This post will be an extension of my first Florence post as well as my Flying Solo and Attitude is Everything posts. If anyone out there read the latter posts, they know that when I published them, I was getting ready to head to Florence to take a two week course in Italian. I took the course through a special 50+ program at the Michelangelo Institute.
I was pretty nervous, in part because it had been a long time since I’d spent more than a couple of days traveling on my own. I tried to keep my expectations in check and keep a positive attitude. I did have some low moments, though, initially when I found my hotel for the first two nights was not good and later when I caught a bad cold after a week of sleep deprivation.
Still it was a positive experience overall. While I have a few criticisms of Michelangelo; e.g. their accommodations could be improved, in general it’s an excellent program and I’m already researching similar programs in other cities in Italy. My post trip analysis is that while there were lots of other solo students, this is the type of trip that’s best if you go with a friend so you can share the ups and downs.
In my first post on Firenze, I organized my thoughts around places to see plus wrote about most of the museums in a separate post. This time I’m going to write first about the school, then about some of the new places and events that I saw. The section on the school is more narrative than pictures (and a bit rambling) so you may want to skip to the sections on New Places or Favorites.
In the the section on new places, I’ve added my new favorite wine bar as well as a new restaurant we really liked. The section on some of my favorite places includes the gardens, il Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and the Brancacci Chapel.
I’d been looking into this Florence language school for a number of years, mostly because it has a program for 50+ students which includes cooking classes, cultural events, passegiatta (walk abouts) weekend trips and evening dinners. (You can see more information at http://www.michelangelo-edu.it/index.htm) The school itself is located on Via Ghibellina; a warren of confusing rooms in an ancient building close to Piazza Santa Croce and a short walk to Piazza dell Duomo.
While most students, like myself, arrange apartments through the school, I met a number of students who rented through VRBO or Air BnB. Most of those students had come with a friend so could better afford the higher prices. Since I rented through the school and arrived about three days before my class started, I had to stay in a hotel for the first two nights.
The hotels I’ve stayed at during my previous visits are quite a ways from the school and fairly expensive, so I went with a recommendation from the school, the Hotel Monna Lisa. It looked beautiful online and I got what I thought was an inexpensive rate (that somehow morphed into 50% more when I checked out) but man it was one of the worst places I’ve ever stayed and as I wrote in my journal, it rivaled the Hotel Cellai where I landed in 2000. The one exception was their garden seen in this picture.
Here’s what I wrote in my journal: Saturday, September 23, 2017: 10:05 am: OMG!! Feel like I’ve been beaten. Fell asleep early then woke abruptly @ 9:00pm to noise outside. Between the noise and the freezing cold room, I didn’t go back to sleep ‘til after 2:00 am. September 24, 2017: 9:00am: Didn’t think it was possible to have a worse night’s sleep and yet I did. Stayed awake until almost 10:00pm then once again woke to street noise at 1:30am and lay there until nearly 4:00am. Feel like I’ve been beaten and not sure there’s enough coffee to get me through the day especially this nasty stuff. The cherry on the sundae is that I have mosquito bites all over my face and it looks cloudy and cool.
That same day, Sunday, the 24th, I left my bags at the hotel and after wandering the city, I was forced to come back to the hotel because of pouring rain, finding my bags in the middle of the sitting room. It finally cleared off so I drug my bags through the wet streets to the school, which was less than 15 minutes away, to get the key to my apartment. Here’s what I wrote in my journal: Later: Managed to wrangle my bags to the school, getting there a little early. I rang the bell and luckily a guy let me in and put my bags in a room, then took me up to the office. It was about 15 minutes before the secretary (?) arrived. (I found out later his name is Lapo and I’m still not sure of his position.) He was über unfriendly and at first seemed to be indicating I had to take myself to the apartment. When I protested, he said the maintenance guy would meet me. Then, just as I was leaving, two women arrived (from Chile as I found out later) who are staying in the same building. So he had me show them the way.
I’m on piano primo and while the layout, especially the kitchen, is funky, it’s light and airy and quiet so far. The biggest hassles are that only one light in the LR (living room) works and there’s only one towel. Right now though, I’m just so happy to be out of that nasty hole I could dance.
