Tempting Tuesday: Falling in Love with Florence

This week Cecil Lee, travel photographer extraordinaire, is back to tell us about Florence, another spot in Italy he fell in love with during his travels earlier this year. And since I just visited there for the first time this past spring, I know what it’s like to fall in love with the beauty of Florence.

Welcome Cecil!

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Apart from falling in love with Venice during my trip to Italy, I also found myself falling for the art, historical and cultural capital of Italy – Florence. A UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region in the middle of Italy. I fell in love with Florence because she is so elegant and different from the rest of Italian cities I visited. The city lies on the River Arno, which separates Florence into new and historic sections. Florence is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance with its strongest influence in Italian art and architecture. Two of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, lived and worked in this beautiful city.

Duomo of Florence by Cecil Lee

Florence is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. When we first arrived at its main rail station Santa Maria Novella, abbreviated as SMN, and walked out from the station, we were surprised to find ourselves already in the heart of historic Florence. We started to explore the city attractions one by one since they were all within walking distance. The most dominant icon of Florence would definitely be the Duomo, or Cathedral, the highest building in Florence. Climbing up 460 steps of spiral staircase to the tower top offers the best view of Florence. Next would be the Accademia Gallery. I had to queue for 45 minute to get in, but it was worth it to see the original David, the greatest sculpture done by my favorite sculptor Michelangelo.

Fontana del Nettuno by Cecil Lee

Sitting at one of the many open air cafés at Piazza Della Signoria, I could actually see some of those famous sculptures as well as people watching. A replica statue of David could be found here. For my wife who loves leather bags and wallets, the San Lorenzo open market was a “must-go” spot. We spent hours in there to buy some of those high quality local leather products such as shoes, bags, wallet that are made in Firenze.

San Lorenzo Market by Cecil Lee

In the evening, we walked along the River Arno, the main river of Florence and Tuscany. We came to the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the oldest and most famous bridge that crosses over the River Arno. There are shops selling jewelry, art and souvenirs. In the evening under the setting sun, it just looked marvelous in yellow color. 

When the night fell, we took a bus up to the hill top at Piazzale Michelangelo. It is the best viewpoint to Florence city skyline. I set up my DSLR onto a tripod and shot endlessly!

Florence at Night by Cecil Lee

Florence is also a great location for visiting other important cities of Tuscany, such as Sienna and the wine producing area Chianti to try the Chianti Classico wine. Florence offers much more than that, too. The local foods are marvelous! I couldn’t help but to try the local gelato, as well as the famous Florence steak with a glass of Italian Chianti Classico wine as well as the traditional bread with Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Florence offers so much beauty to discover!

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Cecil Lee is an avid traveler who is also a passionate travel blogger and travel photographer living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He writes about travel for MNUI travel insurance and on his own travel photo blog, Travel Feeder.

Tempting Tuesday: In Love with Venice by Cecil Lee

While Venice might not be geographically all that close to the Amalfi Coast, it is a place very close to my heart. The first time I traveled to Italy, I visited Venice and only Venice (with a little jaunt to see the Museo Ferrari in Maranello), and it was a memorable trip. For this week’s Tempting Tuesday, Cecil Lee, an avid traveler and photographer, tells us about his experiences visiting Venice earlier this year.

Welcome, Cecil!

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One of the cities that I love most in Italy is definitely Venice. Venice is composed of 118 small islands separating by canals. It is sited along Adriatic Sea in Northeast Italy. Not unexpectedly, it is also the most valuable island in Italy as researches tell us that Venice is sinking by 5mm each year and by the year 2050, most parts of Venice will be underwater! In fact, many parts of the city are already sunken into water and long vacant. When I was there last summer, St. Mark’s Square, the most famous landmarks in Venice, was partly flooded in the morning during high tide.

 

Venice1 Cecil Lee Photo by Cecil Lee

 

How should I describe Venice? I was stunned and amazed by the beautiful scenic view of the city when I first visited the island. The whole city is surrounded by sea and divided by canals. Naturally, the main means of transportation there is by water. Most of the great buildings are not new. They were constructed centuries ago and many of them are already partly sunken into sea water!

Tourists attractions are mainly concentrated along the main waterway, Grand Canal of Venice. Hotels, restaurants, shops and pubs are spread along it and around the Rialto Bridge. But I like to explore further into the local lifestyle, by walking away from the tourists spots without the worry of getting lost. There are always signs showing the direction back to Rialto Bridge or Piazza San Marco. Drinking coffee and eating home made pizza with Venetians in any of the local cafés and restaurants is definitely exciting and rewarding.

