(Photos from top: 1) Tyn Church and other buildings to it's left, in the Old Town square. 2) A beautiful doorway in the city. 3) Open faced Celery Root sandwiches tasted during the "Eating Prague Food Tour". 4) A view over the city and the Vltava River from Letenske Park. 5) The warm Apple Strudel served with custard and whipped cream at the Cafe Louvre. 6) The lock bridge. 7) Rick and I in Wenceslas Square.)
I'm on the road again! This time Rick and I have headed to Eastern Europe and are enjoying the beautiful city of Prague. This city has enchanted us. I expected it to be stately and beautiful, but I didn't expect the cleanliness, how large the Old City is and the sheer volume of classical architecture. In some ways we picked a bit of an unlucky time to be here in respect to the amount of tourists in the city. We are visiting on the same week that the World Cup of Hockey Tournament started and the Prague Marathon took place. So the city is overrun with more tourists than normal for this time of year. It has made seeing some of the 'must-see' attractions a bit of a challenge. But, if that is the worst thing I have to complain about, then we are doing pretty well, right?
To read more about what we are doing and seeing, I invite you to visit me on facebook. The link to my Facebook page is on the upper right side of this page.
I will be completely honest with you, seven years ago when my husband Rick and I first visited Florence on a day trip, we did not have a great day. It was hot, we were tired, (and most likely grumpy), and the city just underwhelmed us. But when we were planning an Italian holiday with my parents in 2013, they said that Florence was on their must-see list. So, Rick and I agreed to give the city a second look, and boy, are we ever glad we did!
Instead of the less than favorable impression we were left with from our first visit, this time we found a vibrant, exciting city. And when we left, we agreed that it was a city that we hoped to return to over and over again.
I'm not going to touch on the fabulous museums that the city is home to, there are some awesome guide books which do that quite well. This is more a compilation of some of my favorite stops that I return, or plan to return to, on each visit.
In the center of Piazza dei Ciompi is a haphazard grouping of little antique shops/booths. While there are some shops with products clearly visible and easily accessible with bargains to be had, most of the shops are ones that you need to dig around and search to find your treasure. The square is host to shops that are open daily, as well as a larger market on specific weekends of the month. Click here to read more info about this quaint little market.
There is one specific store in the cluster of antique shops in the Piazza dei Ciompi that I like: Gabellini Marzia – Piazza dei Ciompi St. 11. It is the booth inside the antique stalls in Piazza dei Ciompi where I have bought many of my linens. The vendor also has a wall of buttons, old envelopes and antique books and paper ephemera. Below is a photo that my mom and I took with the shop owner in 2013 so that you can see what she looks like. Unfortunately the shops do not have names posted above their doors, so it will be easiest to find her by her photo, or from looking in the store – she is the only one where the one side wall is almost all linens, and the other side wall is halfway filled with boxes of buttons. She doesn’t speak English very well at all, but she will try her best. Another tip - she has a trove of linens stored in her cabinets, so be sure to ask to look in them. She also has more product stored off site. The first year that I met her, after I told her the things I was interested in, she asked me to come back the next day as she had more of that specific product at home and could bring them to the store the next day for me to consider.
A MUST-HAVE APP:
Eat Florence, by food writer Elizabeth Minchilli has become a tool I wouldn't travel to Florence without again. Minchilli describes her app this way:
"EAT FLORENCE is the result of my years of eating and living in Italy, all boiled down into handy, nifty apps. Don’t go expecting exhaustive. If you want ALL the restaurants in Florence there are tons of guide books out there – in English and Italian. EAT FLORENCE is simply what I think is the best. In other words, these are all places that I go to, love and would send friends to. I’ve edited them all down to a list you can trust."
I used this app for the first time during my travels to Florence in 2014. I ate at several of the places she recommended, from little sandwich shops to restaurants, and I had great meals at each place. It is well worth the $2.99 price tag.
