitted sweater that now has a few holes but that I refuse to part with and the list goes on.

After the Marais, walk by Notre Dame (to reopen in 2024) along the Seine River perusing the stalls where they sell books and magazines. Cross the river on the Pont des Arts bridge where the locks are hung by lovers. Take pictures of everything.


Grab some wine, cheese, fruit (figs if they are in season and, on my perfect day, they are!), sandwiches and a baguette-all at different small stores specializing in their product. Take your goodies to Luxembourg Gardens for a picnic and more people watching. Find the Medici Fountain after you watch kids sail model boats on the central pond that served as an inspiration for a similar one in Central Park in NYC-another favorite place of mine.

On the walk back to the ARBNB to rest up after many miles of walking Paris, I would plan a route from Luxembourg Garden to Shakespeare & Co., THE bookstore to visit when in Paris. After grabbing a travel book and getting it officially stamped with their logo inside, it’s time for a nap and hydration before the evening activities.


Climb the stairs or take the funicular up to Sacre Coeur to catch the sunset over Paris. Wander around Montmartre and get an original painting by one of the many artists in the main square. (Get a cardboard tube to transport home your unique souvenir.) Grab an apertif at a café.

For dinner, I prefer a café that is unique or local. We’ve had some special moments at places that are off the beaten track. One of my favorites is Refuge Des Fondues in Montmartre where the wine is served in a baby bottle. Wear pants as you might be asked to climb over the table to get a seat on the bench against the wall. Patrons are packed in tight so don’t go here if you want a quiet experience. Enjoy a reasonably priced fondue prix-fixe menu with plentiful food and booze. I turned down a digestive shot offered by the waiter at the end of my meal and, as to not waste good liquor, he just downed it for me. Cheers!

Starting at sundown and until 1 am, the Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour on the hour for five minutes. It’s a party atmosphere around the Tower as everyone waits for the light show to begin. Once we were there and there was a full moon shining on us, making it all the more magical. Even after a long day, it’s worth it to go and experience it up close and personal.

Wander home afterward and get some well-deserved rest before another excellent day in Paris. Then, start planning your next trip to Paris to experience even more of what this great city has to offer!

Paris-Sacre Coeur and Montmartre

One landmark that draws me back every time I visit Paris is the Sacre Coeur Basilica and the iconic Montmartre neighborhood that surrounds it. For a perfect day to begin your adventure in Paris, visit Sacre Coeur perched on top of Montmartre overlooking the entire city of Paris and beyond. Completed in 1914, Sacre Coeur is a Roman Catholic church that is free to visit and where religious masses are still held frequently. Inside and outside, it is stunning.

From the fabulous stained glass and sculptures to the various crypts and chapels to explore, there is so much to see and appreciate but the centerpiece is the dome, which, according to Wikipedia, symbolises the celestial world, resting upon a rectangular space, symbolising the terrestrial world. The two are joined by massive columns, which represent the passage between the two worlds. If you don’t mind walking up a lot (300+) steps, you can climb the Dome for a spectacular view. Note: no elevator.

Paris is made up of neighborhoods aka arrondissements. Montmartre is located on top of a large hill (430 feet hight) in the northern 18th arrondissement on the Right Bank of the Seine. This area is known for its artistic history and stunning views and was established as a historic district by the City of Paris in 1995. Start your visit at the Montmartre Museum Organisation d’évènement au Musée de Montmartre à Paris (, which is in the house where Pierre-Auguste Renoir once lived. Other famous artists such as Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso lived and were inspired by this beautiful area. As you walk around Montmartre today, you can watch painting in action by the many artists with their easels set up on the streets. Perhaps a souvenir to take home and hang on your wall as a reminder of your wonderful trip? We’ve bought artwork before when we travel and love seeing it daily as a reminder of our journey. You can pick up a cardboard tube at local art supply stores to carry your treasure home safely.

Plan to spend some quality time just wandering around Montmartre. Include a meal at a café in the main square Place du Tertre and walk Rue de l’Abreuvoir street, one of the oldest and prettiest streets in Paris. Walk by, take a picture, and stop for a meal or aperitif at legendary institutions like La Maison Rose and Le Consultat on rue Norvins, which has hosted famous artists such as Dali and Toulouse-Lautrec. Take in the sunset with the crowd at the Sacre Coeur steps and end with a cabaret show at Accueil – English | AU LAPIN AGILE (, Paris’s oldest bar/cabaret since 1860.

