My daughter Lily texted today with the news:

Just finished my last exam of the semester!

That can mean only one thing:

Summer will soon be upon us!

For those of you heading to Florence, Italy this year, I hope you'll find the following tips and recommendations useful. You can download a pdf of the same information to take with you to Florence by clicking here

For those of you NOT going to Florence this year, No Fear! This is the first post of many in a coming series: Paris, London, New York, wherever you may be traveling, let us know here and we'll prepare an off-the-beaten-track Must Dos list for YOU too!

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14 Off-the-Beaten-Track Florence Must Dos
When You Desperately Need to Escape the Queues...

Florence is one of those places on everybody’s bucket list. It’s a fantastic city to visit with kids. Who doesn’t want to visit the Uffizi, stroll across the Ponte Vecchio, stand before the original David at the Accademia, and climb up inside Brunelleschi’s famous dome?

But great as these experiences seem in the imagination, in reality they draw the biggest crowds and the longest queues, especially if you haven’t booked tickets in advance.  

To keep you from spending precious holiday time standing in line, I’ve created a list of 14 off-the-beaten-track-Florence-Must-Dos with the help of my fellow Florence-loving friends: Susan Eaddy, Julie Hedlund, Mary Hoffman, and Paul Zelinsky.

Oh, and of course there's our app, In the Footsteps of Giants. Which you can pre-order by sending me a Please Inform Me When the App is Ready message here!


The Vasari Corridor, The Path of Princes

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

At the moment you can only access Vasari’s elevated corridor, The Path of Princes, as part of a guided Uffizi tour. But there are moves to make it open to the public. Built for Duke Cosimo the 1st of Florence, it runs above ground from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace via the Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, and Santa Felicita church. This way, Cosimo the 1st could walk from his offices (uffizi, in Italian) to his palace home without suffering from the smells of the butcher and fishmonger stalls on the busy bridge.


Piazza Santissima Annunziata, Monastery Turned Hotel

"The most beautiful and the least known square in Florence," this piazza is almost entirely overlooked by tourists. The old monastery turned hotel is where da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. And both the Ospedale degli Innocenti (orphan hospital) and the matching church façade were designed by Brunelleschi. 

Treasure hunt for the “foundling wheel” where one could place an unwanted baby and with a half-turn of the wheel, deliver him or her inside the orphanage without being seen. Also, check out the bees on the equestrian monument, designed by Giambologna.


The Badia, across from the Bargello

A 10th-century abbey boasting over 1,000 years of history, the Badia sits smack dab in city center yet is most often passed by. Treasure hunt for the wonderful Fillipino Lippi painting, Apparition of the Virgin.


Church of San Michele Visdomini, in the Via dei Servi

A much-overlooked church in the Via dei Servi, it houses Pontormo’s mannerist-style Sacra Conversazione.


Museo di Firenze Com'era Via Oriuoli, behind Brunelleschi's Dome

Tucked behind Brunelleschi’s dome, this little museum tells the story of Florence through a series of paintings from the Renaissance through to the 19th century. 


The Piazza del Limbo, outside the Church of Santi Apostoli

This tiny square outside the Church of Santi Apostoli is where babies who had died before being baptized were buried once upon a time. Legend has it that when the rich banker Bindo Altoviti wanted to raze the church and rebuild it, Michelangelo convinced him to restore it. Today it is one of few churches in Florence to have maintained its High Middle Age features.


Image courtesy of Tuscany Arts.

Image courtesy of Tuscany Arts.

Brancacci Chapel
of Santa Maria del Camine

This is where Pietro Torrigiano broke Michelangelo’s nose, disfiguring the master sculptor forever. The two boys were arguing about Masaccio’s frescos, which even today are a revelation!


Toward the Duomo

On your way toward the Duomo from the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, check out this shop housed in a medieval building that makes handmade paper and leather-bound books.


Cemetery at San Miniato
Church with a View

Standing atop one of the highest points in the city, the view from this church is spectacular. It’s also a fascinating place. Join the monks for an evening of relaxing and mysterious chanting.


