Florence is one of the world’s great art destinations—with famous museums, galleries, churches, palazzi and piazzas. This small city is easy to walk, with all of these destinations crowded into a compact centro storico. Fresh, seasonal, and local, Tuscan fare is a haven for foodies. I’d admired this historic city since childhood and dreamt of going there. But somehow, fate intervened and even though I’d sailed the world and visited over 100 countries—including three visits to Italy—Florence still remained on my Bucket List. Gunter, who was born in Munich only 660 kilometers away, had never been there either. We vowed to change that in September 2022, during our first international trip since the Pandemic. 

We celebrated Gunter’s birthday with relatives in Munich on September 9th and took a short flight on Air Dolimiti to Florence the following week. Gunter’s sister Helga and daughter Simone, who organized the trip, accompanied us. It was a perfect day to fly, with deep blue skies and fluffy cumulous clouds. I used my iPhone to take pictures over Tuscany and Florence.

Flying over Tuscany
Flying over Tuscany
in Florence
Gunter, Helga, Lois and Simone

We took a cab to our centrally-located Hotel Continentale, checked into our rooms, and met in the lobby to decide on a restaurant. Where to go first? It was a big decision. My guidebook, Fodor’s 25 Best Florence, explained the difference between Trattoria and Osteria: “Trattoria are usually family-run places and generally more basic than restaurants. Sometimes there is no written menu and the waiter will reel off the list of the day’s specials. The food and surroundings in a ristorante are usually more refined and prices will reflect this. Pizzerie specialize in pizzas, but often serve other dishes as well…Osterie can either be old-fashioned places specializing in home-cooked food or extremely elegant, long-established restaurants.” That puzzled us.

“Let’s just walk and see what we find close by,” Gunter said. “I’m starving.”

Right around the corner, we found Trattoria Ponte Vecchio, complete with square tables, red-and-white checked tablecloths, menus in English, and a friendly staff. Problem solved! Dimmed by travel fatigue and delicious red wine, none of us remember what we ate that first night, but each of our meals were deeply satisfying. 

After dinner, we rested in our rooms for less than an hour, eager to go up to the rooftop bar to view the city at night. We were not disappointed. How fortunate we were to have that stunning view only an elevator ride away! 

Florence at night, rooftop view
Florence at night, rooftop view
Duomo by night
Duomo by night
Rooftop bar in Florence
Enjoying the rooftop bar

Day Two: Galleria degli Uffizi and Piazzas in The South Central

Simone had purchased tickets in advance for our gallery tour. It was fortunate she did, because throngs of visitors flock to the Uffizi to admire the greatest collection of Renaissance painting in the world. The gallery displays the paintings in chronological order and by school, starting way back in the 13th century when the first stirrings of the Renaissance began. The display ends with works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Canaletto from the 17th and 18th centuries. We spent our morning there. Some of our favorites are shown in the photo gallery below, along with views from the museum.

Florence is all about art so we enjoyed watching artists who painted while selling their art. After walking for hours in the gallery, though, we needed a cappuccino stop before continuing. 

Caffeine provided a welcome boost of energy. We sauntered past shops and along a narrow walkway that opened up to the most magnificent city square in Florence, the Plaza della Signoria, the home of the towering Palazzo Vecchio. With its fortress-like castellations and commanding 311-foot bell tower, the building has been the city’s town hall since it was completed in 1302. When Florence was briefly the capital of Italy (1865-1870) the building housed the Parliament and Foreign Ministry. The palace-like structure conveyed a message of political power backed by military strength.

The town hall of Florence, Palazzo Vecchio
The town hall of Florence, Palazzo Vecchio
The town hall of Florence, Palazzo Vecchio
The bell tower of Palazzo Vecchio
Florence Italy has narrow walkways open up to grand plazas
Narrow walkways open up to grand plazas
The plaza near Palazzo Vecchio has many restaurants
The plaza near Palazzo Vecchio has many restaurants

Full of sculptures bristling with political connotations, this plaza has been the hub of political life since the 14th century. I wished I’d had the time to stay another week or more to understand the history! That statue of a man triumphantly holding someone’s head up to the sky, for example, what is the backstory? “Perseus holding Medusa’s head, 1554” didn’t tell me enough. Originally, the statue of The David was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio as a David-versus-Goliath symbol of the Republic’s defiance of the Medici. It was moved inside to protect it from the elements. Yet, erecting the sculpture The Neptune (1575) celebrated Medici maritime ambitions. Go figure.

