Ultimo Giorno

Monday…my last day in Italia.  Being the day before I leave, there are certain things I must do; pack, check in for my flight, secure a taxi for the morning, etc.

The other day I bought a light-weight collapsable bag at Tiger.  I have been stuffing dirty clothes and a few odds and ends in it.  I plan on using it as my carry on, alleviating some of the weight in the Ferrari.  Each time I considered purchasing something, I really gave serious thought to the limits of my luggage, weight and capacity, and truly…for being over here for trenta giorni…I have not acquired much.

Here is a new packing strategy I will consider next trip- If I am flying into Firenze or someplace similar, I will pack ultra light, only bring a few outfits, small hairdryer, curling iron, travel iron, and essential toiletries, then buy things while I am here.  Visiting Zara was almost a daily routine.  I could cool off a bit inside (a bit…and don’t think H&M offers that option…it is hotter in there than the streets and their sewage system must have major issues, because the place reeks) and just walk around considering purchases.

As I may have already mentioned, Zara dresses Europe!  Almost everyone walks around with a  Zara bag, often used as a catch-all, but it shows they have been there recently.  I have shopped Zara a few times before my trip, but now I am a major fan.  If nothing else it is just fun to walk through.  I had read of the lower priced clothing chains, Zara is the most fashion forward, getting their cues from the current season’s runway shows and getting them to “us” with an affordable variation.  Thank you Zara. One of this trip’s MVP (most valuable pieces) was an uber light-weight, olive drab maxi with an elastic waist.  I wore it with a white T, a tied up denim shirt and the crispest look of all -with a tied up white shirt…very chic, even here.  I loved my Boden pieces (this trip and the last) but they are cotton and usually lined, well-made…but heavy when considering the Ferrari.

Anyway, back to the Tiger bag.  Inside, I am also putting the collapsable bag I brought and used as my carry-on last trip…just in case the Tiger bag exceeds the size requirements.  Throw a wrinkle at me…I’m ready!

Once I was pretty much packed, I still had a couple of hours before it was time to check in for my flight.  So I decided to load up the iPad and keyboard and go over to Il Mercato for the last time.   imageI watch, sadly, as my last 2 euro cappuccino is lovingly made for me.  I walk over to another vendor and buy tre almond croissants.  I know these aren’t exactly “italian” but I love them!  I became addicted during my first trip to Las Vegas with Mike and Joann.  And I hate to say this, pastries are not, for the most part, the Italians forte.  So as I said, I buy tre…one for now, one for the morning and one for my plane ride.  (And by the way…since it is obvious I am writing this post “post fact”…the poor day-after croissants did not hold a candle to their former selves.)imageI sit down and power up my iPad and keyboard…but the iPad is dead…I have definitely become lazy with my charging regimen.  So, I put it all away again and enjoy my breakfast.  Do you just love the little zucchero packet?  I discovered that the ones here have popular locations on them.  I grabbed a few…collector…NOT hoarder!

When I return to Bencidormi, I plug in and write for a bit.  It is also fun to hear the comings and goings here.  Yesterday Paola introduced me to two girls, I’d say late twenties, that were staying just for one night.  They were in town to attend a concert.  Their english was limited, but it was fun to hear and see them share their love for this singer with me- Jovanotti, real name Lorenzo Cherubini.  They were surprised I was not familiar with him…I am now.  When I said I was from Austin (that is where I usually start and then if someone is familiar with the area, I move on to Fredericksburg), they said, “Ooohhh!  ACL!”  Several people during this trip spoke of ACL.  Silly of me, I am sure, but I didn’t realize it reaches the audience it does.imageWhen it is time to check in for my flight, I am poised and ready, and for the second time this morning, things do not go my way.  I try several times: on my phone, on the iPad, on Roberto’s computer…nope, it’s not going to happen.  “See agent at ticket counter” is basically the message I repeatedly receive.  So I do what all independent, cinquantatre year old women do…call their mommas.  First I actually tried to text everyone for help, but as it is still very early in the US, that too takes a bit.  Avery responds (good girl) and texts back “Are you sure you want me to call them…it’s really early here.”  But I say, please do.  I thought maybe a US computer could better communicate with United…I was not worried, but I wanted to try all I could before just saying “whatever” and waiting until tomorrow morning to find out good or bad news.

So I hung around Bencidormi a bit longer until mom said she was getting the same message.  I did not want to spend my last day in the room, so I believed the great spirit of my travel would continue and all would be fine tomorrow morning.  (Again, hindsight 20/20 note- the message was due to the fact I had to show my passport before checking in.  Lesson learned.)

Before leaving, I downsized a bit more by ditching a couple books I did not care for at the Bencidormi “library” and headed out.imageAt this point it is a little past lunch.  I first think I am going to head to Le Volpi e L’Uva for a last crostini but end up just walking right past.  Another reason I would be hard to travel with…nothing is set in stone.  The only real item on my agenda today is to walk to San Miniato al Monte.  This is a church that stands atop one of the highest points in the city.  I read that there are Gregorian chants at 17.30 in the summer.  I think this would be a beautiful way to say arrivederci.

As I am upwardly roaming, I see this scooter and am reminded a scooter excursion is still on my “to do” list but will have to wait until my next visit.  I wonder if I can reserve a turquoise one?imageAs I mentioned, I passed Le Volpi e L’uva thinking I will grab a bite to eat somewhere else.  Then I approach the Clet studio again.  I had wondered if he manipulated any bicicletta signs.  When I go to the door, there is a sticky note that says, “I’ll be right back”.  I peer in the window and do indeed see a sticker with a bicicletta on it.  So I cross the street and sit myself down.imageFrom my vantage point I can see the door and will be up and in when the sticky note comes down.imageThat wait ends up being at least an hour.  Weaker have waited and moved on…but not me…imageThe climb continues.imageThrough the wall,imageup the MANY stairs,imagepast a guy that will do whatever for money (I threw a euro his way for allowing me to take his photo).  Notice how sweaty he is…and he’s just sitting there strumming(ish).imageAnd I arrive at Piazzale Michelangelo.  If you were with me in 2013, you will remember I visited here two times at sunset.  The first I captured several hundred photos of the sun setting on the Arno, and the second I took 2 shots with my phone…one being my favorite photo of the trip.

Today’s panoramic view is smeared a bit by the hazy heat.  But for many around me, this is their first time here and I listen to, “Can you believe this!?” in many languages.  It is indeed an amazing vista.  But up here there is very little refuge from the sun’s rays. So I reconsider my next step.imageI first go to a small church that I THINK is San Miniato.  It is dark and quiet and for the first minute or so, a relief from the sweltering heat. But after that minute passes, I decide to sit and try to will myself cooler.  I take out my fan, look at the clock and see I still have at least 3 hours before chant time.  A inner debate ensues.  Do I stay, do I go, do I find a cooler place to wait?  Although I do not consider myself a competitive person, when I get something in my mind, I do have issues.  I tell the part of me that wants to bail that I waited for Clet to open, I can wait to attend chants.  But in order to please all sides of me, I exit the church and look for some shade and a possible breeze.  While I roam, I notice yet another set of steep stairs.  I consider it kinda like a kid considers something they don’t want to do.  I look at it and think, eeeh, whatever’s up there can’t be all that great, although I can see the top of a golden gable, and I keep walking.  I am now on the road Elisa and I took on the way to her parent’s house.  There are VERY few people around, but I’m killing time.

The second time I pass the great steps, I cave.  I figure what have I got to lose…a few more pounds of sweat is all.  So I climb. And as always, I am rewarded for it.  This is San Miniato al Monte.imageAnd this is her view.imageI enter the basilica dedicated to the first evangelizer and Christian martyr in Florence.  It is said Minias is thought to have been a Greek merchant or Armenian prince (kinda a range there) who left home to make a pilgrimage to Rome.  Around 250, he arrived in Florence and took up life as a hermit.  The legend goes that Minias was persecuted and beheaded for being a Christian.  After his decapitation, he picked up his head, put it back on his shoulders and went to die in the cave on Monte alle Croci where he had lived.  The cave is now the location of the oratory and chiesa that bear his name.