Cucina Torcicoda – Via Torta 5 rosso - phone: 055.265.4329 • Click here for their website
The first night that I arrived in Florence in 2014 I asked the host at our apartment for a recommendation for a good pizza (I was jet lagged and wanted something fast and inexpensive, but good). He sent me here. This restaurant has 3 different portions to their business, a restaurant, an Osteria and a Pizzeria. Each serves different food at different price points. I walked into the restaurant portion of the business by mistake, but they just walked me through to where the pizzeria was. Even though I didn’t have a reservation, they were able to add a table into the pizzeria area of the restaurant and serve me. I ordered the Margaretta pizza with a stuffed ricotta crust. It was SO good. Upon leaving, I inquired as to whether I would need a reservation if I arrived with a party of 4 the next night. They told me that they encourage reservations, but if we arrived right when they opened at 7PM, then we could probably get a table without a problem. Given that I didn’t know if my firends who were joining me the next would be up for a late dinner as they had been up for 30 hours traveling, I decided that we’d just try showing up at 7 if they were hungry. They were, so we all showed up at 7 and got a table with no issue. Everyone’s food was really great. The pizzas cost between about 7-12 Euros (mine was 8.50 I think). With water, the bill per person person ran between 10.75-12.00 euros. I would highly recommend them - Yummy pizza in a great atmosphere for sure!
La Milkeria – Borgo degli Albizi 87R, 50122 Florence, Italy • Click here to visit their facebook page.
This is a cute little cafe, gelato and creperia cafe. It is really adorable, decorated in shabby chic style inside. They have a mixed bag of reviews on tripadvisor, but I had the BEST hot chocolate of my entire life there. It was thick, and tasted like the chocolate that inside of a chocolate lava cake. In other words, for a chocoholic like me, heaven! The hot chocolate that I bought is in the photo above and was the hot chocolate "con PANNA" (with whipped cream). Just typing about it is making me salivate! When I was there, my friends and I, a group of 4, all ordered crepes as well. They were nice. Not the best I've ever had, but very nice. This would be a lovely place for either breakfast, lunch, or a snack. Reservations not needed.
(image from tripadvisor.com)
Del Fagioli • Corso dei Tintori, 47/r - phone: 055 244 285
My friends and I ate here upon the recommendation of Elizabeth Minchilli and her “Eat Florence” app. She said that the Florentine Steak they serve is amongst the best in town. We had one HUGE steak – it was about 3 kilos, or 6.6 pounds. We split the steak 4 ways. (Be sure to keep in mind that Florentine steak is almost always served rare as it is so thick to cook.) In addition to the steak, we shared one order of Bruscheta, and Panzenella for our appetizers, then had asparagus and potatoes with the steak. We finished off the meal with 2 pieces of cake for dessert. To drink we had 1 bottle of water and my friend Tiffany had their house Chianti. She said that it was the deal of the week as she had 3 glasses (she wants me to let you know that they were small) and it was only 1EURO for what she drank. (They bring a bottle of Chianti to the table and then only charge you for what you drink.) The menu is only in Italian, but don’t worry, the wait staff spoke English very well and were willing to help us figure out what to order. They do have smaller steak portions available as well - steaks that serve 2, or filets, more suitable for 1. Our total bill, for everything listed here was 120 euros. So, it wasn’t cheap, but VERY good, and we all agreed it was worth the price. RESERVATIONS NEEDED. We tried to phone at 6PM for a reservation on the same night, and they were fully booked. So instead we booked a reservation for a different night.
Eataly - VIA DE' MARTELLI, 22 R 50129 Firenze
This is a really cool specialty food store in Italy (they also have a branch in New York and I believe that they are either opening, or have already opened a branch in California as well). They have some REALLY cool food stuff. They also have restaurants inside their stores. But at the front of this store, they sell soft serve gelato. My friends said that their Chocolate was the best they ate in Florence. YUMMY!! Tip: you will pay for the gelato at the cash register to the left of the gelato area (by where the coffee is), then you will take your receipt to the gelato area and give it to the person working at that area and tell him/her what you want.