The apartment was on Piazza Salvemini about 5 minutes from the school and about five minutes from the Duomo. (And calling it a piazza is a stretch; it’s basically an open area at the intersection of several streets.) It was also close to a small supermarket where I bought yogurt, cheese, salami, bread, soup, wine, water, coffee, filters, cream and paper towels for 24€ which helped my budget. I noted later that evening that the piazza was fairly noisy. Mama Mia! I had no idea. Here’s what I wrote in my journal: Monday 9/24/17: 4:15pm: Have run out of words to describe how tired I am. Last night was as bad if not worse than the previous two. The traffic noise and yelling and screaming kept me awake ‘til at least midnight, then some very loud people woke me at 3:00am. I finally went back to sleep then woke to more screaming at 8:20am. Either my alarm didn’t go off or I slept through it. I scrambled through a shower, threw on some clothes and got to the school about a minute late.
I wasn’t optimistic about the school after that experience plus the introduction wasn’t particularly good: The same guy [Lapo] who gave us our keys gave the introduction after sending all the non-beginners to other classes. (And man I’m glad I’m in the beginner class; have forgotten everything.) He was as grumpy as yesterday so I wasn’t hopeful.
Then those of us in the 50+ class were given our schedules. I was bummed to find I was the only beginner in this week’s cooking class but it turned out well. And also bummed that this week’s excursion is Siena. Naturally last week’s was the Cinque Terre and the following week’s is Assisi. Crap!
I thought it would go downhill from there but our teacher is great and the class is small with nice people. Weirdly enough there are only 3 other Amerikanskis; the rest are from S. America. Go figure!
The cooking class was wonderful even though the other students are advanced and pretty much just spoke Italian with each other. A nice woman from Boston (Lisa) translated every so often, though. We had the best pasta ever, alla Calabrese, and a torta al cioccolata. I ate so much that I’m ready to pass out.
There’s an aperitivo tonight and I wasn’t going to go but Lisa in the cooking class encouraged me to attend.
Here’s a picture of our class plus a picture that one of my classmates took of her cooking class. I came home with some great recipes that I hope to try (or get my niece to try.)
The first week I continued to enjoy the classes and my classmates. Initially the South American contingent was very friendly to me, especially Graciela and Louis Maria, a couple from Argentina, who seemed to think I spoke a lot more Spanish than I did. Plus I really felt like I was learning a lot.
But during week two, maybe because I was down from lack of sleep plus a bad cold, I decided our teacher didn’t like me and that she favored the South Americans who naturally caught on to Italian much more quickly. The coups d’ grace the second week was waking to a swollen face from mosquito bites. Here’s what I wrote: Wednesday 10/4/17: 7:50am: Just when I think things can’t get worse…. Fell asleep @ a decent hour for the first time and woke around 4:00 am covered in mosquito bites. My face and hands are red and swollen so look like a total freak show. Just want to cry. (Later) During la classe cucina, while the teacher was making gnocchi, I went to the office and tried to talk to Federika about my infestation. A woman (student) kept butting in, telling me to get one of the electric mosquito killers. I kept asking why I had to pay for it getting nowhere + Federika was totally unconcerned about my swollen face, telling me to go to la farmacia.
Despite those setbacks, the last two days went better and Lapo even tried to help me Thursday morning when I found out my sister’s flight had been delayed. The dinners, cultural activities and walks were all great so here are pictures and information on them.
Dinners and Activities
As I wrote above there was an aperitivo my first evening of school. It was for all the classes not just the 50+ and cost 9 euros. But that was a bargain for everything we got–one glass of wine (or in my case prosecco) and a huge buffet of every type of appetizer. Although some of my initial impressions of people were a bit off, I had fun talking with my classmates and doing many toasts of ‘Salute!’ and ‘Cin cin.’
