Colonel Dave Blackburn on being a Helicopter Pilot

Have you ever dreamt of becoming a helicopter pilot when you were younger? Can you even imagine growing up and becoming one! Read all about Colonel Blackburn’s journey, right here.

Many people dream of flying, but not very many people ever get the chance. Colonel Dave Blackburn, however, is not one of those people. From jumping out of planes, to flying all over the German countryside, to serving in Operation Desert Storm, Colonel Blackburn has done it all and then some, a wealth of knowledge for anyone looking to gain their wings. I am fortunate enough to know Colonel Blackburn through my father, who also served as a helicopter pilot in the Army. Between the two of them, I could listen to their stories for hours and hope to share some of them with you over time. For now, here are some of Colonel Blackburn’s highlights from high in the sky.

Colonel Blackburn, share with us a little bit about yourself!

I grew up in a suburb just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. My dad worked at Bethlehem Steel as a Millwright, fixing cranes on the docks where ships came in to drop off iron ore and my mom worked for AT&T.  We were working class people. We lived in a 1,000 square foot, 3 bedroom, 1 bath house. Today, you’d say wow, that’s tiny… one bathroom for four people? When you’re a kid, you don’t know what you don’t know; the house seemed fine. My eventual wife, Lisa, lived a few blocks away and we’ve known each other since 5th grade. We became boyfriend and girlfriend at the end of 9th grade. We’ve been married for 37 years and have three daughters. Two were born in Germany during two separate three-year tours there and our middle daughter, Rachel, was born in Leavenworth, Kansas. Rachel played basketball for and graduated from the University of Nebraska. Rebecca, the oldest, graduated from the University of Kansas. Katelyn the youngest is currently a junior at the University of Kansas, studying computer engineering.  

 I went to Towson University in Maryland where I joined ROTC. I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant 1983.  After going to Infantry School, I went to Flight School. Flight School was nine months. Our first assignment was Germany.  We went back to Germany a decade later (six years total). I served in South Korea, I was in operation Desert Storm with the 82nd Airborne Division. I was a Lieutenant Colonel and new Battalion Commander at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on 9/11. We eventually deployed the battalion to Afghanistan and a few years later I spent a year in Iraq. I retired from the Army as a colonel. It was a tough life with a lot of separation.  

What was the training like leading up to being able to fly solo?

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Flight School started at Fort Rucker, Alabama on November 25, 1983.  It was a big deal to finally get our flight suits, it meant you were some kind of aviator. We had about 2 weeks of class work before going to the flight line, this part of the training was called Primary. It was out at Hanchey Army Airfield. We met our instructor pilot (IP) and got paired up with a fellow student, this guy was called your “Stick Buddy.” I was paired with 2LT Tom Charron,  we were rare in that we remained “Stick Buddies” all the way through flight school. Tom was a great American and we got along so well. Our IP was a retired Major named George Reese who had flown helicopters in Vietnam; I think we were his first students. Mr. Reese took us on our “Nickel Ride” (your first ride in a helicopter) in the TH-55, Osage Helicopter, which was a very small two seat helicopter. Hovering was hard.  We’d fly out of Hanchey AAF to what was called a “Stage Field.” A stage field was a small airfield that had several runways or lanes.  We would do hover and traffic pattern work there.  You’d practice maneuvers like a normal approach, normal takeoff, steep approach, running landing, autorotation, slope landing and hovering autorotation.

It was cold when we were practicing hovering. However, I remember sweat rolling out of my helmet. I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to master it, and I’d have to revert back to being an infantry officer.

After several hours of practice… (maybe 6 hours) It just happens, it’s like learning to ride a bike. Once you can hover, you can hover. It’s magical…

The aircraft is suddenly just steady. After about 10-12 flight hours we soloed. The IP would just get out and we took the aircraft out to the active runway and we’d do one traffic pattern (Traffic Pattern = up-wind, crosswind, downwind, base, & final).  Eventually, we soloed out from Hanchey to the stage field.  Flying straight and level is easy.  I remember early on…  You’d call Air Traffic Control(ATC) at a reporting point saying you’re inbound.  ATC would say… Roger, whatever callsign, runway 27 in use, report entry left downwind. I remember Mr. Reese telling me to look at the airfield’s windsock and figure out the landing direction… I was thinking Hey buddy, I’m just trying to steer this thing… I have no idea about wind direction, but eventually you get it. Mr. Reese was always on the flight controls, so I never knew if I was doing the auto or was he moving the flight controls.  At the end of what was called “Primary” we took our first check ride. I flew well on my first check ride. I still remember the IP gave me a 92.  Mr. Reese was surprised I scored that high- he didn’t say it, but I could tell.   

