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.  www.info@giardinotorrigiani.it 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  https://www.palazzoguadagni.com/loggia-roof-bar/   

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 https://www.angelacaputi.com/en/ 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: https://travelswithmelinda.com/category/florence/

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 https://www.angelacaputi.com/en/ 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!

Florence Vineyard Day Trip-Girls Trip 2021

As much as we loved exploring the city of Florence on our Girls Trip 2021, we wanted to experience the Tuscan countryside too. A day trip to a vineyard with a wine tasting was in order so we found Fattoria Corzano e Paterno and took a forty-minute drive from Florence. Our day’s agenda included a vineyard walk and wine-making tour with a description of the vino production process. After learning about not only the wine business but also their dairy where they make their own cheese from sheep milk, we had the most delightful outdoor lunch and wine tasting. The views of the rolling countryside and other estates were spectacular.

This multi-generational family effort includes 20 family members making wine and olive oil, cooking food, herding the 700 sheep and making 14 types of cheese. They just harvested the white grapes and next up was the red grapes, which were impacted by the super-hot days they had in August. In November, they harvest the olives and make olive oil. Their cheeses they sell 90% within Italy and their wine they sell is 80% sold outside of Italy. Everything is done by hand. I will never complain again about the price of these items-once you see the incredible process, they have to go through to cultivate and make them, I can’t believe they aren’t more expensive! We will never forget this special day spent together in Tuscany among the vineyards.

To get there, we hired a private driver recommended by our ARBNB owners. Whether you drive or hire a driver, be warned that the last several miles of the trip are all uphill on a single lane dirt/rocky road so their vehicle must be up to the task. I cringed when our driver’s beautiful Mercedes Benz van hit the bumps hard, but he still came back and got us after the tour. We were afraid he might bail on us! At one point, he stopped in the road and got out to look for any damage. Luckily, nothing that he could see!

The following was included in our visit and it was only 30 euros per person-an incredible deal!

  • Vineyard walk, cellar and dairy tour with a description of the production process (30 minutes)
  • A light outdoor lunch followed (90 minutes)
  • Four wines to taste
  • Lunch included: cheeses served with locally produced Honey Tuscan white bread and Schiacciata (tradition Tuscan flat bread); Cured meats locally produced; Extra Virgin Olive Oils (mix and Mono cultivar); sunflower honey; Pearl barley and cheese; three different dishes with Seasonal Fresh Vegetables and Fruits (depending on seasonal garden availability-we had fennel with lemon; cantaloupe, grapes, and tomatoes with basil); Small dessert too!

After the tour, lunch and wine tasting, we got to relax and walk around the beautiful property, including checking out the pool they have for their overnight guests. Enjoy the journey!

Florence-Torrigiani Private Estate Tour-Girls Trip 2021

Our Florence Girls Trip 2021, after an eleven-hour sleep, began with a walk around our local neighborhood in the Oltrarno. More local and less tourist is always my preferred location when travelling. Locals, especially artisans, live in the Oltrarno neighborhood which is on the “other” side of the Arno River far away from the tourist madness surrounding the Duomo. Our ARBNB was in a villa owned by sisters, who now 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 families. It was lovely. Spread out over three floors (with stone sloping steep stairs and a tiny elevator only to help with luggage), we did get a workout over the week.

Just outside the villa gates (secured with key and very safe) and directly across the street was the back entrance to Boboli Gardens. Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, we strolled the paths, walked up many flights of stairs (get in shape before you come to Italy!) and saw beautiful views of downtown Florence and the countryside. Totally worth a few hours of your life to soak in the beauty of this oasis. We exited on the far side away from our ARBNB, which is next to Pitti Palace, and picked up some groceries for the week at the local Carrefour market.

After a brief rest, we were ready to walk the Giardino Torrigiani gardens in the family estate located in the Oltrarno. The largest private garden in Europe within the circle of the walls of a city, it covers over 17 acres. The Torrigiani family has owned the grounds since the early 1800’s. My sister discovered this unique experience on one of the many travel sites we researched for our trip. I emailed one of the Torrigiani family members and set up all the details.

