Florence in Two Days

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With some serious planning, you can see Florence’s most famous sights in just a few days, as all the must-sees are within walking distance to each other.

Day One

Start your day by visiting the famous Accademia Gallery Museum where Michelangelo’s David is.  Be sure to reserve your tickets in advance by calling +39 055 294883 or by visiting http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/en/musei/?m=accademia.  Although we found it easier to call their number directly than to book the tickets online.  You will be given a reservation number and a time for admission.  The day of your visit you will have to proceed to the reservation desk 10 minutes before your reservation time where you will pay for your tickets.

Upon exiting the Accademia Gallery Museum, you can visit The Basilica di Santa Croce (closed on Sundays and religious holidays for visitors) where some of the world’s most celebrated Italians are buried, including Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Rossini.  This is a beautiful cathedral and a must-see while you are in Florence.  Once you have visited the cathedral, you can stop by one of the many cafés and restaurants on the Piazza Santa Croce.

In the afternoon, you can visit the famous Uffizi Gallery where works like The Birth of Venus by Botticelli can be found.  Since a trip to the Uffizi Gallery can be overwhelming on your own, you can book an organized tour where you will be taken through the highlights of the museum in 2 to 3 hours.  A company called ArtViva offers fabulous ones and you do not have to worry about buying tickets in advance or what to see.  If you prefer to go on your own, follow the same steps as for Accademia Gallery and call the number provided above.

Finish up your day by visiting the Piazzale Michelangelo, offering one of the most spectacular views of Florence.  The easiest way to access the Piazzale Michelangelo is by taxi depending on where you are in the city as it can be a bit of a hike uphill but it is well worth the visit.  Once you have taken a few pictures of the city, you can descend down to the neighborhood of San Niccolò which is situated on the southern side of the River Arno.  Walk down Via San Niccolò to enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants located in the neighborhood.

Day Two

On day two, explore this majestic city by taking a walking tour.  There are several companies that offer great walking tours of the city but our favorite is also by ArtViva.  ArtViva’s tour lasts 3-4 hours and gives you an in depth look at the history and most important sights of the city, including the Ponte Vecchio and finishing up at The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as The Duomo, which is the city’s main church and most iconic sight.

Upon finishing up the tour and depending on how much time and energy you have, you can visit The Palazzo Vecchio, The Palazzo Pitti, and the Boboli Gardens (located behind Pitti Palace).  With that said, based on what you enjoy the most, you can choose to visit The Palazzo Vecchio if you are more into history or The Palazzo Pitti if you are more into art.

What to eat while you are in Florence

Italy’s Tuscany region is famous for the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Florentine-StyleSteak from cows of the region (Chianina).  Those who love meat will enjoy this steak but it is important to note that this type of meat is very different than the typical U.S. cut of steak and can be a little tougher.  Other dishes that are typical from the Tuscany region include the ribollita soup, which is a soup made out of vegetables; the crostini or bruschette; and the pappa al pomodoro, which is a dish made out of bread and tomato sauce.

Important things to note during your visit in Florence

  • The Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery are both closed on Mondays.
  • The Duomo is only open from 1:30pm – 4:45pm on Sundays and religious holidays, and times vary on Thursdays.
  • Florence is a “walking city”, which means that access to certain parts of the city by car is restricted unless you have a special permit.  This is important to note if you are planning on renting a car to go to Chianti or to any of the neighboring cities.  Also note that it can be a challenge to rent an automatic car.  We had made a reservation through a U.S. based company to rent an automatic car, which was not available at the time we showed up to the car rental place.  Luckily one of the people in our party knew how to drive a manual.  Another challenge we faced while renting a vehicle while in Florence was that they did not have GPS available (especially if you go during the high tourist season…September), so print out directions beforehand or get a phone plan through a local provider in order to have access to Google Maps.
  • Beware of knock offs and not necessarily made in Italy leather items in the Mercato di San Lorenzo…where vendors are known to remove the “Made in China” labels to replace them with “Made in Italy” labels.
  • You can not hail a taxi in Florence.  If you need to get a taxi to go somewhere, ask a nearby restaurant or hotel to call you one.
  • If you are in Florence for a long period of time and want to take a day trip to one of the neighboring towns, the Chianti region or Siena are both great options.  You can also drive or hire a driver to take you to Montalcino (a 2 drive) or Pienza, located in the region of Val d’Orcia.  Val d’Orcia has one of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy.

