Saturday, February 26, 2011

Travels in Italia - Firenze

Florence's famous, Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno River
Florence gave the world Galileo, Dante, Michelangelo, Donatello, Machiavelli, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, and a true example of last but not least, Salvatore Ferragamo. It ushered in the Renaissance age and woke the world up. As for K and I, we needed waking up. Venice was exhausting! We slowed our pace down in Florence, starting with our trip on the fast (Eurostar) train from Venice, which got us to Florence in about three hours. We had reservations at the lovely Hotel Relais Cavalcanti, a boutique hotel about a five minute walk from the Uffizi with two sisters running the place who are fantastic communicators. We had multiple emails prior to our visit confirming arrival time and providing incredibly detailed directions straight to the front door from the train station. After showing us the common areas and our very pretty room, Anna returned with a map of the city upon which she had handmarked in color-coded highlighters suggested sites and restaurants. She even included budget info with the restaurants! We quickly decided to follow her recommendations, and found all of them to be just great throughout our stay in her lovely city.
Sculpture filled loggia outside Palazzo Vecchio

After a little rest, we headed out at dusk to explore the neighborhood. Our hotel was located in Florence's large, pedestrian zone in the historic district, so we were able to ease back into the world of traffic slowly. About three minutes from our hotel, we happened upon an outdoor leather market, held in a place that seems like it could have been hosting outdoor markets for hundreds of years. A little guidebook searching confirmed this - Mercato Nuovo...I missed taking a look at the circled X on the ground in the center of the market. This marks the spot where people were dropped from the ceiling as a bankruptcy punishment. Another few minutes past this, and we came upon the Piazza della Signoria with it's most beautiful, covered loggia containing a multitude of large sculptures and bronze statues. By now it was dark, but this loggia was well-lit and quite magical in the dark. The piazza was quiet, and the visitors wandering around the statues were contemplative. Palazza Vecchio, Florence's Town Hall and a museum, had it's doors open, and inside we could glimpse some decorative walls. We wandered in, only to find a gorgeous courtyard with frescoed walls and ceilings, carved columns that were a riot of swirls and vines, and beautiful paintings. It was a delightful, quick visit and an introduction to the reason Florence is considered one of the art capitals of the world.
Amazing courtyard of Palazzo Vecchio (a museum and the Town Hall)

All of this walk was designed to take us towards one of Anna's recommended restaurants. Arriving at 7:10, we were too early by 20 minutes for their opening, so we headed for cocktails at the bar next door, Moyo. And there we learned an amazing secret of Florence. The cocktail bars put out appetizer spreads to rival a buffet, and these are included in the cost of your 8euro cocktail. One drink, and a person could eat their fill of cheese, sandwiches, pizza, pasta salads, chicken bites, and the list goes on. In addition, Moyo makes a real deal Bellini. The Bellini was invented by Harry's Bar in Venice and is a peach puree in prosecco (Italian version of champagne). I ordered bellinis all over Venice and kept getting this premixed, straight out of the bottle drink that you can buy in American grocery stores. Disappointing. But at Moyo in Florence, I finally got a real one...and it was good.

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