OUR TRIP TO THE ISLANDS OF VENICE - MURANO, BURANO, TORCELLO (ITALY)

BURANO
Burano
BURANO

One of these days, I will write about our spontaneous weekend trip to Venice - it was magical (not without its ups and down but still an excellent time). One of our favorite parts of the trip was our time visiting the Islands of Venice - there are three of them - Murano, Burano and Torcello. This is one of the highly recommended things to do when visiting Venice. It is a half day trip taking off from Venice (just off Saint Mark Square) in the morning or afternoon. At the time of our visit, it cost about 20 Euro per person - we bought our tickets online but you can get them off the main square as well. If you are planning to go be aware of a few things

MURANO
MURANO

There are three towns in total and because this is only a half day tour the tour are very strict on time alloted on each Island. We had about 45 mins in Murano ; an hour in Burano , which is the most famous of the three islands and about 45 mins in Torcello. We missed our boat from Burano to Torcello and had to bargain with the next tour group to take us (we got lost trying to find our way back to the dock); We were lucky to find a boat with space. If that happens to you and you don’t have the luck we did - you can take a public taxi to get to the next stop or back to Venice. Basically, it is NOT the end of the world if you miss your boat.

MURANO

Murano was the first stop and if you know nothing about Murano - know it is home of glass blowing, crystals and glass making and with our tour we were able to visit a glass blowing factory and seea demonstration. For over a century artisans have lived here molding glass from sand using air and fire to create the most exquisite, intricate pieces and passing that skill down to the next generation. The main street was lined with shops selling the intricate pieces if you want to pick up some as souvenirs. It is extremely hot in the factory but it was very cool to see the process of sculpting from glass. We did not attempt to do much here, we walked around, took some pictures, visited the Church of San Donato and then headed back to the boat. If you have time, you can visit the glass museum.

MURANO
Murano
Murano
Murano
MURANO

The colorful Island of Burano was our favorite, there is quite a bit to see/do here and we felt very rushed here. We discovered after our trip, this was actually an archipelago of five Island connected by bridges (never would have guessed that in a million years). It is also the home of the most beautiful hand crafted lace - thankfully, we had restricted ourselves to our budget - I might have returned how with several lace pieces. Burano is also home to the leaning bell tower in the main square - not as distinct as Pisa; yet a wonderful find in Burano.

BURANO
BURANO
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Burano
Murano

Torcello was our last stop and we did not do much here at all. We heard of the Devil’s bridge legend based in this city; It was the first thing we saw as we approached the town from the dock - it is about a 7 to 10 minute trek from the dock to the town; once we saw bridge - we called it a day at that point. We just could not be bothered after spending over an hour trying to sort out how to get here after missing our tour (this was before we discovered the public taxies). The Cathedral of the Assumption was also highly recommended but we did not make that far into the town. Instead, we found a restaurant and had an incredible Italian lunch at Ristorante al Torno di Attila. The tiramisu was incredible.

We returned to Venice will a full stomach and full heart.

TORCELLO
TORCELLO
TORCELLO
TORCELLO
BURANO
BURANO







GUIDE TO A WEEKEND IN MILAN - WHAT TO SEE/DO ; WHERE TO STAY AND EAT // MILAN , ITALY

Milan
Milan Cathedral

It has been a challenge putting this guide together because I did not feel like we fully explored Milan. Due to flight delays, we arrived four hours later than planned and the weather was working against us most of the weekend. Our carefully curated itinerary had to be tossed out quickly. We made the most of our time there and although we did not get to see and do all the things, we still had an incredible time. Milan is very different from most other Italian cities I have visited - it is more formal/business like; its architecture is more modern and while other Italian cities thrive on their history; I think Milan is thriving on its present. 

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VISA REQUIREMENT. Italy is a Schegen member state which means you can gain with a valid Schengen visa. Pro tip - when applying for Schegen visa, make sure to request multiple entry - not two entries. Certain Schegen countries have the option for “two entries” on the application so make sure you select “multiple entry” on your application.

HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED. That depends. Milan is a great base for exploring parts of Italy and Switzerland. If your plans involve day trips then you should consider staying longer than I did. I spent three nights in the city with two day trips. I was on a mid morning flight out of London and had a half day to explore Milan. The main purpose for the trip to Milan was to get to Como so our time in Milan was limited to a few hours before and after our day trips. We spent Saturday in Verona and Sunday in Lake Como. Verona was not planned but it was raining very heavily in Milan on Saturday, we opted for the trip to Verona over staying cooped up in our hotel room.

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MILAN
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Milan

WHERE TO STAY. Although we stayed in the suburbs - we were within a 20-minute bus or tram ride to city center and only an eight minute uber ride to/from Milano Centrale. We stayed at a three-star hotel - Hotel Ideale. It was clean; comfortable; rates included breakfast and the staff was very friendly and helpful. If I find myself in Milan again, I could see myself staying here on a return trip to Milan.

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WHAT TO SEE. I don't think you can claim a visit to Milan without visiting the Milan Cathedral (Duomo). What sets this apart from other Duomo is the gothic style architecture and it fills its space. I don't quite know how to describe it. Just trust me and put this on your itinerary. If you can withstand the queues, you can walk around the top. I stuck to viewing it from the Piazza and I am still in awe.

Next to the Cathedral is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which is home to high-end boutiques and fancy cafes. Walk to the center and look up to admire the intricate details that makes this one of the most photographed spots in Milan. If you superstitious, find the image of the bull and spin on it for some good luck. 

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On the other side of the Galleria, you will find the famed opera house - Teatro alla Scala. If you can get tickets to a show, I hear it is one of the most impressive opera houses in Europe and a great way to glimpse into the culture of Milan.

Santa Maria delle Grazie. This is one of the reasons I will be returning to Milan. I missed out on visiting this place. It is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site and the place that displays the famous Leonardo da Vinci mural - The Last Supper. 

Watch the sunset from Naviglio Canal. If you have visited Venice then you may not be impressed by this. If you want an escape from the center then here is an option. It is quieter than the area around the Duomo and has a variety of restaurants; bars and cafes.

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LUINI MILAN

WHERE TO EAT. I discovered this Italian culture of snacking while we were in Venice and I definitely embraced it (wholeheartedly). Our first stop in Milan was to Luini which is an incredible snack shop near the Milan Cathedral. They do snacks well here. For Pastries and sweets, head to Paticceria Marchesi located above the Prada store in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

For Pasta and Pizza visit one of these Milan spots - Ristorante da Teresa; Norin Cafe and Bistro; Pizzeria Di Drago and El Brellin.

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DAY TRIPS. I did not realize how close Milan was to several Italian cities. We knew it was close to Lake Como (that was half the reason we were there), but thanks to mother nature ruining our plans to spend Saturday in Lake Como, we discovered several other Italian cities within a two-hour train ride from Milan. We visited Verona, Bellagio, and Lake Como. You can read all about our time in Verona here. Other day trip options we considered: Venice (2.5 hrs via train); Rome ( 3 hrs via train); Bergamo (1/2 hr train ride) ; Cinque Terre (3 hrs via train); St Moritz, Switzerland (2.5 hrs via express train).

Verona
Milano Centrale

THE BASEL CITY GUIDE - HOW TO SPEND A WEEKEND IN BASEL , SWITZERLAND

Oh Basel

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I am typing this on my flight from Basel to London and let me confess - I am already having withdrawal symptoms. I loved Basel. For years Switzerland has been on the bucket list and I finally got a chance to tick it off the list. Before we get into the fun bits, lets clear the air. Yes! everything you have heard about Switzerland being expensive is true but don’t let that discourage you; with a little bit of planning ahead, you can visit Basel / Switzerland without breaking the bank. Before you board your flight, keep in mind that Switzerland does not use the Euro; they use the Swiss Franc which is about a one to one with the British pound.

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Getting there. British Airways offers direct flights from London Heathrow to Basel daily. Flight is under two hours so why not. When you arrive, make sure to take the exit for Switzerland and not the one to Germany or France. Look for Bus 50 outside the arrival gate; that bus will take you to Basel SBB (the main train station) and from here you can hop the tram or bus to the city or take a train to other parts of Europe or Switzerland.

