One Night in Florence, Italy

I’d heard the most wonderful things about Florence. Called Firenze locally, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region is 280 kilometres (170 miles) or three hours drive from Rome. Friends everywhere had told me how beautiful the city was, filled with Renaissance architecture, paintings and sculpture. I was therefore thrilled when my boyfriend and I’s journey from Italy’s Cinque Terre to Santorini, Greece would include a night in Florence. To be precise, we’d have just 12 hours to see all we could. 

Given we hadn’t planned on stopping in Florence, I considered any sightseeing a bonus. However, the city is easy to get around on foot and lots of attractions are open until 9pm or later making it surprisingly easy to see a lot in a short amount of time. Here’s what we covered in one night:

 

2pm – hotel check-in

A friend who’d lived in Florence recommended we stay around the Duomo area as it was central, there were lots of eateries and attractions nearby, and it was close to the main train station. Given our short stay, we booked the mid-range Residenza d’Epoca Borgi Albizi (AU$190/night) just 15 minutes walk from the train station. We found the address without any problems but inside it was a little tricky to find reception. Our room was also up several flights of stairs (post-Cinque Terre hiking!) but such is Europe.

The room was spacious although it looked partially refurbished – the wardrobe was modern and huge, while the bathroom revealed the building’s true age. Staff were helpful in recommending good nightlife spots (see ‘dinner’ below). Address: Borgo Albizi, 14, Firenze | Website

 Pana e Toscano: getting a Tuscan sandwich is an experience not to be missed! 
Pana e Toscano: getting a Tuscan sandwich is an experience not to be missed! 

2.15pm – sandwich

For every person who raved about Florence’s art, there was another who said our visit had to include a Tuscan sandwich. Think of a thick slab of focaccia stuffed with as much antipasti as you can handle. We’d been recommended the famous All’Antico Vinaio in “sandwich alley” (Via dei Neri), but told to expect long lines. Instead, we went to the less busy but (according to our hotel) equally as good Pana e Toscano (Borgo Degli Albizi 13). I was ecstatic to see a vegan sandwich on the menu (€5) while my boyfriend went for more traditional fillings. Either way, you’ll be stuffed! 

2.30pm – Duomo

 The Duomo: a grand, imposing cathedral in the city centre.
The Duomo: a grand, imposing cathedral in the city centre.

The Duomo is the most famous landmark in Florence. The 15th century cathedral dominates the city’s skyline and is the third largest church in the world. It’s free to visit the cathedral or for €15, you can access all areas (the dome, museum, crypt etc). If you want to climb the dome’s 463 steps, you’ll need to make a reservation (free). Visiting in mid-May, there were long lines everywhere so we simply walked around the outside. It was still impressive! There were lines gathering at another nearby attraction too – you can create your own ice cream at the Magnum Pleasure Store for €4.50.

Address: Piazza Duomo| Opening hours: Generally 10am – 5pm | Website

3pm – mercato centrale

 Tuscan sandwich: my bean-heavy vegan option (€5).
Tuscan sandwich: my bean-heavy vegan option (€5).

My boyfriend and I were still full from our lunchtime focaccia, but we wandered to the Mercarto Centrale anyway. The first floor is full of Italian meats, cheese, pasta and fresh produce. There’s a few liquor outlets too. The second floor is a vibrant food hall, complete with wine bars and a flash cooking school. This place was a gastronomic heaven! I made a note to book a class if I’m ever in Florence again (and to get accommodation with a kitchen!).

Address: Via dell’Ariento, 50123 Firenze | Website

4pm – Ponte Vecchio 

Everyone said I had to see the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother unless you’re seriously into medieval history or architecture. It’s not particularly attractive from a distance and the walk across is brief, crowded and lined with jewellery sellers. I had a much better time two minutes away at Il Papiro. This paper store has several outlets across Europe but the Florence store has been in the same family for five generations. Be sure to visit the room at the back for a paper printing demonstration. You can buy hand printed paper by the sheet, or grab a packet of offcuts for €17. Address: Via Guicciardini, 47r | Website

 Signorvino: resting our feet at a wine bar overlooking the Arno River.
Signorvino: resting our feet at a wine bar overlooking the Arno River.