Photo of the Day: Monte Carlo Casino


A must-see while you are in Monte Carlo.

Picture of the Day: Bora Bora

TahitiPicture of overwater bungalows, taken at the Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa.

One Week in Chicago

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Chicago has become a popular destination for visitors around the world, not only because of its undeniable beauty but also because of all what the city has to offer – world renown restaurants, well curated museums, excellent shopping, and some of the nicest people in the U.S.  These are some of the reasons why Chicago was named in the top 25 destinations to visit in the United Sates, according to TripAdvisor in 2014.  Chicago came in at #2, just behind New York City.

When to visit

The best time to visit Chicago is in the summer, so you can avoid having to be confined to the indoors because of the polar temperatures.  If summer is not an option for you, the fall and spring are also good options; but try to avoid the winter months at all costs, especially January and February as it can get brutally cold during these months.

One Week Itinerary

Day One

If visiting during the spring or summer, start your vacation by exploring Chicago by boat.  Shoreline Sightseeing offers good architectural tours, as well as amazing tours along Lake Michigan.

Upon exiting the boat tour, stroll down Michigan Avenue (going north).  Visit many of the stores located on Michigan Avenue, including Burberry, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Topshop, Forever 21, and if your budget permits go west on Oak Street for some high end shopping.  Water Tower Place along Michigan Avenue also has some great stores.

If you get hungry, Bandera, Shake Shack, Bar Toma, Grand Lux Café, Le Pain Quotidien, or Big Bowl are great options for lunch.

Day Two

Start your day early and visit the Art Institute of Chicago, rated the number #1 museum in the world according to Trip Advisor in 2014.  The Art Institute of Chicago offers world renown collections, some of our favorites being their impressionist and post impressionist collections which include artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Check out their calendar for a list of events you can attend, including their free highlight tours which usually take place on Tuesdays at 2pm.  This is a great way to visit the museum and learn more about the authors and their pieces.

After visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, continue your tour of the city by seeing the Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) and Millennium Park which are very close to the museum.

If time allows, end your second day in Chicago with a little bit of shopping along State Street by visiting Macy’s (located in a beautiful historical building), Block 37, and more.

Day Three

A trip to Chicago will not be complete without visiting Navy Pier, especially during the summer months when you can see the fireworks.  Navy Pier is also the perfect place to visit with your kids because of all of the attractions especially geared towards the little ones.  For more information on Navy Pier, please visit their official website.

Day Four

Visit Chicago’s Museum Campus which includes three of Chicago’s most prominent museums: the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum.

Finish your day by walking to the Buckingham Fountain to take a picture at this beautiful location.

Day Five

On day five, take a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo, a favorite among Chicago locals.  Then head over to Clark Street to find a place to eat.

During the afternoon, visit 360 Chicago (formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory) or the Sky Deck located inside the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower).

What else to do in Chicago

Chicago is known for its amazing restaurants, which is why year after year they continue to rank in the top restaurants around the world.  If you are looking to have a unique experience at one of Chicago’s best restaurants, websites such Metromix Chicago, Yelp, and Chicago Eater can help you pick a restaurant that meets your likes.  Some of our picks include Gibsons, Tavern on Rush, Carmine’s, Mastro’s, Siena Tavern, RPM Italian, Sunda, Frontera Grill, Fig & Olive, Girl and the Goat, and Freds.  It is strongly recommended that you make a reservation as restaurants in Chicago tend to book way in advance.

Other things to do while you are in Chicago include going to a Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field, attending a concert in the summer at Ravinia, taking your kids to Six Flags Great America for a heart pounding adventure, or going to see a comedy show at the famous Second City.