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Where to stay in Basel, Switzerland. I recommend staying at a hotel - any safe neighborhood that works with your budget is fine because hotels provide a free travel card for the duration of your stay. With the travel card, you can get on the bus, tram and other transportation modes within Basel for free. The card also offers a free two-hour bus tour; discounts for tours and museums. I found a great deal on Expedia for Hotel Wettstein. I loved staying here; it was not quite the city center, but with the free transport I could get most places in under twenty minutes. The hotel is less than a five-minute walk to the tram station; great restaurants within walking distance and the service was incredible. Also, the mini bar is free. You read that correctly - FREE. The only downside, my room did not have air conditioning but I had a standing fan which worked great. I also had a room not facing the street so I could leave my window open. All in all, I did not find the lack of air conditioning to be a burden.

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What to do in Basel, Switzerland. Basel has got something for everyone - architecture; art; culture; food; entertainment. Everything! The things I will recommend for your itinerary. Take a tour of the old town, the tickets cost 10 CF and it was very informative. You can get tickets from the tourism office or online. The meetup spot is by the fountains at Theaterplatz. The Tinguely (Fasnacht) fountain in Theaterplatz is a must see. Trust me, this is not like any fountain you have seen. If you explore the old town on your own, don’t miss the Basler Munster (cathedral); the Rathhus (Town Hall) with its impressive facade cannot be missed - make sure to go inside - it is beautiful. Take a walk along St. Alban riverbank which offers great views of the old city walls and one of the three historic gates to the city and Rheinsprung street. There is also a free street with both high end and high street shopping.

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Cross the river Rhine by taking a walk on Mottler Brucke - an impressive bridge with great views of the city. You can also cross the Rhine on the Basel ferries which are only powered by the flow of the river. Away from old town, visit two of Basel’s old city gates - Spalentor and St. Alban-Tor. My favorite part of Basel is the fact that you can be in three countries at the same time - do not miss the Tri-border point - this is where France, Germany, and Switzerland converge. Even more impressive you can take a stroll across the Weil am Rhein bridge from Basel (Switzerland) and be in Germany / France in under ten minutes.

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Basel is the perfect hub because of its proximity to other parts of Europe and Switzerland. The Alsace region of France - Colmar is under an hour by train from Basel SBB; You are also under two hours from other Swiss cities - Lucerne; Zurich and Bern. The black forest in Germany is also less than two hours from Basel (are your bags packed, yet).

Basel is known for a lot of things including - Basel carnival and Art Basel. It is estimated that Basel has about one museum per kilometer and a half - everything from the paper mill museum to Foundation Beyeler (the most visited museum in Basel). On to another art form - architecture - Basel has some stunning architecture - some of my favorites were the stairs at the former Warteck brewery; Messe Basel (aka window to heaven) and Bis by Mario Botta.

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Where / What to eat in Basel, Switzerland. Because Switzerland is quite expensive in comparison to London and other European cities, I did not eat out as much as I usually do. I did manage one meal out daily and quite enjoyed everywhere I ate. Possibly the best Pasta I ever ate was at Hotel Restaurant Resslirytti right next door to the hotel I was staying in - Hotel Wettstein. Brunch at Les garecons Basel was incredible - if you like the Mediterranean - I recommend the Mediterranean breakfast - delicious. Save some of your money for Schiesser tea room across from Rathus. This tea room has been around since 1870 churning our incredible dessert. For about 12 Swiss francs per person, you can get a great dessert and tea or coffee. You are in Switzerland so you have got to try Swiss chocolate and there are a lot of shops around the old town to buy from or even the supermarkets. There is also the Basel gingerbread delicacy of Läckerli  - I really enjoyed the ones from Schiesser tea room.

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THE ULTIMATE NEW YORK FOOD GUIDE : 35 OF MY FAVORITE PLACES TO EAT IN NYC

This year marks year seven years of spending time in New York in the summer. I have spent as little as three days and as long as two weeks exploring and eating my way through the city. I have dined at a lot of restaurants - some really good ones and others not so much. With all that food knowledge, now seemed the perfect time to share my guide to eating in the city. This list has been curated based on years of research and if it made the list then you can trust it is a good one. These are from the city and surroundings - Brooklyn and Williamsburg. If you are in need of more NYC food recommendations or food recommendations in general - I share food recommendations from my travel around the world - here

COOKSHOP

Let’s start with the markets. If you are traveling with a large group with different tastes, a market is a great place to head for nourishment because you can satisfy everyone’s culinary tastes with one stop.