Tommaso Torrigiani took us on a private tour of his family’s gardens, which showcases many elements with different influences from the Masons to the UK and was laid out to represent the seasons of life from birth to death. He shared the history and stories of his family’s heritage. The grassy field has been used in the past to relaunch the local football team. The beautiful tower is the Torrigiani family pillar and houses a library and a crypt. I will never forget herbs crumbling under our feet as we walked the garden, releasing their fragrances. Of course, the hemlock tree was used for nefarious poisoning in the past, so we avoided touching that one. A riverbed, dug with hopes of tapping into the city water, has laid dry for centuries as the water rights were denied to the family. Now and forever, it will be a river of leaves only.

Following our stroll, we entered the impressive family villa, meeting Uncle Vieri along the way. Ciao! We climbed the grand staircase to the outdoor patio where we had our multi-course dinner. I’m a vegetarian so they went out of their way to provide a sampling of local Tuscan delicacies that didn’t involve meat. Course after course kept coming out from Tommaso’s wife, our chef for the night, with local Vermentino white wine freely being poured and shared. Tommaso joined us for dinner and explained each course, where the ingredients came from and the history of the family recipes. Together, we enjoyed an amazing Italian feast:

Tomato and mozzarella with his family’s home grown olive oil and basil harvested from the property

Cheese, pear puree and grapes

Liver pate (for everyone but me!)

Tuscan bread soup-a traditional way to use leftover Italian bread, which generally has no salt and is pretty tasteless

Eggplant parmesan

Roasted pepper and cheese crostini

Breaded zuccini


As the crescent moon beamed at us high up in the sky and the party at the villa next door kicked up, complete with music, we ended our adventure and walked just a few blocks back to our place, ready for a good rest. Truly an experience I will never forget. Enjoy the journey!

Florence Cooking Class-Girls Trip 2021

Including a pasta cooking class in our Florence Girls Trip 2021 itinerary was a “must do”. When in Italy and all! Well, I can now make pasta! The ladies and I spent an amazing day taking a private cooking class with Majla the owner of The Accidental Tourist. Majla picked us up in Florence and drove us out to her family’s villa about 25 minutes outside Florence. Of course, it was up a narrow twisty road with hairpin turns that she executed at high speeds. She was a great driver, but I can’t imagine doing this every day! Since we were all “ladies of a certain age” we got along great and chatted away throughout the day.

Twenty-four years ago, Majla and her husband started The Accidental Tourist, conducting cooking classes and also hosting guests in their villa. Tastefully decorated in a unique style, the rooms they rent are quirky and memorable. Majla and her husband live in these rooms in the winter when there are no guests visiting but, in the summer, they move downstairs and rent out their living quarters. I loved the bed in the kitchen. Majla explained that having a bed in the kitchen was routine so that any family member who didn’t feel well could still feel included in the family food preparation.

Their home, like many here in Italy, is populated with many branches of their extended family-four different family units. This 900-year-old villa has been in their family for six generations. It features a lovely outside play area for the entire family to enjoy. The tower, she explained, was built along with others all across Italy in the 1100’s to signal messages between local towns. Along with the tower, a well was built so her families have inhabited this homestead for many, many years.

The local square is named after her grandfather because he hid people in their tower during World War II. He was epileptic and didn’t have to fight in the war. Instead, he stayed home, and since he spoke German, he negotiated with soldiers to save his village and the people there.  Majla still has his 1899 piano. Her grandfather made his living with it and taught music at colleges and wrote music. He also was a music critic and translated Kafka into Italian and was a friend of Einstein’s cousin. What a family history!

We booked a private class just for the three of us, but you can also book to be part of a group experience, which will only have eight people max. Prices vary depending on the experience you book but it is well worth the cost especially given the unlimited headache-free Chianti wine for all guests. If you need even more reasons to book a cooking class, for every meal served The Accidental Tourist provides one meal for a homeless person. Win-Win!

Overall, making the pasta was not that time consuming and fairly easy to do. Eating the pasta was even more fun! After we made all the noodles, Majla’s husband Marco started cooking the pasta for our lunch. In the interim, we had some other dishes including the best tasting ripe figs I’ve ever eaten. What a feast!

