On Being Outside in Florence: The heat!

Yes, it was August. And yes, I should have known better.

But when you’re a teacher, you get certain days off…including days in August. And if these last two summers prove anything, I like to spend the end of my summer vacations in Italy. Next summer we won’t and I’m already devastated.

But this year, the last stop on our summer vacation was Florence. And. It. Was. Hot. We’re talking high 90s and low 100s in a city made for wandering around by foot.

Despite several days of heat warnings, we still managed to spend a good portion of our time outside.


The city isn’t covered with porticos, like Bologna, but the multi-story buildings and narrow streets did provide a decent amount of shade.

Other sites, like the Ponte Vecchio bridge, provide no shade and therefore no relief from the heat. Our Airbnb was on the south side of the Arno River and so we passed by the Ponte Vecchio every time we wandered north into the heart of the city.


Our first night promised to be the coolest (temperature-wise), so we decided to risk the heat and walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset. We left a little early so that we could explore the Church of San Miniato further up the hill, but we didn’t actually make it before they closed the gates.



I’d have to risk the late morning heat on another day to get a glimpse inside the church and to wander around their famous Holy Gates Cemetery.

We made our way back to the piazzale in time for a charming sunset, shared with a few thousand similarly-minded tourists.


Sometimes the people-watching distracted us from the sunset itself, but that’s ok, because we spent plenty of time up there. Despite the crowds, it was still a pretty relaxed atmosphere.

Also soaking in the sunset with us was a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David – hence the name of the piazzale.

Another must-see sight – one might say the must-see sight in Florence – is also the most difficult to avoid:



We crossed paths with the Duomo di Firenze aka the Florence Cathedral dozens of times as we walked around the city.

An absolutely stunning structure, I can say that despite the heat, this cathedral is better seen from the outside than the inside.

On Mondays, many, if not most, attractions and sites in Florence close down. We’re used to museums taking the day off, but in Florence this “day of rest” also includes restaurants and parks.

Luckily, most of the churches remain open. We decided to make this our “Duomo” day. For 18 euros a person, you can get 72-hour access for single-entry visits into each monument.

We started with Giotto’s Bell Tower, because 414 stairs are easier to climb in 80-degree weather than 90+. The tower is divided in five stages, marking natural stopping points along the way. Chandler made it to the first stage before decided he didn’t need to climb two towers in one day – we’d already reserved our visit to Brunelleschi’s Dome for 6:30 pm that night.

I mistakenly thought there was only one more flight of stairs to go. I told Chandler I’d be right back…I wasn’t. This, however, is the view I got for my effort:


There were also gorgeous views of the Dome, but the early morning light meant none of my shots turned out just right. Another minor disappointment was that the top level was completely covered by fencing. Which meant I could take great photos by sticking my camera lens through the wires, but I couldn’t take any photos of myself. Which was for the best, since my personal photographer had stayed four levels below me.

Our next stop was a cool respite inside the Baptistry of San Giovanni. We weren’t inside for very long before it was time to hop in line to visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

This may seem silly to you, since we’d be getting inside the church at 6:30 to climb up to the Dome. However, that time was after the church itself closed. Meaning we’d have to place to just our small group, but that the Crypt of Santa Reparata would also be closed. This was the only way we could see it.

It took an hour and a half of waiting (luckily in the shade) behind a group of Texans who were incorrectly defining the word synonym and then obnoxiously listing words like two & too, shoe & shoo, new & knew. I can’t tell you how much restrain I showed in not shouting the word HOMOPHONE at them. They were listing homophones. A synonym is just two words or phrases that mean the same thing aka shut & close. As in shut or close your damn mouth.

We finally made it inside and – despite the fact that it is the third largest church in the world – we were disappointingly underwhelmed.

The Dome is lovely, but not significantly different than the Dome inside the Baptistry. And a lot of the rest of the church is plain – no need to overwhelm the senses. The crypt was worse.

