An April 2000 trip
to Tuscany by Ozzy-Dave
Quote: To drive or not to drive. That’s the question when planning a trip to Tuscany. How to visit those medieval villages and explore the vast landscape. Faced with this dilemma on a recent journey through Italy we decided not to drive, preferring to explore the area using public transport.
1. Moonlight and Valentino; Sounds corny? No way. Try a moonlight stroll along Florence’s Arno River, framed by medieval palaces, then steal a kiss under the lamplight on the Ponte Vecchio.
2. Gastronomic Gluttony; Sample Tuscany’s legendary connection with the land through a bounty of food and wine in earthy trattorias, neon-lit cafes and local markets.
3. Cultural Cravings; From Florence to Chianti hilltowns, the wealth of art, architecture and cultural tradition is overwhelming. Favourites? Florence, San Gimignano and Siena – but hey, you try and pick.
4. Landscape Art; A walk through patchwork fields, lined by olive groves and cypress trees, to a wine estate or fortified village? What about a hike through pine forests up to a crumbling monastery, tracking through fresh snow while spotting wildlife? All part of la dolce vita. Favourites? Vallombrosa and Greve-in-Chianti.
5. Firenze; A small, pedestrianised centre, breathtaking cathedral, incomparable restaurants and centre for Renaissance riches. Add to that one of Italy’s most exciting markets, hundreds of authentic pensiones and Tuscany’s transport hub. What are you waiting for?
Got the bug? Come with me, this journal shows you how to visit Tuscany the easy way. We lived well (you'll see how well) on less than US a day and that included EVERYTHING. No driving, parking, tour groups or moving around. Just big time R&R - and what a place to do it. Then, when you've finished, flip a coin; two hours south is the Cradle of Civilisation and three hours north is the world's most beautiful city.
WARNING:Rosticcerias are popping up everywhere; cheap, pre-prepared food in nondescript surroundings. They’re okay, but you’ll get better food and atmosphere for a little extra at a local trattoria.
TRAINS: Don’t pay extra for first class. Second class is clean, cheap and comfortable, and if you travel off peak you’ll often have a compartment to yourself. Reservations and bookings are rarely required. We travelled at all times, even on public holidays, and always got a seat.
BUSES: Marginally more expensive, but they take you to the centre of the village or town you’re visiting. Train stations are sometimes out of the town centre; check before you go. Buses also provide regular services to a myriad of hamlets and villages nowhere near a train station, the only means of transport for some of the local population. This allows you, the visitor, to get off the beaten track.
This journal chronicles some of our favourite trips – try them yourself or mix them with your own choices. And who cares if you have too much Chianti – you’re not driving!
The door opens on the second floor of this grand old 17th century palace and we’re greeted by a frumpy sixtyish woman in a woollen skirt, grey smock, purple feather boa and black beret. She peers around an artist’s palette and flat bristle paintbrush, a cobalt blue streak on her nose. We ask to see Evelyn (the proprietress).
"Waita eeer, Eveleeen parka automobiley," she offers, leading us through a clutter of sculptures, antiques and Renaissance paintings to a faded blue and white lounge. Ms. Paintbrush disappeared, never to be seen again (that day).
We waited "eeer" for half an hour, only running into Evelyn accidentally when we went looking for someone. Ms. Paintbrush had apparently forgotten we were "eeer". Too much lead in the paint, Karen suggested.
Evelyn journeyed from Wales 20 years ago to work as a physiotherapist and wound up running Medicis. Each of the nine rooms is named after a Medici ruler and is dominated by their portrait, courtesy of Ms. Paintbrush. Our room is a stunning example, faithfully furnished with Italian pieces, velvet curtains and the best mattress in Italy – on a king size bed! The enormous share bathrooms are elegantly tiled and include a large tub and eclectic mix of accessories.
Each morning Evelyn presided over the kitchen, preparing made-to-order breakfasts for the masses. Cooked treats, cereals, fruit and pastries were served on and in china direct to your bedroom. During the day there was shopping, errands to run, customers to guide and books to keep. But at least she didn’t have to paint. In the background came the constant interruptions,
"Eeeevvveeelleeennn, is there any mail?"
