Italy Country Profile
Florence Italy - Two visits - 1999 and 2002
Florence 2002 Slide Show
Florence Italy - The Return  - April 30 to May 5, 2002

April 30 - Tuesday - An early flight to Rome and easy train ride through the countryside and past small and mid-size villages on the way to Santa Terminia in Florence. After settling in at our pensione, we walked out around the Piazza de, took a few photos and checked the hours for the Uffizi and Palacio Vecchio. Stopped for lunch on little side street off the square and had a wonderfully fluffy egg pasta with a touch of garlic topped with melted cheese and a salad of peccorino, rocket, thinly shaved raw baby artichokes, radicchio and drizzled with olive oil, Villa de Uzzanti chianti, follwed by Castangola Vino Santi and biscotti. We ducked in to a couple of ceramic shops (lovely wares from local artisans), then returned to our room for a siesta. 

Around 6 pm we went out for another walk about headed northeast, checking menus and peeking into shop windows, enjoying the "eye candy" on display. A stop at Piazza de Limbo took us into a small shop that specialized in olive oils and balsamico where we enjoyed little tastes and the friendliness of the shop owner. Then on towards the Arno - a casual stroll down the arcaded area where we were amused to watch the street hawkers scramble to grab up their wares and escape the police! We caught the first tints of sunset across the Arno as we watched a rower pull his boat under the Ponte Vecchio. From there, we wandered up through the Uffizi courtyard, checked out some pretty tintoretti (aquatint art), then up to the Piazza de Republic, Edison bookstore, and off to dinner at a small place we'd spotted earlier. Dinner started with Funnetta d'olio bono (grilled garlic toast) followed by Tagliatelli con funghi porcini (fresh and delicate), Florentine sausage with potatoes au gratin, Anatra (duck) con balsamico over arugula, the house chianti - all tasty. Now back in our room by 11 to get some sleep before serious excursions tomorrow.

01/05/02 Wednesday - Up and out for coffee and pastry at Gilli - fancy delightful turn of the century place. First stop the Baptistry of the Duomo - perhaps the most impressive mosaic works ever seen - stunning colors, gold, marble, floor was fine settings of multiple designs in marbles. Tried to see the Accademia, but it was closed for May Day as were virtually all shops - made for a very quiet street scene. Next stop was San Lorenzo - saw the cloister, then the church - fabulous paintings, exquisite altar, marble sculptures, cappeli outstanding - Medici tombs closed. On to Santa Maria Novella - green & white marble trim on a pale gray background, nave was high to the point of abandonment, cold design, but fabulous frescoes (most restored) - this church was not a Medici product - the green and white marble exterior made it look wider and not so tall. Lunch at Dante & Gabriella's - farfalle with smoked salmon, risotto with peas, florentine tripe, chicken in cream sauce with a bottle of Rocco della Masia chianti. Siesta.

Out for our passeigiata across the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the Arno, browse of windows then up to the Ponte Alla Grazie (above the PV) and sunset - clouds of tiny bats swooping flies from the air as we watched the sun fade - lovely cool evening. Paused to listen to a classical flautist in the Uffizi courtyard - sadly drowned out by amplified music that seemed annoyingly out of place. A stop for pizza 4 staggione and a cheese platter (mozzarella de bufalo, gorgonzola, tender peccorino and parmesano) served with fresh bread, olive oil, bitter lettuce, bottle of Antinori Santa Christina (sangiovese merlot blend), a perfect melon and espressi. Slow stroll back to our room.

02/05/02 Thursday - Slow morning start, coffee on the way to Ufuzzi ticket office (set for Saturday), back to Palazzo Vecchio. Amazing structure inside and out with fantastic frescoes, paintings, grand halls, mythic salons and a great view of the city from the top floor - sight overload - very impressive. Picked up sandwiches on the way back to our room - listening to street musicians at a nearby cafe (with ocarina), jumble of voices, aromas of meals, time for a rest.

Then, off to see San Lorenzo market - but first stop is the Medici chapel. The "big boys'" chapel is truly an impressive melange of baroque marble and semi-precious stone - tall, grand and a bit over done, but really something worth seeing. It is diminished by the secondary chapel (smaller and cozier) with Michelangelo's breathtaking marble sculptures of Night and Day, Dawn and Dusk. They are fine examples of his ability to bring marble down to the essence. Night was the most inspiring - a beautiful full woman, worn with age but satisfied with the passing of her years, truly at peace. Day, a male figure was stern and perhaps much like the feel of Tuscan summer. Dawn (f) was lazy, youthful; Dusk (m) had an intense watchfulness that penetrated you with his eyes. All quite remarkable.

