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Arriving in Florence

Our introduction to Florence – the center of Tuscany

Background

Our first trip to Florence was part of an Italy Tour in Fall of 2017. Florence is the birthplace of Renessaince, home to some of the best museums in Italy and the largest city in Tuscany.

Getting There

We arrived to Florence from Venice via Bologna in train. The trip took about 2.5 hours. We booked the tickets months before online back in our home in Atlanta, GA, USA. Train reservations are fairly easy via the train italia website.

Below is a clip of our train passing Bologna.

Passing Bologna on the way to Florence

Galleria dell’Academia

We stayed at a Air BnB rental in Florence. The city center was a 15 min walk and the train station was a 20 min walk. We could also opt for a taxi or bus.

Our first stop next morning was Galleria dell’Academia which houses one of the most famous sculpture – Michelangelo’s David. The lines at the entrance goes around the block, so it was good we did our reservation online a week before. Below is a picture of Glenda on the reservation line as some street musicians entertain us by the sidewalk.

Here are some pictures from the museum including the sculptures – David and ‘Sabine Woman’ .

The museum’s gift shop was pretty good. And just 10 minutes walk from the Academia Gallery takes us to the historic city center. More on that in the next blog! Below is the highlight video of our visit to this world famous museum. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel or add the Tuscany Playlist in your favorites to view all the videos from tbis region.

Academia Gallery in Florence

Tennessee Aquarium

in search of the river monster!

The Tennessee Aquarium is the largest freshwater aquarium in North America. It has an impressive collection of river fish and animals.

The aquarium is conveniently located in downtown Chattanooga. Visitors can park in one of the visitor parking locations and take the free eletric trolly shuttle to the aquarium. Check out the video and the photo gallery below for some exciting encounters at the aquarium with alligators, giant fish, turtles and much more!

Famous Architectures – A history told in a thousand years

A 1000 year of history told through magnificent architectures

In this video series we take a tour of the famous architectures around the world that tells a historical timeline of the past 1000 years.

We start in the middle ages in the nation-state of Pisa. Then visit french medieval sites of Notredame in Paris and Pope’s palace in Avignon. Then explore the wonders of Venetian Empire of late middle ages.

Renaissance wonders by Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Vasari take us to Sienna, Florence and Milan. We then turn to the Spanish empire’s golden age in Seville.

The demise of Spanish Armada leads us to London, England during the Tudor reign in the 16th century. Followed by 17th century reign of Louis XIV in Versailles.

We then move east to Hapsburg Austrian Empire of 18th century in Vienna. Then explore 19th century Bavarian castles of King Ludwig II that gave way to German Unification.

We then head back west to visit the marvels of Industrial era and late 19th century Parisian architecture like Eiffel Tower and the modern Louvre.

Finally we cross the Atlantic to explore the rise of a early 20th century giant city in Chicago. Further crossing the Pacific, we reach Sydney, Australia and visit the wonderful post – WWII architecture in Sydney Opera House.

We end our trip in a architecture landmark of the modern era – CN Tower in Toronto, Canada.

Chicago – A City Tour

A video blog of our tour of Chicago

Chicago is one of the largest city in North America, located by the great lakes. It is known for it’s magnificent mile architecture wonder works, and also for its famous museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field museum. In this video blog we explore the windy city from high above the Sears tower and the John Hancock building. We then take a walk along the magnificent mile and enjoy the view.

Travel Guide – Exploring Europe in 4 weeks

Europe travel guide

Travelling across Europe, especially in summer, can be an exciting adventure. This is a brief guide on how to do it based on our own real life experience. The guide is primarily geared toward residents from North America but applicable for most travelers flying into Europe. The travels in this guide took place between 2015 and 2019.

Planning

To prepare, you should start planning at least 6-7 months ahead. A helpful resource for planning is Rick Steves Europe Travel Guide and his audio guide and books.

