Tuesday, January 3, 2012Florence, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague
How about a stroll up to Piazzale Michelangelo after that delicious lunch at ZEB
The somber façades of Florence's typical rusticated stone buildings are surprised with a flash of terracotta rose on an Oltrarno street. You'll often see dark mustard/gold buildings with green shutters - but I do not recall seeing this color in central Florence before!
We walked through the San Niccoló neighborhood because we were anxious to see if the San Niccoló Tower was open today. We'd heard it was recently renovated and opened this summer to the public for the first time since it was built in 1324! Though its toes are at the level of the Arno River, from its crenelated rooftop,160 steps up, we've heard, the 360 degree views of the city are breathtaking. It was built as part of the defensive wall when it was expanded during the 13th and 14th centuries to protect the neighborhoods that had sprung up on the other side of the Arno. A huge gate on the tower's ground floor regulated traffic and commerce into and out of Florence . Of all the towers with gates around Florence that provide evidence of her powerful past, only this one has never been decapitated. Unfortunat
ely, there was a sign on the entrance saying it was only open from June 24 to October 1st.
No problem, for exercise we'll take the short and steep route to Piazzale Michelangelo. As soon as we head south of the tower we discover we're outside one of the remaining stretches of the 13th cen
tury city wall. The road ascends by zigs and zags but we're never far from the Tower of San Niccoló. First we notice we're about as high as its halfway point then before we know it, we're looking down on it as we step into the parking lot with the most famous attendant.
The Piazzale's a popular spot both day and night, and a favored place for wedding photos. This couple is framing the Duomo, far below and across the Arno, with heart-shaped arms. Couldn't tell whether they love each other or
their Duomo the most.
Here the third actual size copy of Michelangelo's David watches over the city. And since it's such a climb to get up here, there are fewer tourists and we can admire the artistry from all angles and from any distance.
while far below the ever-present crowds look off of the Ponte Vecchio - I wonder if there's a musician entertaining
The gold-topped Duomo bursts into view as we try out the Macro setting - nice!
Across the Arno Valley on the opposite hill, Fiesole's tucked into a cleft to the north of the city - another great place for sunset views.
From this perch you can really see how Florence is cradled by hills on all sides - what a setting!
On the west side of the Piazzale Michelangelo, two terraces below the parking lot, a sign points down a little path to Il Jardino della Rosas. Can we get back down to the San Niccoló neighborhood through the rose garden? Or will we be unable to exit the other side and have to ret
race our steps back uphill to here? The Garden of Roses looks like it's worth the risk, so we descend the path and find the roses and other flowers share the spotlight with interesting sculptures by Jean Michel Follon, such as this bronze walker.
The charm of an old terracotta design graces another pause in the slope.
We enjoy the landscaping and art and even find an exit and soon we're walking down Via del Monte alle Croci through another city gate into the neighborhood of San Niccoló again.
It's been a marvelous few days in this beautiful city, and yet there are far more places to see and trattorias to try than we could fit in. Guess we'll just have to put them on our list for next time.
Labels: Florence restaurants, Italy travel, Oltrarno, Piazzale Michelangelo
Florence - Old Favorites and New Discoveries
Monday - Tuesday, January 2-3, 2012Florence, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague
Florence's Mercato Centrale - a must visit each time we're in the city. And it's even more fun than usual since we're in an apartment, and are on the hunt for dinner
inspiration. We'll stock up as well with take-home-to-Virginia essentials, Olio Nuovo
(just-pressed olive oil) from the Conti's
, a hunk of Par- miggiano, and some tender sun-dried tomatoes, which are just better than any we've found in the States.
I'm looking as well for a travel tote. For some reason (could it be because we're always traveling???) mine wear out sooner than I'd expect. Several shops are still closed - Monday is a frequent off-day for shops and museums in Europe. I need compartments for phone and makeup, length and depth enough for files, magazines, and newspapers, something relatively lightweight since I load it so full of must-haves, and with a closure so things don't escape when slipping through security.