The present Basilica was built in 1018.  The altar preserves the bones of St. Miniato.  imageTo learn a bit about this structure, I put in 2 euro, grabbed a chair and listened.imageThe mosaic of Christ between the Virgin and Saint Minias was created in 1260.imageThere are also beautiful frescoes attributed to Taddeo Gaddi. As well as a magnificent funerary monument, memorial to Cardinal James of Lusitania who died in Florence. His is the only tomb in the church (detail of chapel bottom left).imageAt this point I am working really hard to hang around until chant time, but my croissant is wearing off.  On my way out, I notice a sign that basically says, “Are ya hungry?  Come by our Farmacia for fresh baked goodies.”  This excites me, but I remember when Costanza and I were at Vallombrosa Abbey we just missed the time and the farmacia was chiuso.  But I head across the gravel path and am thrilled to see movement inside.

imageI open the door and enter the piccolo space.  There are a few souvenir items, a rack of small cellophane bags containing baked goods and a small freezer of Monk made gelato (yes everything is small…)  While I am considering my “lunch” options, the monk (seen crossing in front of the basilica in previous photo) at the register is engaged in a conversation with a local man. I grab a bag of Lingue di Gatto and mandorla biscotti and wait at his elbow.  When they decide to rest a moment, he looks up at me and then notices my necklace.  His first word is, “Nice” motioning to my Benedictine cross on my Virgin Saints and Angels charm.  He then tells me how much I owe him.  I hand him a 20 euro bill.  Then I notice there are cans of soda on the counter and ask if he has cold ones, “certo” he replies.  In my defense, ya never know.  I have been handed a hot can of coke, taking a few sips of the frothy, warm bubbles feeling too bad to refuse.  He retreats to a back room (small no doubt) and hands me the coldest coke zero of the trip.  I don’t know whether to strap it to my neck or drink it.  Now, more focused on me because the local has left, he again tells me how much I owe him.  I pause for a moment.  My mind racing to remember for certain or not whether I had just handed him 20 euro…Do you question a monk?  Do I pay again feeling OK that it all goes to the church?  He’s looking at me and I meekly say, “I gave you a 20.”  He looks around for a moment and then says, “Oh, yes.”  I start laughing and tell him I was a bit nervous to question him.

I retreat outside finding a shady spot along a wall overlooking the cemetery and devour my Lingue di Gattos (cat tounges).imageThese were so yummy.  As you can see by the ingredients they are pure and simple.  I think they just make the batter, smear a bit on a pan, bake and bag.

image

I return to the famacia to buy (and devour) another bag of Lingue di Gatto.  The monk comments further on my necklace.  The monks of San Miniato are part of a Benedictine order.  He is pleased with my “strong!” symbol of Christ.  I take this opportunity to ask him when the Gregorian Chants will begin.  His answer confused me a bit, but what I got from it was that he would be singing mass at 5:30 and then afterwards, the “young monks” would come to vespers.  He suggests I stay for that.  What does one say to a personal invitation but “Si”.

Second important question, “Dov’è il bagno?”  He points me in the direction, I weave about the grounds a bit and find it.  This is one, as many are, where you have to pay to go.  I even received a receipt!  When I entered and read the receipt I laughed out loud.  “S.I.T.”  Yes, I think I will.imageI reentered the basilica and sat down in the main area.  A bit later, I see a young man, delivering a much, much older monk down to the crypt.  I start to think this is where mass will be.  When I attended mass at San Francesco d’ Assisi, the evening mass was in the lower area as well.  I descend the stairs and see a few locals (including the man from the farmacia) already seated.  I do this all well before the older monk gets to his assigned seat behind the altar.  It was both endearing and comical to watch.  The younger man exited once he had the sambuco situated.

I could go on and on about mass; how my monk shuffled in with the chalice, seemingly late going by the glances from the already present monks, the beauty and control of his voice as he sang mass, watching the sambuco ebb and flow, receiving communion from my monk with him shifting to his broken English just for me…but suffice it to say, I am thankful I stayed.

After a few people left (there were only about 10 of us in mass) and a few others entered, a woman came up to me and quietly asked “Che ora di vespro cominciare?”  Startled, I struggled to quietly communicate with her.  I think I made it clear they were supposed to begin (as far as I could make out) after mass, around 6:30.  “Sei e mezzo” I responded with what I am sure was a stricken look that read, “What makes you think I know italian?!”  She came back with, “Sei e mezzo?” and I “Si, sei e mezzo”.  This seemed to go on for couple of rounds.  She finally walked up to the front, took a vesper hymnal from a box and settled herself.  I went up and took one too.

imageIn a few minutes, a group of young monks (including the sambuco’s assistant now in robes) with my monk trailing, ceremoniously entered the crypt.  Again, a beautiful tradition to witness and be a part of.

I exited the church around 7:15 with the sun considering setting but in no hurry to do so.

I took one last look at this bella città and headed back down into it.imageThis is my favorite time of the day, at home and here.  During the heat of the day and amongst the crowds, I can be 100% ready to return home but lay the relaxed evening in front of me, drag the furniture to the streets, fill the glasses with apèritif and I start to miss it already.

I so want to pull some of our furniture to Austin Street and enjoy this tradition.  How do you think the good City of Fredericksburg would respond?  Is anyone willing to split the ticket?imageAs I wind through the streets, I mentally say my goodbyes to all I love about Firenze.

Arrivederci Street Artists.image

Arrivederci Blub.imageSadly, my last meal was a disappointment.  I returned to my old street, Borgo Santi Apostoli, and gave a recommendation a try.  Mangiafoco will not be a place to return.  I would have been pleased with this dish if I had doctored up some frozen, grocery pasta.  It wasn’t awful, but it falls to the bottom of my list of meals no doubt.  I’m sure the staff’s attitude clouds my review, as well it should.  I have yet to be made to feel like I am a hindrance as a tavolo per uno… until now.imageArrivederci Spritz!

imageArrivederci Street Musicians.imageAnd a big, sweet, heartfelt arrivederci to the people of Italia…especially those of you who hang out your windows for entertainment.imageYes, I agree!  This has been a thumbs-up adventure!

Grazie Mille Italia!!

Weekend In Firenze

Each morning now starts with my Moka and me.  I am so happy with my 15 euro purchase!  Have I mentioned that July is SALDI/SALE month in Italia.  I’ve been told their sales are regulated and July is the time to stock up on summer clothes and house items.  So…when in Roma…or in this case Firenze!imageI spent the morning in the shared kitchen of Bencidormi.  While there, I struck up a conversation with a mom and her older kids heading to Roma.  She was a bit gloomy due to a transportation issue yesterday.  They had neglected to validate their city bus tickets and were fined 100 euro!  This just gave me a pit in my stomach, I hated it for her and know that it could be me at any point in time. She said that she felt taken.  The “officer” demanded she give him the 100 euro right then and there.  She plead her case saying it was an honest mistake, they had the tickets, they just didn’t know to validate.  She also told him she did not have that much money on her.  He said he must accompany her to a cash machine, which he did and she gave in to his demands.  Later they read the ticket a bit more and it states a person has 30 days (I believe) to pay the fine.  I told her I had just last night read a post explaining the term “Furbo” or crafty and how some Italians take advantage of visitors this way.  She was having a difficult time shaking it off and I do not blame her.  It is a hard, expensive lesson we can all learn from.  I wished them better luck with the rest of their trip and began my day.

Today is the 4th of July, so I dressed to give a nod to my Homeland and hit the streets.imageI do not have much of an agenda these last few days.  I just want to enjoy where I am and take advantage of the inexpensive and or free things Firenze has to offer,

Like…street art,imageand hole in the wall local places where  you can get a panino and a birra for 5 euro.  The first time I came here in 2013, I was so nervous to order.  But this being my 3rd (and final) time this trip, I am very comfortable giving a little more thought to my orders.  imageAs you can tell, I love this place and it is an absolute MUST for anyone during a visit, no matter how short, to Firenze.  Remember, there are 3 places now with the same name- All’Antinco Vinaio.  For some reason, the one on the right side (with the Uffizi behind you) is always really crowded.  The one directly across on the left, is crowded as well, but people tend to veer right.  Today, as I was walking into the one on the left, a guy working on the right said, “OK-a people-a…pay-a attention-a.  We-a have-a two-a shops-a.  The same-a people-a own-a…same ingredients-a.  There-a eeessa not-a as much-a line-a over there-a.  People-a….pay-a attention-a!”