Downhill (many steps!) from Montmartre and to the southwest is the Pigalle neighborhood, the home of the Moulin Rouge club. Even if you don’t spring for a night at the club (show with drinks and/or dinner), walk by and take some pictures of this iconic Paris institution. I haven’t made it to the Moulin Rouge show yet but am planning to include it on the Girls Trip 2023 agenda.


After the Eiffel Tower, this is one of the most popular tourist destinations so plan your visit accordingly. Come at the end of the day for a stunning sunset view or early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Up to you!

I didn’t take one but there are lots of walking tours of Montmartre: Montmartre Walking Tour: Paris’ Best Art, Culture and Food 2023 ( Maybe next trip!

We’ve stayed at various ARBNBs in this area. Our latest stay was at a one bedroom  just downhill in a cozy nighborhood with lots of boulangeries, cafes, and shops. ARBNBs are very affordable compared to hotels in Paris-about $200 USD a night depending on when you go vs. a nice hotel costing $400+. Always look for a “super host” and lots of good reviews plus a great cancel policy before you book any ARBNB. These are ones I’ve stayed at and enjoyed:

Charming 1 bedroom apartment in Montmartre – Apartments for Rent in Paris, Île-de-France, France – Airbnb

MONTMARTRE – PARIS – Cocooning flat (

Sacre Coeur is accessible by bus or metro line 2 at Anvers station. Sacré-Cœur Basilica is open from 06:00 to 22:30 every day and the dome is accessible from 10:00 to 19:00.

Montmartre is served by Métro, with Line 2 stations at Barbès–RochechouartAnversPigalle and BlancheLine 4 stations at Château Rouge and Barbès–Rochechouart, as well as Line 12 stations at Pigalle, AbbessesLamarck–Caulaincourt (one of the most photographed metro stations because of it’s iconic Parisian charm) and Jules Joffrin. It is also served by the Montmartre Funicular, operated by the RATP, ascends the hill from the south while the Montmartre bus circles the hill. (Wikipedia)

Florence in 7 days-Girls Trip 2021

OUR FLORENCE ITINERARY: You’ll notice that climbing the Duomo and visiting museums like the Uffizi Gallery aren’t on here. If that’s your jam, buy tickets online to skip the crowds. I prefer unique experiences and just walking the streets to soak up the culture and local feel. When we plan our Girl Trips, each person gets to pick an activity that is a “must do” and we schedule it on the itinerary after researching all the options. I have now personally experienced the following adventures, all of which I highly recommend, and can’t wait to share with you! I hope your trip to Italy will be as memorable and fun as our Girls Trip 2021. Enjoy the journey!

DAY ONE (Arrival)
We stayed at an ARBNB in the Oltrarno neighborhood-an area filled with sidewalk cafes and artisan shops. Less tourists, more locals. Airport transfer: our ARBNB host recommended a driver in advance, and we used him throughout our trip ($45 pick-up at airport & $50/hour for taking us on day trips-very nice Mercedes Van with room for five passengers). We walked around the neighborhood, got some groceries and unpacked.

Dinner –Trattoria 4 Leoni – Florence – Trattoria 4 Leoni – Florence Eat outdoors on Piazza della Passera-no English spoken by the waiters so download an app to translate the menu. The steaks were huge if you are a meat-eater and the pasta delicious.

Shake off jet leg and work out those legs at Boboli Gardens (reservations needed for weekends $13/during week $10/day but you can buy online or just get at the gate) Walk up the hill and get a stunning view of Florence. Use the back entrance on Via Romana-less crowded. Spend hours wandering. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring water.

Evening private tour of Torrigiani Gardens with host who lives at the family villa and dinner on the terrace made by his wife. 250 euros for 3 people-cash only (euros).  

Private walking tour for our group of three. Axel, our guide, took us all over Florence on both sides of the Arno so it was a great way to start our trip. We tasted everything: cheese, meat, pastry, wine, gelato! (Book online-we paid $209 USD for 3 people-plus we tipped our guide at end of tour-cash only (euros) for tips everywhere in Italy even restaurants. You can’t add a tip to the bill.).