How did you first become a pilot and maintenance test pilot?

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After coming back from Germany as a young captain, we went to Fort Rucker for the “Advanced Course.”  Today, it’s called the “Captain’s Career Course,” which takes six months. I knew the army was always short aircraft maintenance officers and I saw it as an opportunity to stay in a unit rather than going off to what commissioned aviators called the “3-Rs” (Rucker, ROTC, or Recruiting). So, I volunteered and after the Advanced Course we went to Fort Eustis, Virginia for the AH-1 maintenance test pilot (MTP) course. The MTP course was 12 weeks long; the first part was 9 weeks of classroom, and the final 3 weeks was learning to test fly the aircraft. The final part of the course was very difficult… I don’t know how tough the other aircraft courses were, but the Cobra course was tough. There were only 4 of us in the Cobra course.  We had to memorize the maintenance test flight checklist. So, the instructor pilot (IP) is in the front seat reading the checklist step and you have to repeat it and say what you’re doing and looking for, as spelled out in the checklist. Example…IP says:  DC Generator switch. Student replies… DC Generator to DC Generator, note no change…  It has been 30 years and that was an easy task that has been seared into my mind. I still remember other checklist items. I went to South Korea after the course and my wife, Lisa, and our first daughter stayed in the United States. I was there 21 months in the 2nd Infantry Division’s attack helicopter battalion in Uijeongbu, South Korea.  A normal tour is 12 months, but I extended for an opportunity to be a company commander. Upon return to the United States, I went to Fort Rucker for the OH-58D transition course and after that course I went to the OH-58D MTP course at Eustis. After the course I reported to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg and a few days later I was headed to Operation Desert Storm. 

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How many flight hours do you have and is it difficult to learn how to fly a helicopter?

I was a maintenance guy and maintenance guys don’t usually get nearly as many hours as line pilots or operators get…So, I don’t have many hours. I have 1,083 hours. 

How many different helicopters have you flown and do you have a favorite and why?

I flew the UH-1H, Huey, the AH-1F, Fully Modernized Cobra, and the OH-58D, Kiowa Warrior.  

The AH-1F, Fully Modernized Cobra was my favorite aircraft.  It has guns, it has air conditioning (as long as the Turbine Gas Temp. was below 820 degrees centigrade), and it just looks cool- it’s sleek looking.

What is the best piece of advice that someone has given to you in regards to flying?

The internet didn’t exist when your dad and I went to flight school. Today, it’s a tremendous asset. I’d study everything you can find about flying. If you have the money, take private flight lessons in a fixed wing aircraft.  If you don’t have the money for lessons in an aircraft, buy the best computer based flight simulator you can afford.  You can learn a lot about how to fly instruments. Back then, 95% of us knew nothing about flying instruments when we started.  

If you’re going to fly for the Army you’ll have to take the Flight Aptitude Selection Test(FAST). I recommend finding out everything you can about the FAST. Check your eyesight and see what the Army requires. For us, it was 20/20 uncorrected. Today, you may be able to get Lasik to correct to 20/20, but a flight surgeon will know. Check to see if you’re colored blind, that can eliminate a candidate too.   

Do you have any memorable stories from your years flying?

Screen Shot 2020-09-20 at 9.29.25 PMI remember doing a test flight in a Cobra at Ft. Brag. I was in the 82nd Airborne Division, so the aviators also conducted airborne operations. Why aviators jumped is a good question, but back then we did, but not anymore. I was flying a Cobra in Test Flight Area 2 and we were doing a “Topping Check.”  It’s a test flight maneuver where you fly up to 10,000 feet and pull the aircraft’s maximum power… The intent is to get the main rotor rpm to bleed off.  So we’re up at 10,000 feet and off in the distance you can see Fort Bragg’s four biggest drop zones… Sicily, Salerno, Normandy, and Holland. They’re huge. That same night we had a “midnight ride”… meaning we had an airborne operation with a time on target of around 24:00. I walked out the door of an Air Force C-141 over Holland DZ and as I flew that afternoon, I thought to myself I’m in the only Army in the world that I can fly a Cobra at 10,000 feet in the afternoon, and jump out of a C-141 at midnight at 800 feet.  