I am also a huge fan of the gelato at GROM, which is a chain whose shops you will find all over Italy.
Gelato tip: The gelato that is all mounded up looks beautiful and tasty, but pass it by as most likely it is not the premium/best quality made with pure, natural ingredients. In order to get it to mound, they have to add stabilizers and whip a ton of air into it.
The easiest way to tell if the gelato is real, pure and not made from powders is to look at the color. You want to find natural looking colors. The mint should be white, banana creamish (like the inside of a real banana). Those are 2 of the easiest colors to tell at a glance how pure the gelato is. So, as tempting as it is, don't settle for the first gelato you see...shop around, there are a ton of artisanal shops all over Italy who make the good stuff.
My hubby is a big foodie and LOVES culinary tours, so when we were in Florence a food tour was a must-do for us. There are a few different companies who offer food tours, after reading reviews online and corresponding with two of them, we chose to book with Florence for Foodies.
My parents signed up for the Nude and Food Tour (where they take you to see the David, then you proceed onto the food tour), and Rick and I signed up for just the food tour. It was an interesting tour and the food they served was all very tasty. The food market they take you to is awesome and overall it was a great introduction to the city!
Their website: www.florenceforfoodies.com
Rick Steves' Florence & Tuscany - Rick Steves' guidebooks have been at my side for my European Adventures over the past decade. He has never led us astray with his advice on how to avoid long lines, what the "must-see" things are in a specific city, and his restaurant recommendations are pretty dependable. I never take a trip to Europe without purchasing his book for my destination.
If you're looking for an apartment in Florence, I highly recommend Condotta 14. You can read my review here. You can book them through Air BnB, and if you aren't registered with Air BnB yet, I would invite you to sign up using my referral link HERE. (thank you!)
I hope you enjoyed a little round up of some of my recommendations for the city. If you have any questions, just let me know.
(Photos: 1: in the inner courtyard of the Royal Palace, 2: With my friend and translator Cata at Bambola Madrid, this photo, and the next 3 from this day were all taken by Cata's husband Pablo who is an amazing photographer, 3: Demoing with Copic markers, 4: A coloring demo, 5: expalining something during the class, 6: With Mom on the amazing tile staircase at the Sorolla museum, 7: A beautiful pink building we passed in downtown Madrid, 8: A statue in the hallway of the Royal Palace, 9: Celebrating Mom's brithday with our Spanish friends at a fabulous Mexican Restaurant called La Venganza de Malinche, 10: A statue in one of the town squares, 11: With my friend Cata at the Sorolla museum.)
After our visit to Santiago de Compostela, my Mom and I flew to Madrid where I was scheduled to teach workshops on the weekend. I have been lucky to build relationships with a few of my students over the past few visits and so returning to Bambola Madrid was like visiting with friends.
Along with the workshops, which were so much fun and a great chance to catch up with some of the ladies who have come each time I am at Bambola, Mom and I also had the opportunity to do some sightseeing in the city center and some shopping.
Special thank you to Sandra and Mer for their hospitality and warm welcome to both my Mom and I. You made our time together in Spain so special. Thank you Sandra for lending us your house and your car! It was so generous of you!! To Cata who translated for the workshops and for being our tour guide for a day, thank you my friend. I have appreciated your friendship and support over the years.
After our time in Madrid, Mom and I headed to Reus with Sandra and Mer to visit the Bambola Reus store. However, unfortunately, I will not be able to share any photos from our time there with you. I dropped my iphone, which contained all my photos in the toilet, and it has not recovered :( So, I don't have any photos. However, I will try to see if I can get any from my Mom, as I think she was snapping away.
