Category Archives: Florence

The Best and Worst of Tuscany

I’ll start with the bad first because, well, that’s how it happened chronologically.

After work on Friday, Maggie and I took a train to Pisa. Let me tell you, Pisa is not as I remember it from three years ago. We arrived in the run-down train station, walked through a run-down neighborhood and checked in to our hostel, which some guy had converted from a house by throwing bunks in the two bedrooms. Easily the worst hostel I have ever stayed in. Maggie and I laughed it off and trekked into Pisa town for a little sight-seeing.

Obligatory Pisa Pic

The leaning tower is often very high on a tourist’s check list, but Pisa doesn’t have much else to offer. You go to the piazza with the church, baptistery and tower, take you obligatory holding-up-the-tower-with-your-bare-hands photo and leave Pisa. Unfortunately, we stayed. We grabbed a beer to drink in a public piazza, but were met by unsavory characters, one of which exposed his flaccid penis to us… Thanks, dude. We didn’t get much sleep that night due to flashing nightmares and loud hostel mates. Boo.

Maggie and I at the Leaning Tower

Early the following morning we arrived in Florence, ready for a different taste of Tuscany. That taste was shopping.

We did start the trip out responsibly though. Our first stop (in the rain) was across the river. I have been to Florence five times previously and every time I had plans to see the Brancacci Chapel and it never worked out. I haven’t had time, I forgot, I went and it was closed, I went and there was a service. So, sixth time’s the charm? Isn’t it awesome when you study something for years and then finally see it in person? Maybe that’s only an art historian thing. I can’t think of any parallels off the top of my head. Anyway. Chapel? Beautiful.

Adam & Eve shunned

After the chapel, we hopped over to the Ponte Vecchio before deciding the rain was too much and we needed a break, which came in the form of lunch. We tried to dry off during our meal and enjoy some Tuscan delights. The Italian couple next to us ordered something very interesting. It looked so odd that I suppose Maggie and I were staring. So, of course he asked us to try it… Wait, that doesn’t happen in America, does it? Have you ever sat next to a stranger in a restaurant and have the first thing they say to you be, “Would you like a taste?” Hmm. I don’t think so. It’s happened so many times to me here in Italy. It must be normal to share food with strangers. So, we did as the Florentines do and tried the mystery dish. It was tripe cooked in broth with butter and parmesan, which our good friend put on a piece of hard bread with a huge chunk of mint/parsley spread. I’m pretty sure he was trying to disguise the texture from us, which is a little rubbery I think. So, thanks for looking out for us, friendly tripe-eating man! I was proud of us for being adventurous, but tripe probably won’t become common in my diet.

Tasting Tripe. I'm so gutsy. Heh heh.

After lunch it was on to the market and down with our savings. On my final trip to Florence I was purchasing all the things I’ve wanted for myself all year as well as some goodies for friends with requests. Let me tell you, it adds up. We also went to the wonderful indoor food market next to San Lorenzo right as it was about to close. We made sure we bought some olive oil, balsamic and other treats at the vendor named Lombardi in honor of my Aunt Vicki and Uncle Sil Lombardi. I’ll be bringing the bag home for you!

Maggie and I with our goods from Lombardi's

So, yeah, it really adds up. We bought so much stuff in Florence, we could barely fit everything in our bags. We even canceled our trip to Cortona the following day due to the weight of our backpacks. But it’s okay. We were satisfied with the weekend. We were coming home with leather purses, belts, gloves, sandals, boots, scarves, pretty much everything they sell in Florence.

Unfortunately for our bank accounts, we didn’t get enough and came back the next weekend. Stay tuned for the next post!

We did some sightseeing, too. Had to fit it in around the shopping.

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A Tuscan Weekend

Okay, I have waited way too long to post this, but here I am, sitting in Paris, blogging when I should be researching. Prepare yourself for lots of photos.

Damon and I got up before the sun on a Saturday to catch a train to Florence. This was my fourth trip to the beautiful city, which is a welcome change of pace from Rome. We started out the trip with the inevitable climb up Brunelleschi’s dome. How can you visit Florence without it? So, four-hundred and sixty-three steps later and we were on top of the world.

Damon and I on top of Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence

After our visit to the Duomo, we hadn’t quite had enough of churches, so I took Damon to Orsanmichele. This is hands down my favorite church in Florence. It looks nothing like any other church. It’s a big brick square with fourteen niches around the outside. The different guilds in Florence commissioned artists to decorate each of the niches. Damon and I had fun trying to guess which niche went with which guild. Some of them were pretty hard to figure out. Click on the link above to look at all the individual niches. Afterwards we wandered down to Piazza della Signoria and ate some lunch. On our way to check in to our teeny, tiny hostel we happened upon a miniature Florentine foods festival. There were vendors selling wine, cheese, olive oil, biscotti and dried meats. In one corner an old couple was making these weird, nut-flour pancake/tortillas filled with ricotta cheese and Damon and I decided to try them. Not the best thing I’ve ever had, but it was certainly worth the experience.

Eating that nut-flour ricotta wrap.