La Specola, in the Oltrano

A true oddity – this natural history museum boasts wax figures – over 800 of them! -- used for medical education in the late 1800s.


Borgo Ognissanti, The Treasure Hunt

This whole street is quiet and residential. There’s a quirky drug store on the corner called Munstermann’s that has a “guide” to men’s facial hair. They will mix a custom perfume for you from essential oils. But the real thrill is treasure hunting there for the two St. Jeromes, the Botticcelli, and the Ghirlandiao. Good luck!


Fort Belvedere, 16th Century Design

Forte di Belvedere is a rambling fort designed at the end of the 16th century. It’s a great place for views over Florence and marriage proposals ;)


Villa Demidoff, a Small Versailles

An easy bus ride out of Florence, this lovely park – variously described as “a small Versailles” and “a theater of delights, magnificence, and leisure – is home to the wonderful Giambologna giant. 

Gelateria La Carraia, Best Gelato

Don’t forget to treasure hunt for the best gelato in Florence. Our bet is that you’ll rank this one among the best, if not THE best.

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Get your pdf download here.

Today I have something extra special to share. I'm going to take you inside a very secret hiding place. It was Michelangelo’s. And it dates to 1530. It is also the setting of our coming story app tour:

In the Footsteps of Giants.

This hiding place was only discovered 40 years ago, after a veil of secrecy that lasted hundreds of years was finally, accidentally lifted.

It was found because the walls of the room are covered with original sketches... by the hand of the Maestro Michelangelo himself. But why, you might ask, was Michelangelo in hiding? 

Few people know this, but Michelangelo, who lived to the ripe old age of 88, faced execution when he was 55 years old. He'd fallen on the wrong side of the mighty Medici, who wanted his head, and so he went into hiding. No one knows for how long—guesstimates range from three weeks to three months. And no one knew where…

...for 446 years.

Then, in 1976, his hiding place was discovered thanks to drawings made in charcoal preserved by the plaster Michelangelo had used to cover them up.

In the Medici Chapel New Sacristy with Director, Monica Bietti (center) and Paola Angelini of Guided Florence Tours (left).

In the Medici Chapel New Sacristy with Director, Monica Bietti (center) and Paola Angelini of Guided Florence Tours (left).

Due to their age and fragile state, the drawings are not accessible to the general public. You have to be a Michelangelo scholar to get to see them. 

Thanks to the efforts of our Florence-based partner, Paola Angelini of Guided Florence Tours -- which I recommend to you without reservation! -- author Mary Hoffman and I were allowed to visit the room while on our latest research mission to Florence earlier this month.

I was given permission to record our visit as well. Now I have the honor of sharing our experience with you. I still get goose bumps just thinking about it!

to enjoy this trip through time with Mary, Monica, Paola, me, and Michelangelo.

If you do enjoy it, please share it with others.
Help turn others on to history!
It's crazy how often fact beats fiction.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag:

New to Time Traveler Tours?
For more information on our Florence title,
visit our Kickstarter page.


Once upon a time, my memories of Florence fell to hunting for treasures in and around the top 10 tourist attractions with a four-year-old. And, of course, gelato. My favorite flavors were the citrus sorbets, like lemon, lime, and blood orange.

Then, exactly two years ago in April 2014, both my gelato preferences and my association with Florence changed. Radically. That's when Mary Hoffman and I, as co-faculty of Julie Hedlund’s Writer’s Renaissance, first brainstormed over una coppetta di gelato tre gusti – this time cioccolato, pistachio, and nocciola – how we might bring my time traveler tour concept to life in Florence.

Julie had charged us with peeling back the centuries to reveal Michelangelo and the Medici to workshop participants. I became so familiar with the city's history then that I could see the stories in the place as we gazed over it from the terrace of the historic Antica Torre Hotel, Writers Renaissance headquarters.