Luckily I had claimed my spot in line before people looked around trying to decide what to do.  Today I chose, prosciutto, basilico, marinated carciofi and  my new friend stracchino cheese.  The soft, creamy texture of this young, cow’s milk cheese keeps everything in place.  imageAs I was enjoying/wrestling with my panino, the boss man comes by and asks me something.  (I know he is the boss man because it says BOSS MAN on the back on his t-shirt.)  I could not understand what he was asking me, and as I was trying to throw out a couple of guesses, he simply took my panino, went back behind the counter, rewrapped it and presented it to me again saying, “Thheeeesssaa way-a eeessaaa best-a.”  Point taken.

It also cracks me up that you do not pay until after you have eaten, and then you must flag someone down and wait for them to meet you at a little register…basically an honor system.

I love theeesssaaa place-a!

And I am not alone.imageAfter my 4th of July hotdog stand-in, I just roamed.  I have passed by Palazzo Vecchio and through Piazza della Signoria many times during this trip, but this time I took the time to visit with the statues in and around Loggia dei Lanzi.  It is mind boggling to me that these priceless pieces are just out in the open: The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.  Here the term “rape” comes from the Latin raptio, which means “abduction”.  This depicts when the first generation of Roman men acquired wives for themselves from the neighboring Sabine families.

Theseus and the Minotaur and Perseo holding Medusa’s Head by Cellini (1554).  The story is in the whole, but the beauty to me, is in the details.imageI never tire of seeing what the street artist in front of Zara are up to.imageAnd although I did not get a photo of them (and I regret it), a highlight was seeing a family of 5 all sporting captain’s hats with Venezia in script across the front.  Don’t know why, but this just made me laugh.

I timed my roam to be oltrarno in time to attend mass at Santa Felicita.  This is probably the oldest chiesa in Florence after San Lorenzo.  Churches have stood on this site since the 4th century.  A new one was built in the 11th century with additions and changes coming over the years.  In 2013, I peered into the church through a window along the Vasari Corridor.  The Medici family used to do the same, attending mass without the masses.  In 1565 Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici “requested” that a corridor be built connecting the old palace with their new residence, the Pitti Palace.  Since the corridor passes through Santa Felicita, the church began to play a very important role with the Medici court.

The Deposition from the Cross (1528) by the Italian Renaissance painter Jacopo Pontormo is a piece we discuss in Art II during our study of Mannerism.  The painting is located above the altar in a small chapel in the back of Santa Felicita.  I was not aware this was its home when I chose where to attend mass.  It is very surreal to look up and see a piece in person that you’ve only seen in slides.image

Yesterday (I think it was yesterday) when I purchased my Sunday evening ticket to the Medici Dynasty Show, I also saw a flyer for a movie about Dante.  I “know” roughly 3 things about Dante, but staying in his city for so long and seeing him honored everywhere, I thought, what a better time to learn a bit more.  However, I did not buy a ticket because originally I was to meet Elisa and Costanza tonight.  That “Girl’s Night Out” fell through so I found myself free after mass.  I could not remember exactly what time the movie began or exactly where the theater was.  I did remember that you received a glass of wine with your ticket and that the little guy at the “Tourist Point” had waved his hand behind him and told me some number attached to the word “meters” when I asked about the location of the theater.  So, I decided to go back to the “Tourist Point” which I found closed, but walked in the direction of his hand wave and there it was, the Odeon Teatro.  image           Housed in Palazzo Strozzino, built in 1462, the theater opened in 1922.  To this day the Odeon retains the original sculptures, tapestries and its wonderful stained glass cupola.image

The film The Mystery of Dante, was artsy and strange.  It made me think and want to know a bit more.  Dante was a poet who has inspired some of the most outstanding minds in history and what I took away from the film was that his work is not to be globally understood, but that each individual needs to journey through it, drawing their own conclusions about his words, applying it to our own lives.  Maybe I’m completely wrong, but I came away with: there are individual translations and applications and that is what Dante intended.

A single line that did resonate with me was, and I am paraphrasing I’m sure, “Hell is a huge cabinet of reflection.”  Personally, I cannot imagine anything worse than having to watch our mistakes and poor decisions on a never-ending film loop for all eternity.

Cheers to living the straight and narrow!imageAfter my evening at the cinema, I walked to Il Mercato Centrale, ordered a Margherita Pizza asporto (to go),imagewalked back to my room,imageand enjoyed it there.imageSunday morning I again enjoyed some time writing in the cucina at Bencidormi.  Today I met 2 gals from Ireland.  They had just hit town and were checking in for one night only.  I overheard them asking Paola what the best way to see the most of Florence in one day was.  Being my Father’s child, I chimed in.  I poked my head around the corner and raised my hand.  My suggestion was for them to go on a guided bike ride like I did in 2013.  This 2 hourish ride gave me a great overview and allowed me to get my bearings.  Brid quickly replied in her oh so cute accent, “Oh yeah, but you’re fit Paige.”  I assured them it was a flat, easy ride.  In the end I think they went for the hop on hop off bus.  I really wanted to ask if I could join them for their tours today and help them get the most out of a day in Florence…but I didn’t go that far.  I helped them make a plan for hitting Venice tomorrow and our paths didn’t cross again.

Afterwards Paola and I talked a bit about the fun (and not so fun, she assured me) aspects of running a small B like this.  Meeting and helping people make the most of their visits would be rewarding I think.

On to my day.  In 2013 I visited the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo.  The exhibit then was all about the rise of Salvatore.  It was beautifully done and a first class experience.  This year I was told the exhibit had changed and highlighted the building, Palazzo Spini Feroni, that housed the famed House of Ferragamo.  imageimageAfter a quick early lunch and dolce (THE BEST cannoli I’ve ever had!  I wished for my brother Jim, who favors this treat.)  I headed over to see my old neighbor Salvatore.  The exhibit was again, top notch and because it is the first Sunday of the month…entry was FREE!

In the end I could not bring myself to spend roughly 100 euro for the least expensive Ferragamo perfume, but I did buy 4 postcards depicting some of his most famous creations and a mouse pad.  Walking around with a red and gold Ferragamo bag, no matter how little was inside, gave me a spring in my step.imageIn the early evening, I headed for a little bar at the far end of my street, Via Faenza.  The name of this hot spot is “Freddy’s” and there are ALWAYS people spilling into the streets enjoying a spritz and conversation.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have passed and eyed this place during my visits.  Today I was lucky enough to find one table free for me!  image

During my spritz, I too got to enjoy a bit of conversation with a woman from Denmark.  She and a group were here taking a health course of some sort in Fiesole.  She said she had been here for almost 2 weeks and was ready to leave and probably not return.  She did not say this with disgust or anger…I asked what city she liked better and she said, “Paris” with no hesitation.  She expressed she felt in Paris the way I feel here.  During this trip I have come to the realization that it is OK…if not great… for people not to like the city you love.  People enjoy and are comfortable with different things and experiences.  I no longer feel I have to either sell someone on my view or worse…reexamine my own thinking there is fault in it.  Now I just need to translate this thinking to all other aspects of my life.

Next on the agenda is to head to the San Lorenzo area.  The play I am attending is performed in the San Giovannino dei Padri Scolopi Library in Piazza di San Lorenzo.  It is part of an architectural complex dating back to 1351 and is in the triangle where the Medici family lived.

Our story begins here…image

What a wonderful, albeit HOT, experience that was.  The story is shared by the last two heirs of the Medici Dynasty, Grand Duke Gian Gastone and his sister, Anna Maria Luisa.  Viewers travel back in time to Palazzo Pitti in 1737, shortly before the Grand Duke’s death.  The show culminates as Anna Maria Luisa initiates a treaty with the Lorena family, who were to take over Florence after the Grand Duke’s death, stating the artistic patrimony of the Medici family would remain the property of Florence, “as an ornament of the State, to be used by the public and to attract foreign visitors”.

The two actor play is presented in a very intimate setting allowing viewers to understand this point in history as well as the priceless gifts the Medici family gave to the world.  I highly recommend this show…just bring a hand fan with you.

