Firenze, Ti Amo.

Trip Start Dec 17, 2008
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Florence, I love you.  Florence, WE love you.  Ahh..... Italy. It was good to be back.

After the train ride from Pisa, we checked in to our little family run pensione.  "Bruno" and his wife with painted eyebrows checked us in to a lovely modest little room with a peek-a-boo view of the copper-clad dome of the mosque in the neighborhood.  Bruno spoke English well, but I was able to try out a few Italian sentences on his wife.  Success!  She brought us some fragoli (strawberries) as a welcoming gift.  I love Italy!

I asked Bruno if the room included breakfast in the morning.  I was just curious since I couldn't remember what the reservation said.  He told me no, which was fine with us too.  It's fun to breakfast with the locals at the cafe bar anyways.  However, the next morning we were only up for about two minutes when a knock came at our door.  To our surprise, there was Bruno waiting with a tray of toasted cheese, croissants, strawberries, juice, and coffee!  Bellisimo!  I don't want to know how Bruno knew we were awake at that precise moment.  His timing was truly impeccable.  Maybe he just decided we should be up by 8:00 already?  In any case, it was a genuine and welcomed gesture. 

We actually stayed in two different hotels during our stay.  Originally we thought we'd try and head to Sienna for a couple of nights, but changed our minds at the last minute.  I'm happy we stuck around Florence for the whole trip, but that meant leaving charming Bruno.  However, the second place we stayed was amazing and a great location with an even better view.  It was the perfect amount of time to really feel like we knew the city.  We had four full days and it allowed us the pleasure of taking it easy when we wanted to.  There's nothing like having the time to sit back and relax with a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe and take it all in.  What a treat!  The weather was amazing too.  After leaving chilly England, all we wanted to do was soak up some balmy heat. 

One of my favorite things is always the typical street-scape of European cities.  The skinny cobblestone streets were not made for today's lifestyle, so scooters rule the road.  Whether it is a line of clothes strung from one building across to the other side, or a little restaurant gem tucked away that only locals frequent, every little alley hides a treasure.  The absolute best part was every once in a while getting a glimpse of the Duomo, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, peeking out in the distance behind a building or down an alley.  Oh, Brunelleschi's Duomo... an architectural icon.... It's Architectural History 101.   It's the "who's who" of domes and a must see on the "must see list." You get the picture.  I was very excited to see it for the first time. Completed in 1436, it's a commanding and awesome structure!  We trekked up some 400 odd steps between the inner and outer skins of the dome to the cupola for an amazing view of the cathedral itself, the campanile (bell tower), and the city of Florence.  It was a sea of terra cotta and bell towers with the Tuscan hills in the background. 

Of course one of the highlights was also the food.  It just seems like you can't go wrong in Italy, and if you do, you must be doing something wrong.  Sure, there are mediocre restaurants, but even mediocrity seems far more acceptable there than other places.  We headed one night across the Ponte Vecchio to the south side of the river Arno in search of an authentic restaurant frequented by locals.  We found it, and with it came the most memorable and delicious meal of the trip. Good food always seems to be so important on so many of our trips and we make it our mission to search out the most authentic experience we can find, complete with the local beverage of choice.  That night we had the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina.   Oh, my.  Think of the thickest steak you can, cooked perfectly medium rare, and sliced to perfection and made to share.  It was amazing!  After antipasti, primi, and secondi courses, we were just about obligated to finish off with dessert and coffee.  Dessert included biscotti and sweet wine for dipping.  And did I mention we enjoyed our first ever "all you can drink" Chianti?  It was like we died and went to heaven... with a major buzz.

I made it my goal to consume at least one gelato a day.  I am happy to report that I achieved my goal.  Like many things there, the stuff is just too damn good.  It's hard not to come back from a vacation in Italy with your belt a little tighter, no matter how much walking you do during the day.  The food is so fresh, the markets spill over with fresh produce, and nearly all the meats and cheeses are local. It's just a food lover's delight.  I challenge anyone to order a salad or bruschetta that does not include the most perfectly ripen tomatoes.  It's just not possible.  Food preparation is something the Italians really take pride in and the enjoyment of food and good drink is so ingrained in the culture that it's a way of life.  I think that's part of what draws me here and why I can imagine coming back time and time again.  I just love it.

We did do other things besides eating.  We saw countless cathedrals, paintings, statues, piazzas, and architectural wonders, but perhaps Florence's most famous statue, Michelangelo's David, was what really struck a chord with me.  I was unprepared for how magnificent it would be, or how it would make me feel when I saw it.  I mean, it is so famous that i figured it might be a let down as sometimes things are.  Not this one.  It's hard to describe the feeling of seeing it for the first time... a work of art that most of us probably learned about ages ago in art history class.  It was perfection, truly.  I managed to get one photo off before an angry looking woman  tersely told me there were no photos allowed.  Oops.  I didn't see the sign.  You'll notice her coming straight at me in the photos.  Wandering closer to it, it became even more entrancing... the detail of the veins in his hand, the muscle tone, his deep set eyes.  It is truly a remarkable piece of art.  From every angle he changes and draws you in and it's as if Michelangelo actually molded the marble to his will.  I could have stayed and looked at him for hours.  I know that sounds silly, but it's true.  David was and is absolute perfection.

Well, after writing about David, I'm not sure what can follow, so I suppose I'll wrap this one up.  It's no secret I hold a special place in my heart for Italy.  There are so many things about it that I love.  I already can't wait to go back.
-molly
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