I Was Supposed to Like Florence, Italy

Florence Italy

So this has happened before. I travel to a destination, sometimes one that is universally loved, but I don’t have a great experience. I’ve written about it before and it happens to everyone, but I was shocked ( and still am) that it happened to be in what is to believed to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world – Florence, Italy.

Two years ago my partner and I started a new tradition in December. We pick a major city and use it as a home base from which to explore other areas and see how they’ve festooned themselves for the Christmas holiday. It’s been a lot of fun so far and I can’t wait to plan our trip for 2013, but last year found us in Milan. From Northern Italy we launched several day trips including to one city I’ve wanted to see for years – Florence.

The heart of the Renaissance, Florence has long been a city of beauty, culture and learning and it still is today. Fabulous wealth has always seemed to grace the streets and shops of Florence, gold dripping from the coffers. Today it is still home to money, old and new, as well as a steady stream of tourists from around the world who want to see the city’s treasures for themselves.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

I knew we didn’t have a lot of time in Florence, so we worked with a local guide who helped us get the most out of our limited time. And she did a great job; my thoughts about the city are in no way because of her. No, she showed us the famous boulevards, fancy mansions, centuries old art and other design treasures. We saw it all, from the Ponte Vecchio to Michelangelo’s David and of course the massive Duomo. And it was all very pretty, but it just wasn’t for me.

Every city has a vibe, good or bad, and whether or not we like that vibe is a very personal thing. Whenever I’ve written about not liking a place in the past I always get people who try to argue the point with me, until I ask them a very simple question. “Have you liked every place you’ve been?” The answer is always no and they begin to see my point of view.

So what didn’t I like about Florence? Well, the vibe for me was standoffish. I didn’t feel welcomed into the city as I have in many other places around the world. Everything was immaculate and very pretty, but almost too much so. It all seemed like an elaborately staged production, all done for my benefits to see The Treasures of Florence. And like I said, they were great, beautiful even and I’m glad I saw them. But I don’t feel the burning desire to return. Ever. I’ve been there, seen it and now it’s time to move on to other places. Lest you think this is just how I travel, it’s not, not at all.

Bologna, Italy
Bologna, Italy

In comparison, I also spent a scant day in Bologna, Italy but almost immediately fell in love with it. That city’s vibe was different, probably thanks in part to the massive university housed there. The city was alive and interesting, beautiful without the pretentiousness that Florence has. I felt like I was discovering things that were not on the tourist trail; now this probably isn’t true, but that feeling made all the difference. I wasn’t a number or a statistic, I was a welcomed guest and treated like one wherever I went. Instead of waiters who ignored me like in Florence, the little old man working at the trattoria I visited in Bologna was excited I was there and couldn’t wait to show me his favorite food. Now that’s a good feeling and made me want to return whenever I can.

So there, I’ve come out and said it. Florence is one of the most beloved cities in the world and home to some truly impressive treasures. It was where the Renaissance that changed the world forever started and today is firmly entrenched on the travel bucket lists of people around the world. But I didn’t like it and I don’t think I ever will.

Let the insults commence.

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By: Mike

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on , and

108 Responses

  1. j

    I spent a semester abroad in Florence, I got lost in the back streets plenty of times, and I must say I completely understand where you are coming from. I myself don’t think I will ever return.Everyone has their own opinions and I don’t understand why everyone feels the need to try and sway ones opinion to match theirs. We are all different people who view the world in our own way, places aren’t for everyone, just like food and clothes.Florence and I just live on different wave lengths, we probably always have, and we most likely always will.

    Reply
  2. June

    When cities only cater to tourist they lose their original charm, that is just my opinion. I have just checked The great art of Florence off my bucket list and the beautiful views. I will not be back.

    Reply
  3. John B

    So glad to find that I am not alone. So overrated. Also made Paris seem friendly by comparison. Very crowded. Indifferent shopkeepers, waiters, security guards, taxi drivers…. Somewhat better outside the main tourist areas, but still a very unwelcoming “vibe” compared to other cities in Italy that we visited.

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  4. Rob Walker

    Couldn’t agree more an awful place, a bit like a Disney theme destination, ie ruined by yanks.

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  5. mez

    I take Rome over Florence any day of the week..

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  6. Kevin Duff

    Matt, no insults from me, I agree with a lot of what you say however my experience goes beyond what you have said. I found a lot of the city dirty, smelly and the graffiti appalling. I appreciate that regardless of the time of year it will be busy but it’s “shaft the tourist” at every opportunity.
    As previous comments above have suggested, for me it cannot touch the likes of Rome or indeed Paris and like you I would not be in any rush to return….ever ?. Heading back to my hotel as I type this , road works, graffiti and rubbish !! Oh dear Florence, such a shame.