THE MARKETS

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  1. Chelsea Market. Located close to the highline; this could your reward for walking the highline. This indoor market has got cafes; florists; artisans. There are several food options from seafood to burgers; noddles and pizza. There are also a few dessert spot here. The market gets crowded so keep that in mind.

  2. Eataly. The Italian grocery store located by the flatiron is one of my favorite food destinations in the city. Their food court has a variety of food options. Some quick and others are more traditional. My favorite spot is the nutella bar. The waffle with a scoop of ice cream drizzled with nutella is delicious.

  3. Smorgasburg. This is a weekend food market that runs seasonally. There is also an indoor food market; there are over 75 vendors serving a variety of cusines. I love walking around a trying a little bit of everything. Make sure to have cash on hand; some vendors only take cash.

EATALY
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BREAKFAST AND BRUNCH

  1. Jack's Wife Freda. This is one of my favorite brunch destinations in the city. I am never disappointed. The madame Freda is a favorite and if cantaloupe juice is on the menu - get it !

  2. Sara Beth. There are multiple locations including one close to Time Square serving American style brunch. Order the french toast and let your life be forever changed. The cookies are also very highly recommended.

  3. Bubby's. Multiple locations. Love the one in Chelsea. You can walk off all the delicious food by strolling the Highline after brunch. I recommend pancakes and apple pie.

  4. Sylvia. This spot is known for both its history and the food and has hosted some greats including former presidents. The brunch lines on weekends requires resilience, but if you can brave it, you will be rewarded with amazing soul food. I recommend the chicken and waffles and the cornbread.

  5. Two Hands. This Australian brunch location with multiple locations, including one in Soho has been a favorite brunch destination for years. The menu is not complicated but the dishes are seriously delish. I always recommend the acai bowl but the avocado toast has triggered a lot of food envy on my part.

  6. Bluestone Cafe. Another Australian import with several locations around the city. I love the vibe of the collective cafe in Greenwich. There is a lot of talk about the avocado smash but I go back often for the green baked eggs. They also make an excellent cold brew.

  7. Cookshop. This is a new favorite discovered on my last trip and I can’t believe I have just discovered it. Located by the higline and serving really good food. The biscuits are amazing.

  8. Pie n’ Thighs. I discovered this Brooklyn brunch destination a few years ago; but did not get a chance to dine here until my last trip to the city. They serve brunch all day - always the chicken and waffles; their doughnuts are excellent.

Bubby's.
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SWEETS AND COFFEE

Some of my favorite brunch spots also serve excellent coffee including two Aussie imports that have staked a legitimate claim on the NY coffee scene. Two hands and Blue stone cafe. Did I mention the cold brew from Blue stone already ?

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Sweet moments cafe
  1. Toby's Estate: There are multiple locations around the city serving great Coffee. If coffee is not your thing, the Chai tea latte is excellent.

  2. Devocion: If you are in Williamsburg then you should stop by; it checks all the right boxes - coffee and ambiance. This is a great spot to get coffee and also get work done.

  3. Maman Coffee: I went for the ambiance and stayed for the coffee and the adorable floral coffee cups. Don't be distracted by the instagrammable exterior, they know how to make a great cup of coffee

  4. Birch Coffee: Multiple locations | The very best chai tea latte. The rest of the menu is excellent.

  5. Sweet Moment: The coffee shop is known for their cold brew with incredible latte art. If you are looking for perfection in a cup then you should give a cup of their cold brew a try.

  6. Bibble and Sip. The mid-town location is always packed for good reason. The matcha lavender latte is one of the best things I have ever tasted.

  7. Dough : Multiple locations | Donuts the size of your face. I recommend the Tres des leche and the regular sugar donut.

  8. Four and Twenty Blackbird: Worth a trip to Brooklyn and they know a lot about how to make an incredible pie. The menu changes daily. Get the black bottom oat if it's on the menu.