Photo of the Day: Cloud Gate aka the ‘Bean’, Chicago

Cloud Gate

One Week in Tokyo

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Tokyo is one of our favorite cities in the world and a must-see while you are in Japan.  Tokyo offers the perfect combination of culture with the benefits of a large cosmopolitan city – great restaurants, shopping, outstanding public transportation, and nightlife.  Tokyo will not leave you disappointed and you will leave the city wanting to come back for more.

In order to be able to experience Tokyo at its fullest, you will need to spend at least one week in Tokyo.  Below is great one week itinerary of top places to visit while you are in Tokyo.  Please note you will also need some time at the beginning of your trip to get adjusted to the time difference depending on where you are coming from.

Day 1


Shibuya is known for its famous pedestrian scramble, which you will experience upon exiting the Shibuya Station.  This district is also known as one of Tokyo’s most popular fashion districts for the shopping places around Shibuya Station, as well as the nightclubs and restaurants in the area.

Meiji Shrine

A visit to Tokyo would not be complete without seeing the Meiji Shrine and the gardens surrounding it.  Meiji Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and is located beside the Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line.


Omotesando, which is often referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees, is a scenic tree lined avenue known for its stores, restaurants, and cafés. Be sure to walk around the small alleys for some amazing restaurants and cafés.

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Photos of the Day: Chicago

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Pictures taken from Sophie’s restaurant, located on the 7th floor at Saks Fifth Avenue.


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Pictures of beautiful Greece courtesy of Angelica Pelayo.

Rome – Suggested 3 Day Itinerary

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Rome is one of the world’s greatest cities for its rich history and art.  What also makes Rome so unique is its amazing food and people, so try to balance your visits to the major sights with leisurely strolls around some of the neighborhoods.  Ideally you will need at least a week to visit Rome, as the city is packed with sights making it nearly impossible to take them all in on one short trip.  But if you are short on time, below is a 3 day itinerary for Rome with some of the must-see sights.

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Kyoto, Japan

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Kyoto is one of the most popular destinations in Japan because of its rich history and for being one of the oldest metropolises in Japan.  Kyoto is all about its beautiful temples and shrines; of which most are located in scenic mountainous locations.  You will need at least 3 days in Kyoto to explore everything the city has to offer.


Kiyomizudera temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.  This temple has one of the most picturesque scenes you will experience while in Kyoto.  Kiyomizu-dera sits on top of a mountain and provides magnificent views of the city.  These views and the rich history of the temple make it one of the most visited temples in Kyoto.  On the way down from Kiyomizu-dera, you will find cobble-stone streets with vendors and tea shops for all your souvenir shopping.

Kinkaku-ji (“Temple of the Golden Pavilion“)

Kinkaku-ji is a picture perfect image of Kyoto.  The top two floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf, which is what makes this temple so impressive and worth seeing.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites and served as the residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns.  The castle itself is beautiful, as well as the very expansive gardens that surround the castle.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha is known for its thousand lacquered gates that travel from the base of a mountain to about 4 kilometers hillside.  This is the head shrine of Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity.  Walking the mountain trails can take up to 3 hours but make sure you reach the lake that is nestled into the mountain side.  The lake and the mountains provide spectacular views.


Sanjusangen-do is a must-see while in Kyoto.  It is 120 meters in length making it Japan’s longest wooden structure.  Also, Sanjusangen-do is most famous for holding 1,000 statues of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) and 28 statues of guardian deities. In addition, Sanjusangen-do also houses a large wooden statue of a 1,000-armed Kannon.

Worth Noting

The above recommendations are for a 3 day in stay in Kyoto. For additional sites and places to visit, Fodor’s Japan guide is amazing and full of great recommendations. Japanguide.com is also a great resource.

Walking tours are very popular in Kyoto and are a great way to get to know the city.  WaRaiDo Guide Networks Co., Ltd. offers a phenomenal 5 hour walking tour in English.  This tour will take you to the non touristy spots while you learn more about the history and culture of Japan.

Side Trip

You can take a side trip to Nara, a Unesco World Heritage site, which is only 45 minutes by train from Kyoto.  For more on Nara, visit our one day recommendations on this beautiful city.