Homemade pasta is very delicious and doesn’t even need a sauce. I learned that only Americans drown their pasta in sauce. The ingredients they use in the cooking class are 100% organic, non-GMO, farm-to-table. The pasta is low in gluten. Just some olive oil, grated parmesan cheese and maybe a pesto sauce. The bread isn’t great in Italy-no salt-but it can be used to soak up the sauces. Below are the pasta making steps we were taught, but I also watch the YouTube video through a link Majla shares to remind myself before I get out my pasta machine (yes, I bought the same one we used in class!) and start cranking out delicious pasta. Enjoy the journey!

This is what I learned in the class:

  • Use non-GMO flour and pinch of salt and stinging nettle and mix into pile on table. If you want to try something different, sprinkle some stinging nettle powder into your flour. This herb is used for medicinal purposes.
  • Make a well in dry ingredients and crack an organic egg in center. Use a fork to stir the egg and start then to incorporate the flour. Use just enough flour to make a dough ball. Use sifter and put ball in and sift rest of flour around it. It will collect just what it needs, and you can discard the rest.
  • Then start squeezing the dough from hand to hand. Use leftover flour to coat hands frequently.
  • Knead the dough with heel of your hand on the table, using weight and folding over.
  • When a glossy ball, cover in beeswax or plastic and rest at room temperature for up to 12 hours (minimum of 1 hour).
  • Shape the dough into long flat pieces and then start feeding into the machine to flatten further and make thin. Do one pass through for each number on the machine (1-6).
  • If you want to be fancy, you can put whole sage leaves rolled between pasta sheets after all thin and then go thru manual pasta machine again.
  • Cut strips of pasta (two fingers for length of noodles) and then feed into the pasta machine to make noodles. Majla recommends that the noodles should only be long enough to twirl into one bite on your fork.
  • Use hand cutter for shapes other than noodles.

Book a class with The Accidental Tourist directly on their website: The Accidental Tourist

  • If you’d like to stay after cooking, eating and drinking, you can BOOK A NIGHT at the villa and…
  • If you are a digital nomad, looking for a place to work, or simply a magical place to find inspiration BOOK A STAY at the villa. I want to do this next time I’m in Florence!

Florence-Know Before You Go!

Florence is a magical place. I’ve been fortunate to visit several times and want to share some basic information with others who may be visiting for the first time so you can know before you go!


Make sure you check before you go anywhere. Some museums (not all) are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays. Small stores especially in non-tourist areas are also closed. Markets like San Ambrosia are closed Sundays but San Lorenzo was open and busy on a Sunday. We enjoyed the market of artisans on the Piazza by the train station, Piazza Sante Maria Novella. Thom chatted with an artisan who made Thom a fine leather bracelet to fit on the spot. Travel from there to San Lorenzo market, also open on Sunday, where you can shop at the many stalls all around the market itself and then go in and eat at Mercato Centrale which has a huge variety of diverse cuisine to choose from and tv’s to watch the local football aka soccer games. Do a little research before you set out to Florence and you won’t be disappointed!


Mailing postcards to our grandkids during each country’s stay is a must for us. It’s easier in some countries than others. Here in Italy, it’s a process. First, finding postcards in the tourist area is easy! I paid 50 cents for really nice ones. We like to mail postcards from everywhere we go to not only our family but to ourselves. There are some really artistic postcards out there that are a lovely souvenir when you get home. We framed ours and hung them on the wall. Then, go to the local bar/convenience store where they sell things like cigarettes, lottery tickets, and stamps. Each stamp to mail postcards to US cost me $2euros. Postcards written and stamped, now where to mail? I stopped a postman that was delivering mail on our street, and he spoke some English but couldn’t mail my postcards. He said they would sit in his office for a while (??) and it would be faster for me to find a red mailbox on the street and use that to mail them. So, off I went to a tourist section to find one. Nope-none to be found. While I was at a hotel trying and failing to get a reservation at their fabulous rooftop bar, I walked through the lobby like I was staying there and handed them to the concierge and asked “mail?” and he nodded. Score! Later as we walked the streets of Florence looking for street art, I did start seeing the red mailboxes hung on buildings. Now I know!

GETTING AROUND FLORENCE-Building numbers in red AND blue

I was having a hard time finding an artisan jeweler even though I had the address. After wandering for a while, we noticed as we walked down the street that each doorway had either a blue number on their doorway and/or a red number. These numbers are not sequential with each other; however, the red numbers are sequential, and the blue numbers are sequential. When I finally found the jewelry store, the artisan explained that businesses are given red numbers and residences and hotels are given blue numbers. Then, I looked at the address she has listed on her social media, and it clearly states “28R” aka “28 Red” after the street name. Ahhh! Now I can find my way around Florence and so can you! And, FYI, there are condom machines hung on buildings to keep the Florentines safe. I saw more of these than the red mailboxes.