As I was approaching the Arno, I got a glimpse of the pink sky out of the corner of my eye and then quickened my pace to the center of Ponte Vecchio.  Again, I did not plan to be here at sunset, but here I am.  Timeless no?imageAs I was heading to Piazza Santo Spirito for dinner, I decided one bridge in sunset was not enough, so I quickly walked to Ponte Santa Trinita to get another breathtaking view.  imageHeart full but stomach empty, I was hoping to get a table at Osteria Santo Spirito.  This was the spot the Australian couple had recommended to them by friends.  I had peeked in the last day of the first part of my trip and vowed to return.

When I approached, it was already bustling with people.  I thought perhaps arriving a few minutes before the people who watched the sun totally set might be a good idea….I’m not the only one with good ideas.  I walked in the doorway and asked for a tavolo per uno.  I was told there would be a table inside in about 20 minutes.  “Great!”, I said thankful, but then asked, “Nothing available outside?”  I was told it would be at least an hour.  I said inside was good.  But then, moments later, they guy came back by saying he could have one outside in 5.  Even better.  Then for the next 10 minutes or so I did my subtle little dance hovering, looking hopeful to remind, but trying to be cool as well.  I am probably not that good at it, but it has been working.  And it worked again tonight.  As couples and groups were turned away to wait for more than an hour for inside or out, I was seated at a corner table facing across the tables and out to the piazza…Power Table!imageThe gnocchi Gratinati al Formaggi Tartufo had caught my eye on the menu, but when I saw and smelled it pass…I knew it was for me.  This is the piccolo plate.imageWith every bite, I wished for Avery and Dalton and almost felt disloyal enjoying something I knew they would love.imageI ate slowly enjoying the food and the atmosphere.  A few meters (wink, wink) away, yet another outdoor concert was gearing up.  By the time I left, it still hadn’t started (after 22:00) but the sound checks were commanding the night.imageAfter such a wonderful, but filling meal, I was very thankful for my mile and a half walk back to my room.

Tomorrow will be my last day in Firenze and Italia, I needed to plan my day and my exit.

Buonanotte!

Moda Martedi

This being my last morning in Firenze ( for a bit) I wanted to get myself organized for tomorrow’s departure.  As you can see, my appartamento is beginning to look like home with things placed and stacked here and there.  imageAs I am writing a bit, ironing a bit, recharging a bit…the power goes off.  Thank goodness Tomaso had warned…no that’s a strong word…Tomaso  had mentioned this in passing and showed me what to do in case.

I was to  tak-a the smallest-a key-a, go-a outside-a in the hall-a, unlock-a thees leetle brown-a door-a and-a fleep-a the sweetch-a.  So still in my pj’s and “morning about the apartamento” self…I attempt to do just-a that-a.

Leetle brown-a door-a…check.imageFlip-a the sweetch-a….Hhhmmmmm….Am I a “”Bianchi” or a “Bici”?  I know he told-a me-a…..So, I stick my head back out the door-, look around and switch both of them….imageI go back to my appartamento to check and nothing  has happened.  I try this again, scurrying back and forth each time, starting to geeeet-a beet-a worried now-a.

The room is getting warmer (or is it just me), so I leave the door open and wait for passer bys.  I am thinking at least the Biachi or Bici that I am not will come check to see what the heck is going on with their lights.  There is a girl that goes by a couple of times, but understands no english.  Same with the 2nd guy.  At the point of the 3rd woman, I am sure I am looking pitiful.  I will say this, I continued to tell myself this could be so much worse.  It could be night, it could be tomorrow morning when I am trying to catch my train.  Oh, and in the meantime, I tried to email, text and call Alessandro and Tomaso (but the wifi here is not strong enough to accept or send any emails).  Anyway, this 3rd tenant, listens to my issue and walks off telling me she will call Alessandro.  About 15 minutes later, she returns, walks in the appartamento, opens another leeetle closet and says, “Ah yes (as she is fleeping a different switch).  Theees-a appens all the time-a.  Een-a Italy, we-a are-a us-a to theeesa”.  And with that, my day is back on track.

After packing and cleaning up, I choose to wear my new vestito.  I think during Florence Fashion Week, I should wear something from here.  Feeling confident, I once again enter the Ferragamo store to sample their perfume.  It is another way I think I can support my neighbor, buying the perfume before I leave.  After smelling several, I choose my favorite, the woman sprays me down, and I am off again.

Well, I thought I was off.  When I stepped out the main door of my building, the shopkeeper across the street was enjoying a melone.  With the juices running down his face, I was assured the melone was perfect for eating.  So, I buy one for tonight, run back up, set it on my tavola and NOW I’m off again.

More progress for tonight’s party. image  A shot of me in today’s fashion- Gucci window.

image In Mercato Centrale, there is a little shop highlighting some of the products from Eataly.  I think mom and dad had mentioned this and I know Jim and Tricia love the one in New York.  I am pretty sure I overheard someone mentioned there is a larger Eataly near the Mercato, so I start poking around.  Sure enough, right off one of the side streets to the left of the Duomo…I find Eataly.  Eataly is, they say, the largest Italian marketplace in the world, comprising a variety of restaurants, food, beverage counters, bakeries, retail items and a cooking school.  What’s not to like right?  So I enter.

I walk around a bit and find the casual dining area, I am seated at the bar looking over the chef’s prep area.  I choose the bruschetta sample plate, a glass of white local and aqua frizzante.  imageMy review would be that the food was good…it did not blow me away.  I felt like I was eating at the cafe at Nordstrom.  It is a good place to know about, no doubt.  Especially if you have an appartamento here where you can cook.  But I would rather roll the dice and eat from the streets.

Speaking of le strade, they are full of areas being set up for those in the fashion know.image

Time for dolce e cafe, no?

Time for dolce e cafe, no?

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Still looking good, even full of cibo.

With all the preparation for parties, I think the Pitti, where I understand much of the festivities are being held, should be pretty spectacular.  So I cross the Arno to find it looking like its stodgy self.  What a Pitti.imageAlthough it is a lovely, breezy day out, ducking into a dark, cool chiesa is always special.  This is the Chiesa di San Felice.  The church with a single nave was built during the 11th Century.  The Renaissance facade was added in 1457.  Parts of 13th Century frescoes are still visible on the walls.  The large, painted crucifix is attributed to Giotto or his school.image

Strolling through this area of Oltrarno, I jot down ideas to take home and places to return to in July during my last days in Italia.

I loved this studio, where no space was safe from embellishment.imageKnowing I will be hoping a train tomorrow and making the mistake once of grabbing a bite across from the stazione, I enter this pasticceria and buy some things for the rails.  I chose some plain cake (the woman indicated it was plain by slapping her hands together like “all gone”, some thin, thin, oily, crispy bread with rosemary on top and a small bag of roasted mandorle salate.  These were amazing!imageDuring my conversation with Australians Kate and Mark, Osteria Santo Spirito was one of the places that had been recommended to them.  Peering into bowls as people ate and a peek into the kitchen sold me.  I will return.image

imageReady to head back and enjoy my melone and left over wine, I look for a place to buy some prosciutto.  Since Tamero Pasta Bar, where I ate last night, is across the piazza, I try there.  I am told (after minutes of Italian conversation by the waiter, another waiter and the chef) that selling the prosciutto to me by the slice would be very expensice.  The chef instead advises me to go to a very nice market right by Ponte Vecchio instead.  So I head that way.

Near Ponte Vecchio, I see several bars and enotecas.  They are bustling as it is aperitivo time.  I go into a piccolo one where I see meats hanging.  They sell me 8 slices of prosciutto for less than 2 eruo.  When I walk 2 more steps I know see the market the chef was talking about.  I enter to see what I missed.  Yes, this must be the place.  Again, very good to know about.  BUT you must not enter too hungry.  The lines to check our are crazy.  So, my uninformed choice was a good one.   imageHappily I enter my appartamento to the smell of my melone, Mom would die, but it makes me smile.  I cut up the entire melone, toast the leftover pana from last night (baggies in your purse come in handy), open my prosciutto from its paper wrapping, take a few of tomorrow’s mandorle salate, pour some olive oil and wine and there…A fabulous dinner!imagePassing the street set up on my way into the appartamento, the party was just getting started. I decide to throw on a scarf and some sunglasses and walk through the crowd.