Was there a time where you were ever apprehensive about being a maintenance test pilot?

Apprehensive? No. A general test flight is set up so that you do run up checks first. If everything is ok, you do hover checks. If everything is ok you do flight checks.

If you could choose one person to fly co-pilot with you (disregarding their flight qualifications) who would it be and why?

Your dad and I never flew together. That would be very nice.  

What advice would you give someone who is interested in learning more about aviation and maybe getting their pilots license?

I can only recommend from an Army perspective. If you want to fly Army helicopters and flying is your thing, I recommend you become an Army Warrant Officer. Warrant Officers remain in flying units doing flying jobs almost their entire career. You won’t make as much money, but you’ll fly. If you want to fly during some assignments, but want to lead people, become a lieutenant and go to flight school.  

Check out universities that offer flight degrees. Embry Riddle is one. You can graduate there with an instrument rating (ticket). I think a university in South Dakota has a flight degree as well.  

Five Ways Rimowa has Re-imagined Itself

Alexandre Arnault’s re-imagination of a classic brand: Rimowa.

Photos taken from Rimowa’s Instagram Account

The Retail and Luxury Goods Conference at Harvard Business School (HBS) has always been an event that I look forward to every year. I come away from the conference having learned so much from the esteemed panel of speakers HBS invites and a notebook full of insights from the event. This year, the conference’s keynote speaker was Rimowa‘s CEO and President Alexandre Arnault. At just 26 years old, Arnault became the CEO of Rimowa in 2017, when the company was taken in by the LVMH group. Despite being acquired at a lofty €800 million valuation, Arnault had his work cut out for him in transforming a classic luggage brand into a modern item for Millenial and Gen Z consumers. In just three years, Arnault has completely reimagined the company, while still retaining its core identity in superior luggage craftsmanship and design. So, what has Arnault done and how has he done it? In his keynote speech, Arnault addressed a few critical decisions he made which have helped Rimowa become even more successful in the 21st-century retail marketplace.

1) New Leadership Style 

Throughout his presentation, Arnault stressed the fact that he wanted to transform the brand’s internal identity from a traditional corporate management system to operating like a start-up. First, he emphasized the importance of everyone within the company identifying as a team, using “we, not I”. This group mentality allows for every stakeholder to take ownership of the successes and failures of the business as a whole. This attitude also helps to instill greater collaboration, unity, and trust within company culture. Arnault also implemented the practice of “engage. disagree. commit.,” meaning that decisions within the company are allowed to be challenged and disagreed upon, however, once a decision has been made, everyone must commit fully to its implementation. Similarly, this practice helps to focus and motivate employees towards a common goal, despite differences of opinion. The three other targets Arnault focuses on are “move fast and light, be design driven, and embrace the unknown,” core goals clearly tied to the Rimowa brand. 

2) New Products and Collaborations

One of Arnault’s most defining features to the outside world is his age- at only 26 years old, Arnault began leading over a half a billion-dollar company. However, Arnault’s age just might be his greatest benefit. Arnault has the ability to understand the current and next generation of consumers. It was this insight that motivated him to increase the number of product launches Rimowa has per year. Rimowa’s number of new launches per year went from 8 in 2016 to a staggering 28 in 2019 per year. Rimowa has partnered with high-end and exclusive brands such as Supreme,- whose collaboration sold out in 16 seconds– Dior, and Moncler on these new product releases. Rimowa’s luggage is easily identifiable through design elements, such as its ribbed exterior shell, hard casing, and signature wheels. Therefore, this luggage provides a blank canvas for collaborating designers to express their own brand’s uniqueness, while still ensuring consumers know its a Rimowa product first and foremost- a clear win-win for both parties. 