Day Three: Duomo, Churches, and Piazzas in the North Centro

On the third day, we walked toward the Galleria dell’ Accademia past the line that wound around the block, and right up to the front. We had tickets! No matter, that line was for visitors with tickets. There were no exceptions; we would have to go to the end of the line and stand in it for two hours or so. 

“You saw the replica of The David yesterday in the plaza…” Simone began. 

“And we can go back to photograph him again in more detail,” Helga added.

Gunter resolved our dilemma. “You can always buy postcards. Let’s go enjoy ourselves.” 

Soon we were sipping cold drinks and cappuccinos in a delightful coffee shop. Determined to have a no-stress, easy-does-it vacation, we felt good about giving our tickets to a group of students. There was plenty to see in the North Centro. Wherever we walked, the huge bulk of the Duomo dominated the city skyline. The cupola is covered with terracotta tiles with white ribs for contrast. The Gothic cathedral is quite ornate, made of pink, white and green marble. Built at the end of the 13th century; its colossal dome was not added until the 15th century and the façade was finished in the 19th century.

Wonderful architecture wherever you look
Wonderful architecture wherever you look
One of many bridges over the Arno River.
One of many bridges over River Arno.

One edifice I didn’t want to miss was the beautiful octangular Battistero. Referred to by Dante as his “bel San Giovanni,” it is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist. For many centuries, it was the place where Florentines were baptized. The building is gorgeous, covered by green and white marble, added somewhere between the 11th and 12th centuries. I loved the doors made of bronze! The east doors, called the “gates of paradise” by Michelangelo, depict familiar Old Testament scenes.

Bronze door of the Battistero

Day Four: Shopping, Food and a Carriage Ride

Our last full day in Florence was a wrap-up day. We shopped for gifts, leather goods, and even those postcards Gunter wanted! We treated ourselves to that wonderful gelato we’d been resisting. We visited the Plaza della Signoria to view The David up close. And we visited one more church, the Chiesa di San Firenze. For a grand finale, we treated ourselves to a horse-and-carriage ride throughout the city.

Chiesa di San Firenze

Towards evening, we walked to Osteria Vecchio Vicolo for our final dinner in Florence. This was our second meal there, so we knew the menu well. This time, we all ordered seafood. We lingered over our food and wine, reminiscing about “the good life” we’d experienced. This is a city you don’t want to leave. There’s always so much more to do and see.

Day Five:  The Ponte Vecchio and Departure

We were fortunate to book a hotel so close to Ponte Vecchio. We crossed that bridge many times, appreciating a different view each time. Shops have existed on the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. There have been all types of vendors, but butchers, fishmongers, and tanners added a rank stench to the bridge and dropped their waste into the river. That had to change. So in 1593 Medici Duke Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers were allowed on the bridge. 

After breakfast, we finished packing, and checked out. Our friendly hotel staff would to store our luggage until our departure for the airport. We strolled along the historic bridge and then along the Arno. I’ve never seen so much gold and jewelry in one place! After a while though, it all looked the same. We ducked past a shop and into an alley that led to a secluded café near the river. All alone, we took in the splendid view of where we’d been just minutes before. Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge) was to the side while we faced the Arno. What a memorable setting!

A boat passes under the arches
Postcard from Florence, Italy

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon and on her website.


“Kindness is the mark we leave on the world.”

Do memories of a place you’ve visited come back to you with a yearning, an ache, that pulls you back? You just may decide you’d love to re-visit that location that tugged at your heartstrings.