"Eeeevvveeelleeennn, has the delivery arrived?"
"Evelyn! Where are you?"
Which brings me to the professor.
Angelo Sordi owns Medicis, and he’s actually a physician. He’s responsible for the magnificent, if haphazard, collection of masterpieces littering the halls – it’s his hobby apparently. We heard him a lot [mostly calling for Evelyn], but never saw him until one Sunday morning.
We’d been out with friends the previous night and were enjoying a peaceful sleep in, a refuge shattered by a distorted Puccini opera from outside our door. I found the Professor dressed in a smoking jacket, conducting an imaginary orchestra blaring from a 1960's three-in-one with one of those clear plastic lids. The needle jumped as he danced around the hall. Evelyn later explained that Sunday morning was always Italian opera morning. We felt privileged the Professor had chosen our door to serenade.
Maria Luisa de’ Medici is a cut above most pensiones and at 53 euros a double with a grande breakfast it’s a steal. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 23, 2002
Pensione Maria Luisa de' Medici
Via del Corso 1
055 280 048
We rode the four floors in a shoebox-size elevator and rang the doorbell. Mama Aily stood before us, a four-foot incarnation of grandma from the Beverley Hillbillies.
"Avete camere libere?" I enquired.
"Do you have a room?"
"Si," she said, inviting us inside. My Italian was progressing well. A week with Mama Aily would be interesting I thought – here’s a few precious memories.
Whose turn to wash up?
A half naked girl ran past hiding behind a tea towel. Our room was large, with a shuttered window that overlooked the piazza below. Two cot-style beds, a sink, old wardrobe and assorted functional 1970s furnishings in a mishmash of colours completed the picture. It even smelled like grandmas - that musty potpourri of old blankets and sheets. On each bed was a tea towel. Mine had yellow ducks on it. The mystery continued, were we expected to help with the chores?
Karen reasoned that these threadbare offerings were our bath towels. After a long game of charades we convinced mama we were trustworthy and were granted an equally threadbare pair of real towels. Even our half naked housemate got an upgrade.
Mama Aily’s Flying Circus
Our room was comfortable and clean, the location sensational. Outside was the romance of the Arno River and Italy’s most famous bridge. At night the moonlight dazzled us and I tried to close the window shutter but it resisted all attempts. Mama explained that it was broken so I climbed onto the window ledge to free the mechanism.
She must have thought I was going to jump or fall because she dived to hang onto my legs, then Karen dived to hang onto her, all of us swaying like a comical memorial to bumbling trapeze artists. The shutter surrendered and we slept peacefully, but next time I’d make my intentions clearer.
It’s only a movie
Mama cried a lot and we thought she was depressed. She called me into the kitchen one day, clearly in distress, discarded tissues piled on the table. I would try to help her. She handed me two jars to open, returning to the table and her little television. She reached for another tissue, glued to the scene unfolding on the screen. Mama wasn’t depressed, she was just hopelessly addicted to Italian soapies!
We enjoyed Mama Aily’s. It’s one of Florence’s budget bargains, but expect the unexpected. Oh, and the bill? 35 euros a night, bathrooms are shared. No breakfast, but tea towels are included.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 23, 2002
Piazza Santo Stefano 1
The Oltrarno seems deserted, a few workers amble through Piazza Santo Spirito past the 15C church while we enjoy a beer in a neighbouring bar. An English girl at a jewellery store recommended this restaurant. The doors open and within ten minutes the place is jumping.
No menu, comfortable wooden tables and chairs, olde worlde trattoria atmosphere, and not an English word anywhere. We chat in broken Italian-English with two twentyish table companions as our waitress grabs a friend to decipher today’s specials. Baskets of warm bread arrive with carafes of Chianti merlot. The spaghetti with clams follows. It’s huge, but so is our appetite, fuelled by animated conversation and latin music. People flirt, laugh and dance, mainly young, and the atmosphere is exciting. Another carafe comes, and more bread, as the clams disappear.
We leave late, full, laughing and (a little) drunk. The damage is L52.000, about 30 euros.
Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori
We passed this tiny trattoria on Via dei Magazzini earlier and it looked authentic, so we returned for dinner. Just one room with four tables and a bar in the corner, it’s decorated kitch-style top to bottom, clearly a lifetime of precious possessions.
We can’t help chatting with everyone, mainly English artists studying at a school across the river. It’s like being in a friend’s lounge room. The owner is a self-confessed Romeo who looks like Pavarotti; when he’s not out the back preparing a meal he’s flirting with all the women. There’s opera on the radio while he cooks. The wild boar pasta is rich and priceless, the panna cotta just plain rich, and Karen sketches the owner in her book as the night evolves. The result is flattering and he likes it.
The bill was "about" L50.000, scratched in Italian on a paper napkin.
Our ritual pre-dinner passegiata returns from the Arno River along Via Proconsolo, past the Bargello’s Renaissance treasures to the funky looking Yellow Bar. Curious, we decide to eat.
Cosy booths and modern tables fill a cavernous interior. Hip music matches the hipster crowd, here to party, commune and eat in trendy, café-style surroundings. A central bar dispenses fuel for the masses. Our table service is friendly, specials at the ready. Seafood risotto?
"Allllright!" says Karen.
I opt for the house special calzone and we share a "Beppo Salad" and local red wine. The Marx Brother salad is a mix of crisp lettuce and endive topped with shaved parmesan, a perfect accompaniment to the rich flavours of prosciutto laced calzone and creamy risotto that Karen declares to be a shellfish symphony.
Live music from the piano bar excites the crowd and we settle in, comfortable with our carafe of red and the lively atmosphere. We emerged L46.000 lighter, vowing to return.
Three Florentine Faves
Various city centre locations
Attraction | "San Gimignano - Towers Over Tuscany"
Regular buses deliver you to the front door in 80 minutes. It’s small and easily explored on foot, but allow a full day, preferably a weekday, and go early to beat the tour groups.
Must-do: Feast on frescoes in the Romanesque church of the Collegiata, sample Tuscany’s exceptional wine and produce, explore local artisan’s shops and wander through the old walled garden.
A Diary Extract…
We changed buses at Poggibonsi, it’s an accelerato bus we’re told because it makes frequent stops and must accelerate all the time – obvious, really.
San Gimignano has thirteen towers and a fortress wall. It’s alive and bustling with tourists. Shops selling hand-painted ceramics, colourful glass bottles from Murano, local artists in the streets selling small, framed watercolours, leather shops with pricey handbags, jewellery stores, food shops and, of course, many cafes.
In the corner of a small stone walled garden a violin player busked. We climb the garden wall to look across the countryside, walking past a wisteria covered two-storey villa where a ginger kitten played with imaginary mice in the flower garden. An old man flashed a toothless grin, then buona sera’d us from his tomato patch.
I climbed one of the towers while Karen searched the shops. We found a print gallery owned by two local artists. One of the artists, Walter, has a gentle, golden, dog named Selva who jumped to greet us.
Karen instantly fell in love with her. Walter had found her abandoned in the woods near his home and it took him ten days to coax her from the forest – they are now inseparable. Walter explains that Selva is latin for forest. He recommended some walks in the area and we said goodbye, giving Selva one last hug, leaving with four of Walter’s prints.
Food shops abound. Butchers display stuffed wild boars, a speciality of the area. Karen thinks it’s gross but I love the rich taste. We are both taken with the gorgeous panfortes and different flavoured pastas, even chocolate!
We stop to admire many of the tiny hidden piazzas and stumble on a wine shop, tasting some of the area’s bounty and grazing on cheese. The merlots are sensational but, as usual, everything tastes great after a while. Another advantage of public transport – at least you can drink and ride.
We roll out of the wine shop and into another pasticceria, buying a huge panforte before bidding farewell to one of Tuscany’s prettiest towns. [This panforte made it all the way to Basel, in Switzerland, where we consumed the lot in one night playing cards with our friends.]
At Vallombrosa there is an 11th century hermitage, now the site of a beautifully decorated church and lively Benedictine congregation preparing equally lively distilled digestives. There are plenty of forest walks and abundant wildlife, and there’s a good trattoria preparing cheap, fresh food. Buses take about an hour and the journey alone is worth it.
