Thursday, September 7

Another mostly travel day.  We started early and saw the Museo Correr.  Lots of Venetian history - really cool. One more walk through some of the streets we had missed before, a cookie at a bakery, and then back to the Kette to check out. Took another water taxi (it pulls right up to the lobby!) back to the train station. Along the way we saw a HUGE cruise ship and wondered:  a) how it would get under those low bridges (lol) and b) what would the Venetians of 500 years ago (Masters of the Sea) have thought if they saw this behemoth steaming into port! 

The train was once again very clean, comfortable, and smooth.  It took from 12:30 - 3:30 to go to Florence (Firenze), so once again we missed lunch (we tried to eat in the snack car but couldn't decide what to get).  We got to the Hotel Silla at about 4:00. it was....quaint; like a Motel 3 - not what we're used to (though the location was excellent).  The bedroom section was ok, but there were several steps to get down there. The bathroom was the size of a small closet. The bidet, toilet, and sink were on one wall, the shower-head on the other, and a drain in the middle of the floor! That's right! No separate shower; the floor sloped so the shower water could drain out. On the other hand, as we found out the next morning, it would win an award for the best cappuccino and breakfast pastries (served on a lovely garden terrace overlooking the Arno).

Anyway....we had been told that the best gelato in Italy was at Vivoli in Florence, so we headed there straightaway!

Then we walked by the Ufizzi gallery (more later) and ended up on the Ponte Vecchio.

Even though it is not very big 9just spans the river), there are like 5,000 jewelry stores!  All selling the same stuff! After an hour or so of walking we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Side note: We didn't fully appreciate the absence of cars in Venice until we got here. Venice was so quiet, and no car smells and you just walked down the streets. here, we first had a harrowing ride from the station (barely missing one lady on a bike and several pedestrians). it was like being in a video game! Then when WE went walking we had two narrow misses ourselves! There are literally 1,000s of motorbikes that zoom at you from every angle. They seem to be somewhat careful, and there appears to be some sort of rules / order, but it is really quite frightening.

After a little difficulty (there was no indication of the restaurant other than a small address marker!), we eventually found Murate.  Whoa!! We had the "Surprise" dinner - they don't tell you what it is until they serve it! Hey...if you can't be adventurous on vacation, when can you? Six courses! Fabulous!!! And the staff was excellent too.  Started out with Tuscan white bean soup with shrimp. Next, poached cod (quenelles) with sauce and julienned veggies. pasta (grigelle) with roasted tomatoes. Zucchini soufflé. Roulade of chicken with pistachio stuffing (for Wendy), braised beef (for Wayne; the only course we could choose). Chocolate cake with melon.  We chatted with folks from Brazil and Argentina. Then we staggered home!

Saturday, September 8

Tooday was museum (and gelati) day!  We got up early and had a great breakfast on the terrace. It started out a little chilly, but by noon it was in the low 80s. After breakfast we headed for the Accademia (yup...just like in Venice).  Since we had pre-registered we were able to bypass the line of touristas and walk right in. This is where the real David statue by Michelangelo is (there are other copies throughout Florence).

It was very impressive, especially to hear the story behind it (we eavesdropped on a guide's group).  We saw some other pictures and sculptures (but the David is the main attraction) and then headed to the Uffizi.

On the way, Wendy had her first gelato of the day (sadly, not from Vivoli).

The Uffizi was really something! it has works of art by great Italian artists such as Botticelli, Giotto, Cimabue, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello, just to name a few of the most famous. We had the tour-tape, so we learned of the history and chronology. One of the most famous pieces is "The Birth of Venus" by Botticelli.

Afterwards, we stopped for lunch at a café; outside overlooking the river. It was a simple snack, but somehow it tasted better because we were in Italy.  Wendy had tuna on focaccia; Wayne had a chicken cutlet sandwich. And the Florentine sun warmed us nicely!

Next stop: The Duomo. This is actually the Cathedral of Florence. It's dome dominates the skyline, and we climbed all 463 steps to the top!

It was pretty hot up there. You get to walk around inside and outside; not as neat as Notre Dame, but still cool. Going down was pretty easy, and by then it was time for more gelato! So we hiked over to Vivoli.  Yum!! Then we checked out the Basilica of St. Croce. We had passed by several times and thought "ho hum...another church", but...uh uh.  Inside are buried Galileo, Rossini, Fermi, Dante, Michaelangelo, Machiavelli, etc. Wow!!!! And it was a really impressive church, too. Plus, we could see the line 13' up the side of the wall from the flood of 1966.  DaVici has a memorial, but the guide was still angry that he chose to die in France instead of Italy.

Then we checked out a few hundred leather stores. Found a great ceramic store and bought a beautiful platter. Then a short stop at an internet café to send an email to a few folks back home (what a world!), then home to get ready for dinner.  We had cabbed into town in the morning, but it was so nice out we decided to walk back. What a lucky break! it turned out to be a special "Feast of St. Somebody" day and there was a long "parade" of folks dressed in traditional 15th century Florentine garb. Drummers, flags, horns, sharp swords, funny hats! neat! Well...after all that excitement, we had worked up a hankering for some gelato! So we "happened" to walk by a Vivoli on the way to the hotel. Yummo. What a long, tiring, exciting, tasty day!

But wait; there's dinner! Wayne had spaghetti with anchovies, lemon veal, Tuscan white beans 9to share) and cheesecake with berries. Wendy had Linguini with shrimp and zucchini flowers, swordfish with olives and tomatoes, fresh fruit. 

Side notes on the eateries: The service in every restaurant has been wonderful. They are so attentive and helpful and efficient. But what is so different is that when you are finished with dessert, the waiters basically disappear!  You could sit there for hours without a problem. They won't bring you the check until you call them over and ask for it!