I leave you with your special invite.

Giorni di Pioggia e il Luned

The Carpenters sang “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”  For me, summer Mondays are as good as any other day and as far as rainy days go, I’m more in the Eddie Rabbit camp (I’m sure I lost of few of you there with that reference).  Looking out my window, I once again see  light rain.  I have learned to pack my piccolo ombrello when heading out.

As I head out my porta and down my strada, I notice these scarpe in the Ferragamo finestra and go in to investigate.  I’m nervous entering these oh so posh stores.  When a well dressed man has to open the door to allow me to entrare, that is a sure sign I should not.  But, as I said,  these shoes, adorned with paint, caught my occhio.imageSalvatore Ferragamo designed only one style of shoe for men in his lifetime, and you’re looking at them. Andy Warhol owned a pair and naturally, he painted in them.  In 2006, the Ferragamo family bought those paint-specked Warhol shoes at an auction and now create copies available for purchase.  I am LOVING them.  Perhaps this Halloween I’ll dress as Warhol (last year I was van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Frida the years before).  I assure you my scarpe will not be Ferragamo.imageNow these replicas of The Rainbow Sandal created for Judy Garland, I CAN afford.  The upside is I only have to buy one.  It is probably the only Ferragamo I will ever own.

With the weather threatening, I stay close to my neighborhood, but cross the ponte.  As I do, I see this happy guy painting away.  He has his bicicletta set up as an easel and is using a LP record as a palette.  You KNOW we will be doing this in studio602!  I stood and watched him for a moment.  You get different reactions from different “artist”.  This guy…welcoming as can be.  I don’t even think he expected me to buy something.  I admired a cute, silly little painting (he uses a palette knife) of a church and graveyard.  He had attached a clear piece of plastic in the shape of a ghost.  When I commented on it, he smiled and said, “Eeettaaa eeeesssa justa for funnnaaa. oooooooo-a”.  His ghost sound cracked me up!  imageimage

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I know…I’ve got my bridge upside down…

I chose a painted rock with Ponte Vecchio on it…seemed fitting as that most famous ponte was in our sight, the next bridge over.  His “studio” was on Ponte Santa Trinita.  This original work of art cost 1 euro!!!  AND he threw in the ghost painting as a “geeefttaaa”.  I bought 2 more rocks after that.  You would have thought he just pocketed hundreds of dollars.  He was so very tickled.  From halfway across the bridge, he was still telling me to have a bella giornata!  He had just made it that.imageAfter my big purchase I head to the Santo Spirito area.  I had understood there was a market near but could not find it.  I checked out the menus at the trattoria’s framing the piazza.  Tortelli Mugellani (the recipe Anna shared with us…certo!) sounds great, but of course they are not serving now…Well, there is a restaurant on my strada that I have wanted to try…no go either.  Most restaurants…good ones at least, serve lunch and dinner only.  Aperitivo in between, but I am hungry.  With the rain really coming down now, I get a spring in my step when I remember I still have the schiacciata I bought with Costanza.  Perfetto.  and I have left over chips AND left over wine from a bottle I bought at La Volpe e l’Uva.  I turn back around and head for home (all of 10 steps). imageimageimage

Paola and I are to meet at 5:00 in front of the Dante statue at Santa Croce.  This is very near her appartamento.  The great news here is Paola (with Elisa’s help) has agreed to allow me to leave a small bag of…stuff…with her until I return.  I’m not sure how I’ve collected what I have in only 9 days, but this is such a luxury.  When I return, I can sort through and decide what I really want to lug home.

Before leaving for Italy, Paola and I had communicated once.  Our original plan was to meet together in the morning, visit a market, cook lunch, tour a rose garden and then enjoy dinner together as well. However, the rain has changed our plans quite a bit.  At this point we are only meeting for a brief visit.  During lunch she texts me advising  how to call a cab due to the rain.  I tell her I will walk anyway- I will not melt.  Not sure how that translates.  I walk over in quite a downpour, but I love the sound of Italian thunder.  During the walk she has texted me again.  This time giving me the exact address of her appartamento.  She wishes for me to come there so she does not melt.  Negotiating the streets of Italy is molto tricky.  When I reach Dante’s statue, I ask a shop owner standing outside (they ALL stand outside) where I might find Via San Giuseppe.  He says, “I-a weeelll-a show-a you”.  Along our 4 step journey, he adds, “Howww-aa did-a you-a get-a so lucky to have-a found-a me-aa?”  Then he point up and says, “We have-a arrived-a.”  Moral of the story is the street names change at any given point.  Like I said, molto tricky.

The rain has ceased now and Paola comes down to greet me.  Kiss/Kiss.  Oh and by the way, this is Paola1.  We walk up a narrow corridor with many steps.  On the way, she stops every once in awhile to tell me something.  She has lived here for several years.  I think she mentioned she does a four year lease.  She is a bit concerned about what will happened at the end of this current lease.  Her landlady is 97 years old.  Paola’s appartamento is the tiniest one I have visited yet.

Leaning out Paola's living/office/bedroom gives a view of Santa Croce.

Leaning out Paola’s living/office/bedroom gives a view of Santa Croce.

I think we are in the whole of it when she walks back down a couple of narrow steps (I can’t even explain this well.  I felt like I was in a storybook) opens another little door, and we enter her separate, piccolo, piccolo cucina.imageTalk about tidy, organized and cute!  This girl knows how to get the most out of her space.  On the sill she has a little herb garden and inside she uses fruit boxes as shelves.  How clever! (Finger to eye here!)image

We sit and talk a bit enjoying succo di mela e biscotti.imageWe then go on a short walk where Paola shares some of her favorite spots.  The first was the same cafe bar where Constanza brought me to.  It does have a spectacular view of the Duomo’s dome through its large glass finestra.

Our next stop was a very nice grocery.  Paola says she visits when she needs a specialty item.  She bought a bit of prosciutto while here.imageWe parted ways after she showed me this fabulous art supply store.  Paola is not sure if she will be in Florence when I return, but I know we will stay in touch.  What a gentle soul she is.  Kiss/Kiss, Ciao, Ciao!!image

I walk around this amazing story trying not to get too invested.  There are so many things I would like to bring back home.  When I return in July, I will definitely come back to grab some of these palette knives.  I want to use them as cheese knives. (Finger to eye again.)imageWalking back to my appartamento the skies have cleared and the air is cool and crisp.

I have passed this finestra several times and each time I admire that polka dot dress.  This time I decide to go in and try it on.  I walk out with a new Florentine dress that I cannot wait to wear.image

It is aperitivo time, so I grab my book (a prop at this point) and head back over to Santo Spirito.  As I am crossing Ponte Santa Trinita, I look over at Ponte Vecchio and am struck by the amazing light.  People just walk past as I capture the bridge in its golden hour….Again, Living Right!

In the photography portion of Art III, I have students take multiple images of an object, person, place or event and then create a montage work of art from the multi images.  I took multi images of this scene to create one myself.image

When I arrived at the piazza, it was already quite full of people and their spritzs.  I hovered near a prime table as the waiter cleared it.  Instead of choosing the restaurant I had eyed earlier, I chose Tamero Pasta Bar soley because I liked their thrown together look.  Again, good choice Paige!image

I start, as one should start in Florence with an Aperol Spritz.  The waiter looks at his watch when I order.  I noticed people coming out with plates of Happy Hour looking food and I think they were getting ready to stop that service.  Not to worry.  I wasn’t sure how I would hold my table, watch my borsa AND carry a plate of food out.  So I just order from the menu.imageSitting out under the trees, listening to conversations, smelling cigarette smoke (ok not so much that part), watching people, feeling the welcome breeze…I am molto felice.  I mentioned this last time that it would be wonderful to be sitting with a loved one right now, the evenings are always that way, but would they have enjoyed the day?imageOn this summer evening, I chose Panzanella and this year’s favorite, Prosciutto e Papai.  Heaven!!

