Saturday, 17 March 2007
The Eurostar train to Florence from Roma Termini was really nice. There were complimentary snacks and coffee as well as newspapers in first class. We found our hotel in Florence, Grand Hotel Adriatico, with no problem as it is near Santa Maria Novella Rail Station.
As it was only noon and our rooms were not ready, we deposited our bags and went out to explore. We had a wonderful outdoor lunch at La Madia near the Duomo. They had their own label house red wine which was superb. We had pasta and salad while sitting outside on that brilliant spring afternoon.
We saw the Duomo as well as the Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo. The key piece there, to me, is Donatello’s Mary Magdalene carved in wood. Upon returning to our hotel, we got our luggage and moved into our rooms. There was a great view of the city from the window and of the hills beyond. The Grand Adriatico is a nice, larger hotel. It is seven stories and has full services. We could find no fault with it during our four-night stay.
We had planned to go out for dinner, stopping first at Bar Amerini, a nice, post-modern place. We were the only non-Italians as nearly as I could tell. Tam and I had beers and we filled up on nice little finger foods which came with the drinks. We were having such a great time, we decided to stay there. We split up some panini which we ordered. It was more than enough after a big lunch. We stayed until 9pm. It was a fun evening. We started exchanging quotes from Firesign Theater albums, which dates us, I know, and couldn’t stop laughing.
On the way back, we stopped at an Internet place next to the hotel where it is €2 for an hour's use. The time does not have to be continuous so we were able to use our password for the whole time we were in Florence. They also sell beer and snacks. Moretti beer was only €1.50 for a large bottle. One thing to keep in mind is that Internet point operators are required to have verifiable ID of all customers, so you will need to have your passport with you. Only one place we went to failed to ask for ID.
Sunday, 18 March 2007
There was a great buffet breakfast at the hotel which was included in the room price. They even had bacon and eggs, though I didn’t eat any. Why do that when there is fresh fruit salad, yogurt, croissants, cheeses, cold cuts and so on? They also had cappuccino and regular coffee for those who insist, as well as fruit juices. I had a nice chat in Italian with one of the waiters, an older fellow, who was most attentive and charming.
We saw the Accademia later in the morning. We got timed tickets for both it and the Uffizi through the hotel. Naturally, David was the highlight of L’Accademia and seemed just as imposing as when I saw it in 1972. At the Uffizi we concentrated on Botticelli and Caravaggio and the other major works. We were nearing Stendhal Syndrome by the end. I thought I saw myself in one of the paintings, or myself as a young man. Tam verified that the resemblance was uncanny. I’m just glad it wasn’t a hallucination. Of course maybe she was just humoring me.
All of that museum-going requires one to fuel up so we had cappuccinos and panini at a bar on Piazza del Duomo in between galleries and had beers at a bar on the way back to the hotel. They had very long glasses of Moretti on tap which really hit the spot.
We had dinner at Trattoria La Burrasca which is north of Santa Maria Novella. It is in the 2007 Rick Steves Guide. It was a great, family-run place. Tam and I had bistecca alla fiorentina and patate fritte. I had a salad with mozzarella and prosciutto. Everything was excellent.
We took a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano, booked through Viator on Monday. The buses were easy to find at Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia across from Santa Maria Novella and the operators were efficiently organized.
The trip through the countryside was nice though, unfortunately, it was a rainy day. Our guide in Siena, Roberta, was wonderful. She imparted a wealth of knowledge about her native city which she obviously loves. It is a great place. We had an architectural orientation, saw the interior of the Duomo and had an explanation of the various contrade, or quarters, of the city and the fierce rivalries between them centering on the Palio horse race every summer. I talked with her some in Italiano about my student days in Siena in 1972.
We had lunch at a pizzeria on the Campo. It was quite good and is a change from 1972. Then there was only one pizza place that I can recall and it was not good at all. Now it seems you can get good pizza everywhere. I know that sounds odd, but pizza in Italy was not the national food that it is now, or certainly not the ubiquitous one of today at any rate.
Everyone split up after eating to spend the 45 minutes or so of free time we had left. I went to the Museo della Tortura which is just off the Campo because they had some wax figures and, yes, I am a fan of wax museums. Everyone has a secret. The admission also entitled one to enter the Museo della Pena di Morte (Museum of Capital Punishment) in San Gimignano so I went there as well. I spent most of my time at the latter talking with the girl at the desk about languages and how I came to speak Italian.
Tam and I each had gelato while waiting to meet up in the Campo for the walk back to the bus. By then it had started to pour again. When we got to San Gimignano, we went to a bar for cappuccinos then shopped some. The town reminded us some of Quebec City as it has a long street lined with shops descending from a height. San Gimignano seems a pleasant place. We were sorry it was a rainy day, but enjoyed the stop nonetheless.
We ate dinner at Trattoria Masò which is across the street from the hotel. Tam and I both had rigatoni with a spicy salsa and pork pizzaiola. It was yet another good dining experience. The outdoor patio was covered and there were heaters so we ate outside which was quite pleasant.
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
This was the day dedicated to shopping as all the previous ones were spent sightseeing and museum-going. We got household items at La Gioia della Casa (www.gioiadellacasa.it) which is on via Sant’Antonio near Santa Maria Novella.
Despite the rain and chill we squeezed in a visit to the Museo della Scienza and the Bargello Museum, mainly to see Donatello’s David. We had lunch at Eat and Go, a tavola calda, on via Vecchereccia. You pick what you want and they heat it and bring it to your table. It was surprisingly good. We had salads and pasta dishes and some of the red wine I bought.
We decided to have one last memorable dinner, and that it was. We ate at La Buca dell’Orafo near Ponte Vecchio. Reservations are a must as it is a small family-run place. For primo piatto I had ribollita, which was exquisite, and Tam had pasta e fagioli. I had filetto di manzo (beef filet) for a main course. It was indescribably delicious for any carnivore. Tam had lamb, also delicious. Everything they have is a local product and the restaurant is an adherent to the Slow Food movement which started in Italy.