Fast-forward one year to April 2015 and Mary and I, with Julie's support and the help of Team TTT&T, were revving the Kickstarter campaign engine that would ultimately give us the validation – and the budget – to produce our Florence Story App Tour: In the Footsteps of Giants.


Last week found Mary and me back in Florence again to put the finishing touches on the project that was born that spring day in 2014. We spent five magical days, marked by hard work, lots of walking, multiple serendipities, and some well-planned fun. With the help of Luke and Jo Chilone, our Kickstarter backers turned friends, we transformed Mary's yarn – narrated by Michelangelo – into an interactive tour sure to #TurnHistoryOn.

Ours was a four-part mission:

  • To treasure hunt for treasure hunts to enliven and enrich the story app tour

  • To search for the activities that would further bring to life the hunted treasures

  • To secure the support of the museums included on our tour route, and

  • To sample more tasty gelato

We achieved all that and more!

The treasure hunting began early on Thursday 31 March. That afternoon we were at the Casa Buonarroti, home to Michelangelo’s earliest works. Mary and I were busy viewing his Battle of the Centaurs with such intensity, evidently, that the security staff became afraid we would set off the alarm bells.


When Mary explained what we were up to, they got very excited and invited us to a lecture by the museum director scheduled for early that evening. We went, of course, and when I pitched Direttore Cecchi our idea to bring history to life, he replied, “I am happy to support any effort dedicated to turning teens and tweens on to history.”

Turns out we nailed a pain point common to museums worldwide.

The next day found us at the Cappelle Medicee for an early morning meeting with Direttore Bietti organized by our Florence-based collaborator, Paola Angelini, of Guided Florence Tours. We intended to interview Ms. Bietti about Michelangelo’s hiding place to enhance our understanding and descriptions of his time spent there. The room is off-limits to the general public. Few mortals have been allowed down there due to the fragile state of the 500-year-old drawings. Well! We must have made just the right impression because before we knew it we were in the stanza segreta di Michelangelo with Direttore Bietti, getting a personal explanation of each and every one of his sketches.

It was an unforgettable experience. I'm still pinching myself to make certain it wasn’t just a dream. Fortunately, I have 100 or so images to prove that it wasn’t – video to come!

And the best part? We now also have the buy-in of the Cappelle Medicee for our project too.


If that weren’t greatness enough, when we met Jo and Luke later that morning we were off and running.

The four of us took turns reading the story at each tour location. We conducted extensive hunts for treasures and challenges at the Bargello Museum. Luke and Jo were not only instrumental in helping us tweak the text into submission, but also it turns out they are both tech gurus! They helped us to further refine the user experience design of the future app, and helped us to envision additional technical possibilities we might include.

We couldn’t have hoped for better collaborators! 


Saturday brought more hunting, more creating, more refining, and more gelato. And on Sunday, Mary and I packed up and moved to Bologna for the 53rd annual Children’s Book Fair, but the gelato and serendipity did not stop there.

On Monday I had an hour presentation to introduce Time Traveler Tours & Tales and our launch title. In attendance was Steve Mooser, co-founder of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization now 24K+ members strong. In another example of sheer, unplanned serendipity, Steve showed up to the Fair with his Oculus Rift in search of possible ways to apply that technology to the Children’s Book Publishing sector. He found it in Time Traveler Tours & Tales, and gave me and Oliver G. Latsch, TTT&T’s agent and biz partner, a virtual visit to the era of the dinosaurs besides.

We've now added yet another future format to our multi-discipline publishing plans.


Then came Oliver and my meeting with Tim Cook of Lonely Planet Kids. But that's all I'm allowed to say about that for now. Suffice it to say that we are cooking with gas here at TTT&T. Or, as Dan Blank prefers to say, “We’re cooking with jet fuel!”


Up next week:
My thoughts on the new publishing paradigm and the opportunities it has opened up
for creative entrepreneurs of all stripes and types.


We still need beta-testers. Want in?
Contact me here.


We’re Engaged!

Join me in welcoming OnCell, LLC, as Time Traveler Tours, LLC's new development partner!