5pm – Aperitif 

By now, my boyfriend and I were pretty tired. We’d drank a lot of vino on our last night in Cinque Terre and then caught a 9am train and travelled five hours to reach Florence. We rested our feet and minds at Signorvino, overlooking the river. The venue sells take away wine as well as a range of wines by the glass and bottle. Staff didn’t judge me for ordering a much-needed Diet Coke before returning to wine. Its location between Pinto Vecchio and Piazza Michelangelo (see below) makes it an ideal stop before sunset. Make a reservation if you go at dinner time as the venue is relatively small and got busy as we left.

Address: Via de’ Bardi, 46R, 50125 Firenze | Website

 Giardino delle Rose: this small garden is worth a stop when visiting nearby Piazza Michelangelo (free entry).
Giardino delle Rose: this small garden is worth a stop when visiting nearby Piazza Michelangelo (free entry).

6pm – Piazza Michelangelo

One thing I seek in every city is a lookout. Florence boasts Piazza Michelangelo, a large open air area on a hill where you’ll find performers, a restaurant, some souvenir stands and a few food vans. It’s a beautiful spot to watch the sun go down and enjoy an Aperol Spritz. I’m sure you could bring your own beers and picnic if you wanted. To get there, follow the signs along the river and roads. When you see steps, you’re close! There’s also a rose garden next door that’s free and pretty.

8pm – Hotel

We walked back to our hotel to change before dinner. It was only 30 minutes walk from Piazza Michelangelo and we could walk to our next destination too. 

 Palazza Vecchio: sweeping views of Florence at night from the Battlement area. 
Palazza Vecchio: sweeping views of Florence at night from the Battlement area. 

9pm – Palazza Vecchio

 Palazza Vecchio: the main hall's exquisite ceiling.
Palazza Vecchio: the main hall’s exquisite ceiling.

A friend in London had given us the heads up many Florence museums and attractions were open until 9pm or later. Perfect for a couple trying to see it all in a night! We reached Palazza Vecchio (Town Hall) just in time for a 9.30pm tour of the ‘Battlement,’ a fortress on top of the building. The nighttime views of Florence were a beautiful contrast to the scenes we’d seen from Piazza Michelangelo just hours before. You can peer five floors below through glass too and imagine medieval knights and battles. After our rooftop tour, we wandered through the museum for another 45 minutes. The map room, showing continents as imagined in the 15th Century was an absolute highlight, as was the elegant ceiling in the main hall. The museum (“museo“) entrance was €10, with an extra €4 for the battlement. Address: Piazza della Signoria | Website

10.30pm – dinner

 Borgo Antico: delicious food and perfect for people watching.
Borgo Antico: delicious food and perfect for people watching.

Both our hotel reception and a friend had recommended we head south of the river for dinner and nightlife. We literally had a map with a circle drawn on it, but it’s roughly an area just below Ponte Santa Trinita (or around 10 minutes walk from the Ponte Vecchio). We followed the sounds of people and music and grabbed a table at Borgo Antico, facing Piazza Santo Spirito. It was perfect for people watching! 

We ordered a bottle of white wine (€19.50) and scanned the food menu. There were big pizzas, plenty of pastas, large salads, and seafood and meat dishes. My boyfriend chose pizza with spicy salami, capers and mozzarella while I ordered a main of grilled vegetables (exactly what I wanted after days of spaghetti!). Our meals came with delicious wheat bread, olive oil and black olives. The bill was just €51 including the vino. Nearby restaurants began to wind down at midnight although the square stayed busy with people drinking and chatting. I can’t remember whether we caught an Uber or walked back to our hotel, so clearly it was a good night! 

Address: Piazza Santo Spirito, 6-red, 50125 | Website

Florence at night: viewed from the top of Palazza Vecchio (“Town Hall”).