Why? At first, landscapes come to mind. You have visions of sweeping vistas, gurgling brooks, snow-capped peaks. But then your mind focuses in and you realize that it is the friendliness of the locals that make you want to return.

During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I came across powerful places and friendly people who pulled us in and caused us to fall in love.

Local Women of Waterfall Bay

Two local women walk along the shores of Waterfall Bay collecting shellfish. Sailing the South Pacific, page 254.

The Propeller Thank You Party in Vanuatu. One place that stole our hearts was Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), an archipelago of 80 Melanesian islands. Gunter and I had recently attended week-long festivities honoring the installation of a new chief at Waterfall Bay, in Vanua Lava, one of the Northern Banks islands. We left fond memories those villagers behind and anchored in Vureas Bay on our way back to Luganville. As soon as we were settled, rowers came to welcome us. We recognized the men from the festival and remembered that they had to leave early because of a faulty prop. Gunter had looked at it there and tried to fix it, as had other cruisers.

     “How is the prop?” Gunter asked.

     “Still broken. We cannot trust it to go out to fish,” our friend Graham replied.

     We’re concerned. A setback like this could be disastrous for the village.

     Gunter offered them our dinghy’s spare prop. The villagers were surprised to see that it was shiny, black, and brand new.

     “Such a good prop, just for us?”

     “We will not need it. Soon we will leave from Luganville, sail past New Caledonia and on to Australia. We will leave our yacht there during the cyclone season,” Gunter explained.

     Grateful for the prop, the locals invited us to a thank you party.

From Sailing the South Pacific:
When we arrive, we’re amazed at the setting. A fish line has been strung between two lines and a post. Draped over that line is an abundance of tropical flowers and long plant leaves. Inside this boundary lies a western-style, rooster-print tablecloth covered with many mats and containers, all bursting with food: manioc with nuts, yam laplap-and-coconut, baked papaya, chicken with vegetable greens, and prawns.

“Sit,” an auntie commands us. She is a large, plump woman, wearing a flowered muumuu housedress. We settle onto the grass. About a dozen villagers gather around, but they all remain standing. I motion for them to sit on the grass, too. They shake their heads no.None of the locals—including the children—will take their own food until we begin to eat.

I say grace and then they pass the food to Gunter and me. We receive glass dishes and spoons. “Sorry, we don’t have forks,” our host apologizes. The village nurse, another guest, is offered food next, followed by a couple of men. Our host and hostess and the ladies who prepared the food all stand to the side, smiling. They say they will eat later. After we’ve eaten, the men tell us how much they appreciate the new prop. The nurse makes a speech telling us how much she and the village appreciated the bag of prescription glasses and sunglasses we had given them during the festival.Then she hands us a huge hand-woven basket filled with six eggs, one coconut, two pumpkins, and a huge green cabbage. “For your return voyage. Thank you from all of us.”

I’ll never forget this precious moment!

Tomorrow we’ll face the elements and whatever else is in store for us. But tonight, I glow in the happiness and joy that flows from this wonderful group of islanders.

We talk with them about our goal of sailing around the world. Graham asks, “Why would you want to do this?”

“To see how different people live around the world. And to experience happy moments like this one you are giving to us today.” Gunter says.

They smile and nod in understanding.

I may never return to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu. These islands are accessible only by boat. But the locals we met there will always hold a special place in my heart.

Vanuatu hut

Gunter enters a hut in Vanuatu.

Welcome Week in Bundaberg, Australia. Another one of these powerful places was Bundaberg, a small town on Australia’s northeast coast. We had entered the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Australia. Greg and Pat Whitbourne, Aussies we had met in Vanuatu, shepherded us into their country.

From Sailing the South Pacific:
The next day, when I come on watch at 0300, I can see the lights of Bundaberg glimmering on the horizon, as if the town is expecting us.

Australia, the long-awaited Land of Oz!