3) Revamped Brand Identity, but Retained Differentiator

Rimowa also went through a complete rebranding, some major changes being a redesigned logo, a new website, and a new slew of brand ambassadors, such as tennis star Roger Federer and the top model Adwoa Aboah. These changes have helped communicate a message to the world that Rimowa is now on the cutting edge and you should be paying attention. One thing that Arnault has made sure not to tamper with, however, is Rimowa’s classic design and craftsmanship, which is what retains the company’s true brand value. You can easily tell a Rimowa piece of luggage coming down the luggage shoot from any other black canvas rollie being churned out. 

4) Celebrity Endorsementsscreen-shot-2020-08-23-at-3.27.24-pm

Along with Rimowa’s new face has come new endorsers of the brand. Huge celebrities like basketball player LeBron James, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director Virgil Abloh, and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, to name a few, have jumped on board in representing the company. The diversity in these high-achieving celebrities is especially key, demonstrating the luggage’s appeal to just about everyone who can dream big. Arnault notes that his focus on marketing, and especially social efforts, has paid off, given that their Instagram account has grown from having 38,000 followers in 2016 to 402,000 in 2019. What was once seen as an expensive piece of luggage is now a marker of adventure, status, achievement, and much more. 

5) Labor and Distribution Changes

Lastly, Arnault notes that it was the major restructuring that took place that helped the company achieve significant gains within the retail marketplace. In terms of labor, Rimowa cut the number of people required for production and reallocated jobs to retail services, as a result of the company opening 77 new stores over the past 3 years. Additionally, a drastic evolution in their business model, going from uncontrolled wholesale to a precise retail operation, is one way the company achieved more financial stability. Arnault saw that the company needed greater control over their product and restructured its channel mix, providing only 25% of its product to wholesale compared to 75% previously, increasing retail distribution to 68% from 25%, and increasing e-commerce sales to 7% from 0%. Changes to the labor and channel mix have definitely paid off, resulting in an increase in annual revenue from 443 million in 2016 to 455 million in 2019. 

All things considered, it will be interesting to see what Rimowa’s next move is in adapting to the retail challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised. With traveling being drastically reduced and normal jet setting taking a pause, spending on luggage in the foreseeable future will take a major decline. Yet, one way Rimowa has shown to be adapting to the limitations of such a niche product is through product differentiation, having recently launched its own eyewear range. Looking back on all of the flexibility Rimowa displayed and changes it has been able to make over the past few years, although the future seems uncertain, I hope Rimowa is here to stay- and I think it will be.

The information and numbers shown in this article are derived from the keynote slides presented at the HBS Conference.

London’s Hidden Gems

Unearthing 15 of London’s best kept local secrets.

The summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year of college I spent two months living in London, England, participating in Arcadia University’s London Summer Internship program. Over the course of those two months, I studied contemporary British politics as well as participated in an internship at a social media marketing start-up called The Apartment Global Limited. My time living in Highgate, along with the other program participants, served as an incredible opportunity for me to learn and grow as a young adult. For the first time, I was living in and exploring a foreign city on my own. Undeniably, at first, I felt uncomfortable doing things by myself. Yet, I knew it would be impossible to convince my friends to be dragged from museum to museum every day. I would have to push myself to become comfortable with being lonely.


Slowly, I learned that saying “table for one” provided an opportunity to fully immerse myself in an experience without other distractions. I soon discovered the joy of researching places that I found interesting and heading right out the door to experience them for myself. At night, I would sit down at my computer to look up interesting events, exhibitions, museums, shows, shops, and restaurants across London. The next day I would set out to conquer the city, absorbing as much as possible around every corner. My exposure to the world around me grew more and more every day, as I encountered new experiences and moments of learning.

Below, find some of my most unexpected favorites from living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world!

1. Victoria and Albert Museum Library


Address: Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL, United Kingdom

When I first visited the Victoria and Albert Museum it was to see the newly featured Balenciaga exhibition. After I visited the exhibition, I began to tour around the museum a bit more, only to find out that there was a gorgeous public library on level 2 that overlooks the John Madejski Garden. If you are interested in working at the library, make sure to leave your bag in the cloakroom at the main entrance and to dispose of any food or drink.