There is no Uber in Florence. Taxi apps did not work for us despite repeated attempts. Bike rentals are possible but there aren’t bike paths. With the cobblestone streets and frantic drivers, I would not recommend bike riding. You could take a carriage ride in the tourist area, but I only saw one of these, so this service is fairly limited and probably very expensive. The public transportation to take in Florence is trams or buses or a limited subway. Buses run on schedule and get you where you need to go. Unfortunately, you can’t just tap on and off with your phone like you can in the UK. Italy has not quite caught up yet with current technology. You have to buy a paper ticket at a Tabac aka convenience store/bar. One ticket is $1.50 euros and are valid for 70 minutes from the time you validate them on the bus except in Florence where it is valid for 90 minutes. Who knows why??

Use an app to find a bus stop and times and routes. The Moovit app works well in Italy or Rome2rio app is good too. Some bus stops have an electronic reader board with bus numbers and estimated time of arrivals. Who knows-when you go to the bus stop, you may even find a new pair of shoes-the locals like to share items there that they no longer need. Our local bus stop had paper bus schedules taped on and could be outdated. I would recommend using an app. To validate your ticket, there will be a machine near the front of the bus as you enter. Stick your ticket in with the “please stamp here” end going in first. This will stamp your ticket with a date and time. Take your ticket out and keep it.

There are transportation strikes. Everywhere and any time. Leaving Florence, we saw notices of strikes taped at the bus stops. Just go with the flow and have a backup plan like walking, which is the easiest and fastest way to get around Florence. Enjoy this magical place!

My Italian Life in the Oltrarno – Reflections

My Italian immersion consisted of living in the cool Oltrarno neighborhood in Florence this past fall for two glorious weeks. The Oltrarno is where the locals live on the other side of the Arno River opposite from the Duomo and the major tourist attractions. If you like absorbing the culture of a place you visit, I highly recommend staying in an apartment in a local neighborhood for more than a few days. It. Was. Awesome.

Every day I would notice how the Italian lifestyle differed from the US lifestyle I am used to living. One Sunday, with the windows wide open to enjoy the sun after a rainy morning, I sat writing and listening to the bustling street life. Families were out in force socializing in the public park nearby. There was a sports clinic for kids taking place with loudspeakers rotating groups of kids from various interactive stations to try out everything from karate to dance to basketball to wresting to soccer.  Add in the frequent church bells, loud motorbikes screaming down the cobblestone streets, the guy on the accordion serenading the neighbors and generally loud animated Italian conversations and taking that afternoon nap was not going to happen. So, when you can’t beat them, you join them at the gelato shop!

Visiting the local gelato stand was a religious experience, serving so many delightful flavors. But for us, it was salted caramel for me, and blueberry infused chocolate for Thom. Really, best gelato/ice cream I have ever had in my travels around the world. One local gentleman rode his bike to grab some gelato with his 4 (?) pooches piled into multiple baskets (see picture below). They were quite the stars with people taking pictures of the loaded bike. Beware of the many “tourist” gelato places in Italy. If the gelato is piled high on display with vibrant colors beware-it’s not authentic gelato. You want to look for the local shops where the gelato is in metal containers with lids to keep in the goodness. Trust me. Also, if you walk buy a cafe offering $1euro take away wine, go for it. There is no bad wine in Italy.

We loved to walk the park on the next block and enjoyed seeing all the kids playing and the parents chatting while the older folks sat on the benches and chatted. Unlike in American where everyone pulls into their garage and you never see your neighbors, here in Florence everyone is very social and engaged with their community. At the cafes, you see the families eating together at big tables enjoying food and conversation versus looking at their phones constantly. Imagine having focus on a person rather than an electronic device. How refreshing!

It was still hot when we were there in September. Most European apartments don’t have air conditioning but ours did, though just wall units in the bedrooms because, as my ARBNB host said, “You are American so you will probably want a/c, but we Italians just open the windows.” The a/c units ended up leaking when we tried to use them on a hot day, so we lived Italian and just opened the windows. I worked remote while were there but didn’t mind because with the shutters flung open, the view certainly beat my home office back in Idaho.