1am – Bed Time 

With our stomachs full of wine, pizza and vegetables, we packed our bags and collapsed. It wasn’t easy when the alarm went off five hours later, but I’m glad we had a night in Florence! It’s a gritty city excentuated by a lot of smokers, but its rich and prosperous history is evident everywhere. I would’ve loved to visit more museums and art galleries, and more wine bars! But we had a 6.45am cab booked for our 7.30am train to Rome Airport, so we had to say farewell to Firenze. You can read what happened next in How To Get From Cinque Terre to Santorini.

practical info

Getting there

As with most European cities, you can reach Florence by air, rail or road. Florence Airport is 10km (6mi) from the city centre or around 30 minutes drive. An alternative is to fly to Pisa which is 80km (50mi) or about 90 minutes from Florence. As mentioned, it’s about about three hours drive from the capital Rome. We caught a train from Cinque Terre to Florence via Pisa, pre-booking through the excellent ticketing website Loco2. The fare was €18.30 each (Monterosso to Pisa €9.90, Pisa to Florence, €8.40). 

Getting around

It’s easy to get around Florence on foot, otherwise taxis and Uber are readily available too. The main train station is Firenze Santa Maria Novella (often “Firenze S.M.”). It has a restaurant, several cafes (including an allergy friendly one!), and a great bookstore. See my post Getting From Cinque Terre to Santorini for full details. 

Language

It’s helpful and polite to know some Italian before you go, although not essential to navigate the city or order food. Check out my post Italy’s Incredible Cinque Terre for some handy phrases, or download the free language app Duolingo to practice your Italian before you go! 

QUESTION: When did you maximise a stopover? 

 

Seeing Nice, France in Five Hours

How much of a city can you see in five hours? That was the challenge my boyfriend and I faced in Nice, France during our recent trip to Europe. Our train arrived on a Sunday at 10.30pm and we were leaving 2pm the next day. Allowing for hotel check-in, a decent night’s sleep and returning to the train station, we had a blank canvas from 8am to 1pm. I wanted to see all the attractions I could!

Nice is the capital of the French Riviera, just 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the Italian border and about 900km (560mi) south-east of Paris. It has a long history of being a tourist centre, thanks to its mild climate and ideal location between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains. Many of today’s attractions, such as Promenade des Anglais, were actually built in the 19th Century to cater for aristocratic visitors. 

 Nice, Cote d'Azur: beach, history, culture and shopping! 
Nice, Cote d’Azur: beach, history, culture and shopping! 

Working against us was the fact we were visiting on May 8, when the French observe Victory in Europe Day. This holiday marks the end of World War II in Europe and there are formalities across the country. We’d been warned at our previous stop in Beaune that some businesses would be closed, along with government agencies and services like the post office. I was still determined to make the most of our short stay!

Here’s what we did: 

first stop: 9am – Castle Hill

I set an alarm for 8am, skipped a shower and threw on my gym gear to head to Castle Hill, one of Nice’s top attractions. This was the city’s original site until King Louis XIV ordered soldiers to dismantle the castle in 1706. 

Castle Hill Park, or Parc du Chateau, opens at 8.30am and it was 30 minutes walk from our hotel. We went via the winding streets of Nice’s Old City Vieille Ville before going up several sets of stairs in what seemed to be a residential area. There was no signage so it was almost a surprise when we reached a small, rear entrance to the park. It was only marked by a gate and had a list of rules fixed to it. There were more stairs beyond the gate but they only took us a few minutes.

 Castle Hill: a waterfall was such a surprise in a city park! 
Castle Hill: a waterfall was such a surprise in a city park! 

The air was fresh and the sky was cloudy but we had the place almost to ourselves. We followed a main path, which had signs pointing to attractions and facilities. After walking for 10 minutes or so, we could hear water! We followed our ears and discovered an impressive man-made waterfall. We continued walking one viewing platform, took some photos, then went to another. The views were such a reward for our (relatively) early wake up! 

 Castle Hill: offering spectacular views across the city to the mountains.
Castle Hill: offering spectacular views across the city to the mountains.

You get glimpses of the city and sea from the park, so it’s easy explore without a map. While our itinerary didn’t allow for a picnic, you could easily enjoy a coffee or bring lunch here as there were lots of benches with panoramic views. Entry was free too!

 Castle Hill: one of several lookouts across the city. We had a bizarre, cloudy morning.
Castle Hill: one of several lookouts across the city. We had a bizarre, cloudy morning.