After checking in to the hostel, we did a little obligatory shopping at the leather market outside of San Lorenzo church. Damon bought a hat, scarf and a tie and I bought nothing. Unbelievable. We did a little bit of wandering, crossed the Ponte Vecchio and ended up at Santa Croce where there just happened to be a chocolate festival. Oh darn. I ran around all the booths like a crazy person getting a sugar high just from looking at all of it. After scoping out all the goods, Damon and I settled on a certain vendor who sold some sugar-free delicacies he could enjoy. (He’s hypoglycemic.)

On a suggestion from my friend Candidate Steve Bunn, we had a before-dinner drink at Lochness Lounge before heading on to dinner. The end of our night was filled with multiple unsuccessful attempts to find a jazz cafe. Oh well.

The next morning we swung by Ponte Vecchio before we caught a train to a little coastal town in Tuscany called Viareggio. Viareggio is second only to Venice for its Carnevale festivities. As soon as we arrived we heard a guy singing this random song that went a little something like this: “La da da da da Carnevale! La da da da da Carnevale!”  Or that’s how Damon remembers it, anyway.

After lunch we paid our 15 euro to get into the parade area and I was completely blown away. In all honesty, I was a little tipsy and I think that helped, but this was the most impressive parade I have ever seen. The floats were beautiful. Everyone, absolutely everyone was dressed up. Damon and I had bought masks just before leaving Venice. Here’s a photo of our Carnevale costumes:

Damon and I in our Carnevale Masks

The floats were absolutely breath-taking. They were gigantic and had all these moving parts. Damon and I were surprised to find that many of the floats had political or social messages. For example, this one is about budget cuts to education:

Edward Scissorhands Float

This one was about violence towards women:

Scary Warewolf Float

And last but not least, this one was about Michael Jackson dying. Notice the people dressed in skeleton costumes… There were also people dancing on the float who were dressed like Michael Jackson. In fact, the one wearing a fedora pointed out Damon in the crowd, who was also wearing a fedora. It was very exciting for Damon and it seemed to be pretty exciting for the dude on the float, too.

MJ Float

And then there was this one, which I liked for no particular reason:

Another Float

As the parade was coming to a close and dusk was settling in, Damon and I decided to ride the ferris wheel. It was then that we realized just how close to the sea we were. So, naturally we made our way out to the beach. We ran around in the sand a little and Damon took his shoes off, stood in the freezing water and yelled thank you to his family and friends. It was the perfect way to end the perfect day.

Damon and I on the Beach

We took the last train back to Rome and I slept in Damon’s lap the whole way.

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463 steps and no wheelchair.

This past weekend Jenn, Joey, Patrick and I went to Florence. We hopped on the cheap train and hours later ended up in the city. On our walk from the train station to our hostel, we saw almost the entire city. We stayed at Soggiorno Pitti across from Palazzo Pitti, which is actually a fairly ugly palace concealing gardens that cost ten euro to go see. We did not see said gardens. On Friday evening Jenn, Joey and I met up with Patrick, who was staying at a different hostel, and we walked to the loggia outside of the Uffizi gallery and listened to a one-man-band play covers.

Titian's Venus of Urbino

Titian's Venus of Urbino

Saturday was a sight seeing marathon. Jenn and I woke up early and waited in line to visit the Uffizi gallery. It’s one of my favorite museums because it has one of my favorite paintings in it, Titian’s Venus of Urbino. For the same reason, it is also a very frustrating museum to go to. For some reason, tour guides like to think (and tell people) that the painting is a private portrait of a faithful wife made for a loving husband. Why can’t people accept that she’s a courtesan?! Argh.

Joey and I on the top of Brunelleschi's dome.

Joey and I on the top of Brunelleschi's dome.

After the gallery Jenn and I met up with Joey and hiked 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome on Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the main cathedral in Florence. Don’t worry, I made it with my ankle brace! The view from the top was amazing, but one thing made it very special. There was a big yellow butterfly pacing (if something that flies can pace) next to the dome. All three of us kept snapping shots back and forth, trying to get a photo of the butterfly. This is my best one.

Florentine Butterfly

Florentine Butterfly

After the dome, I went into the baptistery while Joey and Jenn waited outside. Even though I have been to Florence twice before, I have never been inside. The ceilings are decorated with gorgeous mosaic work. If you go, I highly recommend it!

Baptistry Ceiling

Baptistery Ceiling

Then somehow Jenn and I convinced Joey to go to the open air market. She bought scarves for herself and her mom and I bought leather gloves. YES! In the evening we tried to find an English bookstore for Joey, but ended up heading to Piazzale Michelangelo instead, another place I have never been to. Unfortunately, it involved another huge set of stairs. Fortunately, it offered a wonderful view of the entire city from a hill top. After that we all crashed. Jenn even fell asleep in her clothes!

Panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo

Panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo

On Sunday morning we had Italian coffee together at a bar, spent some time on Ponte Vecchio and did a lot of shopping before catching our (delayed) train back to Rome. It was a wonderful weekend for sure.

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