2. The Wallace Collection


Address: Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN, United Kingdom

The Wallace Collection was one of the last museums that I visited in London, however, it should have been one of the first. The museum houses stunning, colorful rooms filled with unique items that will keep you interested for hours. The Wallace Collection also has a restaurant in the museum’s pastel pink courtyard that features an expansive skylight.

3. The Royal Observatory and Greenwich Park


Address: Blackheath Ave, Greenwich, London SE10 8XJ, United Kingdom

Eager to get out of the city center for a day? Take a trip to Greenwich and explore the beauty of Greenwich Park and The Royal Observatory, which is located on its grounds. The Royal Observatory is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the Prime Meridian of the world, and London’s Planetarium. To make the day even better, take the ferry boat to get there and enjoy a scenic trip down the River Thames.

4. The Royal Opera House Tour


Address: Bow St, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DD, United Kingdom

I was not completely sure what I was getting myself into when I signed up for The Royal Opera House Tour. Little did I know I would be shown behind the scenes of what makes the Opera House produce some of the most incredible ballet and operas in the world. I got to peek into the ballet rehearsal rooms, costume archives, and even caught a glimpse of an onstage rehearsal while on my tour.

5. Granger and Co.


My favorite location: 237-239 Pavilion Rd, Chelsea, London SW1X 0BP, United Kingdom

Granger and Co. is one restaurant that I frequented the most while in London- I visited every location across the city. The interiors of all of their restaurants are as beautiful, warm, and comforting as the dishes they serve. Order the ricotta hotcakes and you won’t be disappointed.

6. Hampstead Heath’s Bathing Ponds

Address: Parliament Hill Fields, Fields Hampstead Heath, Highgate Rd, London NW5 1QR, United Kingdom

Although Hampstead Heath is one of London’s top parks in terms of both views and popularity, many visitors hike to the top of the hill and neglect to go any further. I have found that some of the most beautiful areas of the park are located a short walk from Hampstead’s peak around its pond areas.

7. Senate House Library


Address: Senate House University of London, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU, United Kingdom

The Senate House Library is the designated library for all Arcadia students in London and one I frequented often. Surprisingly, the building itself is a bit of an attraction because of its art deco architecture and feature in five films, including The Dark Night Rises and Batman Begins. It is definitely worth a quick visit if you’re in the area.

8. Chin Chin Laboratory


Located in Camden Market

Address: 49-50 Camden Lock Pl, Camden Town, London NW1 8AF, United Kingdom

There are very few ice cream experiences that will compare to this one. Chin Chin features a selection of unique ice cream flavors, cookie sandwiches, and even hot chocolate in all of its shops. However, the most innovative aspect of Chin Chin is that they make all of their ice cream using liquid nitrogen. The result is an indulgent delight!

9. Bun House


Address: 26-27 Lisle St, West End, London WC2H 7BA, United Kingdom

When I first walked into the Bun House, right in the center of London’s theatre district, I had no idea what to expect. I had never eaten Chinese buns before, yet they looked so delicious from the photos I viewed online. The woman behind the counter could not have been nicer in recommending buns and side dishes to try. All of the food was so tasty I returned every time I was in the area for my much-needed bun fix.

10. British Library


Address: 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB, United Kingdom

I would often visit the British Library to work on my assignments and papers for class, however, even as a tourist, I would recommend visiting. The library has an immense literary collection that is housed in a glass structure that serves as the library’s visual centerpiece.

11. Farm Girl Cafe


Address: 59A Portobello Rd, Notting Hill, London W11 3DB, United Kingdom

Taking a stop at the Farm Girl Cafe is a must if you are in the area shopping on Portobello Road. The cafe sources organic, local ingredients for all of their fresh dishes, making the menu full of good selections. I recommend ordering a rose latte while you review your latest Portobello antique finds.

12. The Royal Academy of Arts


Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 0BD, United Kingdom

The Royal Academy of Arts was one of the most interesting museums that I had a chance to visit during my time in London. Most of the art at the Academy is uniquely featured on large wall spaces in a collage format. The Academy is also the home of Britain’s oldest art school and is amongst the most prestigious in the world.