Cappuccino after dinner is pretty frowned upon, and the "café americain" is pretty strong! And when you ask for decaf, it is usually instant.

In all of the trattorias we've eaten in, we've noticed the same pattern: up front there is a smaller seating area, right on the street, usually with an opening to the kitchen (which is visible). Then there is a second room (off to the side, further back, or upstairs), which is decorated a little nicer and may even have fancier place settings. It appears that the front room is for walk-ins while the other room is for those with reservaziones!

When you order a "glass of wine" they bring you a small carafe which must surely hold 12 oz. So you really get several glasses.

Sunday, September 9

Today we explored on this side of the Arno (where our hotel is), which we discovered is the hilly side of town!  First we walked to the Pitti Palace, some of which was built in 1548.

Wow!!! This certainly rivals Versailles. Every room has fantastic ceiling frescoes, paintings, etc., and the walls are COVERED with paintings. Most of them are huge (like 4'x4' and up). Then we went "out back" to the Boboli Gardens.

It's kind of like our botanical garden, but much, much older and with lots of statues and fountains. And it was quite a hike as there are many stairs up and down. Plus there were some fantastic views of the city.

And we had one of the top 3 lunches ever! The food was molto bene (even though, as "park food" we had had low expectations), and we were outside overlooking the entire city.  Wendy had bruschetta with tomatoes and olives; Wayne had antipasto with crostini and pate, prosciutto, and salumi. Then we shared a salad.  It was so good and relaxing that we sat there for 90 minutes, which turned out to be a little mistake as we started to doze off and found that we could hardly move when we tried to get up!   So then we walked back down to the shops and had some inferior gelato (we were way too far from Vivoli!). Then we walked back up into the hills to the Piazelle Michelangelo...

...where there is ANOTHER (bronze) copy of the David overlooking the city. The place was crawling with tourists (ugh!) and buses and cars. More inferior gelati.  Once again, we were fortunate to be there as a bride and groom and their whole family came out of the church and posed for pictures. Then we sat for a few minutos and had some fresh-squeezed very tart lemonade. Then back down the mountain to our room, change for dinner, and out again.

We went to Camilla Trattoria and had one of the best dinners of the trip. Linguini Bolognesa (una por due - one order for two - we are finally getting smart!), zucchini flowers - deep-fried and delicious, scampi with porcini mushrooms (porcinis come from Tuscany!), tomato with mozzarella, fruit tart.  We were too tired and too full to even think about gelato!!!! And it was so good, we made reservations to come back the next day! Unheard of in travel history.

Monday, September 10
Ouch!!!! Our legs were really hurting from all of the walking and climbing we did yesterday.  We woke up to a rainy, chilly day so we were forced (ha ha) to eat calazione (breakfast) in the dining room. It was a fancy room with great paintings, wall moldings, etc.  Had some more "more" (mulberry) tart. Yum - that's a-more!!!!! Then we headed out. Soon the rain stopped. We saw a few churches and by then it had started to warm up.  Due to a mix-up by our travel agent, we had to switch hotels for this night. So we went back to our hotel, got our stuff and taxied to the other one.

Side note: We have seen a lot of older women who remind us of Wendy's Gramma Doris. Whether they are widows with lots of energy, Italian ladies talking fast, or whatever, the similarities have been amazing.

This new hotel is a Best Western, which are actually a higher quality hotel in Europe; this one was rated 4 stars and it was nice.  So we checked in and then went out again, but this time it was for some serious leather coat buying (not shopping!). By the way; Vivoli's is CLOSED ON MONDAYS! So we had to suffer through an almost gelato-less day.  One of Wendy's work friends had recommended a specific leather maker's shop, so we went there. We found the most beautiful coat, and then we had to get gloves to go with it. The owner, Francesco (what else?) told us about a wonderful restaurant and gave us a discount coupon! Hmmm....what to do? Back to Camilla's for lunch!!!! Fab, and we bought a bottle of their special olive oil.

Then we walked around some more...and some more...and more. Then we tool a carriage ride. It was really great: bouncing along the cobblestone streets while the driver gave us a running dialogue, most of which we could not hear, and what we could hear we could not understand because it was in Italian!  Then we headed back to the hotel, but along the way we stopped at Gilli's in Republic Square. it has been in business since 1733!!!  We figured they must have good gelato, and we were right! So then we went back and got ready for dinner.

We ate at Panemonio ("pandemonium"), the one recommended by Francesco. it was in the Ocarno section of town, on the other side of the river, near our first hotel! We thought it would be an easy walk, but there were many confusing side streets and the numbers didn't really make sense, but eventually we stumbled across it. What a gem. The menu was entirely in Italian, so after a little coaching, we ordered:
Antipasti misto (anchovies, salted and non-salted), grilled peppers and eggplant salad, grilled steak with tomatoes (Wendy)  and mushrooms (Wayne), Tuscan beans, Cheesecake (Wa), fruit (We).
While we were eating, two Japanese ladies came in and were seated at the table next to us. We quickly recognized them as the same two who had sat next to us at Fonticini Ristorante on Saturday night!  What a small world!

As we were finishing, Francesco suddenly appeared with his entourage; apparently he is a regular. he came over to our table and greeted us and told the waiter to bring us some limoncello, the "national" drink, which they did, along with grappa (which we did not sample). Oh! It was icy cold and so sweet and so delicious - but they give you those tiny glasses for a reason: SO STRONG!

Side note: All of the restaurants play this 60s pop Muzak (usually instrumentals). Such things as "Let It Be", "Bridge over Troubled Waters", and "Whiter Shade of Pale". And this is in cafes as well as high class restaurants.

We were stuffed and quite tipsy, so we decided it would be best to get a taxi home (even though it was only about 4 blocks!), so we did and crashed into bed immediately. Zonk!

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