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  7. Casey

    I could not DISagree more! I absolutely loved Florence, though have only been there once. When I left, I immediately felt like I had to return one day. I felt at home there. I found it stunningly beautiful and everywhere I went I felt welcomed (and well fed.) To each their own!

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    • Angie

      I just came back from Italy last week…. I visited multiple cities and I have to agree florance is by far the most beautiful place I been to in Italy. I went to see the monuments but I also spend lots of my time in none touristy places. I went to eat outside of the touristy places and found lovely Florentines having a great time with their families. The grandmother (owner) made sure we loved her food and that we were happy. I had real Gelato 🍧 in a nice family run place that was to die for and they were so welcoming and friendly. Florance felt safe to walk at night and full of tranquility.

      Reply
  8. Rachel

    Just came back from a trip to Italy and Paris. Rome and Venice were beautiful in every way. Florence was beautiful – the art, the Duomo, the shopping. However, the vibe was bad. We were excited to shop for handbags, shoes etc., but most shopkeepers were grumpy and unfriendly – most would not even return greetings and would size you up as you entered the store. We found out that residents are known for being “full of themselves.” We could not wait to leave Florence. What a shame! In comparison, we were pleasantly surprised and so impressed with the warmth and sophistication of Parisians!

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  9. Donna

    I am in Florence now and I can’t say I hate it but I won’t be back. Yes it is beautiful but it’s soulless. I could be anywhere in the world, other than the food there’s nothing Italian about it. I’ve found the residents/workers to be great but I hate the touristy feel. I’ve just come from Parma and Bologna and they were fabulous in comparison.

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  10. Concetta

    Well “Florence staged for your own benefit?”every corner of that City has a huge history, you can travel the world and see nothing if you don’t know the history. Nothing in Florence is for ” your own benefit” everything is to be discover from an intelligent mind along with time on the rivers and hills, what a waste of possibility. It’s true, money don’t buy a brain!

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  11. Maria

    We really did have an awful experience in Florence. We were just there for one day. We got bus to the Michael Angelo Piazza, but unbeknown to us the tickets should be validated, but we were not aware of this.The driver just told us to go thru. At the start of the return journey, two inpectors got on, we were treated so badly, so disrespectfully and were intimidated by their
    treatment.We are old people, and there were two of them demanding 50 euros from each of us.
    We had no idea about tickets needing to be validated? But these ‘inspectors’

    wouldn’t listen to anything we said i,e.,that was the only ticke we would need to

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  12. Maria

    Next day we had planned to go to Bologna on the train and all that was explained in great detail for how it all worked. With the bus on our first day we weren’t told anything. We were completely innocent and a 20 minute bus fare cost us 124 euros. This should not have had to be, but the attitude of the conductors/inspectors was totally bias. I won’t be revisiting Florence.

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  13. Maria

    The whole incident cast a shadow over what was remaining of out stay, which was just one day .
    What a way to treat people..

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  14. sarah

    I moved to Rome few months ago for work. I have to say that unlike what i thought it would be, i was shocked. The city is so poor in terms of infrastructure, the public transportation is the worse thing i have ever seen and the city is so chaotic and not clean. Moreover, the majority of the people don’t speak English and those who claim they do can barely speak it unless its in a touristy area. I feel like i moved to a big food court with nothing to do but walk in the streets and eat. The city has no spirit and people are so loud and aggressive. Before i move here, my friends were saying how lucky i am to be moving to one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Unfortunately, it was the worst decision i have ever made. I can’t wait until i move out!!

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  15. Rosemary

    I am embarrassed as an Italian myself to say how absolutely filthy Florence is. You see dog poop, graffiti, cigarette butts, garbage everywhere. And guess who these locals blame….it’s always the tourists. Have these locals looked at their Duomo to see how disgusting and dirty it is on the outside. What do they do with all the money that tourists pay to enter these places? There’s corruption everywhere in this city. These locals stick their noses up at everyone else as if they were the creators of these treasures which of course they are not. All these locals do is destroy these pieces of beauty through their own ignorance. As tourists we should resent the way we are treated in cities like this because of all the money we bring in and which should be used for the upkeep of such monuments. Only in Florence does one have to pay to enter the churches. No other city or town in Italy charges an entrance fee to enter a church. Keep out of this city and enjoy yourself somewhere else where tourists are appreciated.