Our first dinner was at Ristorante O’ Munaciello with a ‘concerto di musica napoletana.’ The latter was hilarious and here’s what I wrote: Having a late nightcap after a surprisingly fun evening. The S. American contingent was very friendly especially Graciela who seems to think I speak Spanish. Her husband kind of embarrassed me by saying (I think) that I shouldn’t be so shy in class. I tried to make a joke of it saying ‘forte, forte,’ which did make everyone laugh but I felt like an idiot. I had a nice talk with a woman from the U.S. who recently got her tourist guide license and is doing our Friday tour so I’ll definitely go. Our end of the table had a lot of laughs and sang Volare along to the ‘Neapolitan artiste’.
Our second dinner, Thursday the 28th, was at Ristorante Ara – a Sicilian restaurant. As with all our meals the restaurant was generous with food and wine. I don’t remember too much about the food other than there was a choice between il menu di mare and di terre. I chose di terre because the seafood featured lots of squid which I’m not fond of. Again here’s my journal entry: 10:25pm: Ahh, having my night cap after another fun evening, with 2 glasses of wine, decent food and a grappa. Sat next to the nice woman from Boston (Lisa) and across the table from a rather odd but nice woman (Jerry) from California. We talked about everything-books, movies, living abroad, families which I really enjoyed.
I wrote in my journal that the few single guys including Lapo all talked with Gloria and Amalia, two friends from Chile who lived above me. Then I saw the pictures of myself and all I could say was ‘holy moly I looked bad.’ As an aside these pictures are also from a classmate.
The first dinner during my second week was at Signorvino. It was a pleasant dinner even though I was still suffering from my cold. (When I saw another Signorvino in Verona, Sue and I stopped twice for wine and sandwiches.) I had a nice conversation with a woman from Denver and wish I’d written down her name and contact information. While it was enjoyable, I wrote that the new crop of students weren’t nearly as fun as the first week’s group. Dinner was followed by a concerto di musica classica alla Chiesa di Santo Stefano al Ponte. The young solo violinist was phenomenal and the church is beautiful but I left early because of my cold.
I’ll make a quick detour here to write about the other activities. The first week there was a tour of the Accademia. It was fairly expensive and since I’d already been there twice, I decided not to go. (I was glad I didn’t go when the other students said they got to the Accademia late and the tour guide wasn’t very good.)
On Friday of my first week, the woman I met at the Neapolitan restaurant gave a tour of the Santa Croce neighborhood. Our group met at school and then walked to Piazza Santa Croce. Since our group included ‘students’ from the U.S., Switzerland, Germany and South America, our guide (Linda I think) spoke Italian which I didn’t always understand. Still the walk (passegiatta) was interesting. In the piazza Linda gave us some of the history of the cathedral plus told us about the 1966 floods, showing us the signs on the walls of various buildings marking the height of the flood.
From there we walked towards P. della Signoria, wandering the narrow streets off via dei Greci where there was once a Roman arena. We came back to P. Santa Croce where, for some reason, Linda decided to give us the history of prostitution during the Renaissance, pointing out signs on walls in side streets prohibiting prostitutes. She also showed us places where there used to be small doors which when opened contained bottles of wine.
We continued north from the piazza, crossing via Ghibellina to Piazza dei Ciompi. I had walked past the piazza several times but was unaware of its history, particularly the arches on the north side (seen at this link http://www.florence-on-line.com/piazzas/piazza-dei-ciompi.html) The arches, Loggia del Pesce by Giorgio Vasari, were originally in Piazza della Republicca, but were moved during the reunification of Italy. Ciompi means wool carders and for many years the piazza was home to a poplular flea market. For reasons I didn’t fully understand, the flea market was removed a few years ago.
From the piazza we continued along via Pietrapiana to Borgo la Croce and then to Mercato San Ambrogio. This is a phenomenal market with every type of fruit and vegetable at the outside stalls, and every possible food item inside. My niece and I came here in 2016 with our cooking class instructor to buy ingredients for our meal. I didn’t get a picture of the mercato this year but here’s one from that 2016 cooking class.