13. Rooftop Cinema Club


Address: Queen of Hoxton, 1-5 Curtain Rd, Hackney, London EC2A 3JX, United Kingdom

If you are looking for something fun to do late-night, the Rooftop Cinema Club provides an outdoor cinematic experience with incredible views. The Club shows both classic flicks and new releases, so you can’t go wrong with picking a day to go.

14. High Tea at The National Gallery Rooftop


Address: Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom

There are many incredible high tea experiences in London, yet for the price, views, delicious selection, and experience, The National Gallery’s is hard to beat. Sip tea and munch on scones while enjoying a spectacular view of the city.

15. Ruby Violet Ice Cream


Address: 118 Fortess Rd, Kentish Town, London NW5 2HL, United Kingdom

Just a few steps outside of the Tufnell Park tube station, Ruby Violet’s ice cream is not to be missed. Make sure to take a picture of your creamy treat in front of their signature, sparkly Ruby Violet sign!

Some of these locations have been temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and will re-open in the future.

How Committing to “Yes” Changed My Life

How saying “yes” is sometimes the hardest part of starting the adventure of a lifetime.

When I was accepted to Babson there were so many things that intrigued me about the college, their Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME) course, where students learned how to start their own business, the large undergraduate international population, where I would meet students from all over the world, and the beautiful campus right outside of Boston. However, it was Babson’s unique study abroad program – The BRIC Program – that excited me the most.

I remember when I was just a freshman at Babson prematurely going into the education abroad office in order to meet with the BRIC advisor. I was so eager to be accepted into the program and take part in a once of a lifetime study abroad experience, traveling with a cohort of 23 students to Russia, India, and China over the course of three months, the first semester of junior year.

However, when I got accepted into this highly competitive program, anxiousness quickly overtook excitement. In all honesty, I was in denial about the prospect of spending a semester abroad in three distinct foreign countries with people I knew very little about. When I spoke to friends and acquaintances about the adventure I was about to embark on, the experience felt very isolated from my own life. Looking at the past BRIC student’s photos, applying for my visa, and attending all of the pre-departure sessions did not make BRIC feel anymore real to me. It was not until I was buying travel necessities, a daunting amount of insect repellent, Advil, and mini travel shampoos, days before arriving at Babson, that it hit me that I was preparing for the completely unexpected and unknown.

I felt overwhelmed, wrestling with so many fears: was I going to get sick? Would I make friends with the cohort? Was I going to miss my family? Would I be able to adapt? I was scared of the future- the worst part being that I had done all of this to myself. I had wanted to go on BRIC, filled out the application, got into the program, and accepted the invitation. It was all on me.

Within days of the program’s start, I convinced myself that I did not want to study abroad anymore. Up until this point, I had taken many risks in my life, yet this time I thought I had pushed myself a little bit too far, questioning if I could take on the challenge. Although my mother assured me that I did not have to go if I did not want to, I knew that I could not let my own fears hold me back from an experience of a lifetime.

It is easy to say “yes” by merely showing up when you are supposed to, however immersing yourself fully in an experience is another story- it takes courage to be yourself.

Once our pre-departure sessions started, my anxieties had not dissipated. I remained closed off from the group, afraid of rejection and being vulnerable with the cohort, all of whom I had not known before. After holding back from volunteering to participate in a group bonding activity, which required sharing a personal story, I realized something had to give. In order to get the most out of the BRIC experience, I found that showing up was just half the battle, I had to dedicate action to words. To learn and grow you have to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and be engaged. As soon as I started to embrace opening up to the cohort, letting them get to know me better, I was able to connect on a deeper level both within the group and with the cultures that surrounded me in each location.

It is easy to look at the program and see how the rigorous course load in addition to the challenge of adapting to three vastly different locations could orient an individual towards growth. Yet, I have come to realize that committing to a challenge is oftentimes one of the most significant and overlooked steps within the entire process.

Sometimes life scares us, but it’s important to recognize these pivotal points in our life as opportunities to reflect on how far we have come and to continue to take leaps of faith, plunging ourselves into new experiences. And this all starts with the commitment to a simple, three letter word:

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My Florence Recommendations

My favorite restaurants, markets, and cooking classes in Florence, Italy.

After having spent one month in Florence, Italy studying cooking, I made sure to document all of my favorite places to eat, shop, and learn about food across the city. I hope this guide will be helpful to you on your next trip to this Italian culinary gem.

