Music in the Air – Culture Al Fresco in Florence

Florence is an incredibly cultural city. Great works of art are around every corner and there literally is music in the air. Our visit to Florence last July coincided with the annual Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Maggio Arts Festival).

Il Maggio d'Estate Summer Musical Festival at the Palazzo Pitti Florence

Along with the festival’s official programming, numerous options for opportunistic music and dance performances abound. What makes things even better is that many of these events take place outdoors where you’re able to capitalize on the gorgeous Tuscan weather.

One venue that provides atmosphere fit for royalty is the courtyard of the Pitti Palace where we enjoyed a Verdi concert.

Outdoor Verdi Concert at the Pitti Palace Palazzo Pitti Florence

As the sun went down and the lights came on, even the swarms of gnats and the rumble of distant thunder couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm.

On another night we headed over to the Bargello Museum, a former medieval prison that during the day houses one of my favorite sculpture collections including works by Michelangelo, Donatello and Giambologna.

Bargello Museum Courtyard Florence

At night the museum’s courtyard was transformed into a stage for a ballet performance set to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by the Florence Dance Company.

Florence Dance Company Performance of the Four Seasons at the Bargello Museum Museo Nazionale de Bargello

The great thing about Florence’s cultural life is that there are always opportunities for unexpected surprises. For example, we bought on impulse a couple of concert tickets for a performance at the Museo di Orsanmichele that featured a more contemporary music program. In addition to enjoying some beautiful nighttime views over the city …

Orsanmichele Museum Florence View of Duomo

… the Pietro Adragana Ensemble treated us to a pretty rocking accordion concert that included some great tango music, a medley of movie music tunes and a rendition of Figaro from Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

Pietro Adragna Ensemble Accordian Concert at the Museo Orsanmichele Florence

There’s no need to book in advance for many of these performances. Our approach is to just keep any eye out for any posters or flyers that might be of interest as we do our daily sightseeing. During the summer season many churches, museums or cultural attractions host evening music or dance performances. You can then either purchase your tickets on the spot or swing back later if you want to give it some thought.

Have you ever enjoyed a spur-of-the moment cultural performance on any of your travels?


Earning Lufthansa Miles & More – Chasing the First Class Duck

Over the last twelve months I’ve had the experience of flying with Lufthansa in Economy, Business and First Class. Although last year was the first time I had ever flown with the airline, my experience has turned me into quite the Lufthansa Fanboy. Check out a few of my previous blog posts for my various “Love Letters to Lufthansa:”

All of my travel on Lufthansa so far has been on award tickets I claimed through United Airlines’ MileagePlus program. One of the great advantages of MileagePlus is that miles earned in the program can be redeemed for travel on any of the carrier’s Star Alliance partners, including Lufthansa. In addition, points earned using my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa can also be transferred on a 1:1 basis into MileagePlus thereby increasing my Points Kitty. However, my Pointing world came crashing down around me on February 1 when United implemented a massive devaluation of its award chart.

Not only did United increase the number of miles required to fly on it’s own flights, but it also created a new redemption tier specifically for it’s Star Alliance partners. Under the new United Award Chart, my past Lufthansa award flights would be priced as follows:

1 Lufthansa First Class ticket from London to Chicago; connecting in Frankfurt

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

Old Award Price: 67,500 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 110,000 MileagePlus miles
63% increase!

1 Lufthansa Business Class ticket from Paris to Chicago; Connecting in Munich

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Seat Munich to Chicago

Old Award Price: 50,000 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 70,000 MileagePlus miles
40% increase!

As disappointing as major points devaluations can be, I have taken steps to hedge against such inevitable occurrences. In fact, I have several “Plan B’s” that should keep me flying in Lufthansa’s premium cabins.

The most direct route to the front (or upper deck) of the Lufthansa cabin is through Lufthansa’s Miles and More frequent flyer program. Although the airline does hit you with fuel surcharges that might total several hundred dollars when redeeming an award, the advantage of the Miles and More Award Chart is better advance availability for First Class award seats and seasonal 50% off Business Class award sales.

As with other programs, one of the best ways to get a “quick hit” of a large number of points is to sign up for that airline’s affiliated credit card. Currently, Barclaycard is offering a 50,000 mile bonus for signing up for its Lufthansa Premier Miles & More MasterCard. Normally the bonus offer hovers between 20,000 and 30,000 miles.

Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard from BarclayCard

The basics of this offer are as follows:

  • Earn 20,000 miles after your first purchase
  • Earn an additional 30,000 miles after spending $5,000 or more on purchases made within the first 90 days of card approval
  • $79 Annual Fee
  • Offer valid until June 30, 2014 (this offer has returned and is now available again until November 30, 2014)

Although it’s hard to predict when this offer will be made available again, the increased sign up bonus seems to appear at least once a year. For example, I was approved for my card late last year.

You can also accumulate Lufthansa Miles by transferring Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest Program.

Starwood Preferred Guest

Plus, for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer you receive a Bonus of an additional 5,000 points. For more information on the benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, check out my earlier post Starwood Starpoints Starstruck.

Finally, another “work around” is to use the American Express Membership Rewards Points program to transfer points into the frequent flyer programs of one of Lufthansa’s other Star Alliance Partners such as Air Canada, ANA or Singapore Airlines.