We use hotels.com and AirBnB for accommodation, Kayak for airlines, Duolingo app for foreign language learning, Viator/TripAdvisor for guided tours, Man in seat61 for train connections and Google Search for train, maps and attractions. Make sure you have an international plan with your wireless carrier for your smartphone. Verizon and T-Mobile has the most Europe friendly plans in our experience. For best price and availability, book ahead by at least following timeline:

  • International flights: 3-5 months
  • Long distance Trains: 3 months
  • Flights within EU: 2-3 months
  • Car Rental: 6-8 weeks
  • Hotels/AirBnB: 4-6 weeks
  • Guided Tours: 4-6 weeks
  • Local Trains: 2 weeks

It is better to book the international flight first so you know where to fly in and then plan remaining itinerary.

Places to Visit

The sites visited and the accompanying video blog series are described in my blog Best Of Europe. When in a site, use your smartphone and Google map as much as needed to get the most out of your visit.

The roadmap

Visiting all these sites in a single trip is possible if you have 4-6 weeks in hand. However, you can split it in multiple trips to suit your budget and availability. Below is a suggested itinerary.

1. Fly into Europe via A) London, Then take a flight to Vienna, Austria. Or B) fly to Vienna directly.

2. Take a guided day trip from Vienna to Budapest, Hungary. Explore Vienna as well.

3. Take an OBB train from Vienna to Salzburg for a half day tour. Then a scenic train trip from Salzburg to Munich.

4. Take a day trip from Munich into Bavaria exploring Oberammergau, Linderhof and Newscheinstein. Then head to Zurich via train and enjoy the scenic Rhine river valley and nearby Basel and Rheinfelden.

5. Fly or take train from Zurich to Milan. Take a day tour to Lake Como. Then explore Milan before heading to Venice by train.

6. Explore Venice, then take the train to Florence. Explore Florence. Then take a day trip of Tuscany covering Siena, Pisa and San Giminano.

7a. Head to Genoa by train. Then take a Mediterranean cruise from Genoa or Savona exploring Marseilles, Nice, Monaco and Barcelona. Take day excursions from the cruise ports. Then fly to Marseilles. An alternative to cruise is available in next step.

7b. If skipping cruise then fly from Milan or Florence to Nice. Then explore the Riviera (Nice, Monaco, Ezze, Cannes) by car.

8. Rent the car (preferably automatic and German) from the airport. Then explore Provence by car including Avignon, Arles and Niemes.

9. Fly from Marseilles or Nice to Madrid. Explore Madrid. Then take the train to Seville. Explore Andalusian sites like Ronda, White Villages, Granada via guided day tours. Then head back to Madrid via Cordoba in Train. Spend half or a full day in Cordoba to explore. From Madrid take a flight to Paris.

10. In Paris explore the beautiful city as well as nearby Versailles. Take guided tour to nearby Champagne region or Normandy.

11. Then fly or take the train to London. Explore London. If your entry to Europe was in Vienna then fly back to Vienna. Finally, head back home!

Sydney Tower – Exploring Sydney From Above!

Touring the tallest tower in Australia

Sydney Tower is the city’s tallest structure and the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere. The tower stands 309 meter (1,014 ft) above Sydney central business district.

The tower is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Sydney. It can be seen from a number of vantage points throughout town and from adjoining suburbs.
Four sections of the tower are open to public, three of it occupied by Sydney Tower Dining. The 360 Bar and Dining, which offers revolving views of the Sydney skyline, is located on level one of the Sydney Tower. The menu is of good variety and delicious, although a bit pricey. However, the view is worth the admission! We recommend a late afternoon seating so you can enjoy both the sunset and night view of Sydney.
The observation deck, called the Sydney Tower Eye, is located on level four. Visitors can buy a pass from the operating company, online or at the gate. The pass allows access to other Sydney attractions including Wild Life Sydney and the Sydney Aquarium. The Sydney Tower Eye is located 250 m (820 ft)above ground level. It has a fully enclosed viewing platform featuring 360-degree views of the city and surrounding areas.
Each year the Sydney Tower Stair Challenge comprises the challenge of running up 1,504 stairs from Pitt Street Mall to the Observation Deck. The event is to raise money for the Cancer Council, and the two winners become eligible to compete in the Empire State Building Run-up.

The tower has been featured in popular films like Disney’s ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Mission Impossible 2’.

Check out the video below for a quick tour of the tower eye and dining experience!