I've looked in myriad shop windows, tried out several totes on my arm, but haven't found what I want. Kirk suggests the leather shops near Santa Croce, and as I walk into one, he goes into another, through a courtyard across the street. The shop I'm in has
pretty much what I've already seen in all the market stalls - not interested. So I join Kirk, and just fall in love with an embossed leather bag - but will it hold magazines, etc? It looks small. The saleslady assures me that it will, and brings a few magazines from the office to try it out - yes!
I see so many things I'd love in here - it's Bottega Fiorentina
, and their designs are just lovely- not what I've seen everywhere else. Gianluca and his family have been crafting unique and beautiful leather goods since 1961. I'm sold! We'll certainly tell our Music and Markets guests about this place. Such wonderful quality, fair prices
, and friendly non-pressure owners. (And the purse/tote worked wonderfully on our flights home, I'm glad to say).
After all of this hard work, we treat ourselves to a warm Bomboloni (like a filled doughnut - chocolate for Kirk, cream for me) from our favorite spot on Via del Corso, stroll around some more, then spend the evening relaxing in the apartment (and enjoying the delicious fresh pasta we picked up at the Mercato!)
We start the day slowly on Tuesday - Kirk's fighting a mean cold. But we don't want to miss what has become an annual pleasure - the Uffizi's I Mai Visti
(never before seen). Each year a particular selection of masterworks that have long been in storage are curated into a lovely small exhibition, which is always free.
This year the theme is Volti Svelati
- Faces Revealed: an intimate viewing (love the small room - keeps the works accessible and not overpowering in number) of classical sculptures from the collection of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
The works of art coming out of storage include 44 busts of ‘Cesari in marmo’ (‘Marble Caesars’), as well as one of the best collections of Classical portraits ever seen in the Uffizi. Isn't this stone drape exquisite?
There are also several portraits gracing the walls, showing the importance of classical sculptures and collections to artists through the centuries. This was unique to me - Giovanni Damon's self-portrait in which his real hair shows below the requisite wig. Truly I Mai Visti
Across the calm Arno is the quieter, less-visited San Niccolò quarter of Florence. The tower of the same name was built in the early 1300's to protect this area of the city.
I smile as we pass a parking garage - one of the reasons I love Italian is that it is so very musical! Adagio
= slow, in music, and slow for cars too! Draw out the soft "g" as you pronounce it - it just SOUNDS slow, doesn't it?!
This quiet part of the Oltrarno is getting better known as new restaurants move in. Our destination today is ZEB, a former grocery store
that the mother and son team of Giuseppina and Alberto Navari reinvented as a lunch and dinner counter.
A carefully chosen wall of wine on one side, stools lined up along the counter on the other.... and the smells and sights inspire as we gaze.
The longer we sit, the more we see that we want on OUR lunch plates.
First a generous portion of tortelloni in a creamy pecorino sauce, blanketed with layers of pear.
We share a plate of main course dishes - a peposo
(beef stewed with pepper- corns), an intriguing and delicious mash of potatoes and artichoke, cippolline
, petite onions in a sweet and sour marinade, and a smoky eggplant parmiggiano. Each bite is fabulous... and it's such fun to watch the Navaris, with their lovely smiles, enthusiastically describing the dishes in Italian or English as the counter fills with hungry clients.
What a feast! Now for an afternoon walk.... (to be continued)
Labels: Florence Italy, Florence restaurants, Italian food, Uffizi Museum
Sunset Beauty in Florence
Sunday, January 1, 2012, part 2Florence, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague
We never tire of this glorious city - summer or winter, spring or fall.
A stroll across the Ponte Vecchio's accompanied by music this afternoon - we stand, listen and just take in the view.
Like the crowds around us, we're just taking it easy, meandering across the Arno,
watching as the sunset paints the sky.
We're glad to be bundled up warmer than Signore Winter, on of the Four Seasons on Ponte Trinita!
After that delicious traditional seafood lunch
, we're going cutting-edge tonight, at a relatively new restaurant, Filipepe, in the San Niccolo area of the Oltrarno
The intimate candle-lit dining room, with stylish mismatched chairs and glasses, is a perfect setting for the creative contemporary take on Italian cuisine.
We start with complimentary prosecco and freshly made croutons, and ooh and aah over the menu - can you imagine licorice gnocchi?