Every day the lovely lady across the street would put a rug over the windowsill and lean on it watching the neighborhood come alive. The windows were large, letting in beautiful light, but none had screens (screens on windows are very American-but I wonder about the safety with kids???). Wooden shutters are on every window you see in the local neighborhood, which you can close and still get some breeze through when there is bad weather. You can open both the glass window AND the shutter to get the breeze. We got such a strong cross breeze when we opened all the windows that doors were slamming in the apartment and floor lamps were tilting so we had to monitor window openings based on the breeze strength.

With an apartment, we were lucky to get a washer but, as in most European countries, no dryer. I packed a travel clothesline with me and strung it up between the shutters in our spare bedroom. Many apartments have clotheslines on the outside of the building. You lean out the window and pin your clothes up to dry. (see picture above of my sister when we visited Florence a year earlier) Be careful hanging up your items securely or you’ll rain panties down on a passerby. The buildings are old in Italy and the electrical systems are just as old. We were advised not to use two appliances at once or risk blowing a fuse in our apartment. For example, if we were using the toaster, we wouldn’t use the microwave. We forgot once, of course, which set off a hunt for the fuse box, which was in the lobby not in our apartment.

I often wondered how the elderly or physically challenged manage their lives here in Italy. There are rarely elevators except in modern buildings. Rarely have we ever had an elevator at an apartment or small hotel in Europe. The stairs are usually stone, steep and sloping. We are in fairly good shape but hauling our suitcases (carry-on only!) up the stairs is never fun though you do get a good workout. Bear this in mind when booking accommodations.

I can’t wait to go back to Florence. I plan on renting the same apartment, eating the same amazing gelato, drinking cappuccinos at the cafe and exploring the beautiful streets of Florence. One afternoon we were crossing over the Arno and happened upon a drum corps in full regalia celebrating a local holiday (see picture above). These are the type of experiences that I will always cherish when I remember our Italian life in the Oltrarno.

Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence

Piazza Santo Spirito is my beloved epicenter in Florence. The Oltrarno (meaning the “other” side of the Arno River opposite the Duomo) is known as the meeting place of excellence for local Florence residents. Recently, we stayed in an apartment a few blocks away so that I could experience this beautiful place on a daily basis. On the square, the merchants are selling everything you need (or just want!) from clothing to bags to hardware to fruits/veggies. The focal point of the square is the Basilica di Santo Spirito. Built in the early 1400’s, you will probably see art students with their easels from morning light to the golden hour drawing this landmark. Go inside and appreciate every nook and cranny of this preeminent example of Renaissance architecture.

The locals shop at this market that happens every day during the week on the square but, on Sundays, the market expands with even more arts, crafts and food items to buy-mostly cash only accepted. To give you an idea of pricing, I got a lightweight knit sweater for $10 euros, a vintage scarf for $5 euros, an old table runner for $2 euros-so many treasures to discover!

The cafe life is strong in Piazza Santo Spirito. We were lucky to snag a café table for our lunch on a busy Sunday. The waitress in charge was very directive in telling exactly where to sit at our four top table-she didn’t seem thrilled to have two people taking up the whole space, but we just smiled and rolled with it. The café lunch crowd was primarily locals enjoying family dinner but there were some tourists like us that they put up with. Very reasonable prices and great meals-Thom had veal meatballs on top of mashed potatoes (the Italians never serve meatballs with pasta), and I had a lovely light salad with pears, pecorino cheese, walnuts and lettuce with an aperitivo. We enjoyed watching the diverse crowd on the square out to enjoy the beautiful warm day. This is the Italian life that I miss so much when back in the US.

Hidden gem alert: Enjoy your coffee on the covered patio overlooking the square at Loggia Rooftop Bar at Hotel Palazzo Guadagni, which is also a great place for an evening cocktail. The view is awesome and it’s just a pleasant place to be. After a cappuccino or espresso and a pastry, bring your cash to the market on the square and gather food from the various vendors for dinner. I had the best figs of my life purchased from one of the market vendors-if you are in Florence during fig season (June to September), you are very lucky. When we arrived in late September, the figs were all gone. One more reason to go back to Florence soon!