  9. Doughnut Plant : Multiple locations | Order a carrot cake donut; then send me a thank you note (donut attached, of course !).

  10. Levains : Delicious cookies the size of your face. Ok, maybe not the size of your face, but quite large portions. Locations in Harlem and on 72nd street. Expect long lines especially at the 72nd street location but the chocolate, chocolate chip cookie is worth the wait and/or trip to Harlem.

  11. Egg Loo: China town has one of the best-kept secrets for sweets. The hong kong style waffles with mounds of ice cream and toppings is a must have a treat.

  12. Dylan's Candy Store: Midtown location has a sit-down area on the second floor. Order yourself a sundae. Make sure you have a friend with you to share and prepare for a sugar high.

  13. Momofuku milk bar : Multiple locations serving cereal milk soft serve every time. It tastes like the milk at the bottom of cornflakes.

  14. Magnolia Bakery : Fans of Sex in the City will be familiar with this one. The cupcakes are awesome. The red velvet cheesecake checks all the right boxes. Light and fluffy.

  15. Taiyaki: The Japanese phenomena that ruined me for good. Fish shaped waffled stuffed with airy light Japanese ice-cream drizzled with topping of your choice. Give me a moment while I find my happy place

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LUNCH AND DINNER

  1. Marta. I have been dining at Marta for as long as I have been visiting NYC. It is a very popular destination for lunch meetings so you may have to wait for a table if you don’t want to sit at the bar. (Located in Midtown East).

  2. Blue Ribbon Sushi. If you are lucky and they feature the soba noodle ball with duck meatballs on the menu. Order it immediately. You are welcome.

  3. Shake Shack. While Shake Shack is expanding across America; I still love stopping by the one by the flat iron building to order a chicken burger and a milk shake.

  4. Totto Ramen. This was one of my first food destinations in New York. I stumbled on it on a cold / rainy day in 2014 and I have been returning for their ramen offerings since then. You may have to wait to get in but there are three locations to choose from Midtown West ; Midtown East and Hell’s kitchen.

  5. Grimaldi's. This cash only Pizza spot in Brooklyn is a favorite of mine. I have read mixed review but I quite enjoy their Pizza offering. The queue to get in can be ridiculous at time so keep that in mind.

  6. The Butcher's daughter. This plant based restaurant is the only spot I will visit when I am craving delicious and healthy. I have often said if other restaurants did healthy like TBD; I will never have a problem eating healthy. They serve a variety of vegan; vegetarian and gluten free options.

  7. Ippudo. This is another favorite go to Ramen spot. Their specialty is tonkotsu ramen, and that is what I always get because it is amazing. There are a few locations around the city.

  8. Baek Jeong NYC. I am a lover of Korean food and any time I have a craving for Korean food in NYC; this is where I go to satisfy that craving.

  9. Fred’s at Barney’s. For a real treat yo self experience; it is always Fred’s. The Nicoise salad is a personal favorite but the menu if packed with a variety of delicious offerings

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WHAT TO DO WITH 24 HOURS IN VERONA, ITALY

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Verona, Italy

We were in Milan for a few days and had planned to spend a day in  Lake Como and Bellagio. It had always been on the bucket list and this trip to Italy was going to be the one we got to tick this off the bucket list. Mother nature had other ideas though - we woke up to rain and thunderstorms in Milan and surrounding areas and Lake Como was a no-go. We explored multiple options including Bergamo; Venice; and Verona. Venice was at the top of the list but I had been there the weekend before and other members of my party were saving Venice. Our hotel concierge recommended Verona over Bergamo so after a lazy morning we set out for Verona via train from Milano Centrale.  The train ride took about an hour and a half plus a twenty minutes bus ride to the city and we were ready to start off our day in Verona. If you can, I think the city deserves a weekend to fully enjoy it, but if like us, you don't have the luxury of a weekend, I think a day gives you a glimpse to the heart of this artist hub also known as the city of love. Here is what we got up.

