Firenze, old and new

In 2018  my sister and I spent 10 days in Firenze.  The previous year (2017) I spent two weeks in Firenze at a language school (see Istituto Michelangelo, parte uno and Istituto Michelangelo, parte due) and I was excited to show my sister some new places plus go to our old favorites.  However, some of our plans went awry due to bad weather in one case, bad information in another and bad research on my part.  Still it was great to have the time to see as much as we wanted, pretty much whenever we wanted.  So I’ve grouped our ‘adventures’ including places to stay and places to eat into new and old categories.  The latter will repeat information in other posts but these places are so beautiful that I hope readers will enjoy seeing them again as much as we did. (We also spent a cold rainy day in Siena, traveling by bus from Firenze, and I’ve updated the section on the Siena duomo in my Cathedrals  post with more photos from our soggy day there.)

Where to Stay

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Villa Betania

We had stayed at Villa Betania in 2014 and 2015 and loved it, especially the garden, even though it’s more than a mile from the centro and the return trip is all uphill.

This year we checked in after staying 4 nights at a less than great hotel in Perugia.  I wrote in my journal that ‘as we checked in the owner? Manager? was giving us the usual spiel about location and buses when I said, ‘we’ve been here before.’  And he responded, ‘I thought I recognized you.’  Right.  Either before or after that he upgraded our room,’ which seemed huge and modern compared to Hotel Fortuna.  My only complaint is that the management seems to be letting some maintenance go and the shower leaked in both rooms that we stayed in.  Plus some of the furniture could use updating.  We sat in the garden almost every afternoon after getting back from our walkabouts enjoying the beautiful scenery around us.

We also used their small bar almost every evening.  Sometimes we’d bring our panini and our own wine and have our ‘dinner’ there; other times we’d buy a post dinner glass of wine from the hotel.  Then we’d talk about the day and look at pictures.  The only time it was less than pleasant was the night we came down finding it full of several loud women who’d just arrived from Pennsylvania. I wrote in my journal: If I needed any more evidence for why Americans are hated….. pizza boxes everywhere, spilled wine, loud music….  We traded stories for a while including the rental car company at the airport saying Expedia hadn’t paid for their rental car, then the two loudest women left.  We talked a bit with the nicer woman then she left and the night clerk cleaned up the bar.  We got another wine and sat at a better table and looked at Sue’s pictures which as always are gorgeous.

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Apartment Cavalcanti

I chose this apartment because of the lovely garden and because it was on the ground floor even though it was outside the centro and up a fairly steep hill from Porta Romana.  After we first moved in I wrote: Sitting in the kitchen of our apartment having a last sip of wine while Sue showers.  So far the apartment and our host are great.  The only minor negatives have been le zanzare nel giardino (mosquitoes in the garden) and that it’s somewhat chilly.  I just turned on the heat (hopefully) so maybe it will warm up.   

It did warm up but unfortunately le zanzare  never got better so we weren’t able to use the garden.  Oddly enough while we had two nice sized and nicely furnished bedrooms and a large and nicely designed bathroom there was no living area so we had to sit in the kitchen when we were in between jaunts.  We purchased food from both Mercato Centrale and a nearby supermercato and fixed two evening meals in the apartment plus had our lunch there several times, saving us a bit of money.  I tried making our coffee there too but it didn’t come out very good so we had our cappuccino at a local bar several mornings.

Along with a  bottle of wine the owner (manager?) gave us excellent recommendations for restaurants in the area, one of the best aspects of the apartment.  Antica Porta and Don Fefeʹ were only 5 minutes away and we ate at them multiple times. (See below for more information.)

Another serendipitous benefit was being very close to the to Porta Romana entrance to the Boboli Gardens.  You can read more about that in the section on the gardens.

See my post on Where to Stay for more information on hotels and apartments.