After the mercato, Linda started taking the group back towards the school. Since we were just 2-3 blocks from my new favorite wine bar, Alla Sosta dei Papi, I ditched and went to Sosta for wine and crostini. (You can read about Sosta in my restaurants/wine bars section.) I felt bad for ditching and noticed a couple of other people had also drifted away. I didn’t see Linda again which I regret. I wanted to apologize plus I had enjoyed talking with her. She had spent years studying Italian, plus history and art, and I was impressed with her journey.
During week two, there was also a tour for our group of Ospedale degli Innocenti. Again, since I’d gone there my first Sunday in Florence, I decided not to go. But you can read about it and see pictures in my ‘New Places’ section below.
The final activity that I skipped was the Sunday trip to Siena. I started coming down with a cold that day plus it was rainy and chilly. From what other students said, it was something of a forced march. Having been to Siena four times, I know it is a city that needs lots of time to wander and enjoy.
Going back to dinners, our final group dinner was Thursday the 5th at Le Carceri. The area around the restaurant was once a convent (Le Murate) then became a prison during World War II but now has shops, restaurants and open spaces. You can read more about it at http://www.theflorentine.net/lifestyle/2013/01/le-murate/.
That day had been incredibly stressful because my sister’s flight to Florence was canceled due to bad weather in Amsterdam. Mid afternoon I received an e-mail from her that she had a confirmed reservation on an 8:00pm flight. Once I saw the flight was definitely going to leave, I decided to join the group and was so glad I did. We sat outside on the restaurant’s large patio under heat lamps and had a wonderful time. To say the wine flowed would be a mild understatement. People were constantly jumping up and giving toasts led by Federika who was in charge of our program. Here’s what I wrote in my journal and a picture from a classmate: Have to say, though, that was the most fun evening since I’ve been here and for the first time this week the SA contingent was very friendly. Plus I had a nice conversation with a little guy from Munich. Go figure. And Gerardo from our class was actually nice to me.
It looks like we’re totally out of it in this photo and maybe we were given the amount of wine we drank. I’m not sure how I got back to the apartment.
Restaurants and Wine Bars
I expected to return from this trip with lots of great new restaurants and wine bars, especially from Venice where the ‘standing bars’ (bacari) and appetizers (cicchetti) are a local tradition. But I didn’t get the names of the bars we went to on our Cannaregio tour and couldn’t find the one I planned to go to along the Zattere for our sunset spritz.
Still I did find two new places in Florence that are definite keepers.
Alla Sosta dei Papi
For several years we’ve been stopping at Fuori Porta after our first day hike to Piazzale Michelangelo for wine, crostini and people watching. But this year I wrote, Fuori Porta was disappointing; the crostini weren’t good and by the time I ate what I could, the place was empty.
Still I got a nice picture of the area near the bar.
Given my disappointment over Fuori Porta, I felt fortunate to have found Alla Sosta dei Papi. I stumbled on it first through Tripadvisor and then looked up its web site http://www.sostadeipapi.it/.
I was thrilled when I found it would be close to both my apartment and the school, although it took me several tries before I found it on Borgo al Croce. I went there my first Saturday in Florence and here’s what I wrote: 5:55pm: @ Sosta with a huge glass of chianti. Tried to order a panino but got crostini. May have to get another order. At least the crostini are better than Fuori Porta. In any event I finally feel like I’m where I want to be. This place is great. 8:55pm: Holy shit!! I’m drunk. But got to talking to two nice women from New Zealand and had a prosecco and another order of crostini.
And when I say ‘huge glass’ I mean filled to the brim all for 3€ along with three fresh, good crostini. They have a huge selection of bottled wines as well as big vats of house wine for just over 4€. I bought a bottle one evening, going back at least 4 times over the next two weeks. Then I brought my sister here the Friday night before we left for Verona and parts east and again our last night in Florence. She loved it too and we took lots of pictures you can see below.
With one exception, I was always treated pleasantly when I came in alone. I felt I could sit as long as I wanted, writing in my journal or studying Italian. The second time I came in I wrote, I embarrassed myself by saying ‘bottella’ not bottiglia, but it still feels nice to be part of the ‘scene.’ When I happened to mention Sosta in my Italian class, my teacher seemed surprised that I had found it and agreed it was the best value in Florence.
