Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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Israel Then and Now

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EL AL Airlines postcard circa 1961.

After my mother died, I found a bin where she had some of her cards and letters saved.  I came across a stack of letters and postcards from my grandparents first and only trip to Israel in 1961.  My grandmother wrote my mother almost daily while she was away; her musings and love for travel put a smile on my face.  There was a wonder about travel in the 1960s.  People were still amazed that you could fly overseas and they dressed up in their finest clothing, not in their yoga pants like I do.  Sometimes, I wish that we had the same innocence, but my latest trip to Israel did remind me of how incredible the country is.  It was the right place at the right time in my life with the right people.  I thought it would be fun to look back at how much the country has changed using the postcards from my grandparents, putting them side by side with current pictures of the places that we visited.

 

It is not exactly Tel Aviv, it’s Ashkelon on the coast of the Mediterranean on the left, with a photo of the beach in Tel Aviv on the right.  The biggest differences?  The swimsuit fashion and now Israel is so dog crazy that they have part of the beach reserved so that the pups can bond, play and go for a run with their owners.  Here was a passage from my grandmother’s note: “We arrived here tonight (Ashkelon) and this is the loveliest place.  Our rooms are like bungalows facing the Mediterranean.  We are staying here overnight, then leaving for Beersheba and Jerusalem.”

Tel Aviv has changed so much in the 57 years since my grandparents visited.  On the left you see what part of the city used to look like.  On the right, the modern skyline of the White City.  My grandparents loved Tel Aviv with my grandmother telling my mother that “I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful city.”  She also wrote: “If my cards sound mixed up, Daddy was rushing me, so forgive the mistakes.  Daddy is so excited.”   Yes, my grandparents called each other Mummy and Daddy and no, it was not creepy in the least.  It was adorable.  They had quite a love story.  If you are all good, maybe one day, I will tell you about it.  It really is swoon-worthy.

Haifa Hotel

We did not go to Haifa this time, and I only got to spend one day there when I was in Israel in 2006.  It is a city on a hill with the beautiful  Bahá’í Gardens being the centerpiece. She wrote: “Arrived here yesterday, I doubt whether any place could be more beautiful than Haifa.”  The hotel featured on the postcard was Hotel Ben Jehuda – I do not believe it is still open, but there are plenty of places to stay.  I cannot wait to go back and spend a little more time there.

My trip ended in Jerusalem and even though it was the second time that I was there, it is still awe-inspiring to see the first view of the city as you wind around the Judean Mountains.  My grandmother wrote: “We just arrived in Jerusalem and never will I forget this drive!  When we came into the city, Daddy was asked to say the prayer and everyone was crying.”  Remember, that when my grandparents visited, the country was only 13 years old, and the Holocaust was not even a distant memory.  My grandparents and their contemporaries, likely never thought that there would be a Jewish State or that they would have the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall – a single spot that has not changed in thousands of years.  It meant everything to them, and that is just one of the reasons why I find visiting Jerusalem such an incredible experience.  It is a blend of ancient and modern; quiet contemplative moments and hustle and bustle; religious and secular.  It’s everything.  By the way, the President Hotel has long been abandoned, but had a very interesting history – check out this article to learn more https://guyshachar.com/en/2016/abandoned-president-hotel-jerusalem/

There were other postcards, from other places, like Eilat, where my grandmother was so excited to sail on a glass bottom boat.  One of the nicest surprises for them was the last night of their trip, at a farewell banquet, “…and for dessert, oranges from the Zelikovitz Orchard.  Was Daddy proud!”  My grandfather and two of his brothers, were in the fruit business for a long time, and until a few years ago, our family had the orange orchard.  The land was donated back to the State of Israel but for a long time, it produced oranges that were sold around the world.