Where to eat

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Osteria Santo Spirito

We ate lunch here twice and while we liked the food the woman who waited on us both times was less than friendly.  We ended up here our first afternoon in Firenze.  It was damp and chilly so we first walked to an enoteca I’d seen online called  Vivanda but when we walked in we were told curtly that it was only open for a cooking class.  So, as I wrote in my journal: We walked 2-3 blocks to  Piazza S. Spirito and Osteria S. Spirito was open and serving.  Not the friendliest staff but we had amazing soup and salads.  More expensive than usual but we decided we could skip dinner since we ate so late.

The second time was after we’d been to il Museo di Galileo and Palazzo Vecchio. I wrote that: as we walked up via Romana,  we decided to go back to Osteria S. Spirito which turned out to be another mistake.  We couldn’t sit outside so took a table inside.  We ordered salads, a meat and cheese tray, water and wine.  The two salads and wine came right away.  After 10 minutes, I asked about water and the meat tray.  The water was slammed down and the waitress said, ‘You didn’t order salumni.’  ‘Yes I did.’ ‘Do you want it?’  ‘Nope.  Not any more.’

Antica Porta

https://www.anticaportafirenze.it/

This little pizzeria on via Senese was just a short walk down the hill from our apartment.  Our apartment owner (manager?) recommended it and we ate there three times, enjoying it more every time.  We had some of the best pizza ever and a new dessert that we loved, tortino di mele.  Initially I thought the wait staff was making fun of my Italian (and they probably were) but by the third visit, they recognized us and were joking and laughing with us.  After our first visit I wrote: 11:30pm:  Holy crap I’m drunk!!  But we had a really fun evening.  After pizza, wine and dessert, Sue wanted to do limoncello and picked up the tab.  I didn’t write anything about our second visit, the Sunday evening after a very long day, but I wrote this after our third visit on our last night in Firenze: We finished on a strong note, though and I’m glad.  We got to Antica Porta early and after getting our reservation clarified, we were seated at a decent table.  Unlike the previous time, the waitress was very friendly and funny, even joking around with us about a table full of very loud little girls.

Don Fefeʹ

Home

We ate at Don Fefe twice, again at the apartment owner’s recommendation plus convenience since it was just up the street from Antica Porta.  Here’s what I wrote the first time: Dinner was good but odd.  We got there a little after 7:00pm and when I told the guy at the door that we didn’t have reservations, he left and brought back another guy speaking rapid fire Italian, the gist of it being that the only place we could sit was in the bar area.  I think he was trying to intimidate us and was surprised when we agreed.  We shared a really good grilled vegie pizza + wine + another mille foglie, [which means a thousand leaves, a dessert made from a pastry filled with custard] all the while people watching and  trying to figure out his [the manager’s?] system for rejecting people.

The second time, we had moved back to Villa Betania and asked the concierge to make a reservation, partly to see if that made any difference.  NOPE  I wrote:   Dinner last night was way more expensive than planned–54 euros– and while it was good, they weren’t any friendlier with the exception of the chef who personally brought us the mille foglie.  The waiter made fun of me for ordering in Italian which baffled me.  I thought trying to speak the language of the country you’re visiting was the polite things to do.  Apparently not.

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Il Pandimonio

My sister and I ate at Il Pandimonio for the first time in 2015 and as I wrote in my Places to Eat  post, we had a wonderful meal especially the mixed appetizers which included a fabulous cauliflower souffle.  We also had a great time talking to a couple from Boston.  So we brought my niece here in 2016. Trattoria di Pandimonio    We loved our appetizers but thought the pasta was less than great.  We liked the the meat balls with beans that my niece ordered much more than our pastas.

Since it was only about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, I suggested we eat there for my sister’s birthday dinner. Here’s what I wrote: We both ordered the meatballs and beans which were way too heavy.  The best part of the meal was the zucchini fritti, fried zucchini that tasted like tempura, and the chocolate mousse, although it was way caloric overload.  We walked home and had a smoke and a limoncello.  Feel like I could pass out from troppo cibo.  It seemed a lot more expensive this year also but the staff is really pleasant and we always enjoy the garden room in the back of the restaurant.