 

Venice2 Cecil Lee Photo by Cecil Lee

 

Of course, I love also those main tourists attractions in Venice, such as St. Mark’s Square, the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto Bridge. Make sure you bring enough memory SD cards, because I snap, snap and snap not less than 1000 photos when I was in Venice! The sky was so blue and clear, the sunlight so bright and beautiful and my photos all turned out fantastic. Though the sun was hot, I could always cool down by eating gelato after gelato!

 

Venice3 Cecil Lee  Photo by Cecil Lee

 

Having coffee at the outdoor seating of the famous Florian coffee bar in St. Mark’s Square, listening to live violin music and witnessing the colors of the sunset in front of the historical St. Mark’s Basilica was an enchanting experience.

I love also the romantic setting all over Venice especially the gondola ride along the Grand Canal, which definitely will make your stay in Venice a memorable honeymoon trip. The environment there is perfect for falling in love, so be careful who you go to Venice with!

Whoever has seen Venice will definitely want to go back for more. I’m certainly one of them…

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Cecil Lee is an avid traveler who is also a passionate travel blogger and travel photographer living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He writes about travel for MNUI travel insurance and on his own travel photo blog, Travel Feeder.

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Have you been to Venice? What do you remember most?

Tempting Tuesday: A Day at the Santa Croce Beach, Amalfi

This summer it has been a real treat to travel around the world visiting a new beach every Tuesday. We’ve been to both Long Beach Island, New Jersey  and the La Maremma beach in Tuscany, Italy with Lisa Fantino. We saw the beautiful Giannella  beach in Argentario, Tuscany with Katie Greenaway.  Andi Perullo took us to two exotic and dreamy spots, one in Cuba and the other at the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia.  Cherrye Moore brought us back to southern Italy by showing us Tropea’s tantalizing beaches, the Giovino beach and Soverato’s sizzlin’ beach in Calabria. And I gave you a peak at the beautiful Fornillo beach in Positano, right here on the Amalfi Coast. That’s a lot of beach time … I hope you had your sun block on!

As the beach days begin to wane, this week I’ll be wrapping up my Tempting Tuesday beach series. But, on this last day of August, I just couldn’t resist sharing with you all some photographs I took this summer at my favorite beach on the Amalfi Coast – the Santa Croce beach in Amalfi.

Located just west of Amalfi, this heavenly beach is only a short boat ride away. (Or, if you’re feeling like some exercise, about 400 steps below the Amalfi Coast road.) During the summer, there’s a local boat service that runs throughout the day from Amalfi, and the ride only costs €2.00. Or, you can take the free boat service offered by Ristorante Da Teresa, the one with the orange umbrellas in the photos below, if you plan on dining in their restaurant or paying to rent a sun bed and umbrella.

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Beach

 

The beach at Santa Croce is small, rocky and absolutely perfect. I think the water is perhaps more beautiful here than any beach I’ve seen on the Amalfi Coast.

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Sea

 

Now do you you believe me?

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Incredible water

 

The larger rocks form a swimming area that is fun to explore, especially for kids who seem to love splashing around in the beautiful water.

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Water

 

I’m usually off exploring the rocky area with my camera. I don’t know how this plant can survive the intense summer sun!

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce taking photos

 

There are few places on the Amalfi Coast that I find as peaceful as the Santa Croce beach. Sometimes I close my eyes and see this photo.

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Sailboat

 

I found a beautiful spot at the end of the beach and sat down for awhile watching the tiny crabs run back and forth on the rocks below. Not a bad view, eh?

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce Rocks

 

These are the summer days I’ll be remembering as the weather turns cool and I pack away the swimsuits, flip flops and beach hats for next year.

 

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Santa Croce feet

 

But, until then, I’ve got the sound of the sea to carry me through until next summer, when I’ll be back at Santa Croce beach!

 

 

If you want more tips and information on visiting the Santa Croce beach, check out the post I wrote last summer about my favorite beach on the Amalfi Coast.

Tempting Tuesday: At the Beach in La Maremma, Tuscany

When it comes to planning a trip to Italy’s Tuscany region, the first images that comes to mind are naturally of rolling hillsides, medieval hilltop villages, winding roads lined with those “creepy Italian trees”, and fields of sunflowers. And that certainly is Tuscany! But the region also has a  beautiful coastline and oh so many tempting beaches. Lisa Fantino from Wanderlust Women Travel has stopped by this week to share with us about one of her favorite beaches in Tuscany.