American Express Membership Rewards

However, you should bear in mind that each of these programs, just like Lufthansa, charges fuel surcharges that can range from several hundred to a thousand dollars or more for each ticket. In addition, the award charts of these airlines are also distance or zone-based so it’s important to compare and contrast the mileage award and surcharge levels of each option prior to transferring your Membership Rewards points. Of these airlines, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program seems to be the “least bad” of the options from a points requirement / surcharge / ease-of-booking perspective.

So is it worth all this effort to fly Lufthansa? Well, after years of flying with various American carriers I’ve come to manage my expectations downward when it comes to efficiency and service. Although Lufthansa isn’t perfect, what the airline does well is to make the travel experience at least civilized. In addition, First Class and the Frankfurt First Class Terminal is truly one of the great aspirational airline experiences. Plus, I’ve developed a bit of an unhealthy obsession with building a collection of First Class Ducks just like fellow blogger Lufthansa Flyer.


How about you? Have you ever flown with Lufthansa and what was your experience with the airline?


Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Review – Tuscan Elegance Meets Old Hollywood Glam

After a wonderful stay on the Amalfi Coast last summer, we boarded the high-speed Frecciarossa train, which whisked us from Naples to Florence in just under three hours. For our lodging in this beautiful city, we returned to the Hotel Brunelleschi which combines Tuscan elegance, Old Hollywood Glam and a location just down the street from the Duomo. The hotel served as our base of operations on our last visit here two years ago and we were eager to return.

My Partner F and I tend to travel like Cher on tour. Given the amount of luggage we had with us, we thought it would be best to have a car pick us up at the train station. When booking our reservation on the hotel’s website, we arranged for a car transfer and were pleased to see the driver with a sign waiting for us at the end of the platform at Santa Maria Novella. After a short drive, we pulled into a narrow street and the courtyard of the Hotel Brunelleschi.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Pagliazza Tower

Source: Hotel Brunelleschi

The hotel incorporates the Pagliazza Tower which is the oldest building still standing in the center of Florence. Tour groups regularly stop in front of the hotel to make of note of this fact but keep a respectful distance. The Torre della Pagliazza, which in English means the Straw Tower, was used as a women’s prison during the Middle Ages. Its name derives from the straw used to stuff the prison mattresses. Interestingly, most of the women in the prison were not criminals but rather individuals who refused to marry the men their parents had arranged as future husbands.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Lobby

Source: Hotel Brunelleschi

The Hotel Brunelleschi renovated its rooms and public spaces a couple of years ago. The feel is modern and lux with just the right amount of bling that gives it a bit of an Old Hollywood Glam feel. However, you still get a great sense of place as the design deftly incorporates the building’s historical architectural features. Exposed beams and brickwork complement the lobby’s rich clay and earth-toned terrazzo floors. The detail and craftsmanship of the furniture along with leather accents and artwork provide an appropriately Tuscan medieval feel.

For our stay we booked a Superior Executive Room which featured a comfortable queen sized bed.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room Bed

The room also included two chairs, a small table, writing desk, flat screen television and a luggage rack / bench at the foot of the bed. Hardwood floors in a herringbone pattern and vintage moldings served as a softening counterpoint to the room’s contemporary furnishings.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room View

Although the room wasn’t exceptionally large, I did find that it provided “just enough” space for two people to move around comfortably. In addition, high ceilings contributed to a general feeling of spaciousness.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room Bathroom

The bathroom was generously sized and sported marble finishes, updated bath and shower as well as modern fixtures.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room Closet Space

Although the room lacked dressers, the closet area provided several shelving areas for storage as well as a mini-fridge and safe. We had no problem finding space to stow our luggage and to put away our clothes for our four-night stay. A quirky, yet very practical, feature of the room was the little pictograms on the light switches that informed you exactly which lamps you were turning on and off.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room Light Switches

The hotel provides free Wi-Fi. I found the signal strength and speed to be adequate in our room. However, there were a couple of nights when Internet service went offline but resumed by the following morning.

Rooms were promptly made up as soon as we left. In the evening, we enjoyed a turndown service which included a slippers laid out at our bedside along with candy and a small card with the following day’s weather forecast left on the nightstand.

Also included in our rate was an expansive morning buffet offering a variety of breads and pastries, cold cuts and fruit juice, milk, coffee and tea. Hot items such as eggs, potatoes, sausage and bacon were also offered.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Breakfast Room

Breakfast is served in the bright and airy Salone Liberty and in the Sala del Pozzo everyday from 7:00 to 10:30. Although the hotel was quite full during our stay, we never had a problem securing our preferred table every morning. The servers at breakfast were polite, cheery and attentive.

This service standard extended beyond breakfast and was displayed by each member of the hotel’s staff we encountered. We were regularly greeted with a friendly buongiorno every time we passed hotel personnel in the hallways or in the lobby area. In particular, the hotel’s concierge staff was very helpful in suggesting restaurants or things to. We were particularly impressed that one of the concierges, Sergio, remembered us from our previous visit two years ago.

The Hotel Brunelleschi is very centrally located. The Duomo is only a 3-minute walk away and other major attractions such as the Uffizi, Piazza dell Signoria and Ponte Vecchio are all within a 5-10 minute radius of the hotel. Most importantly, a branch of Grom, our favorite gelato place, is just around the corner.


We would definitely stay at the Hotel Brunelleschi again. The elements of location, service, style and comfort all come together at this establishment. What about you? Do you have a favorite place to stay whenever you’re in Florence?