Must-do: Visit the monastery for some "home brew", and look for deer and other wildlife on walks through the surrounding forests.
A Diary Extract…
A guy called Aldo told us about Vallombrosa. We met him in a bar in Greve-in-Chainti and he made the place sound like wonderland. We stocked up on market goodies in San Lorenzo and caught the bus. Two matronly women with overstuffed shopping bags were our only company as we climbed the hills.
Outside of Pelago the driver stopped to collect a drunk as he stumbled along the grassy verge of a hill near the village. A five-minute detour saw him safely delivered to his house, the driver helping him up the steps to the door, then inside. The drunk waved goodbye and I wondered about our public transport system at home.
The bus still climbs, the landscape changing to fir-wooded forests dusted with last night’s snowfall. At Vallombrosa village we are surrounded by pine forests, the air heavy with their scent and charged with the freshness of a brilliant white blanket under a cloudless sky. No one else is around and suddenly the world seems at peace.
We pass a frozen pond and a sign warning motorists about deer on the roads. Recharged by an espresso at the only (open) trattoria we explore some of the forest trails. We see many tracks and then some animals, grazing unconcerned near a clearing. They scatter and we continue, mesmerised by this wonderland. Aldo was right.
On a ridgetop we rest near a large standing cross overlooking the valley. There are rosary beads hanging from it. We feel like the only people on earth. Water erupted through frozen waterfalls, plummeting over rocks and into the forest. I bombed Karen with snowballs and she bombed me – harder.
Back in the village we visited the monastery, made famous in the 11th century by a Florentine nobleman who retired here as a hermit and founded a Benedictine congregation. The place seemed deserted but one of the monks kindly volunteered his services for an impromptu tour.
The monks also produce their own home brew, a range of firewater digestives sold alongside other standard offerings in a small gift shop. Digestives is right, this stuff would melt steel. We bought a few small bottles for posterity, waddling to the bus stop considerably warmer inside and very thankful we met Aldo in that bar in Greve-in-Chianti.
Vallombrosa - Benedictine Beauty and Home Brew
Local buses make the 20-minute trip to Fiesole’s main piazza, where it’s a short walk to the archaeological park and several interesting churches.
Must-do: Explore Etruscan relics in the archaeological park and trek up nearby Via di San Francesco for spectacular views of Florence, a Franciscan friary and 9th century church.
A Diary Extract…
The sun continues to shine and we catch the local number 7 bus to Fiesole, just north of the city. Apparently, much of this area is rich in Roman and Etruscan ruins and many archaeological sites can be explored.
At the fascinating archaeological park Karen found some relics in the rubble of the 2000-year old Roman amphitheatre, finally declaring them to be rusty nails discarded by workmen building the tearooms. My favourite is a series of 400BC Etruscan columns hidden in a small grove of bushes.
Bronze Age relics fascinate me and the museum here is one of the best we’ve seen – wonderful ceramics, bronzes and jewellery providing windows into a different world.
What would happen if we were forced to live as our ancestors did? Some societies even had flush toilets back then, some still haven’t got them today! How did they make such beautiful bronzes or know how to build amazing temples that would last 2,000 years? Is civilisation any smarter today? What will people think of our civilisation in 2,000 years? If there’s anything left. Guns for cooking pots, I reckon. Melt ‘em all down!
(Wow! Take a pill Dave, you’re on holidays mate.)
In Piazza Garibaldi we dined on crisp calzones, green salad and views of hilly countryside dotted with white-walled villas and a patchwork of fields. Karen was having a church-free day and found a secondhand Levi’s shop, so I climbed nearby Via San Francesco for a look at the little 9th century church of Sant’ Alessandro.
"This must be the world’s steepest street," I’m thinking, when I meet two 70-plus guys smoking and carrying their groceries home. I must be out of shape, either that or I need to start smoking.
Karen sat on a stone wall, taking pictures and sketching the view of Florence, spread out below in a palette of Tuscan hues gleaming in the afternoon light. She’d made a new friend, a black cat from one of the houses that purred approval while she drew.
