36 Hours in Barcelona

view from parc guell

After seeing a deal for very cheap flights to Barcelona in January, me and my housemates decided it would be a great idea to do a whirlwind trip. This ended up falling just after I got offered my new job, and my housemate received some bad news, meaning we were definitely in need of a holiday.

How We Got There
EasyJet; the OG cheap flight provider. We had a fairly smooth journey to Luton Airport, although I will say that National Express aren’t kidding when they say you should get to the stop early, as their coaches will just leave even before the time they’re scheduled. Other than that our flight both to and from Barcelona were really smooth, and were not even bothered by the Beast from the East in any serious way.

Where We Stayed
Barcelona was our first Air B&B experience, and I only have good things to say! It was in a fab location, just outside the Palace of Music, and in the heart of the bar/restaurant scene. We could walk around the Gothic Quarter easily from our flat, and it was really cosy. My housemate and I are repeating the experience in Manchester in June, so fingers crossed it’ll be as nice then.

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What We Did
My housemates and I firmly embraced our inner tourists for our speedy visit. We visited Parc Guell, which offered pretty great views across the city, though I cannot imagine going up there in the height of summer. There is a pay-to-enter area which features all the famous mosaics, but they were all under repair so we decided to save ourselves the money.

We then obviously visited La Sagrada Familia, which is just an unreal sight. It’s even bigger than I thought, and it’s little wonder that it’s taken so much longer than originally planned to build. We also visited the beach, which is beautiful and definitely something that I wish all cities had!

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On our second day we had a browse of the shops, including heading down Las Ramblas and visiting La Boqueria, the famous food market. I will say that what people warn about this area being a hot bed for pickpocketers is true; my housemate narrowly avoided getting her phone stolen.

We generally either walked (thanks to City Mapper being available abroad) or used the Metro where necessarily. The three of us shared a T-10 card which felt weird, but was great value for money.

Where We Ate
La Lluna, Carrer de Santa Anna. This was a recommendation from a friend and we really liked it. Although one of our tapas dishes got lost on the way to the table (RIP patatas bravas), the rest of them were delicious and really fresh.

Alsur Cafe, Placa de Sant Cugat & Carrer de Sant Pere Mes Alt. We went to two different branches of this cafe for breakfast and were really impressed. The menu is really varied, and different; savoury waffles, brunchtails etc.

Lolita, Passeig de Joan de Borbo. After being blanked by not so friendly staff at restaurants near the beach, we retreated to the harbour area to Lolita. Service was great, and so was the tapas (who knew aubergine would taste so good with honey). Sitting here with a jug of sangria in the sun made me feel incredibly chill.

Bilbao Berria, Placa Nova. This place was just quite fun. Everything came on bread! And you picked which ones you wanted, and then the waiters count the cocktail sticks to charge you, a bit like a Spanish Yo Sushi.

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Amy
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A Year in Review: 2017

top images 2017

2017 was a bit of a whirlwind year. Looking back at it, I remember the early months and then everything post August seems to have been one massive blur.

It’s also been a year that has contained many ups and downs. I’ve had some fab holidays, eaten at some really nice places and had the best time with the friends that I’ve made. But there’s also been some pretty rubbish moments; both due to the ongoing garbage fire that has been the news, and some bad times at work, which have meant that I was quite glad to see the back of this year. However, I did want to look over the highlights of last year, to get me in the zone for taking 2018 by the horns.

A Year in London
In August I marked surviving my first year living in London. I had my worries about living here, mostly focused around how expensive rent is, whether I would find nice housemates and whether the pace would cause me to burn-out spectacularly. 

Fortunately, whilst it is a horrendously expensive place to live and warps your perceptions of the cost of everything (£500,000 for a 1-bed flat? Reasonable!), I have loved being here. I really landed on my feet finding housemates who have become actual, proper friends who have pushed me to say yes to more things than I would ever have before.

