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I fell in love with Florence at a ripe age of 20 years old, when I studied the Italian language and Dante’s Inferno in a summer study abroad program  – even though what I actually did was eat my weight in gelato and run around the city with spritz always in hand.

My obsession for this magical city never died, and I always had my eye on the prize (pizza prize, to be exact) of returning to this carb filled, art centric city. Returning back to a familiar spot was a blast, especially since I already hit all the popular hot spots, and focused on hitting all of my local favorites.

What I did

Explore the oltrarno

First things first, Florence is divided by the “arno” which is italian for river. I like to think of this as Florence’s undiscovered side. This side of the river feels a bit more authentic and less crowded. The next three spots listed are located in the oltrarno.

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Giardini Bardini

My newly discovered favorite place on earth, and that’s not an exaggeration. This tranquil place was a private garden which is an extension of Boboli gardens. Every part is breathtaking, but the best part was Wisteria Lane, a tunnel of honeysuckle flowers. This spot is a great place to relax and picnic.

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Have apertivo in Santo Spirito

Italians go crazy for aperitivo, and I can see why. The best way I could describe it is happy hour on steroids. It’s a light bite style buffet, accompanied with drinks. For a traditional style aperitivo, a light (usually dry or bitter drink) is consumed, including: Campari, Vermouth, Negroni, Aperol Spritz and Prosecco – but anything goes really. Apertivio is typically between 6-9PM, and offers one drink with light style buffet between 7-10 euros. As far as where to go, Santo Spirito is a square which has such a local feel, and always feels alive.

My favorites apertivo spots in Santo Spirito include: Volume, Popcafe and Tamero

Eat Gustapizza at Piazza Michelangelo

Gustapizza (yes, it’s one word) is arguably the best pizza in Italy, and IMO the world. After your pizza comes out of the brick oven, grab a bottle of wine and a taxi and head up to Piazza Michelangelo. It’s about a ten minute drive or a thirty minute walk up hill. The views from this square are one of the best in Florence. Amazing pizza + breathtaking views = the best combo. Go a bit before sunset to get a good seat.

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I present to you, Gustapizza chefs at their finest

What I get: margarita pizza (not typically a margarita pizza type of gal – but this one can’t be beat. Also – if you’re a pesto fan, order their pesto pizza even though it’s not on the menu.)

Eby’s

A man who could be mistaken for Einstein himself. He’s the bartender and owner of an eclectic bar steps from the Duomo. The bar is open at 11am, but he typically arrives around 9:30PM(or whenever he feels like it) to create his liquor art concoctions. His signature words are “Vai vai vai” as you down shots on fire. 

What I get: Request the house favorite, anything with nutella, or shots on fire if you’re feeling adventurous 

Make pizza from scratch

Airbnb Experiences is an experience or other activity designed and led by local hosts. Hosts give guests unique access into places and communities in their city. Airbnb Experiences is currently in beta and has rolled out Experiences in about 15 cities, and lucky enough – Florence was one of them!

We made pizza from start to finish at Ristorante Toto, which is a restaurant that’s been passed down for four generations. Piero, who is currently the owner of the restaurant, was a sweet Italian man who briefed us on the history of the restaurant, and exactly how to create the perfect pizza. This was an unforgettable night, and would recommend it to anyone.

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Climb Giottas Tower

414 steps up…you gotta burn off that pasta somehow, right? Turn that fitbit on because these views are more than worth it.

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Eat your weight in gelato

Need I say more? My favorite gelato spots: Santa Trinita, Grom, Gelato la Carriaia

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Massimo leather

I fell in love in Italy….with a man who creates and sells leather purses and jackets. Florence is known for leather, and there’s even a whole market dedicated to it (Santa Croce). But the question is – are those stands selling real leather….? Probably not. His leather shop a side street off of Santa Croce, La Borga Noce specifically. He was recommended to me four years ago, and his bags are still in perfect condition and still some of my favorites.