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Verona, Italy
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Arena de verona. The arena is right in the heart if the city in Piazza Bra.  In the summer months, you can catch a show here and when our hosts in Milan heard we were heading to Verona. He could not stop gushing about the shows hosted at the arena (which looks something like the Roman coliseum. The elaborate set design available for public viewing in the piazza held promise of soemthing spectacular behind the arena walls. Unfortunately we were out of luck getting tickets.

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Verona, Italy

Via Mazzini. If you looking to do some shopping, then Via Mazzini is where you want to spend your time. It is very busy street  lined with both high street brands and big designer shops. If you have more than twenty four hours in the city then you have head to the designed outlets in Lake Garda. It was highly recommened and may just be a reason to plan a return trip to Verona. Don't limit yourself to the main avenue, take a detour to side streets for hidden archictecture gems.

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Piazza delle Erbe. At the end of Via Mazzini to the left, we stumbled on Piazza delle Erbe. The Piazza seemed to be heart of the city housing both history and present. The square is lined with quaint architecture; restaurants; cafes and bars with a day market operating in the center of the square. The square is also home to Torre del Gardello and Fontana del Madonna.

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Palazzo Maffei. Located in Piazza della Erbe. The baroque facade of the Palace cannot be missed. The top of the facade facing the Piazza has six statues of greek divinities - Hercules ; Jupiter; Venus; Mercury; Appollo and Minerva. If you have time to explore the interipr. It is home to a helicodia stone staircase that makes for spectacular photographs.

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Verona, Italy

Piazza dei Signori. From Piazza Delle Erbe, walk through the Costa Arch to arrive in Piazza del Signori. The square is less busy than Piazza delle Erbe but dont let that put you off. The Piazza is the perfect place to view the facade of the domus nova; renaissance loggia del consiglio and the monument of Dante. Just off the Piazza is small arch leading to Mercato Veccho (Old Market) with the Scala della Ragione (Stairs of Reason); home to the Modern art gallery of Verona and Torre dei Lamberti (aka tower of love) which offers incredible views of the city from the bell tower. 

Verona, Italy
Verona, Italy

Scaliger Tombs. Because Verona was a sponteneous trip, I did not have the luxury of planning. I left the rest of my party at Via Mazzini to wander off  on my own. I stumbled on Scaliger tombs in the process. The tombs is located outside church of Santa Maria Antica. It is a gothic style monument to celebrate the Scaliger family who ruled Verona in the 14th century. As an architecture fan, I can tell you I have never seen anything quite like it and it ranks high up there in my book. Also, pictures don't do it justice.

Verona, Italy
Verona, Italy
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Casa de Romeo. Just down the road from the tombs, I stumbled on Casa de Romeo. Yep ! that Romeo - the one from Romeo and Juliet. I heard some tour guide say they are no 100% sure it is his house but given the information available - it is most likely than not it is his house. Take that as you will. 

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Casa de Guillitte. Not too far from Casa de Romeo was Juliet's house. Compared to Casa de Romeo, there is no doubt this place was "Juliet's home". There is a museum in her honor and you can go up to the balcony for a photo op and re-live moment from the fmaous Shakespeare tragedy. In the courtyard, there is a statue of her which you can touch in hopes of finding love in your life.

Verona, Italy
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Ponte Pietra. Wandering through narrow roads, I found myself at Ponte Pietra which is the oldest bridge in Verona and offers an incredible view of Castel San Pietro and a panaromic view of the city. I am told the bridge has a history like the city and if you are a fan of architecture, the history is one to look up. If you are not, it is still a great spot to visit in Verona. 

Verona, Italy

Castel San Pietro. Before planning out sponteneous trip to Verona, I knew exactly two things baout the city Castel San Pietro and Lake Gardi. Unfortunately, I could not see the latter due to the short visit and the rain which eventually caught up with us in Verona. The rain also ruined plans to hike up to Castel San Pietro, instead, I admired it from the banks of Ponte Pietra. It is quite impressive.

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I think we could have done and seen a lot more than we did but we spent about two hours of our time there in Zara hiding from the rain. I found my new favorite summer shoe in the process so I am not complaining. Don't leave Verona without having a meal. One of the best meals I have had in Italy was in Verona at a spot called Ristorante Greppia - the Caprese salad was divine.

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Verona, Italy
Verona, Italy
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Verona, Italy
Verona, Italy