The best part of Israel?  It is a country that is continuously changing.  The Tel Aviv skyline has changed, even in the 12 years since I was last there.  The Old City in Jerusalem has changed as archaeologists continue to excavate and discover groundbreaking knowledge that is corroborated by both the Old and New Testaments.  It is at the forefront of new technology and advances in medicine that can change lives.  It is a country that was a desert and where trees and flowers now grow.  It is a place where I can go, even though it is thousands of kilometres away, and feel the presence of my family.

 


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I (Will) Love T.O.

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Somehow, I always seem to end up with the world’s chattiest taxi drivers, Uber drivers, seat mates on the subway, seat mates on an airplane, seat mates on the train…you get the picture.  Often a bit of a weirdo magnet or just a sympathetic ear, I’ve heard a little bit of everyone’s story over the years…usually not by choice.  One lesson that I have learned though, is that everyone has a story, and you may be surprised, so take the time to listen whether you feel like it or not.

Today, as always, I ended up having a deep, meaningful conversation with a cabbie.  I knew the second that I opened the door, that this man was going to talk my ear off.  I got in, shut the door, sighed once in my inside voice, once in my outside voice and settled in to hear all about his likes and dislikes.  Proving that you can be inspired by just about anything, this blog all started with a simple statement/question from my fair driver…”I LOVE Toronto…Miss, do you love Toronto?”  Being nauseatingly politically correct, I automatically answered yes, very much.  I knew that I gave the right answer from the huge smile on his face, after which I got to hear about every one of the other things that he loves.  He did, get me thinking, do I really love Toronto, or am I just waiting for something better to come along?  Everyone takes the city that they live in for granted, but I started to think about all of the things that I’ve experienced in this very city, this very year and all of the little accidental things that I’ve stumbled across.  For instance:

  • Theatre – Toronto has a great theatre scene.  It rivals any major city in the world.  We have fancy, schmancy theatres like the Ed Mirvish Theatre, and some that need a little love, but have a ton of character like the Lower Ossington.  This year, I’ve seen some really great musicals including Mary Poppins (for the first time – I’ve never even seen the movie), Matilda (loved), and best of all, Thank You for Being A Friend – a must see for Golden Girl Fans.  If you don’t love The Golden Girls, please find another blog to read because that’s sacrilege in my book
  • Events – I went to the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo.  Pretty fun, but the same thing always happens when I taste wine – I try something that’s not from New Zealand, make a face, says it’s too sweet or too oak-y, toss it into the garbage, pout a little, and try a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and proclaim it the best wine ever.  I also sit through a boring cooking demo, try what they make, lie to them and say it’s the best thing ever, and then complain to whoever I’m with that so and so can make it better. Aw tradition!  I also got to enjoy the King Street Festival for TIFF – my friend and I strolled along, and it was nice to see people just enjoying the city.  Oh, and I got to meet Michael Fassbender earlier in the day – bonus!
  • Live (and inspiring events) – Seeing Deepak Chopra, yes, my guru was a highlight, but meeting him?  Priceless.  My friend got us tickets to see him live at Roy Thomson Hall and we were number 2 and 3 in the line up to meet him.  An even bigger, if it’s possible moment, was lining up at Indigo at Bay and Bloor to meet ANDERSON COOPER THE SILVER FOX!!!!!!  Yes, I had to be there at 7:30 in the morning and wait for 4 hours, but it was fun, and worth it.  If you don’t want to buy books (shudders) or pay for ticketed events, you can always go to Indigo and hear your favourite authors speak.  If you don’t read, maybe you should make 2017 the year that you crack open a book?
  • Museums – I always seem to forget that we have museums in TO.  This year, I noticed that the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) was doing a Mystical Landscapes exhibit and it looked like it had real art!  Like stuff that I’d recognize.  Seriously!  I always poke fun of the AGO because although it has Monets, Manets, Van Goghs, etc., they are always the sad, sloppy seconds that no other gallery would touch – you know, the ones nobody has ever heard of.  This exhibit was great though.  I dragged my trusty friend and off we went to get ourselves cultured up.  They had a symphony first, so after walking an exhausting block, we plunked ourselves down for a half hour rest and listened.  I’ll be honest, about 50 seconds in, I got bored and tried not to fall asleep.  I love classical music, but spoken word…PLEASE…and opera?  EWWWWW.  I understand torture when I listen to opera, mostly because my ears feel tortured.  The art though was perfect.  They had the best of the best of the best and I discovered Wenzel Hablik – a really different kind of artist who I really loved.  I’m not going to go out and buy one of his paintings, mostly because I can’t afford to, but they were different from anything that I’ve ever seen before
  • World Class Shopping – I could write a book on how much I love the Eaton Centre.  It has a Nordstrom, need I say more?  Plus they went back to having a HUGE (using my Donald Trump voice) Christmas Tree that’s beautiful
  • The CN Tower – Yes, it’s tacky to admit, but I love the CN Tower.  You couldn’t pay me to go there, unless I had visitors in town, but just to see it’s alien looking frame or see it lit up, makes me know that I’m home
  • Unexpected beauty – the Manulife Building on Bloor Street somehow always looks perfect, no matter what time of year.  They also celebrate holidays better than any other place in the city.  Don’t believe me, check out the photo from Remembrance Day in the collage below – it’s small, but it’s in the right hand corner.  The little things that look like confetti were row after row of Canadian flags