Caffeʹ Finnisterae

Although I’d seen Caffe Finisterae many times while walking through Piazza Santa Croce, it wasn’t until  2017 while attending Istituto Michelangelo that I discovered their great coffees and sweets. It was the ‘go to’ spot for our ‘pausa’ during my language class.  I brought my sister here the morning after she arrived in Firenze that year. We came here twice in 2018 (and several times in 2019).  Having their wonderful cappuccino and brioche was at the top of our to do list our first morning after arriving in Firenze.  We came back another morning after an unsuccessful attempt to get into the Duomo.  I think that was the same morning I bought a gold cross for my grandson at the little 18K carat shop next to Caffeʹ Finnisterae.   (Post trip comment:  And he loved the cross.) We didn’t take any pictures of our cappuccino this year but here are few of Piazza Santa Croce that glorious first morning.

Alla Sosta dei Papi and Salsamenteria

I thought these were great finds during my 2017 stay in Firenze but we had a very negative experience at Sosta in 2018 which I’ve written about in an update to last year’s Florence and Fiesole, parte due post. I tried Sosta again in 2019 while attending Istituto di Michelangelo. I went by myself and with friends from school and didn’t have any problems.

You can read about more restaurants in my Places to Eat post.

Sights

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Galileo Museum

https://www.museogalileo.it/it/

My sister and I had talked about visiting Museo Galileo for several years and finally had time this year.  As I wrote in my journal, after having cappuccino and brioche at Caffe Finnisterae, we, then walked to Museo Galileo which was amazing (albeit more expensive than I expected).  I loved the globes and the books of drawings.  Plus there were videos in almost every room showing how each machine or instrument was developed and for what purpose; then how that machine led to other discoveries.  There were instruments for cartography, astronomy, military use and medicine.  We could have spent hours there and I kept thinking how great it would be to teach physics and have this museum as a resource.  I think I might have enjoyed physics rather than getting in trouble with my teacher constantly.

Ospedale degli Innocenti

https://www.inexhibit.com/mymuseum/museo-degli-innocenti-hospital-innocents-florence-brunelleschi/

I visited Ospedale degli Innocenti for the first time in 2017 when I was in Firenze for my language class and really enjoyed it. (See my  Florence and Fiesole, parte due post.) So I suggested to my sister that we include it on our Sunday itinerary in Firenze since it was the first Sunday of the month when all state museums are free.  We weren’t able to get into some of our other choices, such as the Accademia, so after visiting il Museo dell’Opera we walked to San Marco and then back to Piazza SS Annunziata.   (This year there was  some type of ceramic fair in the piazza with dozens of tents showing all types of ceramics from traditional to modern.)

The Brunelleschi designed loggia or portico of the Ospedale forms one side of the piazza, Hotel Le Due Fontane, where I stayed on one of my first trips, forms another side and the Church of SS Annunziata, a third side. Above the portici are charming swaddled infants designed by Andrea della Robbia.  The exterior loggia and bas reliefs of infants are mirrored by a loggia surrounding a courtyard within the building. In addition there is an art gallery with paintings by famous artists, gifted to the Ospedale over the years.  I think my sister’s favorite room in the Ospedale was the one with rows of drawers containing keepsakes from the many orphans who lived here over the years. I find it amazing that the records of the orphanage go back hundreds of years. We also went up to the terrace and enjoyed the lovely views of the rooftops of Florence.

 

Mercato Centrale

 On our 2016 my niece and I went to Mercato San Ambrogio as part of a cooking class. I loved it  but it was a little too far from our aprtments for our needs.  So before we left for Italy I did some research on where to buy food for the apartment and  found this link https://www.mercatocentrale.com/florence/ to Mercato Centrale.  I was totally geeked to shop there but had somewhat mixed results.

We went twice, the day after we moved into our apartment and then our last full day in Firenze.  Here’s what I wrote about our first visit: From there (the Duomo) we walked to Mercato Centrale and contrary to the information online, it was closing down.  The upstairs was completely closed and we had to hustle to get pasta, sauce, meats and cheeses plus some balsamic that Sue wanted to give to Rachelle. We were disappointed not to see the upstairs which has lots of small food, wine and sandwich shops as well as an area for Lorenza de’ Medici’s cooking class.  I also thought I spent a lot of money for what we got but it was enough for several meals so it was worth it.

