Italy - Two visits - 1999 and 2002
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
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
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
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
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
|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!