In the end Karen ran out of film and light, but the changing mood of the city as a diving sun coloured the landscape rose, then orange, was special. Remember Via San Francesco in Fiesole for sunset views – steep, but worth it. Think of it as penance for all that gelato.
Fiesole - Walk with the Etruscans
To drive or not to drive.
Florence is Tuscany’s largest and most famous city. Writers, painters, sculptors and architects conspired during the Medici reign to produce an awe-inspiring monument to the Renaissance – a living museum. Today it’s also the region’s road and rail network hub and an ideal base for exploring.
Relax to a plan, plan to relax
Despite the city’s size, its centre is compact, mostly traffic-free and a delight to explore. Dozens of pensiones offer cheap and authentic lodging, and conveniently located public transport options make visiting the countryside a breeze. You’ll have no trouble planning excursions from a wide range of publications available from helpful Tourist Offices.
Florence was our Tuscan headquarters for twelve unforgettable days. The city seduced us as we adopted bars and little trattorias as our own, made new friends, and feasted on a smorgasbord of cosmopolitan culture and art. We relaxed, under no pressure to move on or conform to sightseeing schedules.
Half the time was spent exploring the countryside. On these days we’d gather picnic supplies at the bustling Mercato Centrale, then cross the road to the bus or train station and choose our destination.
Both stations issue simple schedules and provide regular, comprehensive services throughout the region. Anywhere in Tuscany is accessible in less than two hours and you'll never pay more than US$15 for a return ticket. We didn’t have to drive, park, change accommodation, or join any tour groups. We didn’t even have to worry about how much luscious Chianti Classico we drank! And we did it at our own pace – independently, easily and cheaply.
This journal includes some of our favourite day trips from Florence. Each destination entry has been designed to provide a mix of facts and personal insights from our travel diaries, hopefully conjuring some sense of place – what it was like to visit these fascinating and beautiful places, that sort of thing. Hope you enjoy the journey. We sure did.
One last thing. This one’s for the avid planner. Here’s a transport summary for the trips in this journal.
DAY TRIPS FROM FLORENCE - A SUMMARY
SIENA by direct rapid bus. Around 20 services a day taking about 70 minutes. L24.000 return (12 euros/US$11).
SAN GIMIGNANO by bus via Poggibonsi. Around 20 services a day taking 80 minutes. L20.000 return.
VALLOMBROSA by bus. Around 8 services a day taking about 80 minutes. L10.000 return.
PISA by second class train. Around 20 services a day taking about one hour. L16.000 return.
GREVE-IN-CHIANTI by bus. More than 20 services a day taking less than one hour. L10.000 return.
FIESOLE by local bus (number 7), taking around 30 minutes. L3.500 return.
Attraction | "Pisa - More Than a Cockeyed Tower"
A one-hour train ride delivers you to a modern station, the perfect place to commence a circuit walk around this fascinating city. There are maps available here for planning your route.
Must-do: Picnic in the Field of Miracles under the gaze of the Leaning Tower, discover the inventor of graffiti in Piazza dei Cavalieri, marvel at the tiny 13th century gothic church of Santa Maria della Spina and shop for bargains in the Borgo Stretto markets.
A Diary Extract…
The train journey takes about an hour through flat farming country. Campo dei Miracoli (The Field of Miracles) is just a little surreal. At one end, the famous Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) of Pisa is fenced off; too far gone and deemed too dangerous to visit, although the government still persists with various schemes to avoid it tumbling into oblivion.
The latest attempt is on display and attracts as many curiosity seekers as the Tower itself. Blocks of cement ballast the rather alarming tilt, but the jury is still out. Fronting the campo are several stalls offering snow domes, gilded effigies and "I been to Pisa" T-shirts.
The giant bronze doors of the Baptistry are special, designed by artist Pisano in 1180, the Duomo amazing. All mind-bogglingly wonderful but how easy it is to get churched out in this country. People picnicked on the lawns enjoying the sunshine – "KEEP OFF THE LAWN" signs deter no one. We join them, paninis and strawberries never tasted so good.
The town is interesting, provincial, and we admire the nearby highly decorated facade of the Palazzo Cavalieri. The building is covered with black and white designs called s’graffito – a stunning effect achieved by etching wet plaster or clay.