How to get there

 Castle Hill: part of the main staircase down to the beachfront. 
Castle Hill: part of the main staircase down to the beachfront. 

Put Hotel Süisse (15 Quai Rauba Capeu) into Google Maps as the park’s main entrance is right next to its front door. After five or so sets of steps, you’ll be directly at the park’s main viewing area. There were plenty of fitness enthusiasts going up and down the stairs and we even saw some extreme mountain bikers, but you’ll be fine in flat shoes and jeans.

Alternatively, you can take a rear entrance via some winding staircases near Montée Menica to reach Allée François Aragon. A few times we thought we were reaching a dead end or entering someone’s backyard, but we reached the park by following our instincts – it’s hard to miss the city’s biggest hill. This route worked well for our city loop. 

Hours: 8.30am – 8pm April to September (6pm October to March) | http://en.nicetourisme.com

9.30am – Beachfront

There was no time for a swim and it was a cool 12°C (53 °F), but seeing Nice’s beachfront was awesome! We descended Castle Hill’s main staircase and reached the waterfront near a giant #ILoveNice sculpture. I actually saw one man snorkelling, despite the temperature! We took a short stroll among the runners, dog walkers and tourists before moving on. If you had more time, you could continue to the famous Promenade des Anglais.  

 Beachfront: viewed from the main staircase entrance to Castle Hill. 
Beachfront: viewed from the main staircase entrance to Castle Hill. 

10am – Breakfast

We’d skipped breakfast so by this time, I was ready for some food! I’d spotted Paper Plane cafe on Yelp the day before so we went there from the beachfront (about 15 minutes walk). Unfortunately, it was closed because of the holiday. It was also starting to rain. We grabbed a quick coffee and Earl Grey at a nearby bistro instead and adjusted our plans. We would need to get lunch before that 2pm train!

10.30am – Hotel check-out

It was time to return to our hotel near Nice’s main train station Gare de Nice Ville, shower and check-out before 12pm. Thankfully we could store our bags at reception, giving us a few extra hours to explore the city without luggage. Full accommodation details are under ‘Where to Stay’ below. 

11.30am – Avenue Jean Médecin

Our hotel was close to Avenue Jean Médecin, which is one of Nice’s main north-to-south thoroughfares. It’s lined with shops and cafes and despite the holiday, most places were open and there were lots of people out. We made a quick but necessary stop at Monoprix grocery store for some healthy train snacks. I grabbed a French lentil salad, my boyfriend got a pre-made chicken poulet wrap and fruit. The pastry selection was impressive, and there were savoury tarts too. You could skip this part of Nice sightseeing, unless you’re catching a train that afternoon too!

 Beach art: this sculpture attracted a lot of selfie sticks and Instagrammers!
Beach art: this sculpture attracted a lot of selfie sticks and Instagrammers!

12pm – Lunch

 Lunch at Place Massena: I was in salad heaven! 
Lunch at Place Massena: I was in salad heaven! 

We saw plenty of cafes along Avenue Jean Médecin but time was limited and the French don’t rush mealtimes. We’d been in serious Bourgogne meat, cheese and bread territory for three days and were craving something fresh. I spotted a few tables of people eating big salads at So Green (11 Place Masséna), so we went inside. Choose your salad base, choose your toppings and add your sauces – I went crazy over the variety! Chick peas, raisins, sundried tomatoes, beetroot, sesame seeds, chilli flakes and rocket. Lunch was around €35 for two with sparkling water, but it was exactly what we wanted. The 20 minute break in the sunshine was a welcome bonus.

12.30pm – Place Masséna

We could squeeze in one last attraction before our 2pm train. While there wasn’t much to see in the centre of Place Masséna apart from a fountain, I was glad we could tick off another landmark. Grabbing lunch nearby and people watching was the right was to appreciate the area. But our time was up. We reluctantly returned to our hotel, collected our luggage and walked to the station for our train to Italy. We’d been in Nice just 15 hours but had seen a lot! 