We did, however, enjoy our brief stop in the Opera Duomo Museum, our last monument before climbing the Dome later that night.

I will say, the one positive thing about being inside the cathedral earlier that day was that we were better able to appreciate the views inside as we started our ascent of the Dome. It had also been pretty noisy during the day, so the silence that evening gave it an almost magical quality.

This time, Chandler made it all the way to the top. And this was our reward:




Perhaps not wildly different than my views from that morning, I enjoyed the fresh breeze, being up there with Chandler, and being able to spot the Church of San Miniato, which I still had plans to visit.

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Museums of Berlin

When we were planning our trip to Berlin, we had, of course, heard about Museum Island. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is home to five museums showcasing some seriously impressive artwork.

But it took going to Berlin to discover many of the other wonderful museums – over 200 in total – and we spent an amazing week in their hallowed halls.

We arrived in Berlin on a Monday morning and were fortunate enough to have some incredible friends who let us crash with them. It’s always nice to have someone in the city with recommendations on what to do – and not to do!

Our first museum wasn’t on Museum Island, but since our host, Alise, was interested in revisiting the Gemäldegalerie, we started our tour with a collection of paintings ranging from the 13th to 18th centuries. Initially high on my list, after about an hour weaving in and out of an unsurprisingly lot of religious paintings, the only thing that really caught my attention was this half of Jean Fouquet’s Melun Diptych:


I loved the vivid colors and the story behind painting Mary’s breast and Jesus’ genitals – making her more maternal, him less formal and more relatable. Having gone to museums in nearly every country I’ve visited, Germany was the first place I really got into audio guides – it certainly helped that they were free! But without it, I probably would’ve spent even less time in this museum.

Our next museum was visited because we still had 30 minutes to kill before heading over to the free Tuesday concert at the Berliner Philharmonie. We had purchased the Museum Pass Berlin, which for 29 euros, gives you access to over 30 museums in the city. Without that pass, and Alise’s recommendation, we never would have heard of this museum: Kunstgewerbemuseum or Museum of Decorative Arts.

Chandler really went to look at their selection of chairs, but we had a fun time looking through their entire furniture collection. There’s also a fashion gallery with costumes from the 18th to 20th centuries that we wanted to go back for, but never had the time. Another really random, but memorable part of the museum is their current exhibition on the food revolution. It doesn’t sound like it should all belong in one museum, but somehow it all worked.


The next day – because you can only do so many museums in one day – we made our way to Museum Island and the famed Pergamon Museum. Worried about crowds, we made a quick stop at the Brandenburg Gate, before arriving at the museum shortly after it opened.

We needn’t have worried. For whatever reason – construction, difficulty finding the entrance, etc. we had no problems getting in. In fact, we were concerned the museum was closed as we breezed past the “Two hour wait,” “One hour wait,” and “You’re almost there,” line signs. The only people at the door were two security guards who ushered us in.

The first thing you see when you walk up into the museum itself is the Ishtar Gate:


Way larger than I could have expected, that seemed to be the theme of the museum: larger than life. Because not only was there the Ishtar Gate, but the Pergamon Museum is also home to the Roman Market Gate of Miletus, as well as the Mshatta Façade – each towering over the visitor. I’ve never seen pieces of this size put together in a museum before.

The well-known Pergamon Alter is unavailable until 2023, with construction in the museum (they’re adding a fourth wing) to be completed in 2025. We were more than happy with what we saw. We also loved the collection of Islamic Art – that being our highlight the last time we went to the Louvre and for our stopover in Qatar.


At this point, we were getting ready for lunch, but we didn’t want to leave Museum Island without a look at the Bust of Nefertiti. So we quickly stopped inside the Neues Museum. Other than the bust, we didn’t have a strong desire to look at more Egyptian artifacts, having spent our winter holiday in Egypt.