The second time we went, it was a last minute idea on my part as we were heading towards Santa Maria Novella.  I suggested stopping and buying panini to take to the Bardini Gardens. I wrote: The upstairs was open so we wandered around and bought sandwiches to eat at Bardini.  While it was interesting, it wasn’t nearly as great as it looked online.  In looking at our pictures I’m not sure why I was somewhat underwhelmed.  The quality, variety and quantity of food was amazing.  I’ve included a couple of pictures of the open air market just outside Mercato Centrale.  I’ve walked through this area many times and never realized what was inside the building next to it.

Santa Maria Novella

One of my fellow language students in my class at Istituto Michelangelo talked about going to Santa Maria Novella, and the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, saying the farmacia was beautiful.  I looked it up online at http://www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/Pharmacy-Santa-Maria-Novella.html and thought it was definitely worth a visit. I suggested to my sister that we combine it with a visit to the church.  The church was more expensive than I expected but  the frescoes and adjacent cloisters are lovely.  An interesting factoid is that Galileo was denounced for heresy from the pulpit in Santa Maria Novella.

Afterwards, we walked around the piazza but could never find the farmacia which was disappointing.  I realize now we should have walked further up the street towards the train station.  Hopefully we’ll see it next time.

2020 Update: In October 2019, on our last full day in Firenze, my sister and I stumbled on to Farmacia Santa Maria Novella.  It was a rainy day and I had talked my sister into walking almost to the train station to find a little book shop that was supposed to have a good selection of  journals.  As we walked up that quiet street we realized we had just walked past the Farmacia.  Finding the bookstore closed, we stopped at the Farmacia on our way back.  As I was looking at my pictures, shown in the gallery below, I was trying to come up with a description of the architecture and decor and found this article, https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/florence-apothecary/index.html, in which the author says,  The ambiance reminds me of a Florentine palace, with elaborate chandeliers, rich drapes, 18th century furniture and mellow lighting. I agree with that description.  As you can see in the gallery below, it is lovely.

The Farmacia is fairly small, just three rooms, I think, but the shelves are stocked with an amazing array of perfumes, soaps and lotions.  It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in that neighborhood.  The Farmacia also has a website where you can order their products: https://www.smnovella.com/

Santa Reparata, the event that never happened

This non event was a major disappointment of our Florence visit.  When I was doing my usual pre-trip research, I found the following information at https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-events/october-in-florence.html : This festival that is celebrated with a historic procession starts at 15:45 from Palagio di Parte Guelfa and arrives at 16.30 to the Duomo’s churchyard. A celebration of the co-patron saints Santa Reparata with a procession in medieval dress in the afternoon at 3:45 pm from Piazza di Parte Guelfa to the crypt of the Roman saint at the Cathedral. Legend tells us that this Roman saint interceded in a battle which was one of the defining events in establishing Christianity in Florence. The present-day Cathedral has long since been built on the ruins of a building with paleo-Christian origins and which is partially ‘visitable’ under the floor of Santa Maria del Fiore today.

 I also found this video: http://becomemoresognidoro.blogspot.com/2013/10/firenze-festa-di-santa-reparata.html with similar information.

My sister was super excited in part because I’d had the opportunity to see Il Carro Matto in September 2017 and Santa Reparata looked similar, even starting in the same piazza.  Here’s what happened: Sue asked when we should leave and I started to say, ‘It starts at 2:45pm’ then looked at my itinerary and said, ‘oh (expletive).  It doesn’t start ‘til 3:45pm. If we head out now maybe we can get into the Duomo.’

 But the line was still long and only inching along so I suggested a spritz in P. della Republicca then changed it to the little bar in P. della Parte Guelfa.  That bar was closed so we went into a bar around the corner (Porcellini?) and had the strongest drinks and worst news of the trip.  We asked the waiter about the Santa Reparata procession and he said it was the previous day, Sunday the 7th. 