This façade, contrasted by the brilliant sienna-coloured crumbling render of the surrounding piazza buildings, holds Karen spellbound and we break for a customary espresso and pastry while she sketches. We are served by Robin Williams – well, not actually him, but his spitting image. He’s not as crazy, but carries a maniacal grin, a hint that he may be distantly related.
More elegant facades patched and faded with shutters of green and pale blue line the streets as we cross the River Arno to visit the tiny church of Santa Maria della Spina. The markets of Borgo Stretto are winding down for the day but the atmosphere still swings, offers of bargains abound as vendors compete to clear their stalls. We buy some fruit and pastries for the journey home as Karen asks me the name of Robin Williams’ café.
"Idiot," I say. "I forgot to write it down."
"Not really," explains Karen. "Now we’ll have to come back!"
Attraction | "Siena - Tales of Rivalry"
Today the city is famous for its cobblestone streets of sienna-coloured gothic buildings and one of Italy’s most magnificent piazzas. Express buses take about an hour and you’ll need a day to explore.
Must-do: People watch in Piazza del Campo, star gaze in the Duomo and explore the back lanes and hilly streets for unforgettable views and hidden treasures.
A Diary Extract…
At the Florence market Karen was told off (again) for picking her own fruit. No touchy feely here, the stallholder picks for you. An hour later we were in Siena, first stop was the toilet.
Karen returned covered in water. Hers was a "long drop" and water had flooded the floor, courtesy of an overturned bucket. She was explaining her saturated state when a (dry) English woman emerged from the next cubicle,
"Mine was a sit-down," she said, evidently amused.
I thought that was pretty funny. Karen didn’t.
Siena has a huge fan-shaped square, divided into nine segments to reflect the Council of Nine and something to do with Madonna’s cloak (not the singing one). After exploring the hilly streets we bought small freshly baked pizzas from a café to compliment our market goodies and sat in the main square, the Piazza del Campo. It felt like a colosseum.
Pigeons preened themselves in fountains while others scrounged for scraps. I love pigeons, they are so polite. Coloured flags sailed over the crowds as harassed tour guides gathered their charges. Teenage girls posed, looking oh-so-chic while boys practiced for the World Cup. Soccer balls bounced everywhere. We never had day trips like this when I was a kid.
After lunch we were followed by two lost, camera laden, colour-coded tracksuit clad oriental tourists, detouring to return them to their flock. They bowed and took our picture. At Casa di Santa Caterina, beautiful chapels and cloisters surround the house of Siena’s patron saint, Saint Caterina. It’s a peaceful refuge, decorated with paintings depicting her life. I wonder how she’d feel about having her preserved 650 year-old head in the church of San Domenico. The Catholic Church does have a fascination for preserving body parts!
Washing flies from balconies rendered in sienna, gold and lemon, window frames and doorways painted shades of turquoise, lime and cerulean blue. Old men in black suits sit on kitchen chairs in the narrow streets. Smoking, talking, reading, just looking. The Duomo beckons, its ceiling a child’s dream of blue and gold stars, its floor a canvas of intricate inlaid marble. It’s beautiful beyond description.
We return late in the day for our special moment. We pick a spot away from the dwindling numbers, behind an enormous column. And we lay on the floor and look at that ceiling.
Historic Centre of Siena
Regular buses visit the region’s villages, delivering you to Greve in under an hour. Excellent information about walks and attractions in the area is available from Tourist Offices in Florence.
Must-do: Walk to the old village of Montefioralle, visit a wine estate or sit with the locals in a rustic village trattoria enjoying the area’s produce.
A Diary Extract…
After bidding farewell to Mama Aily, we walked the few blocks to our new sanctuary at Maria Luisa de’ Medici and dumped our packs. The skies threatened and we chatted with Evelyn, the proprietress, over a hot chocolate (a welcome drink she said) before deciding to risk the elements and visit Greve-in-Chianti.
The bus was cosy, an undulating patchwork of fields and vineyards punctuated by rows of cypress trees almost hypnotic. The definitive Tuscan landscape.