Lunch at Babae, featured by Stanley Tucci (in Oltrarno) Opens at noon– book table on WhatsApp. They have a functioning wine door. Cheers!  

All day Tuscany tour of winery at Corzano and Paterno Farm, 50020 San Casciano in Val di Pesa, 40 minutes each way driving from Florence. Duration of tour/tasting is two hours. Arrange your own transportation. Book online: 30 euros per person-a bargain that included: Vineyard walk, cellar and dairy tour with a description of the production process. A light outdoor lunch with wines, cheese, cured meat, veggies, fruits, dessert and tasting of three wines. 

Private Cooking class just outside Florence-they provide transportation from Florence city center. Includes plentiful lunch with wine. Majla and her husband host you in their family villa. Cost was 135 euros per person and absolutely worth it to learn how to make pasta from scratch the Italian way.

Dinner at rooftop bar SE-STO on Arno -on top of Westin hotel. Gorgeous view of Ponte Vecchio bridge and river. Make reservations. May not get them if not staying at the Westin but you can try. We got in.  

Artisan Workshops Visit – Florence Artisan Tour – ArtViva will tailor to your wishes. We asked to see artisans making jewelry and leather goods. Private guide for 3 people was 50 euros each. Maria was our tour guide and interpreted for us so we could speak with artisans. Of course, we bought some great pieces to take home with us!

Dinner at rooftop bar in Piazza Santa Spirito: Loggia   

Local neighborhood walk in the Oltrarno with a visit to the market in Santo Spirito square and quick stop at Brancacci Chapel Cappella Brancacci, Florence – TripAdvisor and Parrocchia Collegiata Sant’Anna Cagliari (both places we were only ones there-you just walk in to see the fabulous chapels).

Dinner on the patio at La Loggia | Ristorante La Loggia in Piazzale Michelangelo (open 11-11 daily) Great view overlooking the city. Walk across the road past the parking lot to the edge and take stunning pictures of Florence.  

EVERY DAY-EAT GELATO Recommend these two places but there is no “bad” gelato: Gelateria La Carraia and Gelateria Santa Trinità (Oltrarno) are both amazing. Look for gelato in covered metal containers not large colorful mounds on display if you want the local stuff.  

SHOPPING-as much as you can fit in your luggage or do like we did and buy another big piece of luggage to check on your way home-cheaper and safer than shipping stuff: Most stores are closed on Sunday. Other days usually open 10-1 And 3-8-but it’s Italy though so who knows when they will be open! Stroll and visit the small shops in the Oltrarno run by the artists themselves selling their creations: leather, paper, jewelry, art. Artisans we visited on our tour:

Ginerva Gemmi (jewelry) and Frau Leman (leather). Both female artisans with unique pieces.  

NAA Studio showcased typical Florentine jewelry with stamping on silver.

We bought a lot at the Leather School-real Florence artisans working on sight and wide selection of locally made leather. They ship to US for free if you buy enough. They also stamp your initials on leather for free onsite as you wait.

Angela Caputi jewelry via S. Spirito 58R. Her collections are carried at museums and are stunning. I get so many compliments on the pieces I own. Several stores in Italy. They do not sell online so buy what you want while you are in Italy or regret it.

For more of my blogs about Florence, go here:

Florence: Reflections on Italian ARBNBs-Girls Trip 2021

We stay in ARBNBs for our Girls Trips so that we can each have a bedroom and a bath but can come together in common spaces to spend time together, at least the few times we are not out running around. We also like a kitchen, so we don’t have to eat out every meal. Our Florence ARBNB was in a villa in the Oltrarno neighborhood and owned by sisters, who rent out half of it (3 bedroom/2 bath) with a full kitchen and lovely outside space and then they live in the other half with their multi-generational families. What follows is my reflections on our Italian ARBNB journey!

Our villa oozed Italian charm but “cozy” it was not. Is that Italian living? While this post covers in detail what our ARBNB stay was like with lots of cautionary tales for future travelers, so they know what to expect, but please don’t think it was a bad stay. We will cherish being able to experience the Italian lifestyle, hard beds and all! That’s what I love about travel. It exposes you to the way other people live and makes you appreciate your own lifestyle when you get back home. Win-Win.

