Things to See and Do in Florence, Italy

Friday January 20, 2012 at 12:12 AM | 1 Comment

"palazzo vecchio"

The Palazzo Vecchio holds plenty of Florence, Italy’s history and culture.

Florence – a must see in Italy

My Italian sojourn in October of 2011 included a “mandatory” visit to the city of Florence, or Firenze in la lingua Italiano.  It is the cultural capital of Italy because it is home to many museums and renaissance structures. In fact, it is where the Renaissance actually began.   My family, which included my mother, father, and older brother, traveled, quite comfortably, by train from Venice to Firenze. Train travel in Italy is on-time, clean, and quick.  We traveled 1st class which allowed us a private seating area with reclining seats, internet hook-up, and a spacious table for four.  In a little under 2 hours we were pulling in to the train station called Santa Maria Novella.  I love the Italian language.  It just seems so….musical.

"Hotel Il Guelfo Bianco"

The centrally located Hotel Il Guelfo Bianco was in walking distance of the train station and main attractions of Florence, Italy

Hotel location is key in Florence, Italy

Our hotel was within walking distance from the train station.  The hotel Il Guelfo Bianco was centrally located in Florence, which was a great plus because, walking or taking a cab, would have been too much of a hassle.  The rooms were typically European; a tiny bathroom with uncomfortable beds, and overpriced. However, it did afford us a great starting point to see the city.  We were there for only two days so location was the key to this visit.

"Michelangelo’s David"

Visit Michelangelo’s statue of David on a visit to Florence, Italy.

A stroll through Florence Flea Market

Our day started with a stroll through a vibrant flea market where “hucksters” hawked everything from scarves to leather jackets.  We did buy some cool looking scarves for only $5 bucks, and it was fun haggling with those guys. Next stop was the epicenter of Florence, the piazza San Giovanni.  Here is where the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is located.  This is an ornate, huge Catholic Cathedral completed in 1436 and built from green and pink marble bordered by white marble.  It is an imposing and magnificent structure.  It was done in the Gothic style replete with gargoyles, spires, and buttresses – a masterpiece of renaissance architecture.

"Santa Maria Del Fiore"

Allow plenty of time to stroll and take in the grandeur of Florence, Italy’s Santa Maria Del Fiore

Piazza della Signoria

From there, it was just a short stroll to another famous piazza, or square, called the Piazza della Signoria.  The piazzas are areas in Italy’s towns and cities where people mingle and share a glass of wine, or a cappuccino while people watching or discussing the day’s events.  It is quite a departure from the hustle and bustle of daily life in America.   Italians seem to savor the day more than we do in the states.  This piazza may be recognized by Jersey Shore fans because it was featured in the opening credits during the season the Jersey Shore cast was visiting Florence. This piazza featured a famous museum called the Uffizi Gallery. We had the distinct pleasure of visiting this museum where we gazed open-mouthed at the works of Leonardo da Vinci (The Adoration of the Magi), Sandro Botticelli (spring and the Birth of Venus), Rembrandt (self portrait) Michelangelo (Don Tordi) as well as others like Giotto, Raphaelo, and Caravaggio.  It is a special treat to actually see the portraits and statuary made famous in books movies and television up close.  There is nothing like it.  In another museum called the Accademia Gallery, one can visit Michelangelo’s famous statue of David.

"Ponte Vecchio" "Arno River, Florence"

One of the oldest bridges in Europe, the Ponte Vecchio spans the River Arno in Florence, Italy.

Ponte Vecchio spans Italy’s Arno River

On the second day, we woke early and ate breakfast in the hotel.  As is typical in Italy, most hotels  include breakfast with the room rate.  Breakfast in the hotel saves money and time, even if the fare was just adequate.  In all fairness, the croissants were fresh, warm, and plentiful. After breakfast, we meandered toward another famous attraction called the Ponte Vecchio. This is one of the oldest bridges in Europe.  It spans the River Arno, where we saw spirited boat races, which seem to be a pastime many Florentians enjoy judging by the crowd cheering from the bridge.  The bridge is home to may gold artisans.  we window shopped extensively and marveled at the intricate and creative designs crafted by Italian masters whose families have been working in gold for centuries.  The bridge is rimmed by charming tratorrias and quaint arts and craft shops.  These are endless and one can take literally days to visit all of them.  Each little boutique offers its own special take on what Florence has to offer. My mother wants to go back just to shop.