Indulge in truffle

Truffle pasta, truffle pizza, truffle cheese – eat it all! Truffle items are a lot more reasonably priced in Italy.

Please enjoy this video of four cheese truffle gnocchi at Osteria Santo Spirito – brb currently drooling

What I learned

There are no Ubers or Lyfts, so put your phone away and put your hand up to flag a taxi

Eat all the carbs you can see, Italy is not the place to keep up with your gluten free/keto/atkins/whole 30 diet

Florence is extremely walkable

What I didn’t do this time around but recommend

Visit the Gucci Museum and enjoy an espresso on their patio after. 

I’m a real sucker for rooftop bars, and the department store, la Rinascente, has an amazing rooftop bar with views of the city and close up to the duomo. 

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Art museums galore – Ufittizi Gallery and Galleria dell’ Accademia are my favorite.

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I can’t wait to return again, if you have any questions or any of your favorite spots – comment below!

It’s been a while since I’ve given my blog some love – it’s been four crazy months as an official D.C. resident. Within four months I’ve survived my first winter (barely, but turns out a v warm jacket makes life easier), lived through the chaos of Inauguration Weekend (picture an end of the world themed movie with Will Smith standing amidst explosions) and been D.C’s newest tour guide to 12 friends who visited various weekends (and yes, a different itinerary for each one)…Phew, I’m exhausted just thinking about all of it.

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I’ve loved every second of working for Marriott International on the Digital Services team – navigating my way through the world’s largest hotel company HQ being a #girlboss every second possible. Safe to say I’ve already taken full advantage of the hotel discounts, from stay-cations to weekend trips.

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I’ve become infamous (and an expert, if I do say so myself) for planning friends’ weekends with itineraries down to the hour. Not exaggerating, full review on hilarious lifestyle blog and Instagram Extraordinaire, You Chlo Girl.

During my time living here, I’ve uncovered some of my favorite local spots – which should be on the top of your list when visiting D.C.

  1. Lemon Bowl

Picture every DIYers dream – a work space where the city’s creative gather to teach workshops. From hand lettering classes, to indigo dye classes – creatives have dyed and gone to heaven. Check out their monthly schedule.

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  1. Dolcezza

Gelato + coffee shop – need I say more?

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  1. Bethesda Bagels

Four score and seven schemers ago -“Chloe Duke

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What I order: Everything bagel with sausage, egg and cheese – or if I’m not in the egg sammy mood, rainbow bagel with strawberry cream cheese is an absolute go to. BUT rainbow bagels are only available on the weekends.

Tip: There are two Bethesda Bagels locations, one in Bethesda and one in D.C.; Dupont specifically. Bethesda Bagels is a small space (think fish swimming upstream at all times) with practically no seating…So I’ll sit in Dolcezza and sip on some chai while eating my bethesda bagel heaven sent bagel.

  1. Le Diplomate

But first, french onion soup. A D.C staple, and in my opinion, one of the best restaurants in D.C.

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What I order: A million times over, the cheese plate. No matter what meal you’re there for, it’s an essential. There are no set cheeses listed on the menu, but tell the server what you like and they’ll whip out the most delicious cheese you’ve ever had. It’s one of those spots where every dish is to die for.

Tip: Reservations open up a month in advance, so book as close to that date.

  1. National Mall

Such a locals only spot right?? Kidding, but I never get tired of this view.

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Tip: When the weather is right, rent a bike and ride around the Mall, to the Washington Monument, then the Lincoln Memorial. Bring some picnic supplies and lay out your set up on the grass surrounding the Monument. Some of the best views of the Monument are from Lincoln Memorial. 

  1. Barmini

Jose Andres’ “cocktail lab” is exactly that, and nothing like you’ve ever experienced before. It’s topped many best cocktail lists, with a mix of eclectic and innovative cocktails and small snacks.