As with most evening dining experiences in Italia, they do not rush you off.  The table is yours for as long as you would like.  I decide I will stay until they light the candle on my table.  When I do leave, I first go inside to check out the interior.  This is a hip, gritty place.  The kind I’m sure get rock’n as the night gets later.image

When I get ready to exit, I pass the kitchen area.  I LOVE the way they have their meats displayed.  A guy is working with the prosciutto when I walk by and I ask if I may take a photo.  “aahh…si, si…un momento.”  And he proceeds to stop what he is doing, replace the prosciutto and turn the other meats to their most photogenic side.  Grazie!imageAlthough I am leaving the piazza, most are just arriving.  Sitting around the fountain or the steps of Santo Spirito makes for a classic Italian notte.imageimageimageCrossing back over Ponte Santa Trinita, I catch Ponte alle Grazie in sunset.

On my last trip, there was the photograph I took of the 3 boys and their dad in the waters of Monterosso.  It is a photo I would have loved to share with them.  I feel the same way about this one.  Snagging one of the points off the side of the ponte seems to be the thing to do in Florence.  What a date night!imageArriving on my strada, there are signs Fashion Week will be in full swing tomorrow.image   I am sorry I could not get these guys from the front. Although most Italian men do not wear shorts, especially during the evenings, the guy to the left is an exception.  Notice his short sleeve blazer, fitted perfectly over his bare chest.  As I said, at 11:00, the night has just begun.  imageHaving salad and fruit for dinner (work with me) allows me to enjoy dessert…Edoardo’s again!!??  Perche no?image

Giorno Uno

My first night in my appartamento was ok.  I stumped by toe 2x during the night due to the 1″ rise from the hallway to the bathroom and vowed not to do it a 3rd.  The little airconditioner does not get to my home sleeping temperature of 64, but that was to be expected.  I woke up in the morning refreshed and ready to start giorno uno.

My day began at the TIM store.  If you remember, yesterday I spent about 2 hours in the company of Stefania, my personal (ha!) tech assistant but because I could not get the phone to go beyond the spinning “search”, I had to return.  I am not sure what time they opened, but I arrived at about 10, pulled my number and found there had already been 17 people in front of me; 8 or so of whom were still crammed in the small store.  Stefania was once again on duty along with another female phone specialist.  I went in with the attitude that I had nothing else pressing today, so just to be patient.  That sentiment was not shared by numbers 15,16,17 and 21.  It was amazing to me that people would openly fuss and heatedly complain about the amount of time the 2 workers were spending with “clients”.  I just enjoyed it as a form of Italian Theater and it helped the 2 hours go by.

Once Stefania called “diciotto”, I knew I would have her undivided attention for awhile.  Long story short, my old iphone was apparently “locked” even though verizon said it was not.  I considered putting the Italain SIM card in my new iphone, but then imagined getting a verizon bill on top of the amount of the SIM card and quickly decided against that.  I thought the cheapest, easiest way to go was to purchase an unlocked phone here…so I did.  You should have seen the faces and heard the groans of numbers 19-infinity as Stefania patiently showed me how to ramp up my new phone.  Now “all” my Italian amici can contact me AND I can google map a destination (even though once it shows me the location, it shuts down…oh well) out on the streets without fear of having a $1,000 phone bill when I return home.

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When I went back to my appartamento to ditch the iphone and the new phone box, I researched a spot for lunch and headed Oltrarno (on the other side of the Arno).

A blog I frequent “Girl in Florence” (another Texas Tuscan) suggested Chicco di Caffe for a great lunch, budget friendly and loved by locals.

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Rigatoni al pesto di asparagi e ricotta salata

Rigatoni al pesto di asparagi e ricotta salata

This primi plate and a bicchiere di vino bianco locale was a great recommendation.

After lunch, I searched out the studio of the street sign artist Clet Abraham.  Last year I got a kick out of his clever sense of humor and roamed the streets looking for the many different manipulations of municipal signage.  Since then, I somehow stumbled across who the artist was and that he had a studio in Ortrarno.  On the way, I saw several new works by Clet.imageimage

When I arrived I was disappointed that the studio was closed.  I stood there peering through the glass door hoping someone might be in and have pity on me.  No such luck.  I roamed a bit around the immediate area and decided to stop into an osteria have perhaps the studio would be open afterwards.

Osteria San Niccolo was a great choice for dolce and conversation.

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Here I enjoyed one of the best Tiramisu I have ever had.  The zabaione was light as air.  After a short bit, a young couple walked in and told the waiter, “We’ll have what she is having.”  He was from Syria and she from Egypt.  Of course both spoke perfect english (damn us monolingual Americans!)  We enjoyed a lively conversation about the riches of traveling and experiencing different cultures.  They got a kick out of my “Eat Pray Eat” agenda.

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Uno altro per la raccolta!

We parted ways and to my delight, the Clet studio was open!  What a coincidence I thought it was that the girl working in the studio was also just at Chicco di Caffe…she did not.  As I was choosing a few items to buy, I asked her if I could take a couple of photographs.  “Of what?” she said looking around  with attitude.  She agreed.  I took a few quick shots before she changed her mind.image

So cool to see an artist's workspace!

So cool to see an artist’s workspace!

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I know this last one is a little blurry, but I feared she might lose patience with me at any moment.  I love the simplicity of stencil work.

After leaving Oltrarno, I just roamed noticing more and more street art that most simply are oblivious to.  There is a new guy out there, goes by the name “Blub”, creating a new street art series.  After researching the signature, I learned he is a mystery.  He has yet to reveal himself to the public.  He takes iconic works of art and iconic people and puts a diving mask on them. Way quirky, but I’m a fan.  He has a Instagram @lartesanuotare.  My eyes are peeled to see how many divers I can find on the streets of Firenze.

My first to see.  Botticelli's cherub.

My first to see. Botticelli’s cherub.

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Even the ermine has a mask!

Even the ermine has a mask!

As often happens with street art, someone has added a mustache to Dante.

As often happens with street art, someone has added a mustache to Dante.

Other works seen along the way…imageimageimageimageimage

This one is a great example (I censored) of building on the “work” of someone else.  I laughed out loud.  Clever, clever!

Next stop il Mercato Centrale.image

Mom and Dad told me about this place.  It is fairly new.  They just celebrated their 1 year anniversary.  It is an open air food court of sorts.  Located above the traditional Mercato San Lorenzo, it is a foodie’s paradise.  You can graze from stall to stall enjoying pane, carni, pasta e dolci.  Of course there is also a bar area in the middle serving espresso, spritz and wine.  This is a wonderful place to get out of the heat for a bit, reconnect with free wifi and relax.

Roaming about, I passed this street artist several times through out the day documenting his process and sharing my spare change.imageimageimageimage

At last it was time to meet Elisa.  To catch you up on my Italian Amica, I knew for this trip I wanted to add to my “language experience”.  I had searched and searched for a unique, one on one approach.  The only thing I was finding were traditional language schools that offered 1 hour lessons to weeks of classes.  Then I found The Florentine.  This is a bi-weekly newspaper printed in english covering italian news, events and culture.  They also have a classified section.  At first I was very excited to find this.  There were several people offering their services to tutor.  Then I thought it was a little “craig’s listy” and probably not a wise idea.  My third thought was “what the heck” so I contacted 2 females.  Both responded.  The first said she was interested but did I speak italian so that when she is explaining the history and culture I would understand…nope…that’s the point of this.  The second was Elisa.  She shared her interest in learning what I had in mind.  I foolishly responded back asking about her experience with the Italian language.  She said she had lived in Florence all her life and her parents were Florentine as well.  Check language and city culture/history off my “interview” questions.

Elisa and I continued to design our program.  She was so generous with her time and ideas.  We “met” through Skype to nail down our plan.  A plan which now included accompanying her and her familia to their sea home, cooking with her mom and great aunt, going with her sister to a friend’s agriturismo for more cooking and eating, exploring the markets, cooking and sightseeing with her friend Paola and spending a day (again cooking and eating) with another of Elisa’s friends, Costanza, at her country home.  Ya might say I hit the jackpot!

Well tonight that adventure began.  I was to meet Elisa atLa Prosciutteria for an aperitivo. image

Although I was fairly comfortable finding the spot (it is on the same street as yesterday’s panino), I headed over a bit early.  When the people inside on the right left, I snagged that prime spot and waited.