 Place Massena: Nice's town square, about 10-15 minutes from the beachfront.
Place Massena: Nice’s town square, about 10-15 minutes from the beachfront.

next time

If we’d had a few more hours, I would’ve loved to have walked along Promenade de Anglais and looked at the shops around Place Masséna. Nice also boasts a lot of museums, including Musée Matisse (dedicated to 20th century painter Henri Matisse), and the Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art (Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain) or MAMAC. A beachfront dinner would’ve been nice too – but there’s always next time! 

practical info

Getting there

We travelled to Nice by train from Beaune, Burgundy (€62, first class). The direct journey was a pleasant, six hours on SNCF. We used the excellent website Loco2.com to book all our train travel before leaving Australia. If you’d rather fly, Nice is well serviced by air. A direct flight from London takes about 2 hours or its 1.5 hours from Paris. Nice Cote d’Azur Airport is 7km from downtown.

Where to stay

There’s a cluster of hotels near Nice Ville train station, including our choice Ibis Centre Notre Dame (41 Rue Lamartine). It was clean, modern and basic but good value for one night (€67). The location was ideal, as it was just five minutes walk from the train station and 20 minutes or so from the beachfront. Next time I’m in Nice, l’d stay by the sea for the views or Place Masséna for its centrality. 

Where else?

If you’re looking to add on to your Nice vacation, head north to Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy or venture across the border to Italy’s Cinque Terre (my guide is coming soon!).

 Nice beachfront: viewed from sea level near the #ILoveNice sculpture. 
Nice beachfront: viewed from sea level near the #ILoveNice sculpture. 

Seeing a city in five hours isn’t ideal, but when life gives you a layover… make travel lemonade! Our brief visit gave us a taste of the French Riviera, which is starkly different to the forest and villages of central France. I’d love to return to Nice and spend a few days by the beachfront, going for a morning run, having a leisurely lunch and spending my afternoons at museums and shopping malls before romantic evening meals. Merci pour un petit mais gentilé visite Nice! 

QUESTION: Where’s your favourite part of France? 

Perth’s Top Health Food Stores

Remember going to the movies as a child and standing in awe of the pick and mix candy? It was a rare treat during school holidays for my sisters and I, who would carefully scoop a few freckles, raspberries, a milk bottle or two and a snake into our paper bags. As an adult, I still love to go into a store and select my favourite goods from the endless rows of tubs. I prefer to scoop up healthier treats nowadays like nuts, dried fruits and unusual flours but the experience still has the same childhood magic. 

Below are my favourite stores in Perth where you can buy health foods in bulk. It’s much cheaper than buying packets from the supermarket and better for the environment too, as it’s less packaging. If you don’t live locally, some offer online shopping and deliver across Australia for reasonable prices. One store even has outlets on the east coast. Enjoy!

1. The Clean Food Store – Subiaco

 The Clean Food Store: outdoor dining on a quiet street.
The Clean Food Store: outdoor dining on a quiet street.

Nestled in a suburban street in Perth’s west, you’ll find the prettiest health food store you’ve ever seen. The Clean Food Store opened in March 2016 and is light, bright and minimalist. You’ll find cookbooks and cleaning products, organic and non-organic foods and some refrigerated items along with the bulk buying section. The Clean Food Store stocks Honest Goods Co baked treats, Clean Slate candles and beauty products and Loving Earth grocery items among other brands. There’s also fresh bread and a barista if you fancy a coffee or matcha lattes. If that’s not enough, there’s a cabinet stocked with treats (raw, paleo and vegan options), paninis, patties and NOOD meals to enjoy in store or take away.

I dropped by on a recent Saturday morning and staff were happy and welcoming. It was quite busy but largely because of people grabbing coffees. Despite being fairly small, the store never felt crowded. I loved choosing my health foods and scooping the items into paper bags, weighing on the scales if needed. The Clean Food Store has a good variety of nuts, flours, dried fruit and more plus lots of organic options too. I can’t wait to return!

 The Clean Food Store: the cleanest, prettiest health food shop I've ever seen!
The Clean Food Store: the cleanest, prettiest health food shop I’ve ever seen!

My prized pick: a team member recommended the dark chocolate coated goji berries ($2.90/100grams), which barely lasted the journey home! My 500g of raw walnuts ($22/kilogram) were fresh and delicious, and good value too. 