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Living here also means you have access to numerous places for food, and this year has been an absolute treat when it comes to eating out (highlights include Gaucho, The Oxo Tower Brasserie, Dalloway Terrace for afternoon tea and The Modern Pantry). I’ve also been lucky enough to see loads of brilliant theatre, and I managed to get tickets to see Arcade Fire at a tiny boxing venue and a great nice watching one of my favourite bands. 

Whilst I can understand that the cost of living here, and the perma-overdraft life can definitely take its toll, the idea of leaving feels pretty unbearable. 

A Trip to Paris
As I mentioned, this year featured two pretty great holidays. The first was a crazily spontaneous trip to Paris for my 24th birthday. Lounging on the sofa with my housemates, I mentioned that I’d never been to Disney or Paris. Somehow within about 45 minutes we had Eurostar tickets, hotel and Disney passes booked. 

Paris is a city I’ve had a bit of an obsession with since I was a teenager studying French at school; it just seemed the height of glamour; and watching numerous films and TV shows that featured it over the years didn’t do anything to dent that perception. 

So, despite the rain and the slightly dodgy food in the Eiffel Tower restaurant, I was beyond thrilled to see this city with my own eyes. Ticking off the Champs Elyees, the Louvre, the aforementioned Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, I had a fantastic 24th. I then thoroughly enjoyed embracing my inner child at Disney. You can read more about the trip here.

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A Trip to Las Vegas
I’m not going to go into too much details about this as I literally just wrote a post about it, but my trip to Las Vegas was a pretty late highlight of my year. Getting to travel ‘abroad abroad’ for the first time with friends and travelling to the US was pretty great. It also meant I could check off seeing the Grand Canyon from my bucket list.

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Having Great Friends
When the going gets tough, having good people to turn to is really important, and this has really showed over the past 12 months. From the above amazing holidays with my lovely housemates; somehow attending a ball in Oxford with my work friends; picnics in Battersea with my school friends; catch-ups with my former work friends that literally lead me to lose my own voice. I feel very lucky to have them.

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Work Work Work
Whilst work has been a little all over the place this year, and I’m currently a bit :internal screaming: about my future, there are definitely moments that I’m really proud of. Writing a document that has a real impact on shaping the future of my organisation; delivering a programme of music festivals over the summer; and finally discovering my backbone. I’m hoping 2018 will see some positive changes in this area.

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Top Books I Read in 2017:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, an incredible debut novel which explores the history of slavery and colonialism, beginning with two sisters Effia & Esi; one who is sold into slavery, and one who marries a slave-owner.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, a brilliant part-memoir/part passionate argument for a remodelling of the US justice system is a very important book.
How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, I fell head-over-heels for Ellis’ memoir of a life in reading and attempting to find herself in novels.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Green’s latest work is unlikely to convert anyone who isn’t already a fan, but I loved this painfully honest look at mental illness
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, a young adult novel will tackles issues that I’d never read about in fiction, The Hate U Give follows Starr as she grapples with the unlawful shooting of her friend by a police officer.
Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a blistering memoir of Coates experience of race-relations in the US
Special mentions also need to go to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss and Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Top Films I Saw in 2017:
La La Land,
I unashamedly loved this film. Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling are wonderful as the central couple, the music is great and whenever I watch it I get an old-school musical high.
Hidden Figuresa film that I think deserved more attention. Following three African-American women in particular who were integral to the space mission at NASA.
DunkirkI have never been more on edge when watching a film than I was watching this. Fantastic ensemble of performances, incredible score and generally great film-making
Baby DriverAnother film that I feel kind of bad about loving (especially due to recent revelations about Kevin Spacey), but I do. Ansel Elgort is great as the reluctant getaway driver, and the sound design and score is great.
Girls Trip, the best ‘chick flick’ I saw this year. A group of friends has become estranged, and when one is invited to New Orleans to be part of the Essence conference she sees it as the perfect opportunity to get everyone together again.
Paddington 2, just a super adorable, feel-good film.