Just outside and running for several blocks was the San Lirenzo street market with its panoply of wares - leather, textiles, sculpture, glass - just about anything for the tourist palate. A rather erratic path, arbitrary choices of streets and turns, brought us to the Duomo. What can I say, the outside is tremendous, artistic, inspiring - the inside was cold, mean and unpleasant. Frescoes on the dome ceiling were of intense color (the world's largest "Last Supper" is pictured), side chapels were not easily viewed, fonts were dry and empty, it seemed soul-less.

Some recouperation time in our room then out to dinner at the Frescobaldi wine bar & restaurant. Excellent risotto and cheese plate for appetizers, soso salad (veggies garni over-cooked), but 3 chiantis and a cabernet were good. Chaos ruled - started well and then faded to hopeless - even got the wrong bill - oh well. Next stop gelati (tasty as ever) - a refreshing treat.

03/05/02 Friday - First stop was for espressi and then up to the Centrale Market - 2 stories with everything under the Tuscan sun - wonderful - did major grocery shopping and on the way back to our room, we spotted a little espresso set in a shop window - perfect - so all shopping is done (except for wine). Back out to the Bargello - Absolutely Incredible!!! Not only is the structure surrounding a lovely courtyard with great sculpture, but it has Donatello's David (a personal favorite) and so much more. It was awesome! Much more in here than expected including coins, glass, foreign arts and the main collection of florentine paintings and sculptures. It is a huge and remarkable collection, well lit and well organized from a broad period pre-christian roman to 18-19th century. It took a few hours to view it all and I appreciated the accessibility of the art - few barriers - good displays.

A stop at the Enoteca di Garibaldi (behind the Bargello) was well worth it - tasted two wines and bought four to take home. After stopping by the room to unload, we went to the Mandarin for the best Chinese meal we've had in years - dumplings, hot & sour soup, beef with onions, duck with veggies, spicy shrinmp - a true feast. This sent us back to the room for a siesta and some reading on the Uffizi for tomorrow's visit. Around 7 we went out for a coffee, then a gelato, then a stop at La Poste for a salami plate, risotto with asparagus and wine. Tasty! Now finished reading the Uffizi catalog and ready to get to sleep, full, tired, content.

04/05/02 Saturday - Morning shower and shampoo and final reading on the Uffizi before a breakfast pastry and coffee at Gilli - classy place - great looking desserts when we need some - cool morning but clearing. Toyed briefly with the idea of going to Santa Croce but decided to head back to our room, rest and wait for the monumental task ahead. Luckily the doors were open on Orsanmichele church - doing renovationm but we could easily see the fine stained glass and got a good view of the ornate center altar. A stop for a postcard, in a bookstore, then ready in room.

Entered the Uffizi without any lines - perfect timing - no wait. The chronological order of the galleries works very well in terms of seeing the growth in artistic style. Some wonderful art - grotto ceilings in first hall are worth a good look. Artists - Boticelli, Lippi (Sr & Jr), Caravaggio Vasary, Uscello, Canaletto - great sculptures all over the halls - Niobe trove (found in a vineyard). It was almost too much to take in - even for veteran museum goers like us. One becomes giddy and overwhelmed. A break for a glass of wine and pannini helped, before viewing the last dozen rooms. A last minute stop for a postcard of Caravaggio's Bacchus completed the exhausting and totally over-stimulating event.

We were back in our room in time to watch the last couple of dozen cars in the Mille Milea pass below our windows - a fun and unexpected extra! A siesta, and the out for our "big" dinner. Across the Ponte Vecchio to Mamma Gina's - started with a shrimp and avocado appetizer and a bottle of Pinot Nero (very pinot and robust wine), followed by ribolito (a bean soup), tagliatelle with artichoke hearts, then the main course - "beefsteak Florentine" (a porterhouse) accompanied with roasted potatoes and spinach alla Florentine - superb! Dessert was canteloup in port wine and fresh strawberries, followed with espressi - a true feast! Back in our room and ready to call it a night - after a truly delightful day!

