Friday, November 18, 2016

Wrap up of One Glorious Week in Florence, Italy, Part - 3

Watercolor of me with the Ponte Vecchio in the background

Back in the States, I just watched the film A Room With A View, Again. And what is amazing is that they could get as much of the master shots in as possible. For example: like the Piazza Della Signoria. Somehow they were able to keep at bay the tourists and maintain the period look of the film. And they kept their wide shots tight enough not to show any of the restaurants or caffes that surround the square.

(NOTE: We totally loved our Airbnb but if hotels are more your style, check out the #1 rated hotel in Florence on Tripadvisor, the Hotel David.)

 Yours truly in front of the Palazza Vecchio, the Fountain of Neptune and the Loggia dei Lanzi

That being said, the movie transported me right back to Florence. Butterflies in my stomach (in a good way.) But stepping beyond the usual points of attraction and exploring the city with our firenzecard (entrance to 72 museums for 72 Euros within 72 hours) we literally bumped into museum showings and cultural events that we didn't even know about. Palazzo Strozzi clebrating the controversial Chinese artist Ai WeiWei we chanced upon the beautiful Museo Novecento - very modern!

Ai Weiwei

The very modern Nove Cento Museum was extremely eclectic . . .


. . . but outside of  the Palazzo Stozzi was the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. So peaceful, so open and at the far end is the Santa Maria Novella Church.

Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella in the background
It was such a calming escape from the touristy chaos of Florence's historic center. But inside this gorgeous church hangs probably one of the most priceless art treasures - Giotto's Crucifix done in the 1320s.

It's just hanging there for you to admire. It's truly remarkable!

Later in the day, my travel partner Bud and I met up with our Venetian friend, Francesca Marucci.

She was so generous to spend time with us. Francesca walked us over to the Il Mercato Centrale, a very classy but casual giant food court with all types of food and wine bars. They even have cooking classes. There's live music and artisan shops...kind of a cross betgween NYC's Chelsea Market combined with Barcelona's La Boquería.

No matter what city you visit, if you can connect with a local, you will discover an entirely new perspective to where ever you are visiting.

Thank you Francesca . . .

. . . and thank you Florence!

Love this "twig" giraffe sitting on the banks of the Arno.
Bud and I had discussed how low the level of the Arno was and then less than a week after we left, the river flooded.

Be safe Florence - hope to see you again, soon!


Friday, November 11, 2016

Florence, Italy 2016 Part 2

Located in the historic center of Florence is The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

The first church to occupy this footprint was the Episcopal Church of Florence in 394. Eventually the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was constructed in 1416. And to this day it is still one of the most awe-inspiring designs you'll see in in the world. It's massive!

Giotto designed the bell tower.

Giotto's Bell Tower

And Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the founding fathers of the Renaissance, was the architect for the Cathedral's amazing dome. As you can see, there are people up on the very top. You can climb a steep and narrow staircase, if you want to experience the amazing view.

Inside and looking up to the dome, is Vasari's fresco, which was begun in 1568 and completed by Federico Zuccari in 1579.

And here is the octagonal Baptistry of Saint John.

The baptistry to the left, the Cathedral center and beyond and the bell tower on the right.

There's also the Crypt to visit inside the Cathedral, which has been transformed disappointingly into their gift shop. The entire complex sits in the middle of the Piazza del Duomo, a very lively and crowded square bordered by scores of restaurants, caffes and souvenir shops. I could spend pages on the history of these structures and the brilliant artists who created them in this UNESCO World Heritage site - but let's move on.

NOTE: Regarding visiting museums...My travel partner, Bud, and I opted for the Firenzecard. Purchased in the Palazzo Vecchio located in the Piazza Signoria, the card offers entrance into 72 different museums around town for 72 euros during a 72 hour period of time. This was truly worth it. Of course we didn't hit 72 museums but it did allow us to skip the long lines, for example at the Uffizi Gallery.

The "U" shaped Uffiz
As sometimes happens, exhibits are temporarily closed. I specifically was hoping to see Botticelli's works, The Birth of Venus . . .

The Birth of Venus

and his Allegory of Spring La Primavera . . .