Top Things I Saw on Stage in 2017:
Hamlet @ Almeida Theatre,
a really beautiful production, led by a truly amazing performance by Andrew Scott
Angels in America @ National Theatre, a real event of theatre which I felt really honoured to see. A fantastic piece of theatrical history and its content remains important.
Jesus Christ Superstar @ Open Air Theatre,
JCS is one of my favourite scores and getting to see it performed (twice) in the magical surroundings of Regent’s Park and featuring an excellent performance by Tyrone Huntley made this something very special.
Network @ National Theatre,
one of the most unique stage productions I’ve ever seen, with a fantastic, timely plot.
Follies @ National Theatre, 
it was great to see a score that I’ve heard so many things about performed live. With stunning costumes and a painfully real plot, Follies was a very special night at the theatre

Amy
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A Week in Las Vegas

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Weirdly, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this much here, but my big trip of this year was a week in Las Vegas! My housemate & I booked the trip in April, and spent a week in Sin City from the 11th-19th December and had the best time.

How We Got There & Where We Stayed
Part of the reason Vegas became a thing was because of the discount holiday site Holiday Pirates. They posted an amazing deal with meant that our flights and hotel cost about £500 each, which was too good a deal to pass up.

We flew from Gatwick with Norwegian, which I would really rate. I’ve never flown long-haul before so was slightly nervous, but the flight was really nice. Plenty of films to choose from on the in flight entertainment and the plane food was okay too. Our deal included 2 hold bags each and all the food, so I can’t comment on how much it is to add this.

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We stayed at The Luxor in one of their Pyramid rooms. I will say it wasn’t the most fancy, and the door wasn’t super sound-proofed meaning this light sleeper didn’t always get the most rest. However, it was spacious, the shower was huge and it was pretty cool to be staying in the building that makes the hotel famous. We didn’t spend tons of time in our room anyway and it more than served its purpose.

Where We Went
We spent our first full day not in Vegas at all, but at the Grand Canyon. The Canyon isn’t actually in Nevada, but in Arizona, so the journey to get there is quite a long one. Obviously if you go by helicopter it’s a lot faster, but we were both too cheap/nervous to do that so booked a South Rim tour via Canyon Tours. The tour took us via the Hoover Dam to the Canyon which is insane. It’s one of those places that just doesn’t feel real when you look at it. Our driver was great and the tour recording that was played was really interesting too. It is a long day, but totally worth it.

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One of our favourite evening destinations was Fremont Street. Fremont is downtown Vegas, and easily accessible via the Deuce or SDX. It’s a neon lovers paradise, featuring tons of casinos (which are a lot more win-friendly than those on the Strip), bars and places to eat. It’s a lot more chill than the Strip, with outdoor free concerts and a vibe that reminded me a bit of  Soho.

We also obviously spent a lot of time checking out all the different hotels. Caesar’s Palace was definitely a favourite. A mock up of Rome (complete with faux Trevi fountain), it has some great shops where we did a fair bit of damage and is also just really pretty. Another favourite for me was The Venetian, which as the name suggests is fake Venice complete with (very expensive) gondola rides and beautiful shops.

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Obviously, the Bellagio and its fountain show had to be checked out and I will say that this was the hotel that did the MOST for Christmas which a huge Christmas tree and a shop to rival the Liberty one. However, for me the Wynn just about outdid them for sheer beauty (and it has its own fountains).

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Out of all the hotels we visited, I would possibly most like to stay in the Flamingo if (when) I re-visit the city. I was very pleased by its aesthetic (my housemate said it was me in hotel form), its actual flamingos and the very cool history.

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We also saw a Cirque show whilst we were out in Vegas. There’s a huge array of shows to pick from, and Britney would have been amazing, but tickets are quite expensive. We saw One, which is their Michael Jackson show and I really enjoyed it. The plot is kind of non-existent but the music was obviously great and the talent and design was very cool.