General Notes on Eating Out

  • Always make a reservation for dinner beforehand. Italians often take hours to eat, therefore tables can be hard to come by, especially on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.
  • While I was in Florence, I utilized Trip Advisor for researching places to eat. For many restaurants, you can make a reservation right online at, which I found extremely helpful.
  • Restaurants usually open for dinner at 7:00 pm.
  • Unlike in the United States, you have to ask for the check when you are ready to leave or else the waiters will not bother your table.
  • A cover charge is often included, denoted as “coperto” on the check. If it is not, you can add a few Euros to the bill or up to 5% for service, but no more.

Best Breakfasts

Every small cafe is good in Italy to stop in for a coffee and croissant, but here are two memorable spots I recommend.

Caffe’ Pasticceria La Loggia Degli Albizi

  • Address: Borgo 37 50122, Borgo degli Albizi, 21, 50122 Firenze, Italy


  • My favorite croissants in the city along with a wide variety of sweets
  • Delicious coffee
  • Outdoor seating (the sparrows make great company)

Ditta Artigianale

  • Address: Via dei Neri 33, 50122, Florence, Italy
  • Located near the Uffizi Gallery


  • Not an Italian breakfast, (it serves croque madames and monsieurs) but it has a delicious breakfast and excellent coffee selection

Best Lunches

Gusta Panino

  • Address: Piazza Santa Spirito | Santa Spirito 1R, 50125, Florence, Italy
  • In the square in front of Santo Spiritu


  • Excellent paninis to-go if you are on the other side of the Arno


  • Address: Piazza San Marco 9/b, 10, 50121, Florence, Italy
  • Right around the corner from the Galleria Academia


  • Great place to get a quick pizza or focaccia
  • You can sit in or take it to go
  • Pay after you order and finish your meal

Enoteca Bar Fuori Porta

  • Address: Via del Monte alle Croci 10r, Florence, Italy
  • A great place to go after visiting Michaelangelo’s Square


  • Excellent crostini, cheese, salad, and wine options
  • Beautiful outdoor seating

Ara: E Sicilia

  • Address: Via Degli Alfani 127 R, 50121, Florence, Italy
  • Very small inside


  • Tasty lunch right near the Duomo
  • Not a formal sit down
  • Serves yummy rice balls (which I highly recommend), stuffed breads, and sweets

Alimentari Uffizi

  • Address: Via Lambertesca 10r, 50100, Florence, Italy
  • Tucked away down a very narrow side street


  • The owner is incredibly nice and all of the prosciutto comes from his son’s farm
  • Excellent paninis made with fresh breads, cheeses, and meats

Best Dinners

Pizzeria Santarpia

  • Address: Largo Pietro Annigoni, 9, 50122 Firenze, Italy
  • It’s hidden behind the Sant’ambrogio Market in a large square


  • Best pizza and calzones in Florence
  • Relaxed, fun, and casual atmosphere

La Ménagère

  • Address: Via de’ Ginori, 8, 50123 Firenze, Italy


  • Modern, unique, and delicious food
  • Beautiful interior
  • Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Free Wifi

Konnubio Corso Tintori

  • Address: Via dei Conti 8r, 50123, Florence, Italy
  • There is another Konnubio in Florence, but this location is better


  • Yummy and interesting dishes
  • Comfortable and beautiful atmosphere
  • Excellent service

Olio & Convivium

  • Address: Via di Santo Spirito, 4, 50125 Firenze, Italy


  • I ordered one of the fixed menus and it was delicious
  • Italian food with a unique twist
  • It is also serves as a gourmet shop

Trattoria 4 Leoni

  • Address: 4 Leoni, Via de’ Vellutini, 1r, 50125 Firenze, Italy


  • Tasty authentic Italian food (must order the pear ravioli, which they are famous for)
  • The menu is all in Italian, but do not hesitate to ask the waiter what everything means
  • Outdoor seating in a rustic square

Il Santo Bevitore

  • Address: Via di Santo Spirito, 66r, Florence, Italy


  • Excellent elevated Italian food
  • Best restaurant dessert in Florence
  • Overall very delicious