We were unbelievably disappointed and I later posted a very strong comment on the visitflorence.com web site.  Initially the writer of the post said she was sure the festival was always October 8th and didn’t understand why it hadn’t taken place.  A week after I got back from Italy I received another e-mail from the same writer, angrily saying that of course as a religious festival Santa Reparata would have been on Sunday and held in Piazza del Duomo, so I quoted back to her the same statement that was posted on her blog.

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Palazzo Vecchio

http://museicivicifiorentini.comune.fi.it/palazzovecchio

I can’t remember if I saw Palazzo Vecchio the first time I was in Firenze or the second but I’ve come back several times since then.  On our first full day in Firenze this year we decided to stop at Palazzo Vecchio after the Galileo Museum.  It was a drop dead gorgeous day and we started our morning at Caffeʹ Finisterrae, our favorite place for brioche and cappuccino.  Afterwards we strolled around Piazza Santa Croce taking pictures and enjoying the sunshine.  It was a short walk from there to the Galileo Museum and then to  Palazzo Vecchio.  All I wrote was that as always it was lovely, especially the map room. 

I think this was the first time I’d been there when there wasn’t a meeting in the  Hall of the Five Hundred so we could wander around, looking at the huge paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.  (They always make me think of that scene in Dan Brown’s Inferno when the bad guy is shot and falls through the ceiling.)  We enjoy the art, frescoes and coffered ceilings  in all the rooms but my favorite is always the map room.  I’m fascinated at how cartographers drew the world in the 16th century.  There’s a small terrace off the top floor facing the Oltrarno  and we took some photos of the beautiful views.

You can see more about Palazzo Vecchio in my Museums and Monuments post.

Il Museo dell’Opera del Duomo

https://operaduomo.firenze.it/

I saw the newly renovated Museo in 2016 and have returned every year since.  It is one of the most gorgeous museums I’ve ever seen and I’m in awe every time I sit in the three level main room and try to absorb the beauty of the sculptures and the Doors of Paradise.  We walked slowly through every room on every floor, enjoying everything from the models to the videos to the rooftop view of the dome.  All of it is phenomenal.  I signed up for their newsletter and I receive e-mails of events that make me want to live in Firenze year round. My  gallery from this year’s visit may rival that in my Museums and Monuments post, where you can also see a video of the restoration.

Duomo and Baptistry

The Duomo and Baptistry are the defining monuments of Florence whether you see them from one of the high points such as Forte di Belvedere or walking through a narrow street toward the Piazza del Duomo.  Still I’ve never had a burning desire to go inside since much of the art and sculpture is in the Museum.  My sister visited the Duomo and Baptistry in 2016. This year we both went in the Baptistry and Duomo partly as a result of the debacle with the Santa Reparata Festival.

The Baptistry is included in the 72 hour Duomo ticket which now costs 18 euros. After nursing our disappointment at missing Santa Reparata over aperol spritzes, we decided to walk through Piazza del Duomo and here’s what I wrote: We walked back through the Piazza del Duomo and there wasn’t a line for the Baptistry so we went in for about a half hour, taking pictures and enjoying the quiet. It is beautiful and I’m glad I got to see it.

Entrance to the Duomo is free but the lines are long and it took us three tries before the line was moving quickly enough to warrant the wait.   The interior of the Duomo is relatively simple compared to other churches in Italy but I thought the simplicity was beautiful.  I also included some pictures of the exterior in the gallery below, partly as contrast to the simplicity of the interior but also because it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever seen.

By the time we were able to get into the Duomo our 72 hour ticket had expired so we couldn’t visit the crypt of Santa Reparata underneath the cathedral which was disappointing.  We did walk down stairs to the entrance to the crypt and these pictures  give a glimpse of the crypt itself.

2020 update:

Crypt of Santa Reparata

https://duomo.firenze.it/en/discover/church-of-santa-reparata

As mentioned in the web site above, the Duomo or Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore is built on the remains of the church of Santa Reparata.  While the Duomo itself is free, entry to the Crypt requires the 72 hour, 18 euro ticket for the Duomo complex.  In 2019 my sister and I were able to gain entry into the Duomo and the Crypt while our 72 hour Duomo ticket was still valid.

