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« Europe trip (Part 7): More Florence | Main | Europe trip (Part 5): La Petraia »

Europe trip (Part 6): Florence

Merry-go-round in Florence

I'm still having fun experimenting with Italian cooking. Last night I made Brasato al vino rosso (Beef pot roast in red wine), Panzanella (Tuscan bread salad) and Patate con rosemarino (Rosemary potatoes). I'm proud to say that I used my own rosemary and basil. My herb plant collection currently consists of: regular thyme, lemon thyme, oregano, peppermint, parsley, bush basil, sweet basil and sage...all plants I intend to use in my cooking. I also bought a potted lavender to put in our sun-room because it reminds me of Fonte de' Medici.

Anyway, dinner worked out pretty well; Jeff even had second helpings. :-)

Will Write For Chocolate updated

Will Write For Chocolate has been updated. The strip features one of my new characters: Sven, the sf/fantasy writer. The column focuses on writing journals and other ways of kickstarting one's creativity, and includes a survey.

But back to my trip report...

Part 1 (Paris) - Part 2 (more Paris) - Part 3 (Fonte de' Medici) - Part 4 (Montalcino and Montefiridolfi) - Part 5 (La Petraia) - Part 6 (Florence) - Part 7 (more Florence) - Part 8 (Cinque Terre) - Part 9 (Pisa, Fiesole and Volpaia) - Part 10 (Lost in Siena) - Part 11 (Siena) - Part 12 (Rome) - Final

Before setting off for Florence, Ginny, Jeff and I had breakfast at the Fonte De' Medici Trattoria. Breakfast was included in the room rate and was always a buffet of cold items: cold cuts, sliced cheese, flavoured yogurts, granola and cereal, prunes and other dried fruits, fresh fruit, pastries, rolls, milk and juices. You could also ask for coffee or hot water for tea. I even managed to ask for hot water in broken Italian: acqua calda, per favore? Sometimes we'd cook breakfast at Ginny's apartment instead, and have eggs and bacon from the market. The bacon was thin and semi-transparent (and very good), just like the bacon I remember from Juliane's in Frankfurt.

Ponte Vecchio at night
Ponte Vecchio (a famous medieval bridge in Florence) at night. Photo by Jeff.

Although the theoretical speed limit on the Italian Auto strada is 130 km/h, it seemed as if most cars drove as if there were no speed limit. Ginny's car had a small rear seat; I usually sat in the back and couldn't sit up straight if the roof was up, so we rode everywhere with the roof down. This was fun, though my hair was sometimes interesting-looking at the other end.

Florence wheels
Popular travel methods in Florence.

We visited Florence (Firenze) twice during our visit; the city was only a 20 minute drive from Fonte de' Medici. The second time was much more crowded due to tour groups flooding the city from docked cruise ships.

Tour group

I don't mind tour groups in principle, of course, and I've been part of a tour group in the past. But I did find myself fleeing whenever I saw a big one approaching, especially in close quarters like some galleries and museums where there was limited space in each room (did I mention before that I'm somewhat claustrophobic?). It was interesting comparing the different personalities of tour groups from various countries. Some tour leaders bellowed out instructions and scenery descriptions without caring who else was around. Others were more tech-equipped and spoke quietly into a microphone since all the tour attendees had their own headsets.

Medieval parade
Medieval theme celebration.

After checking into the Hotel Annalena, I was dismayed to discover that my electrical adaptor didn't fit into any of the outlets in our hotel room even though it had worked fine with one of the outlets at Fonte de' Medici. Fortunately Ginny had brought her laptop, and the adaptor she had for it enabled me to recharge my camera battery as well. When we eventually return to Italy (notice that I said when), I'm definitely going to investigate the adaptor issue more closely. My adaptor's prongs were round, but weren't quite wide enough to fit this outlet:

Hotel electrical outlet and light switches

In the Basilica di Santa Croce, we saw the tombs of well-known historical figures like Michelango (below):

Michelangelo's tomb
Michelangelo's tomb.

The three muses are apparently those of painting, sculpture, and architecture, mourning his loss.

Another tomb we went to Santa Croce's to see was that of Galileo:

Galileo's tomb

Sad to think that Galileo died while condemned of heresy, despite his scientific and mathematical accomplishments. Afraid of opposition from the church, Galileo's relatives hid his body after his death in 1642; he was only buried in Santa Croce in 1737. From "On 31 October 1992, 350 years after Galileo's death, Pope John Paul II gave an address on behalf of the Catholic Church in which he admitted that errors had been made by the theological advisors in the case of Galileo. He declared the Galileo case closed, but he did not admit that the Church was wrong to convict Galileo on a charge of heresy because of his belief that the Earth rotates round the sun."

We visited the Museo di Storia della Scienza (Institute and Museum of the History of Science) whose collection included the telescope that Galileo used to discover Jupiter's moons. We also checked out the Duomo:

Cora in Florence

There seemed to be a zillion gelato shops in Florence. I sampled as many of them as I possibly could, of course. ;-) Servings of gelato tended to be huge by default. Here's what Jeff got when he asked for a "small" gelato. I quickly learned to use the word "piccolo", emphasizing what I meant with hand gestures...I usually ended up getting a small cup of gelato which was perfect for me. Whenever possible, I asked for unusual flavours that weren't as common in North America. Pine-nut was especially yummy!

Gelato in Florence

In case some of you are wondering, gelato is not strictly the same thing as ice cream, though North Americans tend to use the word to refer to ice cream prepared in the Italian way. According to this Wikipedia entry: "Gelato is an Italian frozen dessert made from milk (or also soy milk) and sugar, combined with other flavourings. The gelato ingredients (after an optional pasteurization) are super-cooled while stirring to break up ice crystals as they form. Like high end ice cream, gelato generally has less than 35% air - resulting in a dense and extremely flavourful product."

Glove store in Florence

Florence is definitely a shopper's paradise. And I've never seen so many shops and street vendors for shoes and purses in such a concentrated area. Especially purses...they were being sold everywhere, from sidewalk street vendors to upscale shops. I found some of the shops in Florence to be expensive (interested in a sweater for CA$2253? :-)) and I didn't need any more purses, so I did most of my souvenir shopping in open air markets like the Il Mercato Del Porcellino, which were also fun to explore even if you didn't intend to buy anything. I did buy a scarf for my sister at the shop below:

Street market, Florence

I also bought a scarf for myself from another vendor and even haggled for it. Well...sort of. The vendor offered me a discount when I hesitated, and I accepted her new price. I'm so bad at bargaining, especially if the amount is small and the vendor looks as if they could use the money.

Later in the day we passed by this square and it was completely empty; the vendors had all packed up their stalls for the day.

I'm amazed more tourists don't get hit by motorbikes and Smartcars in Florence. I spent most of my first day wandering around with my mouth open, looking up. SO much interesting architecture and things to see, both big and small.

Like locks on the Ponte Vecchio, for example:

Padlocks on the Ponte Vecchio

Along Florence's famous medieval bridge, we saw padlocks locked in what seemed like random places. Apparently it was a habit of lovers to attach a padlock then throw the key into the Arno river. Ironically, this was never a real tradition on the Ponte Vecchio, but an idea launched by some travel guides around 10-15 years ago.

You can find out more info about the Ponte Vecchio in this Wikipedia entry.

Leonardo da Vinci exhibit in Florence

We also visited the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit in Florence, which had working models of many of da Vinci's designs.

To be continued...

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