Photographs aren’t allowed inside the room where the bust is kept, but it was pretty hilarious watching people queue up behind a line in the neighboring room for a shot through the glass encasing.

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Amsterdam Edition

After spending years living in Eastern and Western Africa – where me and the local cuisine rarely see eye-to-eye – one of my favorite things about travel is the food. Amsterdam was no exception. And while I loved it for the international variety (only London surpasses it in quantity), I can happily say we enjoyed the Dutch pancakes so much we ate them twice : )


Also, every cup of hot chocolate was divine – but you could have guessed that given our chocolate-scented bike ride.

I also couldn’t get enough of the architecture – Europe has something I can’t seem to find anywhere else: buildings I could stare at for hours. And in Amsterdam, I loved it all…from the traditional to the quirky.



Something that all cities I love have in common is their green space. Between the canals and the parks, Amsterdam gave me the fresh air and outdoor space that I’ve been craving, being trapped inside our apartment in Accra.



I know I already wrote about my love of Amsterdam museums, but no list of my favorite things would be complete without these beauties. Maybe next time we’ll make our way inside the Rijksmuseum.

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Banksy, Dalí, and van Gogh in Amsterdam

So…biking in Amsterdam’s not my thing. But museum hopping certainly is. We only made it to two on this vacation, but we have a long list of museums to go back for.

Amsterdam is full of museums covering topics as varied as the holocaust in the Anne Frank House to traditional dutch art in Rijksmuseum to fluorescent art in Electric Ladyland to a museum dedicated to works depicting cats. I kid you not: KattenKabinet.

And if you think we don’t have plans to go to all four of those someday, you’re dead wrong.

This trip, however, we made our way through the Van Gogh Museum and the Moco Museum.

Unfortunately, the Van Gogh Museum doesn’t allow photos, so I had to screenshot the following from their website. I went for Sunflowers, of course, but fell in love with some surprisingly varied paintings:

Cypresses and Two Women

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Irises (ok, not surprising, still flowers!)

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And oddest but most fascinating of all: Red Cabbages and Onions

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We also learned some fascinating facts about van Gogh: After chopping off the piece of his ear, he gave it to a prostitute; he was named after his stillborn brother; his early paintings (pre-Paris) are super traditional; his brother Theo died six months after him; a lot of the blues in his paintings have faded, originally, they were purples.

But the real surprise on our trip was the Moco Museum. We hadn’t even heard of it until we arrived in Amsterdam and were walking around Museumplein aka Museum Square:


And with signs advertising Banksy and Salvador Dalí how could we not step inside?

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Museum + Cheese = Our Final Day In Paris

Once again wanting to get the most out of our time in Paris (can you sense a reoccurring theme here?), we were up bright at early. Not quite as bright and early as the previous day (since we were aware nothing would be open), we arrived at Le Pain Quotidien at 8 am for breakfast. Why this place doesn’t have rave reviews baffles me, it’s the best breakfast place I’ve seen in Paris!

Then we were off to the Louvre. I know I said in my last post that I prefer the Musée d’Orsay, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still blown away by the Louvre.


I can stare at statures for days (in fact I have a couple on my list to check out in Rome next week at Villa Borghese). My favorite Louvre statue is Amor and Psyche by Antonio Canova. I can’t get over how tenderly the lovers hold each other. I think about seven minutes into my stare-a-thon, Chandler pulled me away so we could look at other things. Don’t worry, I returned numerous times throughout the day!


We also made our way to another favorite of mine (and everyone else’s) the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Despite having seen this statue before, I didn’t quite realize how old it was. Constructed around the 2nd century BC it’s not surprising that she’s headless and armless. However, there’s still so much beauty in what’s left.


Not nearly done with my statue quota for the day we meandered over to the French galleries. Many of the pieces are more modern recreations of Italian styles and they don’t quite impress me as much, but the lighting and design of the space is spectacular.