They're served with a spicy Calabrian sausage/tomato sauce - a wild combination, no? We ask how they are made - hard licorice candy is ground up and mixed in with the dough for the gnocchi. Believe it or not, it's delicious!
We share a main dish of roasted pigeon breast with a reduction of Tuscan Rosso (red), licorice (yes, again!) rice, and caramelized fig - just mouthwatering!
We haven't had anything like this in Tuscany before.... we're rather reminded of the nouveau meals we enjoyed in Barcelona
It's fun to taste such innovative takes on tradition - an exciting contrast to the good old Tuscan meals we've enjoyed through the years.
Labels: Florence restaurants, Italy travel
Duemilladodici (2012) begins in Florence
Sunday, January 1, 2012 Florence, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: Visions of Venice
We begin the New Year lazily, sleeping in after our very late night. The streets of Florence are so quiet - few cars, people walking around, but plenty of room to meander, unlike the packed streets and piazzas of last night. It's always a delight to catch sight of Brunelleschi's dome rising down a lane.
Today's one of the few days o
f the year that the outdoor stalls around San Lorenzo are closed.... how unusual to see these streets as we've never seen them, no crowds, no leather jackets, purses, belts or gloves, no silk scarves, no florentine paper. Cosimo de Medici reigns over his quiet kingdom.
Both Rachel (of Florentine Flats
) and Gloria (who recommended these apartments to us) have told us not to miss Trattoria Roberto, just around the corner from the apartment. As we walk in we see lots of paintings of the Amalfi Coast, and not just the renowned spots such as Positano and Amalfi, but off the beaten track hamlets such as Scala, where we enjoyed a mountainside walk years ago. We're shown to a table by a smiling gent and ask if he's Franco (the owner, who kept the Roberto name since it has been called thus for generations). No - Franco's in the kitchen. He reaches out a hand to shake from the kitchen window, and we tell him that we're in Rachel's apartment. He welcomes us and tells our waiter to take good care of us.
It's rare to find a fish restaurant in Florence, but Franco has
brought all of the local flavors of the Amalfi Coast with him, and the menu's full of tempting seafood dishes, such as this Spaghetti allo Scoglio. We couldn't resist all the wonderful seafood, ordering stuffed calamari, a carpaccio of tuna, octopus Amalfitana... and I asked if by any chance they had fried artichokes, although they weren't on the menu. Our friendly waiter said he would see, and after our main dishes came out, Franco brought a platter of crispy lightly battered artichokes - fabulous! We wanted to continue the Amalfi tastes and chose the lemon tart for dessert.... then were told it was "finito" . Too bad.... nothing else grabbed our fancy. Then Franco brought a small bowl of creamy lemon filling to our table - "This is all that's left - enjoy!" Yum!
Every other table was filled with Italian speakers - families, "ladies who lunch", a sister from a nearby convent... and no wonder! The food is the best, and very well priced - no credit cards, though - cash only. I see by the Trip Advisor reviews of Trattoria Roberto
that it is definitely "discovered" - but it remains truly Italian and unspoiled, and a great value!
Labels: Amalfi Coast, Florence Italy, Florence restaurants
Hilltowns and Fireworks
Saturday, December 31, 2011Orvieto, Lucignano & Florence, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: Visions of Venice
Piazza del Po
polo looks quite different this morning. Rather than cars, jazz and revelers, it's filled with market booths and shoppers. Plans today are for a special lunch on the way to Florence, where we've rented an apartment, and a delicious dinner chez nous
(can I use that phrase in Italy??) So we've got a simple menu planned and are on the prowl for fresh and tasty Italian ingredients.... some 2011 olive oil, just pressed in November, arugula, artichokes in olive oil and some smoked goose breast and aged balsamic vinegar so we can recreate last night's salad. A chunk of aged Parmiggiano from the cheese man, fresh pasta filled with zucca
(pumpkin) from the pasta shop, a
slab of butter and a few sage leaves to dress the pasta.