Allegory of Spring La Primavera

  . . . but alas, his room was closed. Like other large museums, pick and choose what you are interested in. It's overwhelming to try to see everything. Time for a quick lunch. We discovered a restaurant one street over from the Piazza della Repubblica that drew us in, La Posto - Via dei Lamberti 20. Surprisingly, they don't have a website but if visiting please try to visit it. I wanted to go back but there were so many more places to discover. It's charming, off the beaten path and the outdoor seating is quiet and romantic. 

La Posto

I was already exhausted from site-seeing and feeling a bit jet-lagged.

But this lunch totally revived my spirits and energy! As an appetizer we ordered their burrato buffalo e bruschetta.

Oh. My. God. I've had this simple dish so many times in different cities and restaurants and even at home BUT this was hands down, the best. The crostini was such a flavorful toasted Tuscan bread topped with cherry tomatoes. There was obviously olive oil but I think it was the salt that made the dish sing. It made my eyes roll back into my head! The buffalo mozzarella exploded luxuriously and of course the basil.  I almost ordered it a second time instead of having an entree, that's how awesome it was.

But I did order a terrific fresh taglierini with Parmesan, prosciutto, and sausage and Bud, had a wonderfully light risotto with asparagus.

I'm still dreaming about that crostini! *drooling*

Stomachs full, we marched our way back over the Ponte Vecchio . . .

. . . and it was a short walk over to the Palazzo Pitti, also known as the Pitti Palace.

On the outside it's not the prettiest palace in the kingdom but inside and it's quite astounding. Again, our Firenzecard give us quick admission passing any lines of people. Like the Uffizi, this museum is gargantuan, so choose the rooms you decide to view wisely. Amongst the former living quarters of the Medici family is a treasure  house of priceless paintings, jewelry, furniture and statues.

Just a couple of remarkable pieces of artwork are Raphael's Madonna and child - two versions! I was surprised that these famous paintings were just casually placed within the palace living quarters.

There's also an amazing Costume Gallery within the Pitti Palace. Established in 1983 it's the only National Museum of Italy exclusively dedicated to the history of fashion. It houses not only garments worn by the Medici's back in the 16th century but it travels all the way up to the present. Very extensive!


Currently there's an exhibit featuring Karl Lagerfeld, (not featured), which in my opinion was "meh" compared to the permanent collection.

Behind the Pitti Palace are the Boboli Gardens. Designed as a formal 16th century garden by the Medici's it's massive in scale and reaches up to the top of a steep hill, offering amazing views of the city.
Looking down towards the back of the Pitti Palace, half-way up the gardens.

At the very top of Boboli Gardens is the porcelain house.

The porcelain house.
There's a stunning collection of pieces . . .

. . . including an amazing portrait done of Napoleon. In the late 1700s Napoleon took over the palace as his strategic headquarters.

Strolling through the gardens was a well needed escape from the hoards of tourists down in the historic center of Florence.

I should have stood next to this sculpture - it was enormous!
Bud at the base of the gardens.

One of several grottos.
After a long day it was time to head back to Claudia's Airbnb for a relaxing glass of wine while we pondered where to have dinner that night.

(NOTE: If Airbnbs or VRBOs are not your cup of tea and prefer hotels, check out the amazing castle-like Torre Guelfa Hotel.)

  Buon pomeriggio!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Florence, Italy 2016 Part 1

My last trip to Florence was in 1988 - 28 years ago! My first thought upon flying over the Swiss Alps via Brussels towards this remarkable city was, will anything have changed?

Structurally, no. The ancient city is historically protected (although I confess, I did grab a quick cup of American coffee one afternoon in a McDonalds tastefully hidden within an architectural gem of of a building.)

So strolling through the city, dropping into shops, restaurants, museums . . . something had changed. In my mind, Florence, specifically the Florentines, were friendlier, more helpful than I recalled from my previous visit. Not that that they were rude in the past but I had a clear remembrance that I was more of an annoyance, especially speaking English, than a welcomed guest. This trip felt as though they had opened up their arms and embraced me. Or maybe it was because I was older. Maybe I was more patient. Maybe I was friendlier.