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I guess I have my answer, maybe, just maybe I’m falling back in love with Toronto.  My challenge to myself for 2017?  Keep looking for things to admire about my fair city and see what all of those people on our Hop On, Hop Off tours are oohing and ahhhing about.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.


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London Belongs to Me – Maybe

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Before I read “London Belongs to Me” by soon to be noted author, Jacquelyn Middleton, London was not on my to do list.  After chatting with the London loving scribe, I was warming to the rainy city.  After reading London Belongs to me, I’m convinced that I’ve made a mistake not spending a bit of time where this soon-to-be-released novel is set.  I asked the author what her top favourite things to do in London are, and coming from someone who has visited numerous times (we’re talking about 30 times), I think she can be considered an expert.  Here are Jacquelyn Middleton’s top picks and the places that I’m putting on my UK bucket list:

  • The National Theatre – it’s not only a huge part of the author’s life, but it’s the best supporting actress in her love story to London.  It’s also, according to Jackie, a great public space to sit inside of or on the patio.  It’s apparently got a great cafe on the main floor and a great book store.  Who doesn’t love books?
  • London Fields, in east London is where the heroine of the book, Alex Sinclair settles when she first moves to her dream city.  It’s home to great markets (including Broadway Market) and a place that isn’t on everyone’s must do list, which means that it isn’t packed with tourists.  Where do I sign up?
  • The Tower Bridge – a must see according to the author AND a great place to find a hotel.
  • Big Ben – if you look carefully for those of you who aren’t observant – it’s actually on the cover of London Belongs to Me.  Middleton feels ripped off if she doesn’t see it every time she heads to Britain’s capital (I’m running out of ways to say London without saying London).   She recommends taking a tour of the House of Parliament.  I saw it very quickly from a moving car and almost got whiplash – it’s spectacular.
  • Covent Garden – great shops and restaurants with cool street performers.  I don’t recall whether it was in the book or not, but I’m sure it was.
  • Pimlico area – this is near Westminster, north of the Thames.  This was the first place that the author stopped her first time in London.  She wanted to stay in a place in the city that she had seen in the movies.  This area always feels new and exciting to her.
  • Primrose Hill – the author loves this area mostly because of her passion for music, more specifically the band Saint Etienne.  They wrote and sang a song called Primrose Hill that she loves.  They also sing a little song, called, and wait for this…London Belongs to Me.  Sound familiar?  Well, it should.  It’s the name of the book that I’ve been blogging about!

To get inspired to travel to The Old Smoke, pick up a copy of London Belongs to Me on October 14th when it goes on sale.  You can also pre-order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Waterstones, Foyles, Indigo, and Chapters!