Happiness and a latte in Florence, Italy

Happiness in Florence, Italy

We returned to the hotel after a rather tasty meal of risotto and pizza at a nearby trattoria.  Sleeping was a challenge, because the bed was like a slab of concrete, and the street noise was incessant.  Did I mention this was all included for the paltry sum of $225 per night?  The price of happiness in Florence, I guess.

Florence was great and remains a “must see” in any visit to Italy! What are your favorite places to visit in Italy?

This is a guest post by Shane McCormick of National RV Parks. Photos courtesy of Shane McCormick. Hotel photo courtesy of their website. In his late 20’s, Shane enjoys travel and offers tips and hints about travel destinations. You many follow Shane on Twitter For all things travel-related, follow travel expert Nancy D. Brown on Twitter.

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San Francisco 2012 Fancy Food Show – Food Entrepreneurs

Friday January 13, 2012 at 12:12 AM | 0 Comments

"Ace of Cakes" "Duff Goldman"

Duff Goldman Ace of Cakes at the 2011 Fancy Food Show

San Francisco Fancy Food Show

Now in its 37th year, the Winter Fancy Food Show is the largest marketplace devoted exclusively to specialty foods and beverages on the West Coast. It is strategically held in January when buyers are looking to stock up for the new year, and to plan way ahead for the important holiday season. The show has a strong presence of buyers and exhibitors from the Pacific Rim, and the trend-setting West Coast.

Fancy Food Show highlights include:

• 80,000 products
• 1,300 exhibitors from 35+ countries and regions
• 17,000 attendees
• First-time pavilions from Japan, China, Poland, Morocco and Chile
• Pavilion featuring 30 emerging food entrepreneurs in special NASFT program
• 130 companies making their Fancy Food Show debut
• 20+ seminars, including Top 10 Mistakes Beginning Manufacturers Make
• Trio of tastings: American Artisan Cheeses; New World Olive Oil; Salt & Pepper
• Tweet Up: Event to share show finds and network (follow @nasft for info.)
• Major food donation to Bay Area anti-hunger programs

The Fancy Food Show is an exclusive event for the specialty food trade and is closed to the general public – sorry guys.

"Cat Cora"

Celebrity Chef Cat Cora introduces her product line at 2011 Fancy Food Show with Gaea Chief Executive Aris Kefalogiannis.

If You Go:

San Francisco Fancy Food Show, January 15-17, 2012

George Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, CA

Social media enthusiasts may follow NASFT on Twitter and  Foodspring on Twitter.  You may also follow Nancy D. Brown on Twitter for the latest travel news. Article, YouTube video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown.

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Things to See and Do in Missoula, Montana

Friday January 6, 2012 at 12:12 AM | 3 Comments

"Montana Cabin First Snowfall"

Cabin in Montana after the first snowfall.

Make Missoula, Montana your home base

Planning a trip to Missoula, Montana? I recently visited The Garden City for the first time and I plan to circle back in the summer for a second look – maybe a cattle drive?

Located approximately halfway between Glacier and Yellowstone, Missoula is the home base and the cultural capital of the state for experiencing the two best National Parks during the shoulder season.  With five ski hills within 100 miles, thousands of miles of snowmobiling terrain and groomed cross country trails within ten minutes of town, you will love Missoula in the winter.

Like most other Western towns, Missoula has embraced the Microbrew culture. In the spring time, beer lovers will want to attend the Garden City BrewFest. With four breweries and two pub houses, along with multiple stores to get your own home brew set-up, you better show up early to sample over 30 local microbrews while listening to local bands at the BrewFest. Flathead Lake Brewing Company of Missoula is a good example of the local cuisine.

When the weather warms up, check out the Summer Concert Series at Big Sky Brewery which saw acts such as Ray LaMontagne with Brandi Carlile, Modest Mouse, and the Decemberists in 2011.

"Council Grove State Park"

Council Grove State Park is where the Hellgate treaty was signed in 1855 between the United States and confederated tribes.

Historic Missoula

There is plenty of history to be uncovered in Missoula. Council Grove State Park is within 15 minutes of downtown Missoula. This historic area commemorates the signing of the Hellgate treaty of 1855 between the U.S. and confederated tribes of the Flathead, Kootenai, and Upper Pend d’Oreilles. It’s an ideal location for wildlife viewing, fishing and exploring the Clark Fork River.

While you are in Missoula, take a picture on the Blackfoot River – take your photo with a Cutthroat Trout, before you release it back into the water.

While folks know that Missoula excels in outdoor recreation activities, The Missoula Art Museum hosts more than 26 exhibitions from local and international artists every year. Currently it’s hosting over 130 gelatin silver prints by Ansel Adams. The museum also provides lectures, films and guided tours.