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  16. M

    We were also disappointed by Florence. So many people have talked highly of it which I think set our expectations high. We didn’t have a bad experience, per se, but didn’t feel a vibe, found it a bit dirty, busy, crazy traffic, complicated driving/parking/bus situation described above. We asked the driver on the bus as to the process to pay but he ignored us so we took our free ride to the Uffuzi. Thankfully no inspectors got on board during our ride, which we read about later. Beautiful art and architecture, of course, but nothing will draw us back to Florence. We were happy to leave!

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  17. Peiying Peng

    Hmm, came upon your post while trying to find how to say “I love Florence very much” in Italian. : )

    We’ve been to Florence three times in the past decades or so, and will be there again for the fourth time coming May. Will come back and report what we’ve found. I don’t mind being treated like a tourist. After all, isn’t that what we are? I remember when I was in the Outer Banks years ago as a semi local, and heard the locals say “tourists, we hate them, but we can’t live without them.” I guess that’s the attitude of most people who have to tolerate massive hordes everyday and then also have to depend on the hordes to make a living. I go there because I love the Renaissance, and just love anything Italian. One time when we were in Italy, we did skip Florence, but that’s only because the time was running short. Sure, every trip to Italy for me will always include Rome. But Florence is always high on the list, for its art and its walkability.

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  18. Y

    I just came back from my second trip to Florence. Some things have changed, particularly the San Lorenzo Market where the vendors are more likely than not, Indian, and not Italians. But I still loved it. The feel of the medieval city was amazing. I found the staff at my hotel to be incredibly warm and helpful and the waiters at restaurants and cafes funny, friendly and generous in seating us without a reservation. Also, incredibly grateful when we tipped them. Coming from Paris where we found most people friendly and down-to-earth (even the border patrol!), the Italians are slightly more restrained. I believe culturally they do not reach out to strangers. I also found it generous that even when I pay an entrance fee for churches or gardens, the children are free. All in all, we enjoyed the wonderful sights, food, and feel of this Renaissance city. We look forward to going back often. I agree that one person’s cup of tea may not be another’s, but we should respect each other’s experience.

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  19. Lauren

    I’m glad I ran across this blog post. I’m trying to put together a rough itinerary for a week in Italy early next year. I feel like I’m indifferent about Florence and whether I want to make it part of my itinerary. (My husband even fell asleep during a show we watched about visiting Florence! LOL.) Thanks for your insight!

    Reply
  20. Kord

    Florence is too cool for the room. They expect tourists and lack appreciation like most Italian cities. I’m super disappointed and love this blog.

    Reply
  21. Chris

    We are five weeks into our seven weeks travelling around Italy. My wife had been to Florence before, but not I, so I requested the visit. For the first time this walking walked out of a cafe opposite the duomo as they were more interested in ignoring you and talking with each other, they obviously don’t need my money. I would return to Naples, I would return to Palmaro, but Florence won’t have me again at this stage. Doesn’t even compare to Venice, maybe two more days in Florence will change my heart.

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  22. Brad

    Totally agree with you. Out of three weeks, Paris-Beaune-Avignon-cote d’azur-Cinque Terra-Lucca-Florence-Chianti-Rome…..Florence was my least favorite. No bad, but other than feeling like I had to see the Uffizi and the few other must-sees, I would not mind if I never went back. Not warm or hospitable, no really iconic sites (like Rome and Paris), extremely crowded. That said, I only enjoy the big cities on the ends of my trips, flying into and out of large cities, in between I prefer to experience the smaller towns and gems of europe. Of all the big cities, I could definitely skip Florence.

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  23. William

    After all the hype about how beautiful and charming this city was supposed to be, I’ll admit my expectations were set a little high. Off the train and within 30 minutes we were ready to leave.

    Absolutely filthy. Litter everywhere. Ankle deep in cigarette butts. Graffiti on everything. And just an all around lousy vibe. Nothing more than a bunch of retail shops crammed into unkept and monotone architecture.

    But hey, we’ll take your €50 to come look at a statue for 20 minutes.

    Huge disappointment.

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  24. Richard

    Here in Florence right now!
    And it breaks my heart to have to agree with you.
    We have booked to stay for 8 days on the back of a great experience in Rome a couple years back.

    All your observations are correct with the addition that the whole city is filthy and unkempt with food literally rotting on the streets.

    I could cry.

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  25. alberto

    If you like Bologna, you might as well like padova, which is an hour by train far away.