Where We Ate
The food in Vegas is pretty great, and you have all kinds of options across the budget spectrum.  Some of my favourites were:
Giardano’s, Ballys

Super deep-pan pizza. Seriously delicious. The cheese on this is amazing and somehow tastes even better cold the following morning. This was also where I discovered that unsweetened iced tea is a pretty great drink.
Nacho Daddy, Downtown (also in Miracle Mile)
Potentially the best name for a Mexican restaurant ever. We went here after a night of drinks making it possibly the best end of the night food I’ve ever eaten. I had fish tacos which were delicious; the mango salsa was the bomb.
Mercato della Pescheria, Venetian
It felt daft to go to a Italy-inspired hotel and not eat Italian food. This restuarant does a very cool ‘lunchbox’ menu and their meatballs and salmon were both amazing. I also really rated their espresso martini.

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Wicked Spoon, Cosmopolitan 
America loves a buffet, and Wicked Spoon is pretty great. I made the cardinal error of filling up too early, but loved their clam chowder, eggs benedict and crab bucatini. Their gelato was also great.
Sprinkles, The Linq
Specifically, the Sprinkles ATM. You can order a cupcake from an ATM! I went with the birthday cake style one, which is essentially funfetti. Delicious.
Eggslut, Cosmopolitan
The perfect hangover cure, Eggslut sells ‘fancy’ versions of McMuffins and other egg-based deliciousness.

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Where We Drank
-Corduroy, Downtown
Corduroy was probably my favourite bar that we visited during our time in Vegas. Located downtown near the Fremont Street experience, it has a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack which played many of my faves (The Killers, Oasis etc), had a lightbox room for selfie dreams, various neon signs and a neon room. Also it does Moscow Mules on tap!
-Parasol Down, Wynn
We popped into Parasol Down before we went to XS. It definitely looks a lot more expensive than it is, beautiful decorated with a view out to the Wynn’s lake (during summer the terrace must be lovely). The Wynn has a quite trippy Lake of Dreams show which this bar gives you a great view of.
-Vesper,
Cosmopolitan
The Cosmopolitan has lots of bars, with their Chandelier one looking particularly lovely. We stopped for a drink at Vesper (for novelty factor, they also have one called Bond), which was pretty cool. There’s a huge, pretty unique cocktail menu and the vibe is really cool.
-XS, Encore
It did feel like whilst in Vegas we should at least check out one of the many clubs. After managing to score free guestlists for pretty much every club on the Saturday night, we decided on XS due to a combo of beautiful interiors and The Chainsmokers doing a set. Clubs here are definitely different to in the UK with many queues and eye-watering drink prices, but we had a lot of fun dancing to some good music and enjoying the novelty of an indoor/outdoor club.

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Tips
So I’m sure some of these will be a no-brainer if you’ve already been in the States, but here are some things that caught me by surprise about the US & Vegas more generally
Tax: For some bizarre reason, prices don’t tend to include sales tax in the US. Meaning that nothing will cost what you think it will. I just gave up ever paying exact change for anything ever.
-Gratuity: In Vegas, tips were generally expected to be 18-20% in most bars and restaurants (including clubs). Also leaving a couple of dollars in your hotel room for housekeeping, and having some spare for taxis and other hotel staff is a must.
Distance: Although my friends who have been to Vegas and did tell me that the Strip is huge I kind of ignored it. BUT THE STRIP IS HUGE. From the Luxor at the South of the strip to the Stratosphere took about 40 minutes on the Deuce (probably less in a cab, but that is $$$)

I had the absolute best time in Vegas, and am definitely hoping to go again or tick another city of my list (NYC anyone)

Amy
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Postcards from Paris

Waking up at 5am to get on the early Eurostar to Paris. Getting soaked on the Champs Elysees and having to emergency buy an umbrella from Marks & Spencer (and sneakily use the Dyson hairdryer in Sephora). Unexpectedly finding parks and the Eiffel Tower. Eating a somewhat underwhelming meal on the first floor (good for ambiance though). Taking all the most instagrammable view shots. Going to the Louvre, finding the holy grail, the Mona Lisa and the Viva La Vida album painting. Eating an amazing meal at Le Maison de Verlaine. Discovering Notre Dame is just a fifteen minute walk from the hotel. Going to the jazz club from La La Land. Waking up bright and early for croissants and heading to Euro Disney. Screaming my face off, seeing small children getting super excited at meeting all their favourite characters and buying Disey ears (of course).

