Festive Florence

Festive Florence

Winter Holidays, December 2016
Florence, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

As we’re coasting into Italy our pilot announces that we’ll arrive not in Florence, as planned, but Bologna, due to extreme fog in our expected destination. Dreams of a delicious Tuscan lunch forgotten, we watch the hours tick by as we await our luggage (everything’s slowed to a crawl in Bologna due to all the re-routed Florence fights!), then load a couple of very cramped buses for the hour trip to Florence airport. Gasps of astonishment waft through the bus as we approach Florence and see the entire city under a heavy blanket of clouds – and this at nearly 4 pm!
We’ve kept in touch with the owner, Gianni, of the apartment we’ve rented to let him know of our delays (can we rave once again about T-Mobile and their invaluable plans?  No extra charges for texts and data wherever we travel!), and he meets us with a smile and takes us to our spacious home for the next few days. Before we even unpack we find the closest hole-in-the-wall and order a pre-dinner snack – oh those delicious Tuscan sips and tastes!
Then back to settle in to the apartment, located just over the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrarno district – a superb location! If you’re looking for a comfortable, well-located and well-priced Florence spot, we sure recommend Guicciardini 10! After dinner we stroll across the foggy old bridge and from one favorite piazza to another, enjoying the mysteriously misty Christmas lights.
We wake up to the Florence we are familiar with – bright and sunny! Crossing the city to an old favorite, Teatro del Sale, we renew our annual membership, then stroll the fabulous Mercato Sant’Ambrogio before lunch at the Teatro. There’s something for everyone in the market – fresh fruits and vegetables outside, beautifully prepared meats, creative appetizers and cheeses inside, and out the back door the antiques stalls that used to be set up by the old fish market. Here’s Kirk’s description of a row of intriguing antipasti platters: “Found in a Florentine market: An assortment of ground meaty stuffings wrapped in thin “leaves” of dough. Cook in the oven and serve to admiring guests. Also there are tons of meaty cheesy vegetably things tied in strings with bacon or sewn together with toothpicks to be cooked and presented together. You don’t see this stuff in Italian restaurants in the US. Gotta be here for the real deal. Yum.”
We’re happy to find out that photos are now allowed at Teatro del Sale, where the chef shouts out what’s coming from the oven or stove-top from the kitchen window, dishing out ribollita, a warming stew, from a giant pot.For years the creative owner, Fabio Picchi, honored with a bust and photos above the wood-stoked oven and still cooking up a storm, would gruffly deny any photos, but now allows us to snap to our heart’s content. Baking pans and oval platters of pastas, vegetables, roasted chicken, and my favorite olive-drizzled focaccia (I could fill up on just THAT for lunch!) keep filling the table and our stomachs, with plenty of serve-yourself wine and water.
Fresh clementines, a bowl of rich whipped cream for tall twirly cookies, almond cake, and diamonds of Cibreo’s (Picci’s elegant flagship restaurant, from which all of the others developed) melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake sate our sweet tooth.
A reviving cup of Illy coffee in the library and we’re ready to hit the streets again.
Creative shop windows catch our eye as we walk to Piazza Santissima Annunziata with it’s unique monkey fountain, then back to Piazza del Duomo, full of so many memories. We had this view when we took Kirk’s dear mother to Florence, and rented an apartment so close we could almost touch the cathedral. And the soaring bell-tower always reminds me of climbing to the top with our grandchildren a few years later. From Kirk: “Here’s 30 seconds from the center of the Roman center of Florence. Romans tended to build near a river or a spring (preferably a hot spring) in a checkerboard pattern. There was usually one main east-west street called a decumanum and a north-south street called the cardo. You can see down all four directions from this point.”
As the sun sets we make it to Piazza Santa Croce, another favorite.F-lights, a holiday celebration of creative lighting on Florence icons, delights with art-class drawings projected on the simple facade of Santo Spirito, and near Palazzo Pitti colored balloons float above the street behind a marble column erected by Medici ruler Cosimo I in 1572 to commemorate his victory over Siena at the Battle of Marciano in 1554.Our time’s gone much too quickly – just enough hours to say hello to favorite spots – but before we go we can’t miss the Mercato Centrale, where we stock up on Tuscan specialties for our New Year’s Eve feast in Rome. And before the train speeds us south we peek into Santa Felicita at a Pontormo Annunciation, walk along the river to Torre San Niccolo, and are surprised by a rhinocerous hanging from the ceiling inside a beautiful palazzo, the city’s science museum.Bye-bye balloons, thanks for the party!


Shortstop Florence

Shortstop Florence

Saturday, July 21, 2012
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on our featured (and expanded!) summer Amsterdam/Belgium tour!

Tuscan beauty surrounds us as we make our way north to Florence – rolling hills striped in vineyards, soldier- rows of cypresses marching up a path, golden fields of sunflowers. We never tire of this glorious landscape.

We’re staying on the outskirts of Florence this time, since we’re keeping the car rather than turning it in here as we usually do – avoiding the horrors of driving in the city, full of pedestrianized, one-way, and ZTL (limited traffic zone – we DON’T want to receive an unexpected $200 ticket a year after our visit, as has happened in the past) streets. Hotel Villa Liberty is in a neighborhood of beautiful Liberty style (Italian Art Nouveau) homes.

Above us are beautiful frescoes,

and outside, a lovely garden offers a peaceful respite from the hours on the road.

We’re not far from the river, and a gotta-be- Florence view.

First stop, while it’s still open – Farmacia Santa Maria Novella, for a refill of my favorite lotion, Hidrasol. We’re surprised to see a new sales area, stark white with a glittering chandelier, behind the traditional dark wood displays and desks. It just opened on Wednesday!

Then we have time to wander the lanes… and  glance up to another only- in- Florence vista – that inimitable Duomo, set against the brilliant blue sky.

Volpi e l’uva is an old favorite wine bar beside Santa Felicita (with those gorgeous Pontormo frescoes) in the Oltrarno, and we stop for some good Tuscan wine and a platter of cheeses.
We’re always on the lookout for new places to enjoy in Florence, but some oldies- but – goodies can’t be missed!

Arrivederci Florence

Arrivederci Florence

Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Florence, Italy

Interested 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. Unfortunately, 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 century 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 today?

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 retrace 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.
Arrivederci, Firenze!