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Tip: Make reservations 6 weeks in advance (I’m not kidding, but it’s so worth it)

  1. Mockingbird Hill, Southern Efficiency, Eat the Rich

These trio of bars are lined up next to each other with most of the time having different pop up themes based on the season. Starting in November, there was a Christmas and Channakuh theme, with a little bit of Stranger Things sprinkled in. In the Stranger Things bar, there was a light show as well as a Demogorgan spotting, and a spot to pay your respects to Barb.

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In March, #cherryblossomPUB is coming, a pop-up which is a mix of cherry blossoms and Super Mario World.

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Tip: There can be a line, especially on weekends, so make sure you’re prepared.

     8. Butter Cream Bakeshop 

A mighty little bakery with sugary goodness overload

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What I get: unicorn bar, and yes – that is glitter

  1. Blagden Alley

A hidden city block that has history which dates before the Civil War. Additionally, I’d say it’s one of D.C’s most Instagrammable spots.

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Tip: In the alley and close by, check out La Columbe (coffee shop), The Dabney (Mid-Atlantic cuisine cooked over a wood fire), The Columbia Room (cocktail bar) and JRINK (cold press juices).

  1. Union Market

Warehouse-esque food market filled with some of the best local vendors. There are also a couple of outdoor murals on the side of the building. My favorite is the vibrant heart wall, created by Mr. Brainwash, an LA-based graffiti artist who painted it for International Women’s Day in 2015.    

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Well, that’s a wrap folks! Do you agree with my favorite finds, or do you have any different? Comment below!                                                                                                                                                


Just a few reasons why you should pack Mother Dearest on your next vacation.

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Your mom was your first ever travel buddy and here are 6 reasons (not including endless memories and unparalleled bonding) to bring your mom along on your next traveling adventure.

1. She can be your personal photographer

She will undoubtedly need a basic photography lesson, but with enough support and practice she may just be able to get you that insta pic you’ve been dreaming of. She won’t necessarily understand what you are going for, or know why the first 399 pictures weren’t good enough, but she will click away until you are satisfied.

2. She packs things like gloves

As you’re preparing for your trip you think to yourself “I wouldn’t be caught dead walking around with gloves on my hands when it’s not snowing”. You imagine yourself blending in with locals as you tell your mom to leave the gloves at home.  Flash forward to when as you are walking down a city street with numb fingers and your mom whips out the gloves you told her not to pack you understand the saying “mother knows best.”

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3. She understands you

After a long day on your feet, when even though you’re on vacation,  you just want to buy a pint of good ‘ole  Ben & Jerrys – she won’t judge you. She will find an American television station and help you finish the whole thing, eating just the right amount to give you enough, but ensure you don’t hate yourself the next morning.

4. She’s a better driver than you

As you plan your trip abroad, you casually rent a car to get around Ireland the most efficient and convenient way. It’s not until you are in a stick-shift car, on the left side of the road, on what should be a one-way street, with a jaw sore from clenching your teeth that you are thanking the Lord above that your mom is behind the wheel – and not you!

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5. She can be your excuse for doing touristy things

Traveling is tough as you try to balance having a true cultural experience, and seeing everything you can. Most of the times cheesy touristy things don’t include either of those—but SOMETIMES they are fun/funny/you can see a lot/you have to try them because you are indeed a tourist. And in those sometimes, it’s nice to have Mum with you to blame on “dragging you” on….a duck tour of Dublin per say…that ends up being a hilarious way to see the city.

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6. She’s your best bet at a good travel buddy

She has already seen you at your worst…multiple times. And she did carry you around for 9 months…so if you don’t travel well with your mother, there might be something wrong! Traveling can bring out the worst in people as you deal with the inevitable travel debacle (including but not limited to: delayed/cancelled flight, medical emergency, cosmetic emergency) all while living out of a suitcase for a number of weeks. Being with your mum is the best because she knows just how to deal with you in this situations—when to leave you alone, when to let you take the lead, and so on. She will also still love you after the trip…no matter what.