Getting to spend my 24th birthday in Paris with my housemates was pretty amazing. It’s a city that deserves leisurely wanders, and I’ll definitely be going back.

Amy
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The Holiday Diaries: Moraira, Spain

This past week since I came back from holiday has been long and looking at these photos has me itching to jump on the next plane to Alicante and go back to the warm and chilled shores of Moraira.

Moraira is a marina town on the Costa Blanca, about 45 minutes away from Alicante. Despite its closeness to the fairly built-up tourist spots of Benidorm and Calpe, it’s incredibly unspoilt and a really peaceful place to spend a week away from the turmoil that was the week of Brexit in the UK. It’s a place my family and I have visited fairly regularly since I was about 8, so it feels like a really true home away from home for us.
Our ‘home from home’, the villa we stayed in; the view down to El Portet; coffee at El Cafeti de la Mar; fountains in Moraira
What We Did

When we weren’t just chilling out by the pool, we headed to…

Moraira Beach: A really sandy, quite popular beach. You can hire sun loungers & umbrellas if you don’t fancy dragging your own down to the beach with you; if you like water activities you can do anything from hiring a pedalo to playing on the weird inflatable activity thing. There’s also a nice cafe on the beach itself, which sells my fave frozen lemon drinks which I’m kind of addicted to.

El Portet Beach: My personal favourite. Not as big as Moraira, but the sea is almost still. You have to walk for ages before it gets deep enough to swim in, and you can spot fish and all sorts in the sea too. It’s served by two cafes, the one further down is the better one if you fancy a quick toastie or sandwich and drink whilst you’re there (they’ve also got a lovely cat).

Altea: On a day that was supposed to be overcast and then turned out to be pretty scorchio, we visited the nearby town of Altea. It has a really beautiful old church at the centre of its raised old town and a really nice seafront packed with bars and restaurants. It’s also got great shopping and markets (where you can get 10 churros for about 2euros).
The view down to El Portet beach; the view across to Calpe from El Portet; Moriara beach; that lemon drink ❤
Where We Ate/Drank
Del Pescador, Calle Mar 33: This place has bizarrely sniffy reviews on TripAdvisor which I find totally confusing. We liked it here so much we went twice (and we’ve been loads before). A really traditional Spanish restaurant, we first had the Menu of the Day (which was amazing value) and second time around we had a paella. The service has never not been great when we’ve been; a lot of the reviews seem to suggest that the staff don’t understand English which is just plain wrong (though it obviously helps if you can at least speak a touch of Spanish) I really recommend it for actual authentic food.
 
Pulcinella, Avda de la Paz 14: It feels a bit weird to be including an Italian restaurant on a list of restaurants in Spain but this is so. good. Amazingly fresh pasta, pizzas that look great and some amazing anti-pasti (the beef tartare with tuna is incredible). Plus their deserts are great, as is the service.
 
Vista Ifach, Castillo 11: This is a long-time family favourite. A traditionally Spanish restuarant (though it’s diversifying into pizza & pasta now) with really great sea-food. Plus it has the best pan y aioli anywhere.
Gelateria Venezia, Calle de Mar: Another place we’ve been going forever. Amazingly tasty and good value ice-cream in a million different flavours or sundaes. The coffee is good if you are wrong and don’t enjoy ice-cream.
Xambel Bar, Calle Castillo 16: This is a great place for a pre-dinner drink where you can watch the world go by. They also do great tapas if you fancy that.
 