Welcome, Lisa!

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Solo_Travel_La_Maremma_Tuscany

 

There is never a bad day when you’re at the beach. Rain, sleet, snow….oh yeah, and sun, each offers a different opportunity to enjoy the splendor of the sea……….and if the beach just happens to be in Italy, then that’s an added bonus.

La Maremma national park (Parco Naturale della Maremma), along the coast of Tuscany is magnificent in its raw beauty. This is a different beach scene than Ostia Lido near Rome or the tourist-trodden Tropea in Calabria. This is nature at its best—wild, unkempt and beautiful.

 

Solo_Travel_Maremma_Road

 

This particular day, driving through a shaded grove, lined with wild horses and the occasional Italian cowboy (buttero), it was hard to imagine that the sea lies dead ahead. The trees stand tall over Marina di Alberese, as they have done for centuries, and the Tyrrhenian Sea is nowhere on the horizon for several miles. It’s not until you are well into the parking lot, just beyond the small refreshment stand, that you spy a sliver of turquoise amid the blackness of the branches. Step closer and you will see the white sand beaches, so different from the rocky shores of the Amalfi Coast.

There are private coves along the shoreline where lovers can seemingly hide from the world, and children can get lost in the groves of pine trees. Privacy in public is possible in this wilderness. This is not a beach for boom boxes and sunbrellas. This is a shore for soul-searching, sun-soaking and truly taking the sun au naturale, as a small portion of this park is also a nude beach.

La Maremma runs along the Tuscan coast for some 150 miles and La Marina di Alberese can be found just south of Grosetto.

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Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist and attorney and the Italy travel consultant behind Wanderlust Women Travel and the Italy destination wedding site Wanderlust Weddings. She also writes travel features for MNUI Travel Insurance and blogs as Lady Litigator.

Tempting Tuesday: Beach Adventures in Cuba by Andrea Perullo

As the tourists come crushing into the beaches of the Amalfi Coast, it’s been a pleasure to dream of traveling to other beaches around the world with this fun series of guest posts. With the crowds and the heat, nothing beats a bit of armchair traveling from the comfort of home! When the summer heat rises, out comes my collection of Cuban music by the amazingly talented artists such as Ruben Gonzalez, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo, Ibrahim Ferrer and so many others. If I can get my hands on some limes and mint—not always the easiest ingredients to find here in Italy—I’ll even whip up some mojitos. This week Andi from My Beautiful Adventures really tempted me with her story and gorgeous photos from her beach adventures in Cuba. She certainly does know how to have beautiful travel adventures!

Welcome, Andi!

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Palm Trees Cuba

 

I am an adrenalin junkie like no other! This trait was developed several years ago and must now be satiated constantly. So, if you add my fascination with Cuban history and politics, my crush on Che, my love for mojitos, and all things Latin WITH being told that I am not allowed to legally enter the country; well, I could not have designed a better place to get my adrenaline fix in, nor to celebrate my 25th Birthday, than La
Habana, Cuba.

The trip itself was a dream-come-true, but one of the most memorable parts of the whole trip was spending my Birthday at Playa del Este, or the East Beach in Spanish. It is only about a 20 minute and $5 taxi ride from downtown La Habana.

 

Beach Cuba

 

As I walked over the sand dunes and in the direction of the ocean the sight of the crystal blue waters took my breath away! I will never become jaded with the Caribbean. The beach is long and wide, with white soft sand and warm gentle water.

Throughout most of Cuba you will encounter a separation between tourists and locals. That type of segregation was really unsettling and bothered me the entire trip, however unlike everywhere else, Playa del Este had no separation and being amongst the locals, especially in such a gorgeous setting, made the experience that much more unforgettable.

 

Beach Cuba 2

 

Surrounding the beach are numerous restaurants and bars, but my favorite place for a snack was the popular ice cream stand that always had a line.

I revisited Playa del Este once more on my last day in Cuba. It was the perfect place for me to reflect on my trip. The island was full of life and desperation at the same time. Surrounded by tropical heat, the beat of salsa music, dilapidated architecture, and the constant presence of political unease; in Cuba I had the constant feeling that something was just about to occur, because in a place so full of uncertainty the only thing that was
for sure was that something inevitably would happen!

 

Car Cuba

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Andrea Perullo is a Chinese Medicine Doctor by day, travel addict by night. When she is not treating patients, she is exploring the world or dreaming of the next place to visit.  She also writes travel features for MNUI Travel Insurance and blogs at My Beautiful Adventures.