A few minutes later, a woman I knew was not Elisa seemed to be looking for someone.  We glanced at each other a couple of times and then she asked, “Paige?”  Si, si!  It was Paola.  This is Elisa’s amica that I will be spending time with later in the week.  What fun this was going to be.

Shortly after Paola, Elisa arrived.  We chatted and joked like old friends.  They were kind to my attempts at their bella lingua as we shared wonderful food, drinks and stories.

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Salute! Cin, Cin!

Afterwards, Elisa recommended a new gelateria by the duomo.  We grabbed her bike from a nearby rack and walked over.

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The line attested to Gelateria Edoardo’s reputation.  Who can complain waiting in the shadows of the duomo?  Not I.

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Both Elisa and I chose cioccolato e zabaione on a wonderfully crisp, fresh cono.  On our passeggiata through the still crowded,  cobblestone streets, Elisa ran into a couple she knew.  The woman had been her english teacher while in middle school.  It was heartwarming to see their greeting and listen to their lively conversation.  I joined in and immediately knew these were people you could talk with for hours.  I know Elisa, Paola and others will continue to make this trip a once in a lifetime adventure and a  sweet, sweet memory!

As it is almost 3:00am here, I wish you sogni d’oro and a presto.

Best of- Food

Not that this came as a surprise to me, but a major focus of this trip was food.  Many people seem think that just because you are in Italy, amazing food is going to be all around you and all you consume.  Like anywhere, food in Italy varies.  Not every bite you put in your mouth is worth the calories or the euro….so I tried to be selective.  I researched, talked to locals, checked out plates as I passed.  However, some of my best bites were serendipitous..  Grazie mille San Lorenzo!  As I answer my own “Best of Food” questions, I am not looking back at photos for reminders.  These answers are based solely on sweet (and savory) memories!

Best Pizza– Pizzeria Franco, Sorrento

I’ll start with the question I get most, “Where did you have the best pizza?”  Without a doubt it was  in Sorrento.  Even though Sorrento is not on my list of cities to return to, catching a train just to eat at Franco’s is!

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Best Gelato– CCC, Capri Crema Cafe, Anacapri

Capri Crema Cafe

Capri Crema Cafe

I loved the whole vibe here;  a little retro but definitely cutting edge, clean and crisp. Presentation is spot on and taste….molto buono!

Best Pasta Gnocchetti fatto a mano…..le mie mani!!

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

I am sure the fact that I/we made this in our cooking class and the love and laughs that went into the preparation flavors my perspective…..but this truly was the best pasta I had during my trip. I could have easily made myself sick on it.  But being in the company of “strangers” and needing to save room for all the other dishes we prepared, tempered my portion.

On my first Sunday back home, I prepared this for my family.  It received rave reviews here as well.

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Best Street Food–  Frito Misto, Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Fritto Misto calamari e gamberi

Fritto Misto
calamari e gamberi

This is one of those places I roamed into.  The calamari was the freshest I have ever had.  It is pretty much a given now that I love my food in a paper cone.

Best Ristorante– Al Pozzo, Monterosso   Trattoria Mario, Firenze   Trattoria Katti, Firenze

This category has a three-way tie.  All three are here due to the quality of food but also because of the personal attention/willingness to interact,  and for me, both are key in creating a memorable experience.

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Al Pozzo has previous memories attached to it.  I have enjoyed beautiful evenings seated in the street here my family.  I have a photo of Chef Gino preparing his famed frutti di mare risotto (which I have yet to try).  Both of my children fell in love with gamberetti gnocchi here.                                         Wonderful memories can be a tough thing for a place to live up to as well.  On my first night in Monterosso, when being presented with my gamberetti gnocchi, my heart fell…. the gnocchi failed to sport its tell-tale ridges.  I guess as a time saver, instead of hand rolling each gnoccho on the ridged board, they stopped at the step before, creating a less appealing looking dumpling.  I so wanted to inquire, but I knew my question could only be taken as a complaint (which to be honest….it would have been) and I chose to make new memories instead of trying to relive past ones….that’s growth huh!?

Not to be Missed!

Not to be Missed!

Trattoria Mario is just one of those special places.  Yes it is packed with tourist that have read about it, but it is run by locals that I think are there for the locals….we just happen to be a byproduct of their love of Firenze and its food.

Now Trattoria Katti is all me.  I did not read about it, I did not hear about it, I just roamed into it and I am so glad I did.  As you know, I enjoyed a dinner there twice.  Both times the food was very good, but the dish that put it over the top for me was the Pappa al Pomodoro.  I have since longed for a spoonful often!!  The fact that when I would walk by (countless times…it was on “my street”) and Katti or her mamma would see me and say “Ciao!” didn’t hurt either.

Comfort in a bowl!

Comfort in a bowl!

Best BItes– Fried Calzone, Anacapri     Coccolo, Firenze     Papa al Pomodoro, Firenze       Panino, Firenze

I had a lot of wonderful food during my trip…if I look back through my photos, I am sure I would add more to my list, but again….I am going with my memory and my gut here.

To me, this is what it is all about…that first bite….the moment you put something into your mouth and you are simply sent….the second bite or the second visit may not compare….but it is that first bite that you remember…

When I first bit into the fried calzone in Anacapri, right then, I knew it was the best thing I had eaten in Italy yet….I will admit, when I finally found the bakery the 2nd time, after days of trying to retrace my steps….the 2nd experience did not measure up to the first.  It was still wonderful….but just not the same…

Fried Calzone...need I say more...

Fried Calzone…need I say more…

Coccolo, dusted with salt...

Coccolo, dusted with salt…

OK…there is a trend here….more fried dough.  Hey, I am not proud…IS there anything better!?  I have yet to make these, but I do have a happy hour on the books and am planning to serve Aperol Spritz and these!

I have already shared the photo of Papa al Pomodoro, but it makes the list again….

And last, but certainly NOT least was my amazing panino in Firenze….

All'Antico Vinaio

All’Antico Vinaio

Once again rewarded for roaming on!

You will notice that most of my BEST BITES are from my eats in Firenze…another reason the city is a fav of mine!

Best Sips– A Pie’ de Ma’, Riomaggiore    Caffe Gilli, Firenze

During my previous trip to Italy with my mom and kids, I would look at people just sitting, enjoying a glass of wine or an aperitif, perhaps reading a book….I longed for that experience, that pace.  This trip, I enjoyed many such moments.

a Pie' de Ma

a Pie’ de Ma

I am thankful for the tip to look for a Pie’ de Ma….it isn’t a place you would just stumble on.  Definitely a place to return to.

My first Aperol Spritz...and more coccolo!  Heaven or What!?

My first Aperol Spritz…and more coccolo! Heaven or What!?

During my evening at Gilli, I just kept pinching myself….I was so happy.  Seated outdoors overlooking Piazza della Repubblica…people watching…pretty much heaven for me.

Best New Discovery– Fresh Cherries  and Fresh Anchovies

I know you are probably thinking, “How can cherries be a discovery?”  Well, I am not a fruit person.  As I have gotten older, I have tried to broaden my fruit horizons (remember the fig….).  I tend to be attracted to “pretty things”.  When I was younger, I put a tomato slice on my plate simply because I thought it needed the color.  So with cherries being in season, stacked and piled at every stand…I had to.  And once again…rewarded.  Cherries became my staple snack.  I am sad to say that I bought some here at home…and they did not compare.

It is art!

It is art!

The moral of my italian eating is that fresh is key….my anchovy experiences speak to that as well!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

I know I am leaving something (many things) out…I could probably give everything its own category….my picnic on the beach in Monterosso….so perfect….the limoncello Franco unlocked from his “private collection”….so-a strong-a and-a so-a beautiful-a!….the warm, oily bag of pane in Trastevere…..ALL my CAPRESES!!!…..

As you read, if there is a category you would like me to award…please…let me know…

My plan is one more post from this trip….The Best of…THE REST.