05/05/02 Sunday - Up and out for coffee and then across the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. First, into the Boboli Gardens with its forest of mazes, arched arbors, cool benches, fountains. A steep walk up the hill for a panoramic view of the city - we stopped at the cafe for a little Brut Spumante, some olives and a short rest. From there, down to the constructed grotto just past the rose gardens. The grotto is completely manufactured with a facia inlaid with shells and mosaics. Stalagtites hang over a cave frescoed with nature scenes on the dome, landscapes on the walls perforated with sculptures cast from Michelangelos "4 Prisoners". Then there was the fat dwarf on a turtle - very droll. We entered the Palace. It's unusual but aesthetic displays of art were appealing. Some great pieces and some dull ones (mostly commissioned portraits) - spectacular though were the rooms themselves - some with purist baroque gold on white with trompe l'oeuil work, others with vibrant frescoes. The green, red and aqua rooms were wall covered with brocades and heavily draped. Of note were some exquisitely inlaid tables along the way, some marble sculpture accents, furnishings from the period.

On our exit, we noticed a sign "Dali" - to our great pleasurem we found a well done exhibit of Dali's prints - "the Loves of Cassandra", all 100 "Dante's Inferno", "Tribes of Israel", "Hippies", "Faust", "Secret Poems", Apollinaire", "Annals of Rodrigo", and also quite a few early sculptures. This was a tremendous change from what we have seen! All the way back to our room, we watched for a place to have lunch to no avail (soccer playoffs and everyone closed early) - it seems that no one is open after 3 pm on Sunday. We finally had a panini and coffee over by Santa Croce. This church could aptly be called "Death Styles of the Rich and Famous". It has a really pretty facade and a warm interior - lots of tombs and lovingly painted chapels - Galileo, Donatello, Fermi, Michelangelo and more!

Dinner was at the Cinghaile Blanco - ravioli with venison ragout, the chef's special cinghale (boar), roast lamb, house chianti - dessert with spumante was melon and strawberries - then coffee, grappa - feeling no pain. Blithe trip back to the room, finished packing, goodnight.

06/05/02 Monday - We went to sleep too early and woke too early! NO ONE ELSE IN FLORENCE IS AWAKE AT 6 A.M. !!! No coffee, no people in the square, nothing... So back to the room and wait until 7:30 when things finally open up. This is our travel day - looking forward to home and our own bed.

Wine tasting notes:

Castello di Pomino 1999 - Pomino Rosso doc - earthy nose, deep berry, wood oak, supple, forward tannins

Nipozzano Riserva 1999 - Chianti Rufina doc - acidic nose with hint of vegetable, bright strawberry underflavor, medium wood and tannins, more viscous than it tastes, slight cedar underflavor - Served with Risotto with Pigeon Ragout 

Castiglione - Chianti Rufina doc - large, good berry, soft nose, forward tones of grape, viscous, lingering, hot tannins
Castiglione - Cabernet doc - black pepper, cherry nose, white oak, definitive cab (oak may be hungarian - tastes like US white)

Fattoruia di Poggial Pino - Zinfandel Anfora 2000 - Puglia doc - cedar nose, pepper, blackberry, bold, tannins medium but forward, taste is of tabacco and balckberry with a hint of black cherry, dry clean finish, meaty, hint of yeast.

Rio Cassero - Brunelo Montalcino 1992 - Montalcino doc - slovenian oak (same nose as So Carolina white), licorice, herb and wood nose, nothing distinctive, some berry and wood taste but very middle ground - refined to a specific taste (as in standard Bordeaux), good, hot (13%)
Excerpt from: Amsterdam - Barcelona Journal - September 1999

Livorno - We took a taxi to the train and spent a wonderful day wandering around Firenze (Florence) with Gina and Reynaldo. We started at the Ponte Vecchio, enjoyed the eye candy - fabulous jewelry - up along the Arno to Uffizi - admired local artisans' portfolios (beautiful "tintos"). Up to the Duomo with its copy of David and its original Neptune, and (of course) the Duomo itself. We ate a fine lunch of fresh tomatoes with mozzarella and parsley, followed by seafood risotto and ravioli con funghi, with an Antinori Reserva 1995 Chianti - superb! On our walk back towards train station there was a stop for gelato - the shop caught our attention because of their artistic "floral" array of cones. When we arrived at the station, we still had 30 minutes to spare, so we wandered around some more and found Alice's Masks with absolutely incredible designs - from carnivale masks to puppets fashioned from paper mache by true masters of the art. We made the train with 5 minutes to spare. The ride back through this glorious countryside covered with vineyards and olive groves has much beauty. We'll return next year!