Now some of you might be imagining a group of guys with various color pens lined up in their pocket protectors, repeatedly pushing thick rimmed glasses back up onto the bridges of their noses. Not Team OnCell. These peeps are young, dynamic, hip, creative, and anything but a boys club. They speak the languages of code and user experience design and visual storytelling. They have made it possible for me and Team TTT&T to bring our unique storytelling concept to you on the touchscreen device of your choice. Here are a few members of the OnCell team:

I feel uber positive about our joining forces with Team OnCell. But I’ve learned the hard way over the years just how difficult the choice of development partner can be. So I’m taking it slow this time, courting my "new beau" before we decide to tie the knot.

Here are the criteria I used to guide my choice of hopeful future partner:

1 - Evidence of sound, well-built work and a generous work ethic

The OnCell publishing engine is excellent. It’s everything I had hoped to build, and then some. They made my decision-making process easy by giving me access to the back end of their engine straight away. So in addition to downloading and playing with the apps built on the OnCell platform, I was able to create a small app of my own and really get a feel for the power of their program. I've been back there fiddling around for several months.

It’s very important to know what your future development partner is capable of, and to make certain they know how to code specifically for your project needs. I chose my first partner based on word-of-mouth. He was a very nice guy and he’d built a great resource app for a nurse practitioner friend of mine. But once he got into my project, he realized he was not up for the task. Sadly, he was unwilling to admit this. Instead, he took my money and disappeared off the face of the earth, canceling the email address I had for him and refusing to respond to my messages on LinkedIn. 

2 - An attitude that tech is equal to content

My third partner was great. We had a fun collaboration and he built me a fabulous app. But no sooner had we released BEWARE MADAME LA GUILLOTINE into the App Store than he refused to work with me any further unless I gave him 80% of the business.

He felt his code to be of greater value than my content.
I disagreed. 

The fact is, code is nothing without content, even great code. Team OnCell understands this. Indeed, that’s why they want to work with TTT&T. Our content gives their platform value; it keeps their business alive. We put the chassis on their already humming engine, and add cruise controls and leather seats besides. The more apps we send to the stores from their factory floor, the stronger both our companies will be. It’s a partnership of equality.

3 - Complementary goals

OnCell’s mission is very similar to that of TTT&T: To connect people with the story of a place. They exist in the travel, tourism, and museum sectors, as do we. Like us, they value great storytelling. We are both dedicated to #TurningHistoryOn.

I tested twelve platforms before choosing OnCell. They were all worthy, but only OnCell’s goals were perfectly aligned with ours. Because of this, there is a palpable synergy between the two companies. They are just as excited to work with us we are them. This is very important. A partnership must be just that: it must feel like a collaboration. 

4 - Room for mutually beneficial growth

While the OnCell engine is plenty robust and capable already, there's still room for innovation. Fortunately, that's what the OnCell tech team is all about. They are already working on the programming for an interactive feature we would like to include in our apps in future.

Realizing the ideas we, and their other clients and partners, bring to the table is a win-win-win: it increases the value or their engine, assures us of producing a better and better product over time, and benefits both our future clients.

5 - Longevity

As a company, OnCell is strong. It’s been around as long as there have been smart phones that run apps. The partners have bought up several smaller, similar companies, and like Popeye with his spinach the team gets stronger with every addition. They’ve recently hired on new talent as well. 

These are all very good signs that there is a clear path to the future for TTT&T. This was important to me as the partners of my last development team broke up without any warning on the eve of the launch of our 2015 Kickstarter campaign. This happens all the time in the startup world. Survival is difficult. Even one of the twelve platforms I tested in this latest search, one of my shortlisted three in fact, ceased to exist as I was making my team and I were making our final decision.


Our partnership with OnCell not only allows us to fulfill the promise our Kickstarter campaign, it also provides us with a shiny new up-to-date proof of the TTT&T concept so that we can move into the second half of 2016 better able to obtain clients as well as to a) obtain clients and b) raise further investment capital to kick our little publishing company into high gear.

