Don't waste a long layover! Here's how to spend 12 hours in NYC!

How to spend a layover in NYC

This post is part of our month-long European trip from last August. Check here for our whole trip! 

In planning our adventure, we found ourselves with a 14 hour layover at JFK. Rather than spend our first day of vacation bumming around an airport, we grabbed our bags and headed into New York City for a day of exploring!

Don't waste a long layover! Here's how to spend 12 hours in NYC!

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Seeing London in a weekend!

A quick weekend in London

This post is part of our month-long European trip from last August. Check here for our whole trip! 

Since we’d already flown over to Great Britain, we couldn’t leave without a stop in London! Unfortunately I arrived with a bad cold and was pretty sluggish the whole weekend. Between that and a quick turnaround, we decided to each choose one thing we most wanted to do and work our time around those.

Seeing London in a weekend!

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Here's the best parts of Edinburgh, Scotland!

One day in Edinburgh, Scotland

Since our trip was my husband’s first time in Europe, I was excited to take him everywhere. But if there was one city I was most excited to show him, it was Edinburgh, Scotland.

The United Kingdom has so much to offer, but summertime in Edinburgh may be the best of all worlds. Here’s a few of my favorite things we saw & did in our time here!

Here's the best parts of Edinburgh, Scotland!

Here's the best parts of Edinburgh, Scotland!

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Geneva is a fantastic city. Here's a few things you can't miss in Switzerland!

The best things to do in Geneva

After nearly a month in Europe, we began our journey back to Paris and then home. Conveniently, the most direct path home put us through Switzerland anyway. And we couldn’t resist the chance to squeeze in one more city (and country!) to our road trip! So off we went to Geneva.

Since we really only had one day in the city, I knew we had to be strategic. It’s a major city and has a ton of offer, but the one big thing I wanted to do was see the United Nations’ Palais des Nations.

Geneva is a fantastic city. Here's a few things you can't miss in Switzerland!

Geneva is a fantastic city. Here's a few things you can't miss in Switzerland!

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Paris is 100% worth the hype. Here's some of my favorite things to do in Paris!

My guide to Paris

On our month-long trip to Europe last summer, we used Paris as our home base. The cheapest flights from the States went through Paris, and it worked well for combining our budget airline portion of the trip with renting a car for the continental Europe explorations. So our time in Paris was chopped into two pieces, bookending our travels. Here’s a few of our favorite things to do and see in Paris!

The two most obvious merited posts of their own: make sure you visit the Louvre and climb the Eiffel Tower. Click the previous links for more on our experiences and some tips for planning your time!

Paris is 100% worth the hype. Here's some of my favorite things to do in Paris!

Paris is 100% worth the hype. Here's some of my favorite things to do in Paris!

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The Louvre should be at the top of any Paris list!

The One Thing You Must Do in Paris

If you do only one thing in Paris, see the Louvre.

I know many may disagree. The Eiffel Tower is more iconic, and not everyone gets into history and art. But hear me out.

Musee du Louvre offers a practically unparalleled amount of beauty in one building. The palace itself is so full of French history that it teaches you without you even noticing. The whole thing also feels very French: beautiful, put together, yet so layered you can’t take it all in at once. The Tuileries Gardens count as an extension of the Louvre and display the French love for beauty in a natural dimension as well.

The Louvre should be at the top of any Paris list!

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Florence river view

The best things to see in Florence!

When I asked friends where to visit in Italy, they universally said Florence.

Firenze (doesn’t everything sound more beautiful in Italian?) holds some of the best art and architecture in Italy, arguably in the world. It raised Dante, Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Brunelleschi, and the Medici family. A city with that much history, that much art that much culture, creates some high expectations.

Florence doesn’t disappoint. We loved our time there and didn’t even scratch the surface on what the city has to offer. Here’s our take on the best things to do in Florence, particularly if it’s your first time here!

Florence city gate perspective

Logan for scale: the city gates are huge!!

The number one thing (in my book, at least) to see in Florence is the Duomo. Climbing the dome and exploring the connected buildings can easily take a whole day, so don’t skip that. You can see more about our time in the Duomo here.

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Gorgeous marble on the cathedral

Exploring Florence’s Duomo

You know those places that you know will be fun or beautiful or meaningful, and then you get there and its so much more so than you thought possible?

Florence’s Duomo was that for me.

Florence's Cathedral front

View of Florence's Duomo from the Bell Tower

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San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

Travel Guide: San Gimignano, Italy

I had never heard of the little town of San Gimignano until I began to plan this trip, but I had several people recommend we put it on our itinerary. It’s an adorable medieval city, known for its towers. Currently  there’s about 20, but back in its heyday there were more than 70! This feels like a lot for a town so small it takes 15 minutes to walk the length of it.

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

After the hustle of Rome, San Gimignano offered a refreshing change of pace in the tourist crowd. While there were still visitors, the roads didn’t feel quite as choked as major cities do, and the tourists appeared to be mostly European.

Don’t let its size fool you – there’s plenty to do here for a weekend!

