Sunday, June 1, 2014

Kissing the Boar in Firenze

We all woke up in Rome ready for our next adventure. Mine started out a little rough, a queasy stomach. I passed on going up to the roof for breakfast and brewed a cup of chamomile tea in the room. Nate brought me a yogurt but by then I couldn't keep anything down. We had to make our way to the train station to catch the train to Florence (Firenze) the capital of Tuscany. No one else got sick so I had to assume it was that nice cold glass of water from the tap in our bathroom that I drank last night.  Luckily I was packed so I made my way to the "farmacia". After much gestulating to my stomach and it's contents coming out of my mouth the woman figured out what to give me. Another woman who worked there spoke English and assured me that the Diosmectal powders would work. She said just keep taking them until you stop vomiting. How was I going to make it onto that train I wondered? Well I mixed the first packet with some "bottled" water and kept it down until I was settled in my seat near the bathroom. That came up. I decided to forgo taking anymore until we arrived.
In Florence, our hotel, the Ambasciatori was directly across from the station but it may well have been 10 miles away the way I was dragging. The lobby was like Alice in Wonderland meets hi Tech. Our rooms were very modern and crisp. The view out of our window was of rooftops and the bus station across the street.  No matter all I needed was another little packet of that powder and some sleep. It was a rainy cold day when my friends set out to explore the city. 

Hotel Ambasciatori lobby

Nate went to school there for 6 months so she knew her way around. We had tickets to see David at 4pm in the Galleria dell 'Accademia. I was hoping to be able to rally for that.
I dozed off and my stomach settled down. Sometime in the early afternoon I heard a key turning in our room's door. The door burst open and a woman entered, she saw me and apologized, scurried out and closed the door. Was it a maid that had to use the bathroom or was just checking the room? Strangeness. We used the room safe just to be safe.
The next time the door opened Nate came in. She was very damp from walking around in the rain. I told her I felt better and was ready to go to the Galleria. We bundled up and headed out to meet Mike and Vilia who were huddled in a doorway with their umbrella. Fortunately we were able to catch a taxi. They filled me in on their afternoon walking around and about the wonderful lunch they had of a cornmeal like focaccia and paninis. I was bummed.

Vilia saw this while walking around as I slept.
I would have loved to have tasted that Spaghetti w. artichokes and pork belly

Can't believe I missed this too!
We arrived at the Galleria dell'Accademia. What a magnificent place! First of all Michelangelo's David is a jaw dropping sculpture displayed in the Tribune section of the museum. It was carved from a huge piece of marble that had been rejected by two other sculpturers due to the many imperfections. The marble was forgotten for 25 years until Michelangelo took on the project originally slated for the Cathederal of Florence.  Once it was finished a committee made up of other local artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Bottocelli and a few other pals that Michelangelo hung out with decided to give the statue a special place to be viewed by all. It was actually displayed outside on the Piazza della Signoria from 1504 to 1873 when it was moved into the Galleria dell'Accademia to protect it from further weathering.
There were many more wings and rooms to explore with more of his sculptures, many unfinished, plus busts, Renaissance paintings and musical instruments by other 14th-16th century artists. It was fascinating. I can see why so many students choose to study at the University of Florence.  Here is a good link for more information on the Galleira . We were not allowed to take pictures.

The drizzle had stopped so we took a walk around the neighborhood. Nate pointed out the Duomo (which is the focal point of all of Florence), Florence Cathedral and this magnificent Carousel in the Piazza della Rebublica. We spent alot of time in this Piazza as this is where the outdoor vendors are located. We quickly walked through the huge leather markets vowing to return the next day.
Carousel of the Picci Family in Piazza della Republica

We wrapped up this day dining at a restaurant recommended by our hotel which happened to be right around the corner, Trattoria dall'Oste . It served "Cucina Tipica Toscana specialita Bistecca Alla Fiorentina". Florentine steak is like none other so I am told. It is from young Tuscan Chianina beef cattle. The beautiful white beasts are stand 6 ft tall and are fed corn, barley and of course beans, the starch of choice in Tuscany. Steaks from them are not wimpy Porterhouse steaks these are huge thick steaks usually 1 1/2-2lbs ea. meant to be shared by a small army. They are usually served on a bed of Arugula which is in itself funny being the most delicate of greens but I guess the peppery flavors complement the beef. We were not up to it, me especially. Mike did have a formidable pork chop, I had a wonderful Tuscan Minestrone and Vilia and Nate had pasta. The restaurant was filled with locals but our waiter was wonderfully entertaining and helpful.
This was the first and only meal that I did not drink wine with. Shocking. I stuck to San Pellegrino instead.

Tratorria dall'Oste's enticing butcher case
We had a private walking tour planned for the next morning. I was feeling much better and looked forward to a good night's sleep.