 


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Barcelona for Dummies and Type As Parte Tres

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A little Gaudi – Casa Mila

I screwed up – and I’m totally owning it.  I promised you the first 5 places in my top ten in the last entry and I only put 4.  I tried to edit it, but it only fixed my mistake here.  I’d say sue me, but some of you may take me up on it and I’m not paid to blog.  I’m giving you places 5-10 in this blog, promise and you are even getting a bonus Barcelona entry after I write a very exciting series on an up and coming Toronto based author!    Without further ado, here are the rest of my Barcelona faves!

5. Casa Milà- see above for photo!  This amazing piece of Gaudi architecture is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!  Before you get too excited, like I did, everything in Europe is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Even a Starbucks that I went into mostly for the free Wi-Fi qualified (just kidding).  But truly, there are a lot of underwhelming places that qualify for this distinction, but this isn’t one of them.  It’s one of the most creative pieces of architecture that I’ve ever seen.  It looks like it’s bones in motion, melted wax or all of the above.  My only regret is that I’ve been to Barcelona twice and have never gone in.

6.  Passeig de Gracia – I call this fancy street.  It houses a lot of the high end stores and the REALLY SUPER EXPENSIVE hotels that we can all only aspire too.  Staying walking distance from this elegant street made me feel like one of the hoity-toity’s.  The best part of this street though is not the shopping or the lovely restaurants, it’s the architecture.  The lovely Casa Milà is located here (I wasn’t cheating, it’s my favourite building so it got an entry of it’s own).  Gaudi’s Casa Batlló AKA my second favourite building is located here.  The roof looks like a dragon’s back and the facing has the mosaic tiles that Gaudi is known for.  As an aside, I felt really artsy writing that sentence.  If Gaudi isn’t your thing, which makes you a weirdo in my books, then Casa Amatller by Puig is right next store.  Each building on this street is a bit of a marvel.  Stroll it and enjoy one of the loveliest places in Barcelona.

7.  Las Ramblas (AKA La Rambla) – this isn’t just a lovely street to walk along, it also serves as the entry way to the Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter) and El Mercat (the Market that I wrote about).  The best part of Las Ramblas – it’s a pedestrian mall which means no pesky traffic to interrupt you.  The draw back is that it’s teeming with tourists.  That’s ok though – that’s what you are, so embrace and enjoy the crowds.  If you are looking for tacky souvenirs, this is the place for you.  It’s also a great place to stop and smell the flowers – literally.  There are flower vendors here with pretty sweet posies, so look around and enjoy them.  As busy as it is, it’s worth an hour or two, at least, of your time.  Look up at the buildings – they have the best little touches from Juliet balconies to the umbrellas that you see in my less than professional photo above.

8. The beach/waterfront – confession time, this is from November 2011.  I didn’t have a chance to go this time around.  I loved the waterfront.  The statues were fun – who doesn’t love a smiling lobster?  The scenery was great and the Mediterranean was a little rough so if you closed your eyes, the sounds made you feel like you were at an all-inclusive.  I couldn’t keep them closed for long though – too many things to trip over.  If we have more than two days to spend, I really, really recommend spending some time here.

9. Barri Gòtic AKA The Gothic Quarter is also a favourite.  Seriously, I loved every place on this list equally, but in different ways.  You need time in The Gothic Quarter – time to get lost, time to wander and time to appreciate the gargoyles.  Every little street leads into a square.  You’ll find City Hall in one of these squares.  Another street will lead you to the Jewish Quarter and another to the Barcelona Cathedral.  Before your eyes roll and you say ANOTHER CHURCH, this is also worth a look.  For one thing, it’s Gothic and who doesn’t love a cuddly little gargoyle.  For another, it’s spectacular outside and in.  C’mon, just put it on your list of must dos.  My favourite time to walk this area is at night.  It just lends itself to that eerie, spooky vibe that night time brings.  Watch out for pick pockets in this area – where there are tourists, there are thieves.  We were warned all over Barcelona to keep an eye on our purses and wallets, so be smart and only bring the necessities.