El Cafeti de la Mar, Calle Castillo 30: We popped into this cafe for a breakfast treat on our first day. You can’t go wrong with a toasted croissant or sandwich AND the coffee here comes complete with a shot of Advocaat and cream. At 11am. Wonderful.
Fishy Fishy, Kristalmar 30F: I do feel a tiny bit bad for including a Fish & Chips restaurant, but this was pretty much better than a lot of chippies back home. I had a Thai-style fishcake which was delicious and super fresh too. The portions are quite generous as a warning.
Altea church; me on our last night rocking some freckles; Vista Ifach dinner; Geleteria Venetia ice-cream
 
If someone could throw me a couple hundred Euros so I can head back I would be there again in a heartbeat.
Extra Notes
We flew from East Midlands Airport to Alicante, with Ryanair and returned with Jet2. Most British airports fly into Alicante which is about a 45 minute drive. Valencia is another option but a tad further away.
 
We hired a care from Goldcar (Moraira isn’t brilliantly served by public transport), which was great aside from the two back passenger seats mysteriously missing seatbelts (?)
 
Our villa is owned by a couple who are selling up this year (sobsobsob), you can find plenty in the area and there are a couple of hotels in Moraira town itself too.

The Italy Diaries: Pietrasanta

Pietrasanta is a place where ‘la passeggiata’ comes into it’s own. This is an Italian tradition where couples, families and individuals just make their way through their town’s streets in the early evening. In Pietrasanta people really embrace this, decking themselves out in their finery for a walk before dinner or drinks. After dressing ourselves up, me wearing my new Sephora purchase (which survived all night much to my delight) we parked ourselves at one of the buzzy bars on the main square for a bit of people watching.

After a few glasses of prosecco, a mojito (amazing) and seeing a fair few dresses that I wished I could buy we headed off to find somewhere to eat. We ended up in Ristorante Quarantuno, where we first shared some antipasti and a baked cheese with asparagus and I then had seabass with an aubergine crush. It was probably my favourite individual course of my holiday.

Following dinner, we tracked down some gelato and went for a wander around the piazza to have a look at the latest sculpture installations. The piazza was dominated by giant statutes of angels with parts missing, say legs or heads. Also wondering past the church there was a small collection of sirens which were really beautiful.

 

That’s it for my Italy posts. I really loved my stay, and I desperately want to go again. And to Milan, and Rome, and Bologna….
Amy

The Italy Diaries: Florence

Florence is a city that I still don’t think I’m done with. I said last year that I felt like it’s a place that needs multiple visits and I’m still convinced of that. Last year, we ‘did’ the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo and whilst I’m sure they’re worth second visits it did mean that we could keep to the side of some of the more intensely crowded areas. We headed straight to Forte de Belvedere, an old defensive fort built  in the late 16th century and currently hosting Anthony Gormley’s Human exhibition. It also offers some stunning views over the city itself.

 
Playsuit from Zara (fave summer purchase)
The fort was surprisingly quiet and felt like a real oasis. After taking advantage of the shady bar, we made our way back into the city through the Boboli Gardens. These are the huge gardens of the equally huge Palazzo Pitti, built originally for the Pitti family but ultimately falling into the hands of the Medici’s. The gardens are beautiful, for 10 you can stroll them to your hearts content, in addition to getting access to a couple of the museums in the grounds and house.

 
After exploring the museums, we headed back across the Arno in search of food. We settled on I Ghibellini, a family-run restaurant in a relatively quiet (for Florence) square. Whilst I did slightly regret not getting a pizza with cheese on, my seafood pizza was really fresh and the tirmasu that followed was wonderful. Post lunch, we decided to spend as much time wondering cool streets and sipping cold drinks (I had the best vodka & proper lemonade) as the temperature was climbing to almost 40 degrees.

 

Again, this was another day that just seemed to go too fast. I’d love to check out the archeology museum where the ‘real’ David lives, and the area around the university. And the other museums in the Palazzo Pitti. And the Gucci museum. Somehow I think I’ll definitely be back.