La mia bella città, Firenze

I will try to get through writing about my last day in Firenze without tears soaking the keyboard. I am over exaggerating of course, but it is sad to say arrivederci, even though all signs say it is time to move on.
The first on my list this morning was to enjoy a bistecca a la fiorentina for lunch. It seems that all the restaurants only offer this for two, but I have decided I would take that challenge. Katti at Trattoria Katti said they do a smaller version which is the filet, but I wanna go traditional. One of my books, The Food Lover’s Guide to Florence, said Trattoria Mario was one of the best places in town to experience this. When I was there the other day, the couple at the table next to me went on and on about how good it was. Plus I thought a heavy steak like that would be better at lunch (which Mario’s is only open for) than at dinner (which Katti’s is only open for).

Trattoria Mario’s opens at 12:00, but as I learned from my last visit, the line starts forming at about 11:30. So I head over early. 20130716-231937.jpg

When I arrive, Luca is once again outside talking with a friend. We do the “Ciao Luca” “Ciao Paj” Kiss/Kiss thing….he asks if I am here to get in line for lunch. During the next 15 minutes or so, several people start to congregate. Luca is already inside. At about 11:50, Fabio, Mario’s son, once again lets people come in but tells us they do not serve until 12:00. When I enter, he says, “Ciao Signora. Please-a…sit-a at-a your-a place-a.” as he motions to the table I had last time. Tourist to the sinistra, tourist to the destra…locals sprinkled in. It is funny to watch everyone’s reaction to the seating…some are open to it, some…not so much.
Lucca sits at “my” table again…this is obviously his usual. I am informed that Roberto only comes two times a week.

I share my plan of the bistecca a la fiorentina…Luca asks Stefano, the waiter, to allow me to have a small one, but first he insists I try the pappa al pomodor, a meta order. I tell him that I have had it at Trattoria Katti and that I loved it. “Katti? Katti? I-a do-a not-a know-a theesa Katti.” So I agree to try here.20130716-232414.jpg
Although it was very good….between you and mean, I like Katti’s better.
Stefano comes over and Luca does the ordering. I just look back and forth like I am watching a tennis match. Lucca lets me know that the steaks take a bit longer. I assure him I am in no hurry.

While I am looking around, I notice a little purple square with some words and a silhouette with devil horns.20130716-232712.jpg
I read aloud, “Io sto con Fabio…I am with Fabio” . Luca starts laughing and Fabio shoots him a look. I ask what does that mean. Lucca chooses his words carefully.
Basically, at last year’s football match between Firenze and Milano, Fabio….got a bit out of hand yelling at Milano’s coach… I asked, “He got in trouble for just yelling?” Lucca kinda laughs and then says, “He-a, he-a was-a using…come si dice….offensive language. And-a now-a,” Luca is trying hard not to laugh, “Now-a Fabio….can-a not-a go-a to the stadium-a for one-a year-a.”
I tell him that my brother also got in trouble one time for “shouting school slogans”. He laughs-a and says, “We-a are-a crazy-a for our-a foot-a ball-a.”
He adds that tonight at their stadium, there is a welcoming for one of their new players, Mario Gomez. He starts singing some kind of chant and a few others join in….
About that time, he sees some guy out the window, says something, jumps up and runs out. I watch through the window, and from the other guy’s reaction, I can tell they are not exactly friends…the guy turns and says something, but that is about it.
He comes back in all excited. He says that is another one of their players Massimo or something like that. I said, “What did you say I LOVE YOU man!!!” He laughed and said, “No, no, when I was-a a kid-a…yes-a….but-a now-a I just told him Viola Firenze!”
(Later that night, I could see viola smoke….Firenze’s colors….coming up from the stadium.)

During our wait, I ask Luca what their thoughts are about all the tourist. I ask if he can tell one nationality from another just by looking. “Oh-a sure-a sure-a…..” he looks out the window to illustrate, “That-a one-a….I think-a they-a are-a Russian….she-a might be-a Swedish, but-a he-a is-a definitely Russian.” I try my hand at identifying later and fail.

I inquire what it is that gives Americans away. He laughs again…trying to choose words. “The-a shoes-as, and the hat-a…definitely the hat-a….” He points to a guy in the trattoria and nods. I say, “Oh, cap?” “Yes-a the capp-a.”
Then he goes off on a McDonanld’s rant…that Italians believe Americans cannot know what good food is, they cannot wait for it and enjoy it. He also eludes to the Americans’ weight. Although I agree, I tell him wait a minute and I point to an older Italian man walking by outside with what appears to be a barrel under his shirt. Luca just shrugs and smiles.

About fifteen minutes into our wait for the bistecca, although I am showing no signs of distress, Luca looks at me and says, “You-a wish-a to-a go to-a McDonald’s?” No grazie!

The bistecca arrives…with le patate fritte….I was hoping those were on the order.20130716-234841.jpg20130716-234852.jpg Molto Buono!
And of course…a glass of rosso (and this time, I got a fancy glass!)
20130716-235050.jpg Fabio before the exile…

I say my ciaos to all, trying to express my gratitude the best I can…I know I fell short.

After lunch, I head for the Pitti Palace…luckily for me, it is on the other side of the Arno, so there is some walking involved.20130716-235217.jpg
Roaming the gardens reminded me of walking the gardens at Versailles.  I am sure this is not the best season to visit, it was still beautiful. 20130716-235550.jpg I can imagine this would be an awesome venue for a concert.20130716-235629.jpg20130716-235643.jpg20130716-235922.jpg
Although there were many people visiting, the grounds are so vast, you could easily walk alone for hours. I enjoyed imagining the Medici women in their dresses, roaming about using this as an opportunity to slip away and think.20130717-000136.jpg20130717-000149.jpg20130717-000203.jpg20130717-000223.jpg20130717-000234.jpg
I loved this little building. It has quite a view20130717-000312.jpg
And the inside is painted to give the illusion you are in a gazebo. 20130717-000356.jpg20130717-114832.jpg I do not know much about this statue, but it is depicted all over Firenze. I do know the tartaruga was Cosimo de Medici’s symbol.
With the impressive gardens, I will say the bagni were a letdown…

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The water fountains did not disappoint.20130717-115330.jpg

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After the heat and humidity of the gardens, I find a cooler (in many ways) museo to visit.

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If you remember, we had passed this museo during the bike ride day one. I decided to push open the shiney, guarded doors and visit. Again, AudioGuide recommended!
This is an extremely well done museo housed in an amazing venue.

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They only allowed photos in a couple of spots. But I loved the entire exhibit. It of course revolves around the life and legendary artistry of Salvatore Ferragamo; from childhood to signature pieces (like the Rainbow Wedge created for Judy Garland) to how he has inspired others.
There are several installations by other artists the theme being “Shoes and Fairytales”…pretty magical!
In the last of the 8 or so rooms, there is a viewing of the short film, WhiteShoe by Ferragamo, based on Salvatore’s life.
I would really put visiting this museo at the top of any list.

20130717-121101.jpg New wallet for Dalton…check…
Let me take another opportunity to say that even though speaking Italian is out of my ability range, attempting to speak it during this trip has been met every time with appreciation and kindness. While buying Dalton’s wallet, Fabio (un altro!) loved it when I would try something. He even wrote down a couple of verbs that would help me know more…
I think Americans coming over, expecting everyone to speak our language has given us a bad rep. (He also harped on McDonald’s…)

As evening begins, I clean up and contemplate my very last evening here….this trip…
At the suggestion of several, I take a little brown bus to Fiesole, FEE-e-sol-E to catch a view of Firenze from the other side. Again, another amazing vista.

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Then before the colors fade entirely, I make it to the other side of town, returning to Piazzale Michelangelo. This time, I find a spot not in the center of the Piazzale, but on one of the bench lined paths. Although there are still admirers…they seem mostly local. I think I am the only one with my camera out.

For this last sunset,while being serenaded by the cicada, I even enjoy a few sips of Champagne…from the bottle no less, sold by vendors in the piazzale.
Before I share this, you know I thought the last sunset from here was amazing….I took a bazillion photos of it. When I returned to the room and to view the photos, I was overwhelmed…I could not decide which was when, which was best, etc. It became more about the photographs than the moment.

This evening I decided to enjoy through my eyes and heart, instead of the lens.
However, overcome by the colors after the sun had set and transported by the layers of pink in the sky, I broke down and took 2 photos…only 2.

Che Bello!! no!?

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