We probably spent about an hour walking through the Crypt.  There are walkways over the remains of the church leading through various exhibits, some of them archaeological finds from the digs and others models of how the church might have looked.  At one end of the exhibit is a small chapel with a beautiful cross.

The Gardens

I never get tired of the Boboli and Bardini Gardens and have been every year I’ve been in Firenze except 2014 when hail storms had ruined the plants and flowers.  This year we went to Boboli once and Bardini twice.  This is what I wrote after our first visit: My one good idea of the last few days was to go in the Porta Romana entrance.  It was a steep hike up to the center area but we saw lots of grounds and sculptures we’d never seen before.  It was a short hike to the rose garden and then we took the path to the back entrance past Belvedere and into Bardini.

 We went directly to the café and had a prosecco and smoke and relaxed for a while.  Sue took a few photos from the terrace including a couple of me that I’ve already deleted. 

Then we went out the side entrance intending to walk down the street to via Bardi.  It was a lot steeper than I remembered so we went back to Boboli and worked our way back down to the Porta Romana exit which was quite a bit shorter and easier than walking all the way around.  Plus Sue got some really good photos. The area near the Porta Romana entrance has a lovely reflecting pool with beautiful sculptures.   My sister’s pictures were so pretty that I couldn’t choose which ones to put in the gallery so I included them all.

Entering through the Porta Romana gate will also remind you of the scene in Dan Brown’s Inferno where the characters are being chased through the Boboli.  The first time I read the book, I thought his description of the gardens existed only in his imagination.  I’d certainly never seen anything that looked like La Cerchiatta or tunnel of leaves.  But as you walk from the reflecting pool, you see a wide path with the ‘tunnel’ next to it.  The path leads  up to the main area of the gardens but it is so steep, I found it challenging to walk up much less run.  Here are some pictures of the steep hike along with a view towards il Giardino del Cavaliere which sits at the very top of the gardens.

We went to the Bardini a second time on our last full day in Firenze. We had been to Santa Maria Novella, then walked to Piazza Santa Croce so Sue could buy a silver cross for her grandson’s confirmation.  I wrote in my journal: It wasn’t far from there to the Bardini.  We walked up to the café the way we came down last year.  We had prosecco and panini and I sat there with tears in my eyes knowing it was the last time I’d be in the Bardini.  I hope what I wrote wasn’t true, that I will get back to Firenze but I was feeling pretty down after several disappointments.

Piazzale Michelangelo

In 2016 and 2017 we flew directly in to Firenze and after checking in and dropping off luggage, we walked to Piazzale Michelangelo using the route along the Arno, through the porta and up via del Monte alle Croci. This steep street eventually comes out just to the right of the piazzale and below San Miniato.  In 2018 it was chilly and damp when we arrived in Firenze by train, so after checking in at Villa Betania we went in search of a warm place to have lunch.

Wednesday after we moved into our apartment we took a different walk to Piazzale Michelangelo.  Here’s what I wrote: After unpacking, getting some groceries and putting our second load of laundry in, we took viale Machiavelli and Gallileo to P. Michelangelo.  Holy crap that was a long walk!!!  Sue took some photos then we took the steps down past Fuori Porta then via dei Bardi to Ponte Vecchio and up via Romana;  more than 9,000 steps.

But I love the residential areas along viale Galileo and we were able to get some photos with different views of the city as you can see in the gallery below.

Forte di Belvedere

We didn’t get to Forte di Belvedere until our last full day in Firenze.   I wrote in my journal: We walked to Forte di Belvedere (from the Bardini Gardens) to see a new sculpture exhibit, then took the back street, via San Leonardo, to viale Galileo and on to Villa Betania. The sculptures were very interesting but difficult to describe.  You can see them in the gallery below.  The sculptor’s name is Eliseo Mattiacci and you can read more about him and the exhibit at: https://www.artribune.com/?s=mattiacci  Typically there are pieces by the same sculptor throughout Firenze including Piazza della Signoria but not this year; perhaps because they are too large.