When I travel, I do love staying in apartments/houses in local neighborhoods to get a real feel for the country and culture. That being said, I am American and used to all things soft and convenient. I have multiple plush throws in our home, soft throw pillows, comfy chairs and large couches, etc. There was nothing soft in this ARBNB, but it was a very nice place so I’m thinking it’s probably the same all around Italy? The beds were very hard, the one couch we had was hard, the patio furniture was metal and hard. You get the theme. Hard. Perhaps that it is on purpose to encourage people to leave their homes and get out and be social? One cultural difference I appreciated was seeing families and friends congregating to eat at the local cafes vs. staying isolated in their homes watching endless TV shows. Everyone talking and enjoying life together-what a concept!

Spread out over three floors (with stone sloping steep stairs and a tiny elevator only to help with luggage), we did get quite the workout over the week. When renting an ARBNB in Europe, prepare for lots of stairs as elevators are a rare commodity. The tall original windows (4x longer than typical American windows) with indoor wooden shutters were utterly authenticate and charming. There were no window screens, though, which seems so dangerous to have around children if you are staying on an upper floor. I looked around other houses in Florence and the “no screens” seemed to be common. Also, the windows were wide enough when open to have an entire flock of birds (or bats) fly in while you are getting some breeze not to mention the insects (yes, they have mosquitos here) so, as picturesque as they were, we did try to keep the windows closed most of the time so as not to come home to a nest of birds in our space. I did make sure our ARBNB had a/c in the bedrooms. We each had a wall (not window) air conditioner to moderate the heat. If you are going any time it is hot, be sure to check the listing for a/c, which is not standard, and read the reviews to see if it works well. The thick stone walls did act as natural insulators as well as keeping out the heat.

I will say the bedroom sizes here were very large compared to the usual tiny dimensions of bedrooms in Europe. Don’t expect to sink into memory foam. The mattresses and pillows are thin and hard. The sheets vintage 1950 and the blankets were thin and rough. Sleeping like an Italian, you will probably walk 20,000 steps a day exploring beautiful Florence, so sleeping shouldn’t be a problem. You will be worn out!

Our place in Florence had a washer, which was terrific, and as is typical in Europe, there was no dryer. There was an outside clothesline you could hang items on to dry-just lean out the second story window and try not to fall as you place your items on display for the courtyard to see. I let my sister Becky do the hanging! We also used the drying rack (identical to the one I purchased in China for same use) and put it up in my bedroom to hang stuff on. Warning-these washers are so loud you would think a plane is taking off and landing. Do not run when you are trying to go to sleep!

Everything we needed for a happy week-long stay was provided. The function was there but it took a while to get used to the coarse towels. No need to get microdermabrasion now! Just give yourself a thorough rub down with these towels and you will say goodbye to that top layer of skin and feel years younger. None of this soft, fluffy towel stuff that pampered Americans are used to. If you use wash cloths, bring your own or buy some when you arrive. Wash cloths are not part of the towel assortment offered in most of Europe. I missed the warming towel racks like you find in Paris, which I love. Warning on the toilet paper: Charmin Ultra it is not. Ouch.

Our floor layout was not “open concept” and probably the result of chopping up the family villa into sections so they could rent out half and retain the original family living in the other half. You entered our ARBNB into the reception area on the ground level, where you check in and then enter your apartment. The only couch and 2 chairs are on this ground floor as well as a full bath. You then walk up 33 concrete stairs (luggage can go up in a service elevator). On the second floor, you have 2 bedrooms, a full bath and the kitchen/dining area. Up another flight of stairs is the attic bedroom, which thankfully Patti offered to take.

So, I would have loved to have had at least one comfortable couch on the main living level because going up and down the stairs to get to the main floor living room wasn’t practical and I can only sit on hard wood chairs for so long to eat dinner but not much after that. I’m just a soft American used to humongous soft sectionals, big screen TVs (no tv here) and even cushions on any hard chair or patio set. Here, it is wood or metal so get up and walk around the beautiful neighborhood instead of staying inside.

The bathrooms were bigger than most European ones with the usual handheld wand instead of an overhead showerhead with folding screen to keep water from escaping onto the floor. Of course, there was a bidet alongside the toilet. With ancient plumbing comes the lack of water pressure and flushing as loud as a freight train because water has to rise through all those ancient pipes from the lower depths on the villa. Whoosh! As is often the case in Europe, don’t expect lots of closets and hangers for your clothes. You may get an armoire but probably not. Pack less. Do laundry more.

