The duomo, the old streets, the ponte vecchio, the chianti, the food, oh my god! Florence was incredible! The city was beautiful and the food was divine. Or maybe it should be the other way around since it seem like you can't walk five minutes without hitting another famous church... Either way, delicious!
We arrived late Thursday night which didn't give us much chance to explore or eat, but let us get off to an early start Friday. We began the day with cornettos (the Italian word for croissant) from a small cafe, but not before walking around the Duomo which was a block from our hostel. Mine was buttery and flaky with a sweet jelly filling and my friend had the chocolate, which was basically just filled with a ton of Nutella. Yum! Then, in an attempt to find the train station and a walking tour of Florence, we ended up basically doing our own and passing by every tourist sight along the way including the Arno river, Piazza della Signoria and Loggia de la Signoria, Basilica de San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella church and the Piazza Republica. We then made our way to the the San Lorenzo leather market and the central food market. The street was filled for about a mile with vendors selling gloves, jackets, bags, wallets, and a few tourist gimmicks while the stores that actually line the street sold "finer" leather. In the middle of all this haggling and commotion is the food market. The market is essentially housed in a HUGE warehouse with types of food divided by section. In one section, butchers sell all types of meat imaginable, including some intestines not fit to name in a food blog, and in the next section are a few sandwich shops utilizing their neighbors' goods. Nearby there were stalls selling fresh noodles and a huge variety of sauces while across the aisle a shop sold, and sampled, cheeses and oils. There were also a lot of shops selling fresh sun dried tomatoes and dehydrated porcini mushrooms that all looked delicious! In the back was my favorite area, the fishmongers, selling very fresh looking fish and seafood. Wandering the market left us very hungry so we poped in a small pizza restaurant for lunch. I ordered the four cheese and it was perfect! The crust had a nice crunch, the cheese tasted very fresh and the olive oil on top was so fresh you could really make out the flavor of olives in the oil. Reenergized, we admired the Cathedral of the Duomo before climbing to the top of the dome. The 463 steps was tiring but the view from the top left us breathless, or maybe we were out of breath from the steps. From the balcony, I could see all of Florence in every direction: the richly orange clay tile roofs, luscious green countryside and mountains just past the city, and the villas that call the mountains home. Exhausted from the climb, it was absolutely necessary to get some gelato. Unfortunately, we chose an extremely touristy and overpriced place but the stracciatella was deliciously creamy and the strawberry fresh, almost like sorbet. With the sugar boost, we went to the Uffizi where we examined all of the ancient and religious art. Exhausted, we went back to the hostel to rest and enjoy their complimentary wine and homemade bruschetta before heading to dinner. For dinner, we went to Antica Trattoria Il Giardino where we noshed on crunchy bread, fresh olive oil and delightfully tart balsamic vinegar while pouring over the menu. I settled on a simple spaghetti ala pomadoro. The fresh tasting noodles were truly prepared al dente and the tomato sauce was fresh with a little garlic, some basil, and a dash of cream. It was delicious!
|Fresh pasta (above) and a variety of mushrooms and truffles (below) for sale in the Central Food Market.|
Saturday, we began the day in a sweet shop for breakfast, because what better way is there to start the day? I ordered a cannoli from Gran Cafe San Marco that was to die for! The dough was flaky yet buttery and nearly melted in your mouth. The cream filling was delightfully sweet with flavors of some liquor and mini chocolate morsels. The filling on both ends was covered in a layer of finely chopped, fresh, pistachios and the whole thing was doused in powdered sugar. It was the perfect start to the day! We then walked across the Ponte Veccio to the Palacios Piatti where we explored the magnificent state rooms and apartments. Out of all the castles I've visited so far in Europe, besides maybe Versailles, this was hands down the best value. For only 13 euros, we got to see around 35 palace rooms and two art exhibits. Each room also had placards detailing the use of the room under several of the different families who resided there, including the Medici family. The rooms ranged in style from noe-classical Italian frescos to more opulent gold decor. For lunch, we went to I Fratellini, a tiny sandwich shop and wine bar off a side street right near the very touristy street connecting the Uffizi and the Duomo. Despite its proximity to a giant tourist area, we were among the only people in line speaking English and the sandwiches tasted incredibly authentic. The shopfront was so small one man took orders while the other prepared my crudo and pecorino sandwich. Pecorino is the main cheese made near Florence and it's incredibly fresh flavor supported this fact. The ham was just salty enough to pair nicely with the warm bread and the fresh, creamy, and slightly nutty cheese. The tiny restaurant also sold very cheap local wine by the glass, which people could enjoy right there on the sidewalk. It was then time to meet David, or more accurately, pay a lot to go to the Academia and see Michelangelo's famous David. I was a little dubious of everyone's said awe at the statue, I mean I'd seen the image thousands of times, but my doubt was instantly erased as I walked up the hallway towards the behemoth of a statue. The first thing that strikes you is the sheer size, the next is the lifelike proportions and the final is the incredible details like veins in the arm, hand, and feet which stick out in a frighteningly realistic manner. I definitely get the awe now. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the side streets in less touristy areas and going to see the synagogue, which I couldn't go into on a Saturday. To make up for my disappointment at not being able to go inside the synagogue, I went to get more gelato. This time, the place was far less touristy and my tiramisu mouse and pistachio gelato were delightful. The pistachio had a lovely nutty richness to it and the mouse was airy with a great blend of flavors: liquor, coffee, cinnamon and a hint of chocolate. Dinner Saturday night was definitely my favorite meal. We went to Osteria del Gatto e la Volpe, which came highly recommended by basically every American who's ever been to or studied in Florence. As I was warned before, the bread and balsamic are delicious enough to fill up on. The bread is chewy, almost like American pizza dough, and seasoned with Italian seasonings and a little tomato paste. The balsamic is their own concoction resembling a balsamic dip more than vinegar because of, I'm guessing a simple syrup, that makes the vinegar thick and sweet. It was so good! I then had some bruschetta, which was apparently invented in Florence. The toast was crispy, saturated with olive oil and delightful. The tomatoes were fresh and very lightly seasoned, although I poured a generous amount of the balsamic syrup on top. For my main course, I ordered the ravioli with ricotta,spinach, and tarfuto (truffle). The ravioli was incredibly fresh and the ricotta inside had a mild sweetness. The light cream sauce was made up of spinach, which helped balanced the incredibly rich flavor of the truffle oil. The rich truffle oil also served to bring out more of the cheese's sweetness. I ate every last bite and soaked up the extra sauce with my bread. It was that good! After dinner, we walked with some friends studying there to a "hidden gem" gelato spot near their homestays in a very residential area. We were the only people inside speaking English, a good sign, but I was overwhelmed by the amount of flavor choices. I finally chose the dark chocolate which was so dark it was almost black in color. It was very good, tasting almost like brownie batter, but incredibly rich; it was too rich to even finish. The coffee gelato I had on top however was my favorite of my time in Florence with it's creamy wonderfulness and delightful coffee taste.
Florence was a beautiful city, exactly how I imagined Italy to be, and the food was incredible! As I write this entry, I'm on a train through the picturesque countryside to Rome, so expect another gelato and pasta filled entry soon!