Unfortunately, The Clean Food Store doesn’t have online shopping or delivery options. However, it’s open 7am to 6pm, 7 days a week!

Address: 214a Nicholson Road, Subiaco WA | www.thecleanfoodstore.com.au

2. The Source Bulk Foods – Various locations

I love having healthy family and friends! My sister introduced me to The Source Bulk Foods at The Park Centre in Victoria Park. This health food franchise began in Byron Bay, New South Wales in 2007 before expanding across Australia. You can find the store’s other West Australian locations at Clarkson and Floreat, and there are plans to open The Source in Cottesloe, Fremantle and Subiaco too.

 The Source Bulk Foods: a warm and welcoming interior at its Victoria Park store. 
The Source Bulk Foods: a warm and welcoming interior at its Victoria Park store. 
 The Source: affordable, natural cleaning and beauty products.
The Source: affordable, natural cleaning and beauty products.

On my visit a few months ago, I was greeted by two lovely women who explained how The Source works. Grab a paper bag, write down the product code and fill it with your desired amount. Easy! I slowly walked along the rows of tubs, reading labels and imagining recipes. I was fascinated by the more unusual ingredients, such as native Australian herbs and flours I’d never heard of. About 30 minutes later, my basket was filled with everything that had inspired me including puffed buckwheat, vegan caramel buttons and natural cleaning products. While the Make Your Own peanut butter was incredibly tempting, I abstained for fear the tub wouldn’t make it home. 

 The Source: one of two walls lined with spices, slices and things nice! 
The Source: one of two walls lined with spices, slices and things nice! 

My prized pick: The Source’s cinnamon is by far the best I’ve ever bought, as it’s really fragrant and flavoursome. The Lemon Myrtle cleaning products ($9.33/500ml) have transformed housework, as I now look forward the fresh, cleansing scent every time I clean!

The Source offers online shopping with delivery across Australia. Prices start from $9.95 for up to 5kg to New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT, $15.95 for up to 5kg to South Australia and Tasmania and $18.95 for up to 5kg to WA and the Northern Territory.

Locations: Victoria Park, Clarkson & Floreat WA | thesourcebulkfoods.com.au

3. Kakulas – Northbridge & Fremantle  

Established in 1929, it’s quite likely Kakulas Brothers in Northbridge is Perth’s oldest and original health food store. The large sacks of legumes, rice and flours with cardboard signs are an unsung Perth icon and the store has a distinctly sweet smell of coffee beans. You’ll find an exceptional variety of bulk ingredients, and those with a sweet tooth won’t be disappointed as there are plenty of chocolate coated fruits and nuts. Kakulas Sister opened in Fremantle in 1994 and despite being much younger than its sibling, it still has the classic Kakulas feel. 

The Northbridge location was my go-to for health foods when I lived in Northbridge and whenever I’m in Fremantle, visiting Kakulas Sister is a must. On top of an excellent health food range, the variety of imported groceries is exceptional. From antipasti and pastas to teas and tahini, you travel the world on their shelves! 

 Kakulas Sister: every shelf and aisle is a journey of discovery! 
Kakulas Sister: every shelf and aisle is a journey of discovery! 

My prized pick: a few squares of crystallised ginger, covered in dark chocolate, always make their way into my basket. Occasionally some chocolate coated macadamias follow them! Dried dates are a bargain at around $3/kg and when buying beans, I always grab some chickpeas to make my own hummus.

Unfortunately, neither stores have online shopping. And given Kakulas Brothers was cash-only until last year, it’s likely to remain strictly bricks and mortar for some time! But then, that’s half of Kakulas’ charm. 

Address: 19 William St, Northbridge & 29-31 Market, Fremantle WA | www.kakulassister.com.au

4. 2 brothers Foods – online only

I’ve been regularly buying my health foods from Perth website 2 Brothers Foods since 2012. Every few months I order a few kilos of essentials – nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruit and flours – along with grocery items like pappadums. It’s so convenient! Their products are excellent value, with raw almonds at $16/kg, spelt flour at $4/kg and raw cashews for $19.50/kg to name a few. The choice is exceptional, particularly for less common spices and gluten-free flours. 

