The Feast of Florence

The Feast of Florence

January 3, 2013
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

One more day together, and we drive north to Florence, successfully drop off the car without entering any forbidden ZTLs (limited traffic zones – for which we have in the past received very unwelcome and very large bills months afterwards) and check back into the lovely Rivoli Suites

Kirk suggests a visit to Santa Croce, the pantheon of Florence, which we did not include on the first day’s introduction to Florence tour, so we walk across town, under pretty Christmas lanterns,

to the broad piazza, site of the annual no-holds-barred historical soccer match which can get so rowdy that it’s been cancelled altogether in recent years.
A stern Dante stands outside the church, and inside are the tombs of Florentine greats, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.

Just around the corner is one of our favorite Florence restaurants, Osteria dei Pazzi, where Paolo holds court, singing and chatting to friends as his crew serves some of the tastiest and best value food in town.

Check out the slabs of beef, ready to be hacked into Bisteca Fiorentina, in the kitchen.

None for me today, thank you. I choose the grilled vegetables and scarmorza (smoked mozzarella) – as delicious as it is beautiful on the plate.

Sign off for the yummy meal with a giant pencil.

We divide and conquer in the afternoon, some of us shopping, some of us working, then wind up through the Oltrarno to Piazzale Michelangelo in time for a glorious Florentine sunset.

It seems like hundreds of others are up here too, and no wonder, with great views of town – such as the Duomo in the distance.

We hang out til dark with David,


then make our way to Trattoria 4 Leoni for our last supper together

With a knowledgeable and fun waiter, the choices are easy –
each of his sugges- tions, from a Super Tuscan wine to this delectable appetizer (pull open the hot fried bread balls, spread them with the cheese, and layer with prosciutto – yum!) are perfect!
This trip was a surprise gift from Carol to her husband Bruce (remember the daily hints she gave him on her Smart Women Travelers blog?) and now it’s his turn to surprise her – with a gift from our favorite jeweler in Florence, the Gold Corner on Piazza Santa Croce.
You know what? This week has been a great gift of fun and pleasure for us too, with these delightful Music and Markets guests.

Florence Friends New and Old

Florence Friends New and Old

December 28, 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

What’s a good flight? One on which you arrive safely… even better if your luggage arrives too! So our latest flights were good, but we certainly didn’t arrive when expected, at 9 am yesterday. And it took an extra leg to actually get us to our destination, since our long flight across the Atlantic was delayed, but we made it around 5 in the afternoon. We’re glad to settle in to welcoming Rivoli Suites hotel, and appreciate the warm welcome from familiar faces at the front desk.

About 18 months ago we reconnected with old friends, who actually live just a few miles from us in Virginia, via Facebook, and since we’re both in Florence, meet for dinner tonight. This is the the first time we’ve seen each other in around twenty years, and we all agreed that it’s much more fun to meet in Florence than in Virginia. They had introduced us, also via Facebook, to Rachel, seated between Anne and Bruce, who lives in Florence and rents several lovely apartments, one of which we stayed in last year. We enjoyed catching up in person with Bruce and Gloria – perhaps we’ll bump into them again in Italy before we leave.

Our New Year’s Jazz tour begins this afternoon, but first a bit of shopping – some pretty suede flats for me – so many colors to choose from! And a few wines to take home for Kirk (well, I’ll enjoy them too!), followed by a delicious lunch at a tiny rustic spot that Rachel recommended   – love those insider local tips!

Caffé degli Artigiani (Artisans) is on Piazza della Passera, surrounded by the Oltrarno’s narrow lanes filled with craftsman’s workshops. Our plates of delicious pasta were the perfect lunch.

Autumn, one of the Four Seasons gracing the corners of Ponte Santa Trinita, gleams against the deep blue sky as we cross back over the river.

Remember how we loved those Paris Christmas decorations? Well I’ve found my favorite Florence holiday windows – Tiffany’s are so lovely

that I’d like to step right inside the miniature settings.
This is NOT one of our shopping stops today 😉

We meet our Music and Markets guests in the lobby and head out for an introductory walk around beautiful Florence… sidetracked just slightly by the Farmacia Santa Maria Novella across the street from our hotel,

and as we stop in front of the imposing facade of Santa Maria Novella church, we catch a glimpse of the golden lantern topping Florence’s Duomo.

Up close, the red, green and white façade, the colors of the Italian flag,

has us all pulling out our cameras!

Kirk tells the tale of Brunelleschi’s masterwork, the tiled dome, as the creator ponders its beauty in the background.

We say hi to Michelangelo’s David (a replica, the original is in the Accademia museum) in front of the Palazzo Vecchio,

gaze across the Arno from the Uffizi,


and stop to enjoy the view of Florence’s signature bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, before crossing the river.

Our loop takes us back across the Trinita bridge, which we crossed earlier today, and we stop at Santa Trinita for a peek at Ghirlandaio’s vivid Nativity – just one of the thousands of glorious gems in this city.

The symbol of Florence twinkles above us as we return to the hotel.

Di Giovanni’s the perfect place to enjoy our first Tuscan meal together, beginning with a Prosecco toast.

Several of us choose the fork-tender Suckling Pig for dinner,

and we finish together with a typical Tuscan dessert, biscotti dipped into Vin Santo,

then walk home under the shimmer of holiday lights.

Shortstop Florence

Shortstop Florence

Saturday, July 21, 2012
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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!

Florence – Old Favorites and New Discoveries

Florence – Old Favorites and New Discoveries

Monday – Tuesday, January 2-3, 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

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)

Sunset Beauty in Florence

Sunset Beauty in Florence

Sunday, January 1, 2012, part 2
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

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.