Last month I headed to Spain with my Mom for three weeks. I chronicled much of our trip on facebook, but wanted to get a few posts up on my blog as well in order to have the visit achieved here.
I was honored to be returning to the Bambola Casa Creativa family of stores for my third visit. After 20+ hours of traveling, Mom and I started our visit in Valencia which is right on the Mediterranean coast. I thought I had remembered how hot and humid Valencia was from my last visit, but clearly my memory was faulty as I found I had not brought clothes that were cool enough. It was SO humid. Yet, the amazing thing was that the ladies in my workshops were all so understanding and kind working hard throughout the heat with no complaints. I owe a huge thank you to my hostess Lola, and her husband Jose, who opened their home to us and made my Mom and I feel so welcomed. A huge thanks as well to Lorena who translated the workshops and was a great help to me over the course of the weekend.
After Valencia, Mom and I sent our bags onward to Madrid while we boarded a Ryan air flight with a small overnight bag for a short 3 day visit to Santiago de Compostela. I had booked us a cute house through tripadvisor. The house is located right in the old part of town, was a good price and very well equipped. If you're planning a visit to Santiago in the future I would highly recommend it. You can find it here.
Next time, I will share our time in Madrid with you!
In almost exactly one months time I will be in LYON, France to lead 4 creative, inspiring workshops! I invite you to join me at Version Scrap, October 16-19. One special bonus of teaching in France is that it is an opportunity for me to practice my French language skills. I took French language courses through University, however I rarely have the chance to actually speak it and so I relish each visit to France as it helps me keep up my skills.
CLICK HERE for details on the schedule and to register for these fun workshops. The class kits will be packed with great products and each class will have some great techniques as well.
Bambola Valencia - 2º Aniversario from Jaume Fons on Vimeo.
This past weekend it was an honor to return to Bambola Casa Creativa Valencia to celebrate their second anniversary and lead 3 workshops. The ladies who came out to create with me were so kind and warm and made me feel very welcomed. It was an incredibly HOT and humid weekend, but the students didn't let that get them down and were amazing and full of energy.
Thank you to Lorena who did a wonderful job translating for all the workshops. To each of the students who joined me this weekend, THANK YOU!! It was such fun to visit, share and create with you.
And to my lovely hostess Lola, THANK YOU for making my Mom and I feel so welcomed. Your hospitality was warmly and freely given. Thank you as well for some amazing, memorable meals. And to Jose, who let 2 Canadian women invade his house for a few days thank you for being willing to drive us, pick us up and lug our suitcases around town!
Please enjoy this cute video made by Jakob, the brother of my hostess. He did a wonderful job highlighting the store along with portions of the workshops.
(If you are not connected with me on facebook, I invite you to send me a friend request HERE. I update facebook more often than this blog and you can see a lot of photos from my travels and workshops there.)
As someone who loves travel, I have always had an affinity for the Christian hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing". There is one lyric in particular that speaks to my heart each time I sing or listen to the song:
The phrase "prone to wander" really speaks to me. It challenges two different parts of my heart. My spiritual heart, where it is important to beware of, and on guard against, the near constant temptations to wander from God. And my inner spirit, where wandering, in the form of travel, has been something which revitalizes my soul. Travel has shaped my worldview, helped put my place in the world in context, and taught me that contentment can be found no matter what your lot in life!
Because I have found resonance in the lyric "prone to wander", I decided to design a canvas that would be a daily reminder each time I looked at it. So, I tried to combine the challenge to my faith, with the fact that wandering can also be good. Each time I looked at it, I wanted to be forever reminded of my love of travel and challenged to keep my heart pointed in the direction it needs to be.
I designed the canvas in photoshop and then had a large, 32" x 24" canvas printed at Costco. I just picked it up last week and I am really happy with how it turned out.
If you would like your own "Prone to wander" canvas, just send me an email and we'll see what we can do. (I also have a "She was prone to wander, and wanted to see the world" version available.)
