When you think of Italy, and Firenze in particular, you think of Michelangelo, the Ponte Vecchio, the David, the Pitti Palace, and Pizza!
We had all of those on our mind when we flew from Faro, Portugal to Firenze on Iberia Airlines. Iberia is Spain’s official airlines and we have agreed – never again!
I had only encountered one other airline where you had to hang onto the seats in front of you, lean backwards and inch your way into your row because the distance between the seats was so tight – and that was Vueling – Spain’s budget airline. In spite of all the bad press, we have found RyanAir to be much better with big, comfy seats and plenty of legroom even in the back of the plane.
That said, we were thrilled to be heading to Italy. This part of the trip was all Joyce’s idea. She chose our destinations and did a great job of giving us an overview of the southern half of Italy.
We checked into our Airbnb and were greeted by our host Giuseppe. As you can see from clicking on the link, it was quite large and reminded us both our our grandmother’s house due the numerous doilies and nick knacks throughout. We even had a sweet outdoor patio, but, because of the mosquitos, we chose not to use it!
Guiseppe suggested we begin our stay with a delicious Italian dinner almost next door at a wonderful neighborhood restaurant, La Gratella. We were tired and hungry and ready to sit down and be served. Our waitress was so friendly and basically told us what we should order. A nice pitcher of local wine and a wonderful conversation with the young man sitting next to us made for a lovely evening.
Philip was from Germany and on a short vacation from work. He sang in a choir at home and spent his time in Florence finding wonderful concerts to attend. We were thrilled when we received an email from him once he had returned home telling us how much he had enjoyed meeting and talking with us. I cannot repeat it often enough – it’s the people you meet while traveling that are the special moments you will always remember.
Our Airbnb location turned out to be great! We were within a few minutes walk of the Duomo! This is Firenze’s main cathedral which was begun in 1296 and completed in 1436. Need I point out that this was 56 years before Columbus discovered the Americas! Europe has a way of showing those of us from the US just what a young a country we really are! And, this was the first time we encountered a mass of tourists. These pictures don’t show the sea of people that filled this square waiting to tour and climb the hundreds of stairs to the top of the Duomo.
We were also just a few minutes away from the huge, indoor Mercado Centrale. The main level is filled with an incredible selection of meats, vegetables and any other edible you can think of, and upstairs is one massive room filled with every type of food vendor you can imagine.
Florence was where we chose to participate for the first time in an Airbnb ‘Experience’. These are offered to you in each city where you have booked an Airbnb and range from kayaking to hiking, from night-clubbing with the locals to a Street Food City Walk with a local chef – which is what we chose.
We put on our walking shoes and met Matteo, our adorable young chef and guide at 11:00 a.m. We were already hungry, and he didn’t disappoint!
We started with a shot of Italian espresso which will wake anyone up! Then we went to an outdoor/indoor market similar but not as large as Mercardo Centrale where we tasted delicious samples of cheeses and hams.
We stopped to taste wine, six different olive oils, a coccoli fritti (fried pizza bread balls stuffed with cheese and wrapped with prosciutto ham) – yum!, enjoyed our first, and so far the best Margarita pizza, more wine, a hot tripe sandwich which Joyce really didn’t like, and I didn’t think was too bad if you didn’t think about what you were eating, more wine and ending, of course, with gelato! By then the three of us, including Matteo, were verrrrrry happy. He started telling us stories about his love life and how he was pining for a special girl and wanted our help deciding what type of flowers to give her!
But what made this tour outstanding was we got to see a whole bunch of the city. We walked by the Pitti Palace, through the quiet streets of Oltrarno, the Plaza Saint Spirito, strolled across the Ponte Vecchio and into Palazzo Vecchio where one of the five David’s resides – along with Neptune spouting water from all sides. Joyce was photographed trying to be a scooter babe. We went into a few big churches and found Pinocchio everywhere. You do know he was an Italian puppet who became a ‘real boy’ in the city of Firenze? We fell in love with people-watching, those special touches, a pair of very expensive Ferragamo shoes, the reliefs on the buildings, the street lamps but especially….
….we loved the street art. This isn’t graffiti but real works of art that surprise you and delight the eye – they just happen to be painted on a city wall.
Later, much later in the evening when we actually felt hungry once again, we tried to find something to please us at the Mercado Centrale, but, when we didn’t, we stumbled across the most amazing restaurant on a side street near the Mercado – La Falterona. Without asking, they presented us with a cold glass of Prosecco, and it just got better from there. Their mixed salad was amazing with fresh buffalo mozzarella on top. Joyce finally found a delicious dish made with eggplant and I had my long-awaited dinner of carbonara. It was the end to a wonderful and food-filled day!
On our last day in Firenze, we went to the Michelangelo Piazza with its famed overlook of all of Florence. (Note: David is standing proudly naked in 5 different locations in the city).
We bused back into the old town, had a nice lunch, and, while Joyce went off to see the ‘real David’, I came back to the apartment for a nice nap and quiet time to write.
That evening we had made reservations at an old, old Florence restaurant that we had both dined in years ago, Coco Lezzone. We were so looking forward to an authentic Italian dinner and could not have been more disappointed! It was awful! The service was terrible, (surly waiter) stale bread, tasteless main courses – and expensive. We decided we really needed something special to send our time in Firenze so we returned to La Falterona and partook of two of their delicious and decadent desserts!
Though the crowds of tourists were there, we really weren’t bothered by them in Florence, only when we tried to navigate through the swarm at the Duomo. But as you will learn, it only gets worse.
But right now we are excited to be heading to Siena and and wine, more delicious food and several days under the Tuscan sun!
Until next time….