Upon landing, my travel partner Bud Santora and I jumped into a cab. Our very personable taxi driver drove us to the Oltrano neighborhood where our Airbnb was located. The Oltrano is across the Arno River, a short walk across any of the bridges and you're in the heart of Florence proper. Staying in the San Frediano area of the Oltrana truly made us feel like we were a part of the residential neighborhood. Few tourists were around and the shops . . .

. . . which were plentiful, had anything and everything you could want, usually within one shop.

Our Airbnb was Claudia's apartment. Just as portrayed in the pics on the website, we were delighted with the stay.

(NOTE: If Airbnbs or VRBOs are note your style and you prefer a hotel, the Westin Excelsior is exceptional!)

Top left - the kitchen table's full of taste treats and guidebooks. (Yes, I still love books even though I can get all the info on the Internet.) The upper right you're looking up to the second floor bedroom which has its own bathroom. There's another one downstairs. Bottom left are the stairs leading up to the rooftop deck and bottom right is the upstairs shower. Everything was tastefully renovated. (I wish I had her bathrooms in my NYC apartment!)

Here's the downstairs 2nd bedroom, bright and airy.

And here's her streamlined, modern and extremely efficient kitchen, plus there's a washer and dryer. But the pièce de résistance (excuse my French) was the terrace.

Almost every late afternoon, we'd have wine and bread with prosciutto and cheese admiring the gorgeous views. While the sun would set, we would joyfully wrestle over where we would have dinner . . . 

. . . often while listening to the church bells chiming.

But first things first, we had to explore.

DIZZY NOTE: Careful, the sidewalks are very narrow and scooters and cars are constantly zooming by. The cobble-stoned streets are also tricky, keep your eyes open.

So off we trotted down the street to the famous . . .

medieval stone bridge, the Ponte Vecchio crossing the Arno. Originally the tenants were butchers but now the bridge is full of jewelry, art, and souvenir shops. It's always very lively, day and night, with tourists and street performers.

On the Ponte Vecchio

We sauntered towards the Piazza della Signoria and on our way we passed . . .

. . . the Incredible Florence performance center. Giant screens surround you as this multi-media time machine offers a journey through 2000 years of Florence's history. A bit overwhelming, but quite effective. Then off to Piazza della Signoria.

A gorgeous and busy square surrounded by hotels and restaurants and the Palazzo Vecchio, the city's town hall, is located here...

Palazzo Vecchio

. . . as well as a copy of Michelangelo's David (the original is now housed in the Accademia Museum) . . .
. . . and we also have Neptune's Fountain . . .

Neptune's Fountain

. . . and the Loggia dei Lanzi, which is open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance art.

Loggia dei Lanzi

Realizing we needed to eat dinner sooner than later or we'd fall asleep, we headed back over the Ponte Vecchio and we discovered the Piazza Santo Spirito named after the Basilica di Santo Spirito. (It's the square just before the one we were staying by.)

Church of Santo Spirito
And the piazza Santo Spirito is a beautiful square with a fountain in the middle, surrounded by scores of restaurants and bars. By chance we picked an exceptional place called Trattoria Borgo Antico.

Right next to the restaurant was a very popular bar populated by locals, Volume. The weather was fantastic for this trip in mid-October so we were lucky enough to be seated outside.

At Borgo Antico we ordered an appetizer of liver pate on crostini with capers, which was served with a semi-hard cheese, dipping bowl of honey, a pickled hot pepper, picked onions and a smear of mustard. Oh and two candied somethings . . . maybe a slice of grapefruit and a green cherry? I'm not quite sure why we didn't ask the waiter what they were, but they were gobbled up, every morsel.

We also ordered a selection of country homemade salami, crostini and more picked veggies. Already this is enough food for 20 people!

For entrees we had a beef stew made with red wine . . .

. . . and gnocchi with a rich gorgonzola sauce.

Both dishes were fantastic but the beef in red wine was to die for. I'd kill for that recipe.

Walking back to Claudia's apartment admiring doorknockers along the way we agreed we had to return to Borgo Antico once more before we left Florence.

Buona notte!