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  26. e

    Hello! I appreciate the honest post. I feel you when you say you were supposed to love something and didn’t. This is how I feel about Rome. I travelled to Italy about 5 years ago. A week in Florence was amazing for me, I absolutely loved as you say “the vibe”, however I didn’t do any guided tours. I explored art galleries on my own terms, stopped by david, admired the duomo from the outside, but I spent most of my time wandering – trying to find things that were not “prescribed”, eating in tiny basement restaurants, and mainly observing. I then spent the next week in Rome. Rome we had tours of everything, and I hated it. Though the tour guides were fantastic and knowledgable, it just didn’t do it for me. Since then, I make an effort to never take guided tours. Instead, I research ahead, read books, or I will go the airbnb route with a personal host. Though I may not check off as many amazing features as some, I feel much more fulfilled in my experiences when they are exactly me.

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    • Erin Hensel

      I so agree – I spent 4 days in Rome (the end of a two week trip across Italy) and left feeling so disappointed. Everything people have said on this thread about Florence is how I feel about Rome. But most people wrinkle their noses at me when I say so. My “place” is Venice – it took my breath away – but we all know how most people feel about Venice. To each his own!

      Reply
  27. Chris

    Its not only florence which is dirty. Forlorn, full of graffiti and unfriendly most italian cities are like this frankly.

    Reply
    • Veronica

      Unfortunately you are right. My trip to Italy overall was a huge disappointment, with the exception of Cinque Terre and the Riviera. Third world country with luxury prices. Very sad.

      Reply
  28. Vicki

    I am here right now and couldnt agree more. I love Italy with a passion and will return , but not to Florence.
    Thanks for wriring this

    Reply
  29. Vicki

    I am here right now wirh my hudband and couldnt agree more. I love Italy with a passion and will return , but not to Florence.
    Thanks for writing this . We met people in our hotel who said the same and are glad we are not alone

    Reply
  30. N

    I absolutely agree about the overwhelming number of tourists in Florence, but then again they are there for good reason. I travel to italy 4 times per year because my family lives in Rome, Milan and Sicily. Even though I love many other places in Italy, Florence and tuscany for that matter is still one of my favorites. I studied in florence and lived in oltrarno on the other side of the river which was very peaceful and was basically still tourist free at the time. I got to know the ins and outs of the city and still have local florentine friends that I see when I return. There was also a restaurant run by a family that basically became my family when I studied there and who I still am very close with after 14 years. I also highly recommend walking around at night when most streets are empty and you basically have a medieval/ renaissance city all to yourself. I am also extremely fond of my favorite florentine dishes which are hard to find anywhere else; ribollita, peposo, tripa alla fiorentina, bistecca fiorentina (only from local florentine chianina cows), leppre, cantuccini morbidi – I can go on and on… So if you can look past the tourists and spend a little more time there (perhaps away from the center) you may be pleasantly surprised. There is definitely a perfume of sewage in most of the city and many buildings due to the antiquated septic systems but even when I smell that I get very nostalgic, haha! I also highly recommend renting an apt from companies like way to stay or apartments florence because you feel more at home and practically every apartment is in an old palazzo. Give it another shot!!

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  31. Elaine Hoffman

    Reading through your opinion and other’s responses gives me such a sense of relief. I just got back from Italy and Florence was first on my itinerary and my least favorite place traveled to. I’m from NYC and usually love to disappear into a city, going off the beaten paths to wear the real people eat and hang out, because that’s where the best culture is. But I felt unwelcome everywhere in Florence. Like I was invading the locals space. Which I get, cause in NYC, we sometimes feel that way, so we just avoid the really touristy spots. But if foreigners find the off the beaten, cool spots we usually appreciate those visitors, like their in on the secret. In Florence, I didn’t feel in on the secret cool spots, I got the vibe I was an invader.

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  32. Sam

    Soooo glad I’m not alone! I’m housesitting for a week in Florence right now, and I don’t really like the city. That doesn’t usually happen to me, so it’s quite unnerving! In other big touristy cities like New York (I’m from there), Paris, London, at least you can get away from the tourists as its a big enough city. Here isn’t the case. I totally agree with everything you said about lack of vibe, and a tourist playground. I’ve been trying really hard to explore outside of the center but the traffic is crazy, loud, and there doesn’t seem to be any neighborhoods I click with at all. All just wealthy boutiques. I’m disappointed and definitely not looking to the backlash of friends and family when I say I didn’t enjoy it! Going to try to make the most of it and just spend my time eating.