Here is a beautiful lyrical version of "Come thou Fount" sung by Audrey Assad. If you like it, it can be downloaded free (or for a small donation) HERE.
While in Italy last month, I had the pleasure to visit five different antique markets. Shopping European antique markets is pretty much my favorite thing in the whole entire world. I LOVE discovering things which I can repurpose for jewelry, alter for clothes, use in paper crafting projects, or to decorate my home.
I found some amazing things at the markets this year including three wall sconce chandeliers, over 20 antique nightshirts (just wait until you see what my Mom and I will be doing with them!), some canapa bed linens, about 6 mother of pearl rosaries, a lot of religious medals, a glass oval cloche (made of the most fabulous wavy hand blown glass), an enamel Studio sign, a painted portrait....and those are the things I can remember off the top of my head! It's been so fun to unwrap the packages and decide what I want to do or make with each item, or how I want to display it. But for now, the fun and daydreaming needs to be put aside as there is work to do!
For those who have emailed about attending "La Dolce Vita" next year, we are working on getting the retreat info up. It is the summer time in Italy, and so with holidays, etc. it's taken a bit longer than we expected to firm things up. We are aiming to have the event for sale mid-August. Thanks for your patience!
While I love being able to blog and share my memories with friends and family through this virtual medium, I find that, at times, life moves at such a quick pace that I am unable to get everything I want to share up here in a timely manner. Today is one such time. At the end of September 2013 I had the honor of being invited to Russia for the second time to teach paper crafting workshops. I shared about my time in Moscow on this post here. However, there was a second part to my trip, a second, LOVELY part to my trip that I haven't shared with you yet. So, today I'd like to take some time to post a little round up from the second portion of my Russian trip from last year.
Immediately after teaching my last class in Moscow, I hopped on a plane and took a 2.5 hour flight to Yekaterinburg where I would be teaching 2 more workshops before heading back home to Canada. I landed at about 1:30 in the morning, yet my hostess Lida and her husband Sergey were there to greet me with hugs and smiles. We drove to their home right away where I would stay in their daughter's room as she was on a student exchange in China. The next morning the first of my workshops began and I was so pleased to hear from Lida that the 2 classes we would be offering at her shop had sold out! What a blessing. I taught my "Start to Finish" mini album class which combines scrapbooking and bookbinding techniques. Here are a few pictures from the day:
1.) My hostess Lida and I, 2.) One of my workshop groups, 3.) All of the students were SO nice. This sweet girl brought me a traditional Russian handiwork gift that her mother made for me, 4.) My sweet translator Helen, 5.) Lida, her husband Sergey and I, 6.) Nastya sewing the binding for each of the students, 7.) The second workshop group
I continue to be amazed by the generous, kind, lovely people who I have the pleasure of meeting during my workshops. I could not have completed the day in Yekaterinburg without the kindness and help of Helen Phillips. She was my translator for the day and was such a pleasure to work with. THANK YOU Helen. You helped make my day so much easier.
After a long day of workshops, I returned home with Lida and her husband for a quick dinner and then went immediately to bed. The next day I was leaving Yekaterinburg in the afternoon to head back to Moscow for one last night before my flight home the following morning. But, before they took me to the airport, Lida and Sergey had a fun morning planned for me. It started with Lida teaching me how to make one of my favorite Russian foods, Blini (basically the Russian version of a pancake). With her help I managed to make a few and we ate the fruits of our labor for breakfast. Next, they took me on a walking tour of their city. Yekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia, and there was a really nice pedestrian walkway in a portion of the city which we explored before capping off our day with an amazing dinner at a FABULOUS traditional restaurant.
To say that I had a wonderful time in Yekaterinburg would be an understatement. Lida and Sergey, and her support team went out of their way to make me feel welcomed and to show me their local culture. I am so thankful and grateful for their kindness.
Hugs and Love to all my Russian friends. I hope to meet you all again some time!