The website is simple and easy to use. I like being able to choose from 250g, 500g, 750g and 1kg quantities and enjoy browsing each category for inspiration or new items. Best of all, delivery is fast and affordable! Shipping is a flat $3.50 within WA and SA, and from $6.95 for up to 5kg to capital cities in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. It’s $7.95 for up to 5kg to Tasmania and $10.95 for the NT. Gift vouchers are available. As with any online checkout system, you can keep track of your total spend which isn’t as easy when shopping in bricks and mortar stores. 

My prize pick: the textured vegetable protein (TVP) is an effortless, high-protein replacement for mince at $4.50/kg. I can’t imagine life without quinoa either (white organic $16/kg). The wasabi peas will make your nose sting every time, but less so if you mix in the yummy Chinese rice crackers. 

Postal address: PO Box 1152, Nedlands WA | http://2brothersfoods.com

Need some recipe inspiration? Grab some oats, buckwheat and quinoa and get into Breakfast With Benefits!

QUESTION: Where do you buy your bulk health food items? 

A Weekend in Las Vegas


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mso-ansi-language:EN-US;}As my 30th birthday approached in February, I knew I had to address a serious oversight in my life. Despite eight trips to the United States, I had NEVER been to Las Vegas. I’d always been attracted by the bright lights and party scene but somehow, I just kept flying straight to the east coast.

I was determined to make amends. My boyfriend and I had a three week trip planned to California, so it was then or never. We booked our flights to Las Vegas in the neighbouring state of Nevada and just a few months later we boarded the one hour flight slightly hungover on Valentines Day.

It’s true. There are slot machines at the airport and there’s no shortage of limousines, newlyweds or party-goers. Something in the air made me want to drink and gamble immediately. We collected our baggage, caught a cab to our hotel (US $10) and were playing Blackjack within hours. The next three days were a wonderful, surreal and tipsy experience. 

Everyone needs a weekend in Vegas at least once in their lifetime. Here’s my crash course on how to do it:

ORIENTATION

Las Vegas couldn’t be any easier to navigate. There’s “The Strip” – a long stretch of hotels and casinos where the majority of tourists go and “Downtown” – which is the old part of Vegas. For a first-time visitor, stay on the Strip for the classic Vegas experience. One block back isn’t the same!

WHAT TO DO

1. Gamble

This one’s obvious but did you know casinos give you free drinks while you play? Bottled beer, spirits and wine were hand-delivered at our request, even when I was on a $1 slot machine or just watching my boyfriend gamble. Be sure to tip waitstaff at least $1 per drink. Each venue has its own music, performers and atmosphere and it’s all basically open 24/7. Be prepared to lose track of time because there are no windows. Even if betting isn’t your thing, walking from hotel to hotel and putting a few bucks in a slot-machine is still an experience. Gambling was actually a fun way to meet other people too.

 The Vegas Strip: view from our hotel room
The Vegas Strip: view from our hotel room

2. Walk The Strip

Whether you’ve lost your winnings or just need some fresh air, walking along the Strip is a fun way to spend a few hours. The hotel exteriors are impressive and the atmosphere of other happy (and occasionally drunk) tourists is pretty lively. You may or may not be offered a stripper. Be sure to head to the Venetian Hotel on your stroll and check out the interior. I’ve never seen anything like it – it’s like you’re actually in the streets of Italy! Walk the Strip again at night to see all the hotels lit up. It’s incredible.

 Fountains of Bellagio: There's a show every 15 minutes at night
Fountains of Bellagio: There’s a show every 15 minutes at night

3. Fountains of Bellagio

When my boyfriend said we had to watch the Bellagio Light Show, I was skeptical. But it was gorgeous! We watched the 10 minute display outside the Bellagio Hotel at night and it was fantastic. The atmosphere was quite romantic and there were plenty of other tourists equally in awe. The show is free and happens every 30 minutes during the afternoon and every 15 minutes at night so it’s easy to check out anytime. 