An impeccably dressed woman who speaks excellent English runs the Tourist Office in Greve. Off-putting really, I found myself speaking English with an Italian accent. So hard to adjust. She offers us the loan of an umbrella but we’d brought one with us, then recommended a short walk up the hill to Montefioralle, a medieval castle town dating back to 12C.
Greve’s town square is Piazza Matteotti, an elegant triangle, lined with old buildings and arched facades. The annual Chianti Classico trade fare is held here each September, but today it’s deserted. Just a few businesses are open, serving a trickle of locals.
Olive groves and Cyprus Pines line the road to Montefioralle, a fortified hamlet occupying a ridge with sweeping views of the surrounding fertile valleys. Some of the streets are long, cobbled, pedestrianised semi-circles. Potted geraniums sit on doorsteps and window sills. Bright and manicured, they provide the only colour in this medieval setting.
I could imagine living here. It would be nice to live in a village where all the cars are left outside of town. The views are stunning, the hills blanketed by a gentle mist. I imagine it looked like this 200 years ago. The greens are lush, the dirt rich black under a red crust.
It rained on the way back to Greve, and we were happy for the refuge of a small bar, Caffe Le Logge, in the town square, a welcoming fire encouraging us to settle in.
We became locals this afternoon. A bottle of Chianti Classico, an assortment of local meats, cheeses and vegetables, and thick slabs of crusty bread littered our table. Men come and go on their work breaks, others play cards, kids charge around playing tag.
The rain stops and we're invited out the back to a small lawn and a game of bocce. We just made the last bus.
Greve-in-Chianti - Land of the Classico
Attraction | "Florence - A Day in the Life"
A Diary Extract...
Outside Mama Aily's we stop at our "local" for espresso and croissants. Guido and Aldo are here again, still arguing in the corner. The conversation sounds the same as yesterday but I guess we wouldn’t know any different. Across the ponte Vecchio we head for the Boboli Gardens, Karen repeating the name ad nauseum as we walk. I think she’s lost her marbles.
"Boboli, Boboli, Boboli."
There are cool, aromatic forests of ilex and cypress. We sit on the grass, enclosed by boxed hedges. Karen photographs red and yellow tulips. There aren’t many flowers, mostly wooded groves, statues and fountains - a lovely place to relax.
Across from the Pitti Palace we browse through an artsy jewellery store, chatting to an English girl working here. She’s been living in Florence with her Italian boyfriend for two years. Funny how you miss the ease of conversation when you can’t understand anything. She recommends a restaurant in the Oltrarno that serves spaghetti and clams for L12.000 and we write it down.
Back across the river we detour to greet Dylan, a grey-haired terrier living downstairs from mama, before picking up fresh paninis, melon and pastries from a bar that we eat at in Piazza Republica. All the museums are free this week -- some festival I can’t pronounce -- and we dive into the Palazzo Vecchio for some insight into the domestic indulgences of the Medicis.
At the Bargello we are more impressed. Michelangelo’s treasures surround us in this sculptors’ Renaissance Hall of Fame. All just a prelude to the main event. I’m going for the baci, zabaglione and pistachio today, Karen the limone and baci. Vivoli has 64 flavours and I reckon I’ve tried 20 of them, but I keep coming back to the baci.
We waddle towards Piazza Santa Croce (everything is Santa something here) and its 13C church, the world’s largest Fanciscan church the book says. This is more like a Renaissance Shrine of Fame. Michelangelo, Dante and Machiavelli are all here, even Galileo. Beautiful tombs. There are many visitors but it’s so silent. Time for a sobering espresso.
We percolate our way up via dei Neri to collect the washing. Karen lost a sock but she’s not worried – she has five more. When we return to Mama Aily’s the bundle of washing jogs her memory and she delivers fresh threadbare towels and asks me to open a jar of pickles.
We find the Borgo Antico on Piazza Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno, dining on fresh pasta with clams, too much red wine, a little dancing and a lot of laughing. Our best meal so far. It’s late but a nightcap beckons at the bar below mama’s and it’s here we meet Jimy and Maria. Jimy owns a leather stall at the market and Maria is studying to be a microbiologist.
They are infatuated with each other but deny it.
We instantly like both of them.