I love coffee. A lot. I tend to drink about 3 mugs of coffee each morning. Here in Italy, they have these teeny tiny metal coffee pots that make a very small cup of coffee. My first attempt at making coffee at our ARBNB was a major fail. After doing some online research I can verify that you must put the water in the bottom, then the coffee goes in the middle, and you put it on the stove and the water shoots up as it is heated and somehow coffee is made. But only a tiny sip or two of coffee in one of the tiny cups provided. No mugs here. Nope. And forget just going out to get a Starbucks Grande Americano. No Starbucks in Florence proper-closest one is 20 miles out of the center of town, so I wasn’t able to get my usual Starbucks city mug to commemorate my trip this time. However, I’m going to Milan later this year and look forward to getting a mug at their new Starbucks roaster. Yes, Florence has lots of cafes, but they serve expresso in, yes, teeny tiny cups. They don’t seem to have “to go” capabilities. It is not part of the culture. Italians down an expresso at the bar, chat a little and quickly go about life. Unlike Americans who get their big, complicated coffee drinks from the drive-up window to take to work with them. So, when in Italy, adjust your expectations, embrace the local culture and enjoy the journey!

Accommodation questions to ask yourself before booking your vacation:


  • For ARBNB, look for “super hosts” and flexible cancel policies that allow you to cancel up to a week before you travel and still get a 100% refund. As someone who has lost big $$’s due to medical stuff popping up at the last minute that caused us to cancel reservations, the cancel policy is so important.
  • Read all the reviews. I don’t rent anything without multiple reviews. Comfy beds, a safe convenient neighborhood and cleanliness are important to us so I look for those features in the reviews.
  • How many bedrooms and baths are required-does everyone need their own bath? Harder to find that in Europe where one bath for a three bedroom is normal, and that’s if you can get three bedrooms,which is huge for Europe standards.
  • Do you need a kitchen-are you going to cook or go out to eat? For two weeks or more, I really need a full kitchen but can do without for less time.
  • Outside space-garden or patio? This might be a safety concern but for others who like to enjoy their wine sitting on a balcony it may be a necessity.
  • Wifi? We travel and I work remote so this is super important to me. While I can use my phone as a hotspot because I pay the international daily fees ($10/day), it’s not as stable for virtual calls.
  • Is there cable with English-speaking channels or a Smart TV where you can sign into your own apps like Netflix (just remember to sign out before you leave)? I don’t watch a lot but you never know when you may need to check out the news. We were in the UK when the Queen died and we did watch the local coverage.
  • Safety, safety, safety-ALWAYS check out the neighborhood where you would be staying before renting. Thom and I once stayed in a very local, somewhat sketchy neighborhood in Portugal where I didn’t feel so safe at night so we stayed in vs. going out after dark. Yes, it had a low nighly rate but for good reason. Check out the general neighborhood (you may not have an exact address on an ARBNB when booking) on Google maps. Are there restaurants, shopping, groceries, churches, etc. View the local area through street level cameras to get a feel for it.

HOTEL-if an ARBNB doesn’t work for you

  • Let’s talk check in time and check out time. If you stay in a hotel and arrive on a red eye early in the morning and can’t check in until 3 pm, hotels will typically check your bags for you so you can start immediately exploring. An ARBNB is less likely to be able to do this for you but you can ask. So, depending on your flight details, you may want to decide on a hotel vs. an ARBNB.
  • Want a pool or fitness center? I average walking 10,000-20,000 steps a day on vacation so I usually don’t need a fitness club.
  • On-site status members’ club at a hotel important to you? As my business travel peak when I was making many trips all over the world, I had free access to the hotel clubs with free booze and food which was wonderful.  I was very brand loyal in booking rooms just for this great perk. Marriott all the way!
  • View necessary? I like a view, preferably water, and will pay extra for it. Hotels may be more likely to have great views.
  • Accessibility to shops and cafes-is walking distance important? For longer terms stays, a grocery may be important to be close by. Remember, most groceries deliver now.
  • Pet friendly? When we travel locally by car, we bring along the pooch.
  • Kid friendly-I’ve rented places just for this feature if my grandkids will be with us so they are happily engaged playing while the adults relax.