At this point, however, Chandler needed a break from my statues. And luckily, the Islamic Art gallery had opened. This addition didn’t exist during my last visit in 2010, and it is an incredible inclusion to the museum. Plus, for whatever reason, the gallery was nearly empty of visitors.

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Paris: Uninhibited, but not romantic

I’ve been to Paris twice now and I just have to ask, why does everyone find this city so damn romantic? I have to say, I don’t get it. Now don’t get me wrong, both times I definitely enjoyed myself (July 2010 and June 2017); Paris is an incredibly fun city. It just doesn’t make me swoon.

And I can even say that I’ve experienced it in very different ways: the first time I went, I was studying abroad in Rome and I went to spend an extended weekend with a friend who happened to be studying abroad in Paris at the time.

I was in college, I was single, and I was poor. We ate crepes and spent hours at Notre Dame. I ate the one vegetarian option at each restaurant we went to, because in 2010, Paris wasn’t exactly vegetarian friendly. We walked through the red-light district for the required Moulin Rouge pic. I went to the Opera House and the Louvre while she was in class and I was skipping my own. I slept in her dorm room because I couldn’t afford my own place. We went dancing at clubs until hours I can no longer stay up for. I made the trek up to Sacre Coeur and got to behold the most romantic city in the world a metropolitan city.

Skip ahead seven years. My husband and I have well-paying international jobs with a seven-week summer vacation to fill. We wanted to visit friends in London and then take the train to Leysin where we’d spend the bulk of our summer. Who wouldn’t want to stop in Paris on the way for a few days of baguettes, wine, cheese, and, of course, shopping? Especially now that I could afford to see Paris with a different bank account!

Ever the Millenials, we ignored the high prices of hotels and opted for an Airbnb. Late to the game, this was the first Airbnb we’d stayed in just the two of us – our actual first Airbnb was in São Tomé this spring when we rented a place with two coworkers and some family.

There was some pretty hilarious confusion (or at least we thought so) during check-in. Our host had left the building fob for us to find and as I was in the lobby looking for it, a couple asked us if we were staying at the Airbnb on the fourth floor. Well guess what? We were. So they handed us the key fob for the building and a key. We got to our room and found our separate key hidden where expected and assumed the one on the fob was also for the front of the building.

We went out for lunch (Chipotle, Chandler’s last chance at it), a wine shop, and I experienced my first Parisian shopping moment (having been way too poor to buy clothes the first time I was there!).

We got back to our Airbnb, showered off (because Paris was experiencing an excruciating heat wave) and while Chandler was still in his towel, we got a knock on our door. It was our neighbor, frantically asking if we by chance happened to know where his key was.

Turns out, there was an Airbnb next door to ours and since the apartments don’t have numbers on them, all the renters could ask us was floor number. They had given us the wrong keys! We handed them over to a furious apartment owner – sorry, dude. Not our fault! I then went back down to the lobby and within about 30 seconds more of searching, found our fob still waiting for us. Whoops.

But our cranky neighbor aside, we were seriously enjoying our apartment and the view it provided. We were about three blocks from the Louvre.



If you want to be a tourist, it was a wonderful part of town to be staying in. If you want a few quiet, relaxing days, I don’t especially recommend it. We loved it. We spent our first afternoon wandering around the neighborhood, eating our London cheese, and drinking our Parisian wine. FYI, if you’re nearby, I heartily recommend stopping by La Derniere Goutte for a nice conversation and a couple great bottles of wine.



The next day found us up bright and early, grabbing breakfast on the go at the boulangerie around the corner – one of the only things open.

Our plans for the day started with the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral. It’s not too far from Notre Dame, but I hadn’t made my way over on my last visit. At 10 euros it’s a pretty steep price (for only 7 more you have access to all of the Louvre), but the stained glass windows are more than worth it.



There are 1,113 scenes from the New and Old Testaments depicted across the cathedral’s 15 windows, each of which are 15 meters high.

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