All of us were up early for breakfast in the Asian inspired dining room named "Harmony". We were sure it had recently been renovated due to the odd smell of glue or paint. The fare was really good. Gallon size jars of Nutella, good breads, fruit, yogurt, fluffy eggs, sliced meats, pastries and more. The only hang up was the line to get your warm beverage IE coffee, tea. The machines were fantastic but slow as they doled out tiny espressos with one button and frothy milk with another and hot water for tea (me) with yet another. I can't believe I never took pictures of these buffet breakfasts.
We bundled up for the chilly walk around tour. Our guide was charming. He was a professor at the University and did this on the side. I had to look twice to make sure it wasn't my friend Bob Duffy, they look so similar. Off we went to look at the statues that graced the sides of many buildings. He explained that the posture of the statues represented different eras, Renaissance, Modern, Middle ages etc. It was intense and we were freezing. Vilia was the star pupil as she studied art and could actually figure out what he was explaining and answer his questions, yes, we were quizzed. We walked by the Brunelleschis Dome, Piazza della Signoria (where the David statute stood for all of those decades) and over the Pontevecchio Bridge, which spans the Arno river, to the local farmer's market.
It wasn't much of a market due to the weather but there was a very pretty flower booth that was manned by our guide's sister. They laughed and kissed each other and introduced us to her. He then led us into an ancient church to warm up a bit.  It was obviously a neighborhood church, not ornately adorned as most are but so so old! We went back through the Vasari Corridor past all of the Goldsmiths and Jewelry shops which have been there since the 1500's.
Vasari Corridor in forefront, Pontevecchio Bridge in background( the tallest bridge)
Two and a half hours later we ended our tour at the offices of  Walk and Talk Tours. We collected our refrigerator magnets, said our "Grazies and Ciaos and headed for the nearest Bar which happened to be Bar Condotta. I didn't care if they charged us more to sit at the little bistro tables we just sat down and ordered pannini and wine. As it turned out they did not charge extra if you ordered food. Okay, bathroom time. Now we were back in the Middle Ages, hole in the floor, lean back against a porcelain concave thing and try to concentrate. No toilet paper because there wasn't a toilet!
The hand washing sink was the same faucet used to fill the floor washing buckets and there were no towels. I guess we are spoiled. No problem Vilia and I carried hand sanitizers.
We felt compelled to explore more of  Florence's history so off to the Galleria degli Uffizi we went.
The Medici family ruled Florence in the 14th century and built this museum to house many works of art. And many there were. We saw so many beautiful paintings and other artifacts that we were dizzy. Check out this link to learn more about Uffizi (which means "offices" as it originally housed the offices of the Medici businesses), especially the paintings of which my favorite was "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Bottecelli. I happen to have a similar rendition in my bathroom from a local artist.
Birth of the Surfer Venus
Next stop was back to the leather markets and the infamous Boar. Florence is one of the Fashion capitals of Italy for the rich and famous but for us poor tourists the outdoor markets are our meccas. This particularly famous one has a huge statute of a Boar (cianghale). Tradition has it that if you kiss the boar you are guaranteed to return to Florence. My question is would you live to return knowing that 1.5 million people give or take a few kiss that thing per year? It was fun to watch but I did not partake seeing that I just got over a little setback and too many little kids were slobbering on it.
Would you kiss that? Thousands do.

We retreated deeper into the market. I hadn't seen this much leather since Tijuana! The purses, luggage, belts, jackets and whatever else they could craft from a tanned animal skin were represented. All I knew is that I wasn't going home without a jacket. It was agonizing work. The shop keepers dragged you in to try on these little beauties but to decide almost brought me to tears. I lost Vilia, Mike and Nate and knew I would not make a purchase without some one's help. What I thought was pretty cool, Vilia, for instance put the kabosh on when I finally found her. A decision was made for a pretty soft brownish short jacket that was wayyy too tight when zipped up. The Italian scoffed and said "You Americans wear your clothes too loose. Just wait, this look will be all the rage soon". I believed him and bought the jacket. Vilia approved. I wear it alot and love the fit. All of my other jackets are too loose. We knew we had half a day tomorrow to come back and continue shopping so we left to find a place for wine and a cocktail for Mike. He did keep up his tradition of Vodka at 5pm. I don't remember the place we found but it was perfect. You can't get a bad glass of wine here. It is against the law.
Now we were hungry. You can catch cabs at certain designated stops at the base of the Pontevecchio bridge. It was raining pretty hard but we got lucky and snagged one. Nate was in charge as she was the "local ist" one of us all. The driver suggested two places and one stuck out that she used to go to when she was living here. Acqua AL2 or, Acqua due as it is called, was our choice. It was a very pretty place and very big. Nate particularly remembered the "samplers" they had of pasta and salad. She ordered pasta and we ordered the salads for the table. I was determined to get a "tipica Firenze bistec" since they offered smaller steaks on the menu. Mike got a really good Filet with blueberry sauce, Vilia ordered Tagliatelle with mushrooms which as it turned out was one of the sampler pastas. Of course we had a great bottle of Tuscan wine sporting the black rooster. The pasta sampler was amazing! Three little plates of pastas all tasting fantastic. Fusilli with spicy tomato sauce, little shells with broccoli pesto and the very beauty presentation of Tagliatelle with mushrooms and fava beans. Nate had no trouble polishing them off! A man walked through the dining room and Nate said " I think that is the owner, "so and so". She called the waiter over and he confirmed it was indeed the owner. He called "so and so" over and Nate was bursting at seeing him again. She mentioned her visits to this place and hanging out with friends while she was in school and he seemed to remember her. They talked about mutual friends and one thing led to another and they were old friends again. He sent out complimentary desserts.
Come to find out this restaurant has two locations in the U.S.A. Washington DC and San Diego.

We walked around and found the place Nate lived when she was here. I took pics but my camera did does not take good night shots. Anyway it was so neat that she could show her parents this place.
Piazza in Nate's old neighborhood

Back at the hotel we decided to go up to the bar and check it out. That smell... but we perservered with more wine and good laughs at our days adventures.
Next morning we packed up and took a last walk around our area of Firenze. It is a very large city with so many Piazza's, Cathedrals, shops and so little time. We managed to get back to the markets and buy a few souveniors before embarking on the train to Venezia.
Mike needed to be prepared for the train ride. Couldn't believe he bought that in Italy!