We get a few staples at the little grocery shop, where Kirk waits in line for at least half an hour - EVERYBODY'S shopping before places are closed for the holiday. I return to the pasta shop to pick up the tortelli which they've prepared for us... and on the way run into smiling Marlena de Blasi and Fernando and we chat a bit. Kirk and I so enjoyed reading "The Lady in the Palazzo"
together - describing the ups and downs of their life in Orvieto.
We've already got some Vin Santo (sweet "holy wine") from Siena, so we add some ricciarelli
(almond cookies) and hazelnut cookies from the pastry shop and we're set for dinner - it'll keep cold in the car on this chilly day.
ci, Orvieto - that Italian goodbye actually means we'll see you again, and it's easy to depart when we WILL be back soon - for a Wine Tourism Workshop
in early February. We've chosen the Umbria post-tour, and our last night of the trip will be in our own favorite Palazzo Piccolomini in Orvieto! It will be fun to be led around the city on a tour - we're hoping to learn
some new secrets!
Now we're off to Lucignano, which is rather off the international tourist track, but is an Italian favorite, and has easily become one of ours too.
Tucked into the wall is little Oste Matto (Crazy Host), a highly rated restaurant
that we're eager to try. And what a treat it is! Quirky design - such as this web of light fixtures, some bulbs brighter than others, emerging from a twist on the wall,
mismatched water glasses, and fragments of '20's ads peeking through the distressed paint on the walls.
The cuisine carries on the playful theme, with new twists on typical Italian flavors, such as tempura battered balls of parmiggiano with pear conserve and dried fruits and nuts ( a don't- miss appetizer f
or sure!) , or a sunny side up egg on melted peccorino cheese topped with shaved black truffle.
This pear/ gorgonzola/ walnut risotto was superb - hmmmm, can I make this at home?
We control ourselves today, sharing a main course of duck breast with fennel and orange, and just one dessert - a fabulous gianduja mousse garnished with caramel créme.
Loved these cool little coffee cups - they're ceramic, but look like old-fashioned tinware.
We ask if we can take the rest of our bottle of wine with us - "Certo
!" (certainly!) and the waiter whisks the bottle away, corks it, and brings it back in a little shoulder sling - cool!
We take a few minutes to walk around the hamlet, which circles like a snail, rising to the church-topped center, where people are arriving for a wedding
in the white rose adorned sanctuary.
This has got to be one of the most gorgeous 31 December's we've ever experienced - can you believe this sky??
It's an easy drive to the Florence airport, where we've arranged to drop off the car since it's so very difficult to avoid any ZTL (limited traffic zone) fine in Florence city... there have been WAY too many times that we've gotten a multi-100 euro bill from the car rental company as much as a year after a rental, much as we try to avoid any "forbidden" street. Well this rental return turns out to be a fiasco .... the car drop off is no longer at the airport, but off site. Did anyone tell us that this just changed earlier this month? When we arranged the rental or picked up the car? No. So we drive around and around, calling Europcar to find out where to go, calling the apartment owner to let her know why we're late. We have to get there soon to check in since she has a New Year's Eve party of her own to attend! Finally we find the off site lot, poorly signposted and
not official looking at all, gladly hand off the car, and taxi to the apartment - whew!
Rachel of Florentine Flats
smilingly greets us and shows us around her darling one bedroom flat close to the Uffizzi - we love it! We're eager to get out and see where the celebrations are tonight - just around the corner at Piazza Signoria is one.
Florence has gotten creative with the lights this year - love these fleur-de- lis on Corso
and these old- fashioned lanterns on Calzaiuoli. These shop- filled streets are more enticing than ever!
We whip up our yummy dinner at the apartment - here's our version of the smoked goose breast/ arugula salad - and it's as good as the restaurant's!
And now it's time to party!
We dance to the tunes of a jazz band on Piazza Republica,
sway to a Viennese waltz by the Ukranian Symphony on Piazza Signoria,
then stop by the apartment to pick up our bottle of Prosecco and join the crowds by the Arno to toast the New Year while fireworks shoot up from Piazzale Michelangelo.
Lots of families have brought their own - we're surrounded by booms and sparkles!
Welcome, Duemilladodici - 2012 is so much fun to say in Italian!
Labels: Florence Italy, Italy travel, Lucignano restaurant Oste Matto, Orvieto