10.  Fundació Joan Miró – really just an art gallery with a lot of Miró’s art.  I’m including this on my list so you’ll think I’m cultured.  And also because the statue in front reminded me of Disney’s Wall-E.  Tell me I’m wrong….go ahead. The paintings aren’t my thing, but the fact that they are hung in the middle of the room with no walls – genius.  I saw this during my 2011 trip.  It was fun saying to my friend “I could totally paint this” and listening to her each time say – “But you didn’t”.  That’s always been my issue with modern art – I’m not talented in the least, but I feel like I could totally splat over a page and tell people it represents passion and progress and get $50million out of the deal.  I’d also get those pretentious people nodding their heads with a very serious look on their faces as I reveal a new project – a blank canvas that represents the smallness of life and how life is…a blank canvas.  If you are into modern art – it’s worth a look.  Give yourself an hour here, tops.

 

 

 

 


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Barcelona for Dummies and Type A’s La Segunda Parte

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You already know that I love Barcelona, but I wanted to share my top ten things to do in this bella ciudad (that’s beautiful city to those of you who don’t hablo español).  It’s hard to narrow it down to just ten places, but for you, my lovely readers, I’m making the sacrifice.  Here are your first four – in no particular order:

  1. Sagrada Familia AKA Scared Family – I know, I know, it’s another church you say to yourself.  If you’ve been to Europe, you’ll see your fair share.  No offence to my Catholic readers – you have some fabulous architectural marvels, it just gets a little church-y when you go from city to city.  Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is different though – it’s a building still under construction for one thing estimated to be complete in 2026.  For another, it’s Gaudi people!  That means unusual architecture and overall amazingness and yes, that’s a word, or if it’s not, it should be.  I could go on and on, but I’m going to let the pics speak for themselves.  Just a hint – pre-book your tickets, or if you can, get a guide, they’ll give you details that you would never know just visiting it on your own.  Don’t skip the museum at the end.  It’s pretty cool.  If your wondering, it’s a Basilica, not a Cathedral – there is nary an Archbishop in site at this modern marvel.

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2. Park Guell – Yup – more Gaudi.  If you are a regular reader, you will already have read a bit about my obsession with this place.  I missed it my first time which makes me a dummy.  It’s one of the most unique places that I’ve ever visited – if you ready my previous entry, you’ll see some of the fab pics from PG.  Gaudi thought of everything.  Even the benches are ergonomic.  There is plenty to see, and you don’t want to rush.  Give yourself at least 2 hours to walk through it if you can.  You won’t be disappointed.  You’ll see structures that look like the underside of an elephant, a gigantic lizard, gargoyles and more in the world’s best park.  You have to pay to get in, but it’s worth it.

3. The Mercat – You’ll find this at Las Ramblas  – another must do.  Apparently this market is very touristy and a lot of locals have moved on to greener pastures but it’s still worth a look.  Let’s face it, if you are paying to stay in a hotel, you are a tourist.  You can be pretentious and sniff that if locals don’t go, you shouldn’t either, but you aren’t Spanish and neither am I.  Go and enjoy.  The produce looks amazing.  If you are an animal lover, be aware, there are a lot of butchers in the market, and you will see things that you may not want to.  Let’s just say, ham is very popular here.  If you are ironic, and like the song fish heads – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKDtUzRIG6I – you will see those too, and that song will be in your head ALL DAY LONG.

4. Plaza de España is one of those GINORMOUS European complexes that makes you feel small and insignificant.  If you already feel that way, and haven’t been to the Plaza de España then perhaps some of Dr. Phil’s sound advice is in order.  This is just a really beautiful photo opportunity.  It provides you with a great view of the Venetian Towers, an old bull fighting arena which is now a shopping centre – YAY to Barcelona for getting rid of that blood sport and is a great place to catch transit if you need it.  You don’t need a lot of time there, unless you just want to sit and people watch.