Florence-Walking Food Tour-Girls Trip 2021

With our shins and calves aching after walking for miles, we prepared to do it again on Day 3 of our Girls Trip 2021. So much to see and do! Today’s adventure was a walking food tour booked through TripAdvisor. Our guide, Axel, met us on the steps of a church for our three-hour tour, and we were off to a caffeine stop at a lovely little café. No Starbucks here in Florence or Grande size coffees! The cafes serve espressos and tiny Americanos and cappuccinos. Most don’t have “takeaway” cups so expect to down it quickly at the café and get a quick caffeine jolt.

Our food tour stops after the café included Florence’s oldest market Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio which has been around since 1873. We wandered among the many butcher shops, cheese shops and food stalls where locals were buying their lunches. We bought coffee beans and hand cream at a little grocery stand-all made/grown in Florence and enjoyed tasting the “in season” fruit selection of peaches, plums, and grapes. Outside, there was a local market with clothes and household items. I got the first of many Italian pillow covers for a few euros. Great souvenir that doesn’t take up too much room in my luggage.

After the market, we walked to a tiny alleyway where we sat on the smallest of stools and sampled cheeses (not a big thing here other than parmigiana) and meats. Just when you think you can’t eat any more, you do. Now, to our credit, we did walk a lot! And the people watching was amazing. Across from our table was a small stall selling tripe (lining of an animal’s stomach) and wild boar (who roam the countryside and are hunted) panini sandwiches-both traditional Florence meats. No thank you!

The best taste of the day might have been at a bakery (of course) where the chocolate (big chunks) and cherry biscotti was to die for. My sister bought a big bag and has since ordered the biscotti shipped to her home in the US and also has learned to bake a similar version herself to feed her biscotti addiction. Yes, they were that good. Softer than the hard stuff we get in the US and bursting with flavor, they were baked in the little shop we visited. Ahhh the aromas of baking biscotti in Italy. Perfect.

Then, afternoon had arrived and it was time to bring on the vino! After touring the cellar of a wine store, we sampled the local white wine and had bread with truffle cream. Very tasty pairing indeed! The local balsamic vinegar is used on everything as is the olive oil.

As we walked over the Ponte Vecchio bridge, we learned an interesting history lesson from our guide: When the Germans were marching up through Italy, the General was told to blow up all the bridges in Florence to slow down their pursuers. Even he couldn’t bring himself to blow up the medievial Ponte Vecchio bridge. He blew up the rest of the bridges (which were rebuilt to look the same) and saved the Ponte Vecchio from destruction. Thank goodness for it is lovely to look at. Filled with gold shops and tourists, it’s not a place I would want to hang out but to photograph it with the reflection in the Arno river is lovely. To see the rowers out on the water with it in the background is stunning and iconic to Florence.

It was a hot day and the final stop on our tour was fortunately at a gelateria that makes its creamy sweetness locally as the line out the door would attest to it’s popularity. I had a 2 scoop cup topped off with a sweet wafer cookie-coffee and caramel crumble. Due to the heat, we ate quickly as it melted and bid adieu to Axel. You do tip the guides (euros only)-don’t forget!

Walking through a quiet side street off the beaten path, we saw a really well preserved “wine door” similar to what Stanley Tucci had featured on his Florence special. They used to pass wine through these doors to customers. We also saw some street art, which a local walking by who spoke English told us is against the law so you don’t see it widely across the city.

We headed home for showers, rest and a dinner with Gusta pizza leftovers, enjoyed in our private courtyard garden. Enjoy the journey!

Florence Artisan Shopping Tour-Girls Trip 2021

Shopping is always on the itinerary for any Girls Trip. In Florence, our ARBNB was located in the artist epicenter of Florence called the Oltrarno, so we decided to go on a tour of local artisans, see them in action, and buy directly from the person making the beautiful creations. Artisan day! When we are crafting our itineraries for our Girls Trip, we try to have each person pick one “must do” activity. Patti picked this tour as her activity for us because she is an artist, excelling in sewing, knitting, drawing, etc. Designing a curated trip just for us focusing on women artists, the ArtViva tour folks asked for direction in what we wanted to see, and we shared that we were primarily interested in leather and jewelry making. Our expert guide, Maria, picked us up at our ARBNB and took us on a walking tour to local artisans in our Oltrarno neighborhood.