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Guest Blog – Written by Maddy Hart

Honored to introduce Amanda, a girl with a heart of gold. She’s following the legacy of her cousin, Tim, to create a lasting impact on the underprivileged children of Arusha, Tanzania. Read about her incredible journey continuing Tim’s mission, providing the most disadvantaged children with quality education and a safe place to live.

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1. What inspired you to volunteer in Africa?

My cousin, Tim, quit his job to live in Africa and help the people there who are suffering. Sadly, last summer he passed away and a school was built in his honor to help underprivileged children in Arusha. I felt a calling to visit, walk in his footsteps, and understand the love he had for this place and it’s people. I knew if I didn’t go now, I might never get to experience it!

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2. Where exactly were you volunteering, and what was the mission?

A primary school in Arusha. Arusha is a city in northern Tanzania beneath Mount Meru. Unga Limited is the name of the slum our children primarily come from. The school continues Tim’s mission by providing the most disadvantaged children with quality education and a safe place to live. Here they learn life skills since many don’t have adult role models in their life. Tim’s “Kaka” and our brother, Yesaya Wilfredy, oversees and manages the school. He posts about the children, often with signs thanking donors and sponsors. 

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3. How long were you there, and what did you accomplish?

I was in Africa for about 2 weeks; my family is funding the building of dorms for the children who are going to the school to keep them from living in the slums. This allows them get to school easier (it took us half an hour to pick up the kids up for school in the morning) and to be in a safe environment. A humbling moment was when my Dad, cousin Jeff, and I got to personally work on the construction of the dorms –with help of the locals of course!

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4. What did your day to day look like?

We actually slept at the dorms in wooden beds with mosquito nets. I would wake around 6:30 to the rooster, brush my teeth with bottled water, the “toilet” was a hole in the floor with a bucket to manually flush (I brought my own toilet paper from the states). We would drive to three locations to pick up the kids for school. When at school, they did warm up exercise and songs before splitting up by class. We would teach numbers, colors, animals, mathematics etc. the kids would sometimes even lead the class. We would have a traditional meal from the school chef and at the end of the day, drive them home and walked them through the slums guided by a governmental peace leader, Amani, to their individual homes.

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5. What was the highlight of your trip?

Taking the kids to see the dorms! All 40 of them- they were running. The children of Arusha are so loving, each of them wanted to hold my hand, which was difficult at times so I let them each hold one of my fingers. That is a memory I will never forget. We built a playground out front and it was happy chaos, they were so happy they were climbing on every inch of the playground equipment and taking turns on the swings. Also, meeting the mothers and grandmother of the children-only one girl had a father figure in her life. Many times grandmothers are primary caretakers. Women in Tanzania don’t have the same rights and only speak when spoken to; only people with education are permitted to voice options. Social customs aside, they were composedly overjoyed to meet us and share stories and hardships.

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6. What was the most difficult moment of your trip?

 Visiting Unga Limited was one of the most difficult moments. Definitely eye opening. Basically everyone is Arusha is in need, but this is where the poorest people “live”… more like survive. It is like nothing I’ve experienced before. I want to put everything in quotations because their “houses” aren’t houses, rather a closet sized room of mud with no light where on average 8 people sleep. They live so differently, no water-dirty or clean- no place to go to the bathroom. One room had some solar power so all the kids were packed in the hut and neighboring children were peering in to watch from the outside slits in the house.

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7. What did you have to do to prepare beforehand?

Primarily, I applied for my Tanzanian visa, and then got malaria pills, a tetanus shot, and Typhoid- luckily I already had the hepatitis A and B vaccinations. I started collecting toilet paper that was halfway gone so it would fit in my bag easier. Deet spray is a must. Baby wipes are your best friend; showers are few and far between so wipes help with hygiene! I had to have buckets of water poured over my hair to wash it. I downloaded an app to learn some Swahili too!

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How you can help:

Yesaya posts pictures almost daily of the children, often with signs thanking donors and sponsors. Visit the Facebook page or make a donation

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