I’ll finish the list in my next entry.  Until then, adios amigos and amigas!

 

 


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Savannah for the Type A Traveller

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I decided to remove the “for dummies” out of my entry…mostly because my Mama always told me that stupid is as stupid does.  Yes, my lamb chops, it’s time to move from HOTLANTA to Savannah, and what a move it was!  Savannah was everything that I hoped for…and more!  Haunted, fun, and oh so Southern, the home to Forrest Gump gave this Type A Traveller a real taste of the South.  Magical manors, haunted houses, beautiful squares, cute Southern accents…what’s not to love?

If you need more inspiration to pick up your satchel and head south of the Mason-Dixon line, here are my picks for the top things to do in the Forest City:

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Ellis Square – the Johnny Mathis Statue

  • Check out some, or if your Type A, all of the 22 Squares.  I think we covered 19 by foot, but we saw each of the 22 squares and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  They are especially beautiful at night when everything looks vaguely haunted.

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  • Speaking of night time, go for a Haunted Carriage ride – there is no better city to do it in.  You’ll learn about all of the ghosts and goblins haunting the city.  The clip-pity clop of the horses hooves takes you back in time, but the sounds of 18 wheelers will remind you pretty quickly that you are in 2016. My favourite – at one inn, a ghost is known to steal bras.   Ladies, make sure you only bring the ones with the wires half out to the 17 Hundred 90 Inn or ghost Anna may help herself to some of your finer delicates.

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  • Walk, walk, walk.  You’ll see more of the city, and it’s really one that you need to stroll through like a proper Southern lady.

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  • Visit Forsyth Park – it’s beautiful and has an amazing fountain.  It’s the perfect place for a photo op for you selfie-lovers.
  • Stroll around the City Market – it’s a cute little pedestrian mall with restaurants, shops and bars.  It’s nicer than River Street which felt a little touristy to me….although considering I am a tourist, I shouldn’t be so judgy-wudgy.

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  • Stay at a historic hotel – we stayed at the River Street Inn – you really felt like you were stepping into another time.  It smelled vaguely like horse poop in some of the halls (thanks to some renos), but the rooms were fresh as a daisy and very turn of the century.  The perimeter of the hotel has gas lanterns lending to the atmosphere.

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  • If you are a movie buff, this is the place for you.  Forrest Gump was shot here. The church in the photo above was used in the first shot of the movie when the feather floated down.  The Legend of Bagger Vance, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (duh), the atrocious Forces of Nature, the foul The Last Song, Cape Fear and Glory are just some of the good, bad and ugly flicks produced here.
  • Hungry?  Then head over to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room.  Ya’ll will have to wait in line for some down home (well, not my home) Southern Cooking.  It’s served family style, so you’ll break bread with a bunch of strangers.  I was lucky enough to be sitting with native Southerners so they explained what everything was.  Even if your like me, and not a meat lover, you’ll have plenty of options!  Try the black eyed peas, okra and spinach – all excellent!  You’ll walk away chugged full AND it’s one of the most unique dining experiences you can imagine.

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  • Last, but not least, go to the very popular Leopold’s Ice Cream.  The ice cream is ok, but if you are a film buff, the memorabilia is pretty cool!  The parlour is now owned by film producer Stratton Leopold, producer of Mission Impossible 3, The Big Chill, The Sum of All Fears, and many more movies.  Apparently he still helps out when he is in town.

The only thing that I didn’t like about Savannah?  Just the lack of time.  We did all of this, and more in just a day and a half.  Do a circle on a Hop On Hop Off bus, we had an amazing driver, she was hilarious!  We got a real sense of the city and learned more about the history than we could have done on our own.  It was an hour of time well spent!  I can’t wait to go back but first, it’s on to Spain and Portugal!