Most of these suggestions come from our host and hostess at the Palazzo Buonaccorsi. I cannot recommend staying here enough! It’s their home, which they’ve turned into a series of rooms and apartments for rent. We stayed in the apartment, which included a private kitchen and bathroom for a reasonable price. The other rooms don’t include a kitchen, but we didn’t end up using it all, so your call on if that’s important to you. Their inner courtyard was relaxing and lovely, perfect for lounging with a book or sharing a bottle of wine. I wish we’d had more time there, just to hang out in their place more!!

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

We arrived late one afternoon, and like many old towns, parking is a bit of a mess. There’s paid parking outside the city walls, but our host Luigi told us where to look for free parking San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!a bit further out, near the school. It worked! It’s so nice to be able to ditch the car and not worry about racking up costs for parking.

We spent a little time  wandering around the Piazza Sant’Agostino and the city walls in the late afternoon glow. San Gimignano sits on a hill and the surrounding views of Tuscan countryside are stunning. As the sun set, we turned our attention to dinner and again, Luigi had some great suggestions! He sent us to two restaurants side by side just outside the city walls. Owned by two brothers, they’re both known for local dishes and local ingredients! Our hosts told us to check them out. Ristorante Pizzeria Fuori Porta is more fine dining, so we opted for La Taverna del Granducato. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very nice place. Incredible food, too. We shared a plate of ravioli topped with cinghiale (wild boar) bolognese, which could’ve been a meal in itself, it was so good. Logan chose a black-salt-crusted steak and I had chicken scallopini. Both were fantastic: simple dishes prepared well.

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

Other restaurants we enjoyed were Lo Spuntino for pizza and  Restaurant La Stella for dinner one evening. I’d go back to both!

Beyond the food (which we all know is the most important part of traveling), there’s lots to see here! We bought a Benozzo Pass, which gets you entrance to six museums and sights over two days: Museo Civici, Torre Grossa, Mostre Duomo e Museo D’arte Sacra.

The best part is the Torre Grossa: the largest tower in town. It’s attached to the church and used to be the where the church bells rang. From that tallest tower in the center of town, the views are fantastic! It’s high enough to bother anyone who doesn’t like heights, but I loved seeing the town from above and HIGHLY recommend climbing it.

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

On the way down the tower, you pass the art museum that the Benozzo Pass covers. Don’t skip it! Some beautiful carvings, frescoes and even some ancient weapons.

Next up: the central church and dome of San Gimignano, the Collegiate di Santa Maria Assunta. This cathedral had a unique beauty, separate from the opulence of the bigger city cathedrals but colorful and striking in itself. The colors are beautiful but faded, revealing its age in spite of itself. My favorite thing was the frescoes on the side walls which tell the stories on the old testament on one side and the life of Jesus on the other. I love that about old churches – regardless of the decisions medieval church leaders made, the art tried to tell the stories of the Bible in a way that everyone could understand.

A hidden gem is the 1300 exhibit: a one-room museum of sorts that built a miniature replica of what San Gimignano looked like that year! It’s free, too, so don’t miss it. They take donations at the entrance. We surprised ourselves with how much fun it was to see things we recognized from around town and how the area looked with so many more towers. I recommend going after you’ve gotten your bearings – it makes it more fun to be able to find your hotel or places you’ve already visited!

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

Another serious attraction of  the town is shopping. San Gimignano is a shopping paradise (and  I don’t consider myself a big shopper!). 70% of the main street was lined with alternating leather goods, pottery, and linen shops. Naturally, we needed souvenirs and spent a couple hours wandering through shops, breathing in the delicious leather and admiring all the hand painted pottery.

We absolutely loved San Gimignano! If you’re headed to Tuscany, don’t miss out.

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

San Gimignano: the little town with big towers!

Thanks for sticking with me on this marathon post!

Have you been to any small towns in Tuscany? What are you favorites?

The links above contain affiliate links, which means I get a few cents (at no extra cost to you) if you book or buy something via that link. This helps me keep costs down and posts up! All images copyright Teaspoon of Nose.

How to explore Normandy!

How to explore Normandy

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, so it seemed appropriate to share about our time visiting Normandy in light of what tomorrow commemorates. It also felt important to me to reflect on what can happen when a national leader acts on hatefully towards other people groups, races, or genders, given our own election this week.

We chose the town of Caen as home base because  it hosts the best known D-Day museum, the Caen-Normandie Memorial. If you see one thing in Normandy, make it this museum! It is so well done.

How to explore Normandy!

How to explore Normandy!

The two buildings are divided into before and after 1945. We spent most of the morning on the parts leading up to the invasion. I learned a lot of things about the war that I hadn’t heard before. For example, I never realized that Germany only occupied about half of France. The other half was nominally sovereign because it allied itself with the Nazis, seeing their winning as inevitable and wanting a seat at the table in the new world order. The French Resistance acted significantly throughout both halves, but it’s a picture of France I hadn’t seen before. The picture of life in France (in either part) during the war was chilling. It served as a sobering reminder of what government-condoned hate can do in this world.

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