If you are a museum lover, Missoula’s best museum is The Historic Museum at Fort Missoula for western history. This fort is no longer active but has great exhibits such as “”The Road to Today: 250 Years of Missoula’s History” and “When The Mountains Roared: The Fire Of 1910.” Fort Missoula was also used by the Black Bicycle Cops of the 25th Infantry, and as an Alien Detention Center during WWII between 1941-1944 housing approximately 1200 people.

Missoula Dining

Chef-owned and inspired Scotty’s Table is an example of Missoula bistro dining in the historic Wilma theatre.   For the best wine bar in town, stop by The Red Bird in the historic Florence Building. Looking for affordable dining? The Dinosaur Café in Charlie B’s has southern comfort food that is filling on a snowy day.  Chicken in the Ruff from the Shack has been on the menu since the doors opened in 1949. Enjoy it with a local brew such as Cold Smoke scotch ale from the Kettle House Brewery.

Butterfly Herbs on Higgins Avenue is the place for whole bean coffee and a breakfast treat. Pizza on the Fly is a good choice for late night dining,  the new late night spot is Philly West where the owner flies in sandwich rolls and has authentic WHIZ.

Thinking about a night out on the town? For a night of dancing, The Top Hat has more live music than any venue in town, often featuring musical talent out of Portland and Seattle. Stop by for a mid-week show.

"Missoula Farmers Market"

Visit Missoula’s Farmers Market in the summer

Best Way to See Missoula

The best way to get around Missoula is to walk. The three farmers markets on Higgins Ave each highlight a different theme in raw foods, baked and homemade goods and handmade wares during the summer.  Cross the Clark Fork River on the bridge while you watch kayakers and surfers on Brennan’s Wave.  Then continue to the Hip Strip on South Higgins for restaurants and shopping.

Just outside of  Missoula you can visit Clearwater River Canoe Trail, a 3.5 mile float through a unique river corridor where you will see Montana’s flora and fauna. After the float it’s only a 1.5 mile walk back to the put in. Enjoy lunch in Seely Lake at any of the local restaurants.

Don’t miss the Carousel in Caras Park if you have kids traveling with you. The carousel is hand-carved and hand-painted, with over 100,000 volunteer hours being given to this great community treasure. This place is a special spot for the young and old alike.

During the summer a must-see is the Smoke Jumper center to view their gear, firefighting planes and maybe even meet a smokejumper.

"Missoula wildflowers"

Horseback ride through wildflowers in Missoula, Montana

What To Do in Missoula

In Missoula, outdoor enthusiasts are able to hike, bike, horseback ride and kayak. Missoula has more biking trails than your average-sized city, along with ever increasing bike and walking paths to connect all of Missoula. The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is perfect to horseback ride for days or until you explore all 60,000 acres including the wilderness area.

Numerous trails in the Pattee Canyon Recreation area will take you to the top of University Mountain.  Pattee Canyon also boasts a Folf course, picnic tables and great wildlife viewing. If you get a chance, get your picture taken on the “M” trail. It’s a short ¼ mile uphill walk that gives you amazing views of the University District and the Missoula Valley.

The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Mt. Jumbo. View all three rivers that are around town along with two different mountain ranges and several national forests that surround Missoula.

This year will mark the 35th International Wildlife Film Festival which covers a week of wildlife and outdoor film screenings, art, and pre & post film events.

Missoula’s River City Roots Festival is a great place to watch people. It’s free and open to the public located in downtown Missoula.  Fall is Grizzly Football season. Grizzly Football fans set up the tail gates by 10:00 a.m. for all 25,000 fans.


For local news, the daily newspaper is the Missoulian, and the Independent is a weekly paper of people, arts and culture.

Insider Tip: Check out the often over-looked Pioneer League Osprey Baseball team. Games happen during the months of June-September. Games feature family friendly and kids’ activities as well as a few great firework shows during the season. The stadium also hosts large concerts during the summer, this year Willy Nelson along with Lyle Lovett and his large band will visit Missoula.

What are your favorite things to do in Missoula?

For more up-to-date happenings in Missoula, follow Destination Missoula on Twitter and like their page on Facebook. For all things travel related, follow Travel Expert Nancy D. Brown on Twitter.

Thanks to Troy Payton Destination Missoula for assistance with this post.  Photo of Council Grove courtesy of Troy Payton. Photo of Farmers Market courtesy of Lisa A. Choo. Wildflowers photo courtesy of  Jackie Corday. Article by  Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown.

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