Florence for the Weekend

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We celebrated our fifth-year wedding anniversary in Florence, Italy. We went years ago for our first vacation together. The city is filled with history, art, narrow romantic streets and great food. How can you go wrong?!! We stayed at the Savoy, which is located right on the Piazza della Republic. Our room overlooked the busy square filled with music, vendors, and tourists taking in the sights. There is a carousal in the middle of the square that seems to spin all day and night!

We set out for lunch at the highly recommended café La Cantinetta Dei Verrazzano – also known as Verrazano. Verrazano is a wine company that has a couple of cafés in Florence – this one and a wine bar. La Cantinetta only serves breakfast and lunch and takes great pride in their wine and food pairings. We happened to arrive right before the usual lunch crowed lined up! We had lunch with a glass of wine and four different tastes of their famous focaccia. We had mozzarella with rocket (aka arugula), one that had tomato, mozzarella with rocket, and one that had prosciutto with rocket and a traditional one with tomatoes and olive oil. For “dessert” we had wine bread with cheese, and fresh honey scraped right off the honeycomb – with a little orange zest – all prepared at our table! It was delicious.

In Florence, there are some sights that are a must-see. Michelangelo’s David is one of them. After lunch, we went directly to the Accademia Gallery Museum where The David and many other sculptures by Michelangelo are on display. As you walk towards The David, the hall has the famous sculptures known as the Prisoners or also known as the Slaves. They are best described by the Accademia website: “These statues appear to be in various stages of completion in order evoke the enormous strength of the creative concept as they try to free themselves from the bonds and physical weight of the marble. It is now claimed that the artist deliberately left them incomplete to represent this eternal struggle of human beings to free themselves from their material trappings.” And then there’s David – magnificent and awe-inspiring. If you can, buy your ticket online – you will be able to bypass what could be a pretty long line. As an aside – if you need a ticket for any site that you plan on visiting on your travels, buy the ticket before you get there – it always saves time and sometimes money!

The David

Our first night, we crossed the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge and ate at a delightful restaurant called Il Santo Bevitore – a little local place where the food was creative, and the atmosphere warm and friendly. I ate a boar and ginger ravioli dish and yes, it was amazing! I also I had the zucchini soup that was so good, I wanted another bowl. We also had a thick bread soup and pasta with lamb and truffles.

The following morning, we visited the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly referred to as the Duomo Cathedral. It stands in the middle of the city and you can literally see it from everywhere. It’s a magnificent dome that is large, majestic and is the classic red roof of Florence. The Duomo speaks to the power of the Catholic church. You can get a ticket to climb the dome – a mere 463 steps, where you can stand on top of the Florence skyline.

Standing next to the Duomo is Giotto’s Bell Tower. This bell tower, which is part of the cathedral space, contains seven bells. You can climb all 414 steps for another incredible view of the city and amazing up-close view of the Duomo.

In the middle of it all is the Baptistry (aka The Baptistry of St. John). This is one of the oldest churches in Florence, dating back to the 4th century AD. It’s a small yet impressive building. Other than the beauty of its interior dome, the church has three sets of bronze doors. The south door was designed by the great sculpture Andre Pisano and the north and east doors were designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. These incredible doors are works of art all on their own. In fact, the original doors are in a museum so the doors that are on the baptistry are replicas. Standing in front of them, you understand why the original ones are safely kept in a museum.

We set up a guide for a tour of the massive Uffizi Gallery. We very rarely hire a guide for a museum since we are usually pretty happy with an audio tour and a brief walk around specific exhibits. The Uffizi is completely different. First of all, it is housed in what used to be an office building for the Medici family. They were the wealthiest and most powerful family in Florence. Second, it has some of the most incredible pieces of works from Michelangelo, Raphael and Da Vinci. Works of art, that even if you are not a person that goes to museums, will make you appreciate why the world celebrates these artists. The halls are lined with statues, the ceilings are painted with murals – art is everywhere!