I make a pot of coffee. Then I sit at the helm taking it all in. A shooting star streaks across the sky. Surprisingly, a white tern appears from nowhere; it circles the bows and then lands on the pulpit seat for the ride on in. I view both events as a sign of good luck. Ahead—to our starboard—the running lights of Rascal Too bounce through the waves. Our new Aussie friends, Greg and Pat, are magnanimously leading us into their country.

Never before have I felt such a sense of elation and destiny upon arriving at a foreign port!

Lois and Pat wearing their hats for the contest

Lois and Pat wearing their hats for the contest.

Pacific Bliss won the Best Dressed Yacht contest.

Pacific Bliss won the Best Dressed Yacht contest.

Lois on board Pacific Bliss.

Lois on board Pacific Bliss.

That elation continued as the town put on a Welcome Week celebration for the arriving cruisers.

Pat and I entered the Melbourne Cup Hat Day contest, scrounging for items from our respective yachts. The four of us entered the Brain Strain, Passage Story, and lethal Bundy Rum Drink contests. Finally, Gunter and I entered our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, into the Best Dressed Yacht competition, with the theme: We Love You, Aussies! We won.

Why wouldn’t we want to revisit such a friendly town?

La Dolce Vita at Vibo Marina, Italy. Our sojourn in Italy did not get off to a good start. While approaching the Strait of Messina, Pacific Bliss was caught up in drift nets, due to illegal bluefin tuna fishing—a modern-day La Mattanza.  Reggio Calabria, a port of entry, was jammed, with no room for yachts-in-transit. We were relegated to a commercial quay to wait while authorities took their time checking us in. Meanwhile, we found that all nearby Italian marinas were fully booked in July, disregarding the 10% international rule for yachts-in-transit. We felt like the Flying Dutchman, destined to travel the seas forever! Finally, we finagled a berth at Tropea for “one night only.” From there, we hired a taxi to drive us down the coast to search for marinas. The Stella Del Sud Marina, owned by an Italian-Canadian couple, was our best bet. The next afternoon, we arrived amid flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder. We approached the breakwater as two men in a dinghy motored toward us. We knew where we’d be berthed so Gunter inched forward. One of the men yelled, “Stop!  We didn’t expect a catamaran. You’re too big!”

I visualized the Flying Dutchman scenario again. We’d be sailing another 40 miles to the next harbor in a thunderstorm. And who knows what we’d find there?

Gunter stands behind Angela and her husband, owners of the Stella del Sud Marina. The Long Way Back, page 410.

Gunter stands behind Angela and her husband, owners of the Stella del Sud Marina. The Long Way Back, page 410.

Angela, the Canadian, came to our rescue. Soon her husband was standing at the end of the dock, gesturing and directing three dock boys, who pushed and pulled on a mess of mooring lines. Eventually, Pacific Bliss was cleverly tied to the end of the pontoon dock with two mooring lines holding the bow in place and two crisscrossed to hold our stern still.  There she stayed, straddling the end of the dock. The passerelle was set up for us to exit from the starboard swim steps. We never saw anything like that, but it worked! We had settled into a sleepy, laid-back Calabrian town. What a relief!

In my third book, The Long Way Back, I wrote about how we fell in love with this place and its people:
We are settling into the sweet life, la dolce vita, in Italy. This little town is growing on us. Vibo Marina is somewhat of a utilitarian place: the buildings aren’t grand—they’re simply old. The streets aren’t paved with ancient cobblestones—they’re simply narrow. The town is stuck in time, situated between two touristy locations: Tropea to the south and Pizzo to the north. And it’s just what we need!

After a week here, we know where to find the best gelaterias (on the beach front road), the best supermarket (Sisas, under the overpass—they even deliver), take-out pizza (a few blocks inland) and high-grade engine oil in four-liter jugs. We’re gaining some familiarity with Italian customs and the language—because we both speak some Spanish, and Italian is similar. But it’s the people who make life here a delight. Angela is becoming a valued friend; her family is gracious and helpful. And the rest of the marina staff treats us wonderfully.

I hope you’ve fallen in love with some special places as well. I’d love to see your comments.

You may also enjoy: Breaking Bread with the Locals

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.