Frau Leman creates her own leather and fabric handbags, luggage and accessory designs. Each piece is handcrafted by her in her cozy studio/shop. She took time to explain to us the different types of leather and why she picks a certain kind for each of her designs. She weaves in colors to all her pieces even if the outside is all one color, adding a pop of color to the lining or the side vents. After talking to artists like Frau Leman, I appreciate even more the time it takes to design and actually create the unique pieces they sell. Of course, we wanted to support these local artisans, so we just had to make some Christmas gift purchases while we were there. We also have their information now if we want to buy items online and have them shipped to use in the US. Frau Leman Firenze Leathergoods (@frauleman) • Instagram photos and videos via della Chiesa 21R

The other main leather shopping we did on our trip was at the Florence leather school Scuola del Cuoio. I’ve visited there several times and always come away with beautifully handcrafted items for myself and others. On the last visit, I scored a multi-color (black and red) glass case that I got monogrammed in gold (for free and done on site as you wait after you purchase). My sister ordered holiday presents for her office staff and had them shipped to the US (free shipping if you spend over $120 euros). Unique and high quality, there is something for everyone at the leather school. From bookmarks and leather bracelets to belts, journals and higher ticket items like their icon bag (which I want to get on my next trip!) to leather jackets. The shop is tucked away and hard to find but well worth it! You won’t be disappointed.


NAA Studio showcased typical Florentine jewelry with stamping on silver. The artist had an intern from the design school working for her to hone her trade. The intricate designs showcase the history of jewelry in Florence and Italy. One thing I noticed about the artisans is that their work is typically focused on one specialty that they are experts at like leather handbags or silver jewelry.

Ginevra Gemmi incorporates earthy and sculptural jewels shaped into earrings, rings and necklaces in silver, bronze and rough stones. She also photographs nature to showcase and inspire her designs even using the actual organic material such as leaves as her base, molding the metals around the leaves to get that natural look. You get a sense that she loves her little workshop/store space and enjoys talking to customers. Her puppy is her assistant and greets customers when not taking copious amounts of naps.  I now own several of Ginevra’s designs-a braided bronze ring and hummingbird earrings. I’m sure these won’t be the last artistic pieces I collect from her! Ginevra Gemmi Gioielli (@ginevra.gemmi.gioielli) • Instagram photos and videos via della Chiesa 29 Rosso

Our guide Maria pivoted quickly when we told her mid-tour that we would like to see some modern jewelry design too. She quickly jumped on the phone with her contacts and arranged for us to go by the Angela Caputi store in the neighborhood. The designer herself was at the workshop with her team. It was a very special moment when she stopped and talked with us through our guide as the interpreter. We even got a selfie! Her creations are inspired from American movies of the 1940’s as well as her long-standing passion for fashion. Her worldwide reputation has been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York and at the V & A Museum in London. Her creations have also been seen in many films and on the runways. She has six boutiques that sell her work including the one we visited in Florence. I admire her style-the white hair, the black dress, the unique eyeglass frames and, of course, her jewelry.  She uses bold designs and colors with simple materials such as synthetic resins. I am very happy to say that I now own several jewelry pieces from Angelia Caputi and get compliments on them every time I wear them! Shop Angela Caputi jewelry via S. Spirito 58R

Local Market:

After all this shopping, we stopped for a caffeine boost at a café on Piazza Santo Spirito where a market takes place every morning. From clothing to hardware to vegetables, the tables were full of hidden treasures that are sold to the Oltrarno locals. I jumped right in and found a beautiful vintage scarf for a few euros and Patti got a lovely leather bag for less than 20 euros. We also bought some figs to take back to the ARBNB, which were the most amazing figs I have ever tasted. When in Florence, take time to go to a local market and explore.

Whether you want to take a tour to meet and watch the artists create or just want to wander the Oltrarno on your own, sticking your head into any shop that catches your interest, don’t miss this special experience in Florence. Most artists will welcome your interest and explain their artistic process if they have time. They will certainly appreciate your purchases to help support their efforts. Enjoy the journey!