4. Grand Canyon

My boyfriend surprised me with a sunrise helicopter flight to the Grand Canyon for Valentines Day and an early birthday gift! We went with Sundance Helicopters who were really professional and friendly. A limousine picked us up from the hotel at 6.30am and took us to the airport. Once we (and about a dozen others) had checked in, we met our pilots and got in the helicopters. There was an awkward moment where we thought we’d be sharing our helicopter with a heavy smoker but a quiet word with staff meant we were able to switch helicopters last minute and fly with a couple who didn’t reek of cigarettes.

The views on our 45 minute flight to the Canyon were incredible and really made me appreciate how much Vegas was a city in the desert. The moment we actually flew into the Grand Canyon was unbelievable – I wanted that sensation to last forever but in reality, it was only 15 seconds or so. Upon landing, we had time to take it all in with photos and a champagne breakfast pack of pastries, granola and yogurt. Unfortunately my dairy allergy wiped out half of it, so give staff a heads up if you’ve got special dietary needs. But mostly, my boyfriend and I just stood in the Canyon in awe.

I really wanted to hike or explore once we were there but after about 40 minutes, it was time to fly back. A limousine returned us to our hotel and it was all over by noon. It felt like a dream! The trip was about 4-5 hours all up and cost around US $450 (AUD $620, based on 0.72 cent exchange rate). Is it worth it? Yes – if you have the money. But if you can’t splurge on your visit, Vegas is still worth going to. Chances are you’ll even catch some of the Canyon on your flight in or out.

 Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian: this is inside - that sky isn't real! 
Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian: this is inside – that sky isn’t real! 

5. Shop

Even if you don’t want to spend money, you’ve got to at least walk through the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. It’s stunning! If you want to indulge, you’ll find a great range of stores including Barneys, Banana Republic, Coach, Pandora, Steve Madden and Kate Spade New York. Here’s the full store directory

I never miss a chance to stock up on American brands and our trip to the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets didn’t disappoint. We spent about three hours here, shopping sportswear like Nike and Asics along with staples including Steve Madden, Calvin Klein, Kate Spade, GAP and American Apparel. The mall is modern, mostly outdoors and only a short, 10 minute Uber ride from the Strip. Bonus: you can see downtown Vegas on the way! 

There was an Urban Outfitters and Sephora next to our hotel too.

6. See a Show

During our visit, Britney Spears was in town and there were heaps of other shows including Stomp and a few musicals. I’d never seen a live magic show so we splurged on two tickets to David Copperfield (US$240 / AU $340). It was a huge disappointment. He had great reviews but I couldn’t follow some tricks and others were so tech-laden it didn’t feel magical at all. I’d recommend heading to a same-day show discount seller on the Strip. There were a few booths and plenty of shows on offer.

 Gordon Ramsay BURGR: I ordered something vegetarian at 2am.
Gordon Ramsay BURGR: I ordered something vegetarian at 2am.

FOOD

There’s no shortage of restaurants in Vegas! I guarantee any cuisine you want is there. We had gorgeous Mexican along the Grand Canal at Canonita, Chinese at P.F. Changs in our hotel and even a boozy 2am dinner at Gordon Ramsay BURGRs. We didn’t have a bad meal once and it was all pretty affordable too. Especially when you’ve been knocking back free drinks (but tipping!) in the casino for a few hours.   

 Planet Hollywood: view of our hotel from across the street
Planet Hollywood: view of our hotel from across the street

WHERE TO STAY

We stayed at Planet Hollywood for three nights, which was perfectly located in the centre of the Strip. Our Hip Room (AU $170/night) had a king bed, massive bathroom and sensational views of the Bellagio Fountains. Breakfast was included and came in the form of a $10 Starbucks voucher per person each day that could be used anytime. It proved really handy for times we slept in or just wanted fruit and coffee to go. We liked the Hollywood theme throughout the rooms and casino, as opposed to other accommodation which had a more European vibe or catered for an older crowd. 

Overall, I LOVED Vegas and have vowed to return for my 40th birthday with as many friends and family as I can! It really is mind-blowing how an entirely man-made city can thrive in the middle of a desert on entertainment, booze and tourism. Despite its representation in movies, Vegas was really good value and far cheaper than a comparative three night stay in New York. If you haven’t been and you love a good dose of consumerism, make sure Vegas is on your list!

QUESTION: What’s your Vegas travel tip for first-timers?