This is the night we celebrated our anniversary. On our way to dinner, on a little side street, a street musician was playing the song that my wife sang to me at our wedding. I still get chills from that magical experience and the gift of this music as we walked to our anniversary dinner. We returned to the restaurant we had eaten in during our first visit – La Giostra Restaurant. The restaurant is family owned and we remember the owner so fondly for his fun and bigger than life personality. He has since passed away and his sons are running the restaurant. The have expanded it by adding a second dining room. Our meal was not the same as the first time, but it was a lovely and tasty meal just the same.

On our way back to the hotel we decided that we should stop for gelato. We found Perche No! but we said, Perche Yes!!! We were told that the gelato that’s mounded over the containers are whipped and hold too much air making them not a true gelato, but more like traditional ice cream. Therefore, you should look for gelato that is set in containers that are full but not overflowing. I’m not a connoisseur but I respected the advice!

This next morning, we adventured out all around Florence. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge again. I won’t embarrass myself and try to give you all the history and facts of the bridge. I will tell you that it’s very old, it has shops all across the span and it’s beautiful. The shops that are there now are the actual shop spaces that have always been on the bridge. They used to house local business such as butchers, leather shops and small food stores. Now, they are jewelry stores and tourist stops but it’s fun to go over it day and night.

We headed toward one of our favorite churches, Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte, which is right above the picturesque Piazzale Michelangelo. The Piazzale overlooks the city of Florence and Miniato looks over the Piazzale. The church is quiet and on top of the world! We fell in love with this church (and the walk to it) on our last visit so it was a must for this trip!

We had heard that Fort Belvedere, also across the Ponte Vecchio, affords great views as well. The Forte di Belvedere is an impressive structure, built to protect the Pitti Palace. It is sprawled over the hillside with its large fortress walls. It has a completely different view of the city. Inside, the fortress is home to the elegant Palazzina di Belvedere, older than the Forte and probably designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati around in the fifteen hundreds. The Palazzina became the Medici’s vault where they kept their possessions at the bottom of a well inside the building. It is said that whoever attempted to force open the lock would have set off a deadly trap that would pierce through them. Ouch. Today it is the host to art exhibitions and special events. One notable event is that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian got married there in 2014.

The Pitti Palace was built in the second half of the 14th century by Brunelleschi but was unfinished at his death. The palace was purchased in the 15th century by Eleonora da Toledo, the wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’Medici, thus becoming the official residence of the family.

Surrounding the palace are the beautiful Boboli Gardens. It’s like the botanical gardens of Florence! The rolling hills are filled with flowers, trees, sculptures and fountains! There are separate sections exhibiting beautiful combinations of certain plants, flowers and groupings of sculptures. You can just imagine the royal family strolling through the gardens. We found a shady little area and ripped into some bread and cheese!

The Pitti Palace required a ticket because it also has a vast and important art collection. We passed on the collection and decided to walk back to our hotel.

This night we ate at Gargani Trattoria. A sweet local restaurant that had just reopened after the summer holiday. The staff was friendly and inviting. We ordered the classic chicken livers and I ate a delicious plate of linguini and clams!

On our last day we took a wine tour in Tuscany. We went with a tour company that was able to put together a day tour of two wineries, lunch and shopping time in the city of San Gimignano. We boarded a small bus with six other people and made our way to the first winery. The Tenuta Casanova Winery is in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. They are an organic and farm-based wine maker. They also produce olive oil, balsamic vinegar and they even have their own truffle sniffing dog! We had a lovely lunch and delicious wine overlooking the vineyard. Like all wine tours – while we ate and drank, we ordered wine and truffle oil to be shipped home!

We then went to San Gimignanol. This little town is an old walled city that is now filled with shops and cafés. We walked around and shopped and stopped for a glass of wine…I wasn’t driving so why not?!!

On to the next winery Tenuta Torciano, an established older winery with a bustling tasting business. The tasting was interesting and fun and of course, the food pairings were delicious!

Back in Florence we had our last meal of the trip at Sostanza Trattoria, upon the recommendation of Felice’s recently reconnected high school friend. This small, family established restaurant has been in business for over 150 years and is serving one of the best meals we had in Florence. We had their famous butter chicken. I will post this recipe on my blog after I experiment with it. The restaurant was a perfect ending to our wonderful little trip to Florence.

That’s it! Art, history, wine and food. Really, is there anything better?

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