We are now building the first iteration of IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS on the OnCell publishing platform, and it's really going well. And just in time too! for I’ll be in Florence again next week—this time with author Mary Hoffman and two of our Kickstarter backers, Luke and Jo Chilone. We will walk and talk and test the tour. We'll applaud what’s working and fix what isn't and go treasure hunting for treasure hunts, so that when I return to London, we'll be ready to work on iteration #2 of the app... and on and on until we soft launch our beta version in June.

I’ll send you pics from Florence next week. And news from Bologna the week after. In the meantime...

Join our Team. Be a Beta-Tester.
Contact me here today!

Image from

Image from

Once upon a time, some crazy smart person got the idea of taking a children’s story previously passed down through oral storytelling and turning it into a book. This spawned a whole new tradition, and an industry that has thrived for centuries with a work-flow process that involves several distinct phases and teams and can take several years to complete the goal of creating an illustrated story book.

It works like this:

An author first creates a manuscript that is acceptable to an editor. The editor will then work with the author to bring that story to a point of excellence, at which point this editorial team passes the story off to a design team.

The art designer will select the perfect illustrator, who must then be given ample time to realize his or her vision. The designer then lays out the book, selecting fonts and other design elements, and drops in the finished artwork.

The combined effort is provided to the production team in the form of print-ready galleys eventually to be published. And while proofs are being run to test for color and trim accuracy, the marketing team revs up the process of distributing the book to reviewers just as the sales team works to get it into stores.

It is a proven practice and will remain the preferred method of making an illustrated story book for many years to come. Because it works. For books. 

But the job of realizing the electronic cousin of an illustrated children’s book—the story app—requires a very different process and a new cast of characters. It works something like this...

In the digital ecosystem, production speeds up with teams working more in lock step, rather than relay style. New editions are possible with the click of a few buttons, making it possible—even favorable for testing purposes—to publish a work in iterative chunks; that is, launching not in a fully finished state, but a simplified one that is added to over time.

The author, editor, and publisher tend to collaborate more at the outset to realize a manuscript not limited to a story text, but requiring content for interactive elements, text boxes, navigational instructions, etc., as well. And the creative team expands, adding to the ranks of editorial, design, and production teams, the following contributors:

  • Development, or programming, team

  • User experience (UX) designer

  • User interface (UI) designer

  • Game developer, if the app is to include interactive learning elements and features

  • Animator, if images are to move

  • Educational consultant, to assure that the app is developmentally appropriate to the target age

  • Beta-testers, to ensure that the book and design are intuitive to use

To wit: It takes a lot of people-power to realize a great story app.

Team efforts overlap. For example, in our current process, as author Mary Hoffman and team editor Emma D. Dryden have been working together to perfect the manuscript for In the Footsteps of Giants, I’ve been working with our art, user interface, and user experience consultants to design the look and feel of our future story app.

Mary and I have been preparing a list of image suggestions to pass off to our photo editor, Cynthia Carris Alonso, who has begun the process of researching and obtaining rights to use the visual content to accompany Roxie Munro’s original artwork commissioned at the start of the process.

In the meantime, our marketing team, including Dan Blank and his team at WeGrowMedia, is already strategizing plans in anticipation of a June launch. And I am now on the hunt for vocal talent that can record and send to us raw files that we will then engineer with added sound effects. (If you're interested in auditioning, contact me here.)

We couldn’t do any of this without at least a draft story to work with. But neither did we need a completed manuscript to begin production. Indeed, the first and last piece of the puzzle to be signed off on will be the manuscript, for it will likely change again once we are inside the recording studio.

Which is why I say that creating a story app is a team sport, and a highly collaborative effort at that!

If you want to know more about the story-creation part of the process, read my last post here. In upcoming posts, I’ll focus on our work to select interactive features, illustrative elements, and audio assets that enhance storytelling. As well as announce the great news of our most recent partnerships.


Stay tuned!