Thursday, November 4, 2010

O mio babbino caro,
mi piace bello bello.
vo andare en porta rossa
a comparar l'anello.. si, si...

that lovely three quarter time (waltz) melody from the opera ran through my head the entire three days I was in Florence. I loved it...

that's the Ponte Vecchio bridge and the view from our room... not bad.

Ok, so next on our travel map was Firenze, or Florence, as it is more commonly known stateside. And what a time we had there.

For one, I had what was probably the most orgasmic meal I've ever eaten, and we became regulars at a great little unpretentious wine bar thanks to our hotelier's help that played music station Radio Monte Carlo (find it online streaming I think) where we heard great jazz, The Bad Plus included (one of our faves). Getting to Bologna was a snap from Milan. But getting out of Bologna was another thing altogether. I mean, who knew Halloween (all saints day) weekend was a major event in Italy, I mean like a national holiday?!

We arrived at the station Friday afternoon, bags in tow, headed for Firenze, and what should have been a two hour trip when - crap! all the ticket windows at what would most certainly otherwise have been a fairly mellow day at the station were closed except 2, and those 2 had signs on them in Italian that clearly said something like "If something really special isn't going on with you do NOT get in this line!!" A half dozen or so ticket vending machines stood dutifully serving the ten thousand or so Italians who all seemed to be on their way to Rome at the end of what appeared to be a major three /four day weekend event. Apparently Trenitalia's concept of handling increased holiday traffic is to give all the ticket vendors the day off and hope the ticket vending machines work. So we watched the folks in front of us in line (a good half hour queue) in order to know how to order the correct ticket when our turn came, which was a good idea as, even though we could choose "english", things in Italy (including the odd cash machine) tend to revert to Italian when they've have enough of catering to tourists, even the machines, so be prepared with a few expressions that will make people want to help you; most were kind and felt sorry for the stupid americans who don't speak their language. and I can't say I blame them.

After waiting in line forever, going through the rigamarole of putting de money in etc., feeling like the moment of deliverance had finally arrived, the machine tells us NO! you must go to the ticket window, another 45 minute wait in a line that appears to have neither an end nor movement. BUT in that line we meet Clive , wonderful Clive of the terrific sense of humor, from the UK, a seasoned traveler if there ever was one, who, once we all have tickets (no seat rez, sorry local stop every five seconds trains only ones available now) hauls Paul's suitcase, Paul hauls mine, I haul the shopping bags, and we make an insane dash down stairs, across tracks, up stairs in a mob of people all doing the same thing, for the next regionale train to Firenze leaving in three minutes. whew!

This train turns out to be less than comfy, but we definitely get the local flavor of the average Italian regional train, nothing like the first class seats we decided to book from Firenze to Rome three days later. Now that was a sweet ride. But I digress. We arrived in Florence after dark and took a cab to the hotel. I fell in love with Florence in the dark, as we explored the winding streets looking for the corner wine bar. I had a Bellini (fab cocktail) and Paul a mojito before heading over to the hole in the wall (literally) place (Trattoria 13 Gobbi) the hotelier recommended for an unforgettable meal.

I am talking about fresh tagliatellini with white truffle that I cannot believe is legal, people going about eating it and surviving to tell the tale. It's reputation among gourmands is richly deserved. The more you eat the more you want. An addiction, and now I know what they're talking about. Paul had ordered this in Bologna (at my recommendation, Cath's "let Mikey try it!" school of gourmet). I tasted it and vowed to eat nothing but that wherever I could find it for the rest of the trip. (I am on the hunt in Rome this very night) I cannot describe this light as a feather mouthwatering delicacy, only to say that it will melt in your mouth and is very close to heaven, and all other things one might associate with ultimate sensual pleasure. TO DIE FOR... I wish this to be my last meal on earth and I'll die happy. The rest of our meal was great as well; A shaved artichoke salad figured in there somewhere, Tuscan bread soup, A delicious bit of steak topped with an enormous fresh grilled porcini shroom, glorious cheap local wine, but all I dream of is the white truffle pasta. The helpful Italian couple at the next table insisted we have a digestif the name of which I lost, sorry. It was perfect. Dessert was.... well, good is all I can recall. Forgive me. So much to say, so little time.

And the city of Florence was glorious. Our hotel, the Hotel Consigli, a former Russian Embassy, reasonably priced and right on the Arno River with high French windows (a somehwat quirky lift, I used the stairs) and stuccoed ceiling in the dining room where Pietro and his heartrending limp earnestly served us breakfast each morning. He had a smile to break your heart. We had to stay in a different room each night as we booked so late, but they made it up to us by giving us the deluxe room with terrace overlooking the river our last night, which we enjoyed despite the rain and a major spat (on the street no less, "Look at the funny Americans fighting!" -- figure one good spat to clear the air never hurts) that started hours earlier after a fab lunch of minestrone and pizza Margherita at the wonderful Casa del Vin Santo. We ate there two times for lunch, Cheap and yummy. Best pizza we found anywhere. Crust tastes like crepes. mmmmmm.

Highlights (outside the realm of food) included The Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, The Palazzo Medici Ricardo, more basilicas and churches than we can count, particularly the frescoes at the Chiesa di san Salvatore i Ognissanti where Botticelli (my personal fave) is buried that is filled with Ghirlandaio's work as well. Glorious. Great shopping (we both bought shoes). tres chic.

We booked two days in advance for the Uffizi Gallery and were not disappointed. A total mindblower of artravaganzoid Fra Fillipo Lippis and Botticellis and you just name its. Early Monday morning (it was free as it was the holiday weekend still) we breezed right in with printed reservation in hand (the hotel booked for us everywhere we went, including ristorantes) and the Uffizi plain blew us away. Was not allowed to take photos. You'll have to go online and see some of the world's most famous works of art.

Later that day we, savvy ticket purchasers that we were by then, purchased first class tickets (second class is usually what we buy and it's very nice, but we wanted to be sure we got to Rome with reserved seating) in a machine at the Florence train station (well, we needed a little help from another gal in line, bless her) and killed two hours drinking espresso and reading the Trib at the train station cafe and holding our breath about the upcoming US elections, dammit.

ciao for now...

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