La Cucina del Garga

  • Address: Via San Zanobi, 33r, 50129, Florence, Italy


  • Beautiful restaurant that practically doubles as an art gallery
  • Amazing authentic cuisine that is packed with flavor

Il Borro Tuscan Bistro

  • Address: Lungarno Acciaiuoli 80r, Florence, Italy
  • The location overlooks the Arno


  • Delicious Italian food with classic flavors
  • If you sit in the back of the restaurant you can watch the chefs at work

Best Sweets

Dolci e Dolcezze

  • Address: Piazza Beccaria 8/r, Florence, Italy
  • Easy to spot because it is bright green on the outside


  • Excellent coffee, cream filled croissants, tarts, and cakes
  • Very pretty atmosphere to sit and have a mid afternoon pick me up

Gelateria La Carraia

  • Address: Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25, 50124, Florence, Italy
  • Two bridges over from the Ponte Vecchio on the other side of the Arno
  • Green on the outside


  • Easily the best gelato in Florence
  • Wide variety of flavors and cones

Best Markets

Mercato Centrale

  • Address: Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 50123, Florence,Italy
  • The first floor hosts all different food stands and vendors, the second floor is an amazing open food market, and the third floor has two restaurants that can be reached through staircases from the second floor on either side of the market (they are hard to find, feel free ask someone who works there if you cannot locate them)

Sant’Ambrogio Market

  • Address: Sant’Ambrogio Market, Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
  • Indoor food market boasting family owned, traditional vendors the sell everything from local honey to homemade pastas.

Best Cooking Classes


  1. Giglio Cooking School

    • Best school to learn the delicious basics of Italian cooking.
  2. La Cucina del Garga-Cooking Classes (recently closed)

    • Cooking classes took place in the restaurant’s actual operational kitchen. Really interesting experience to work in a real commercial kitchen and see what the chefs do during normal hours.

  3. Great Tastes of Tuscany Cooking Class

    • Classes take place in a Tuscan villa outside of Florence. Prepare yourself for a full day of delicious cooking (and eating!) in a beautiful setting.
  4. Mama Florence Cooking School

    • High tech kitchen and informative instructors. Best class for the beginners!
  5. Cucina Lorenzo de’ Medici-Cooking School (Mercato Centrale)

    • Every student gets to work on their own state of the art cooking station. Very fast paces, so bring someone along to help out!

Like A Florentine

A cookbook inspired by a culinary Florentine adventure.

Whenever I am ever asked about my favorite book, my mind immediately reaches for one obscure and often opened book, Like a Florentine, a cookbook that I created for my senior study project when I was in high school. This cookbook is not my favorite because of its poetic writing, expert photography, or unparalleled illustrations, but because it reflects a very distinct inflection point in my life.

When beginning to think about what I wanted to do for my senior project, I explored many different options, yet none completely satisfying.

During one brainstorm, my dad finally asked me “if you could do anything, what would you do?”

I quickly responded that I would travel to Florence, Italy to take cooking classes and learn about Florentine cuisine. His simple response “then do it,” would be the surprising faith and confirmation that I needed to pursue this dream. I soon met with a travel agent to help with the planning of the trip. From this meeting, I spent days sitting on the floor of Barnes and Noble, diving into every Italian travel book I could find, and scouring the internet for cooking classes in Florence. I also set up a Kickstarter campaign to help with the financing of the trip. Using Kickstarter, I self-funded the trip in 25 days, raising $6,350 from 39 backers. I used this money to take cooking classes, partake in local market tours, and try various authentic Florentine restaurants over the course of one month.

The culmination of this trip was a 96-page cookbook filled with the recipes, photos, illustrations, anecdotes, and observations from this Florentine focused culinary experience. The self-fulfillment of this dream stands as one of the most impactful events of my life. Although I love to reach for the book in times of nostalgia and when I am hungry for homemade focaccia, I sift through the pages more often to remember the completion of, what seemed to be, such a large feat. I reread Like a Florentine to remind myself to continue to have the courage to take on risky ventures. Completing and documenting this culinary journey gave me the confidence that I could pursue other passions and strive for more challenging dreams. My cookbook serves as a continual reminder to me that I have the grit to take challenges head-on and the ability to overcome any obstacle that comes my way.

To view my Kickstarter page click here!