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  33. anja

    I am in florence with my 10 year old son after visiting berlin for two days. What a contrast! From being able to get around easily in berlin and to have someone to ask on arrival how to use the ticket machine etc to Florence where on arrival, there was no help in sight. The male attendant at the bus ticket office was rude to the point where I felt intimidated to check travel plans. On finding the right bus to travel to our hotel, we got on and validated our ticket. On becoming nervous about missing the stop, I tried to ask the driver between stops who totally ignored me. We ended up in girone! We had stayed on knowing we were lost thinking that it would go back to the start so we could get a taxi but it terminated in gerona and we had to get off! I was nearly in tears but kept thinking don’t cry in front of your son. Another bus driver was a life saver. The bus back was intended for another destination but he said I will take you there and then announced a diverted route to other passengers. We have since been lost two more times. We can get into the San Marco area, it’s just the bus back.. Our last night is going to be bus there…and taxi back…

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  34. Veronica

    Aside of the Duomo, Florence was a huge disappointment. Crowds, tacky nick-nack vendors, stark medieval houses (no flowers or vegetation) overpriced restaurants, rude locals. The Boboli gardens are shamelessly neglected. Third world bathrooms, a dirty river. In general, not a very nice place at all. Never again.

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  35. M. Garibaldi

    I’m in Florence right now (September 2017). I was here 25 years ago as a student and had such fond, romantic memories that when my spouse and I were planning our European vacation, I said we had to spend five nights in Florence. What a huge disappointment. We are on our fourth night and I cannot wait to leave the day after tomorrow for Rome.

    I’m not sure if Florence has changed a lot over the last 25 years, or if my more worldly experiences have raised my expectations, but this will be the last time I return to Florence. The city we visited previously was Vienna… now that is an incredible city! Friendly, clean, easy to get around, beautifully cared for historical monuments, etc. And the cities of Spain are so open, friendly and have an incredible “vibe.” Florence seems to be stuck in place and decaying. Really sad state of affairs.

    The city is dirty, crowded and almost everything feels run down and in disrepair. For example, the Boboli Gardens are overgrown in many places, missing statues, benches, etc. … but you still have to pay 10 Euros (the Tourist price) for the “privilege” of entering (many of the most spectacular gardens in other European cities are free). The Florentines are overly proud, arrogant and just plain rude. The city is skating along on it’s incredible art / history / architecture of a long ago past… but have not done anything new for generations.

    Many great European cities seem to be building on their incredible histories – and doing a great job of modernizing without compromising their cultures / historical architecture and monuments. Florence is an example of what happens when a city is neglected. But, what make is even more awful to visit, is that the Florentines don’t seem to care and are arrogant on top of it. What are they so proud of – is it just pure ego? If the atmosphere was more friendly, then the rest might be tolerable and even charming. But, here you have the worst of both worlds… a community totally without self-awareness… or maybe a deep insecurity? Who knows… but we won’t be returning, too many other amazing cities in Europe to return to.

    Reply
  36. RCP

    I am in Florence at this time and I am so happy to have found your blog post about Florence. I was just talking to my sister who absolutely loves Florence and she cannot understand why I am so disappointed. I told her that first of all this is not a beautiful city, that beauty is in places such as Rome, Venice, Bologna, and Milan. Even better in Italy, are the small hill top towns and villages where tourists rarely go.

    What I am experiencing is an over populated city that is extremely dirty to the point of a prevalent odor everywhere. I am shocked to see all of the garbage laid out on sidewalks everywhere and I can certainly tell you that it is from the shop owners and residents and not Terrace because these are piles of bags of garbage. The place that I am staying at is so noisy and so dirty and So third world without a functioning elevator with people who were stuck in it that had to call the fire department! So third world without a functioning elevator with people who were stuck in it that had to call the fire department!

    There are several streets just a few blocks away from the famous Duomo that is lined with immigrants selling fake leather and hockey all sorts of horrible souvenirs.

    I simply cannot believe how dirty the Duomo is. Parts of it’s exteriors are now almost black. I agree with so many comments above, especially in terms of why the Florentines cannot use all of this tourism money to clean things up.

    I am ashamed as an Italian American to claim this city full of renaissance treasures to be part of today’s Italy .

    And like you, my husband did I will not return to Florence.

    Reply
    • RCP

      I apologize for the typos above. I have been voice communicating on to this comment sections and not using my fingers to type in my comment. I would like to edit my errors but I do not know how on this blog. Thank you

      Reply
  37. Andrea Jones

    We are here now and agree, what a disappointment. Luckily we found a nice restaurant but the filth, the attitude and the hype…just not worth it at all.

    Reply
  38. Jody Jones

    Ditto!! Florence was a big yawn. One of the most boring and overrated places I have ever been. There was no positive energy at all. I said to my self why does everyone else love this city??? I will continue to scratch my head and wonder…..Being a travel agent I have traveled all over the world. All I can say is “Next”!!

    Reply

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