The one exception was the evening I stopped after going to Il Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo. I asked for a prosecco and unlike my first time, the woman working the ‘bar’ gave me a tiny glass and was border line rude to me. Weirdly enough the first time I brought my sister, we were sitting at a table made from a wine barrel, and the same woman came out of the back room and started shoving our table, almost spilling our wine.
Still it is our new favorite and I can’t wait to go back.
2018 postscript: I’m sad to say that our experience with both Sosta and Salsamenteria in 2018 was a major negative and it is no longer our favorite. We had been saving Sosta and Salsamenteria for a positive occasion partly because both are a fairly long walk from the apartment we were staying in just outside Porta Romana. Unfortunately we decided to drown our disappointment over missing the Feast of Santa Reparata with a glass of wine at Sosta. We arrived shortly 4:00pm and were the only ones sitting inside. Since it was a nice day I’m not sure why we didn’t sit outside. Maybe things would have turned out differently. (My sister also took a picture of me and I looked totally out of it.)
We had our usual glass of Chianti and I remember my sister telling me about a letter her granddaughter writing her a letter before leaving for college and then effusively telling me how much she loved me. In retrospect I have to smile over that since I’m sure other customers misinterpreted it. Somehow another glass of wine that neither of us remembers ordering appeared and the next thing I remember is sitting at Salsamenteria ordering dinner. When the food arrived, my sister asked, ‘Did we order?’ I also have a vague recollection of having difficulty getting into or out of the restroom.
Then all either of us remembers is stumbling down the street holding on to cars and buildings until we finally reached our apartment. My sister said that as we were crossing the Arno someone asked if we needed help. Yes!!! How we got back without being mugged or worse is a total mystery. We put our purses in the apartment then sat out on the step where we finally came to the realization that we had been drugged. The only place that made sense was at Sosta. Given that we weren’t at Salsamenteria very long and didn’t get home until 11:30pm, we lost 3-4 hours at Sosta and they must have known we were in bad shape when we left.
Salsamenteria dei Ciompi
I stumbled on this little restaurant Thursday afternoon of my second week. I was wandering the area near Sosta on via Pietrapiana partly looking to find a place to have a late lunch, partly looking for a restaurant to take my sister and mostly killing time, waiting to hear if she was going to get out of Amsterdam.
I paused in front of Salsamenteria and a young guy immediately came out and practically drug me inside to show me their pastas which he said were made fresh every day. He also said all the food came from their farm near Siena pointing to a picture on the wall. While its very small with fewer than 10 tables, I liked the looks of the restaurant with its white washed exposed brick walls and pink neon signs.
So Friday night I brought my sister here after Sosta. Here’s what I wrote: Around 7:45pm we walked to Salsamenteria, the little trattoria I’d seen Thursday and had one of the most phenomenal meals ever. I’m too tired to write anything now but Sue was over the moon and I was too. I had pasta with freshly sautéed vegetables, Sue had a fresh tuna salad; we both had a nice glass of wine (a Brunello maybe), limoncello and the biggest tiramisu I’ve ever seen. All for about 46€. We ate here again our last night in Florence after once again going to Sosta and had pretty much the same food, although Sue had a pasta carbonara. The only negative our second visit was that we had to sit in the area near the front door which was a bit chilly and noisy.
Here are a few pictures.
From the first day of class, several of us would come here during our ‘pausa’ for cappuccino and brioche. Both were excellent and the cappuccino was only 1.40 € and a chocolate filled brioche was only 1€. It’s actually a fairly large restaurant with an outside seating area diagonally across from Santa Croce. The entrance to the café where we had our coffee is on the piazza. I brought my sister here her first morning in Florence and she totally loved it. We came back our last morning in Florence, a spectacularly beautiful day. We’re still having withdrawal. You can read more about the café and restaurant at http://www.finisterraefirenze.com/.
I’cche ceꞌ ceꞌ
I found this little trattoria in a book I bought before my first trip to Italy. It’s located on a tiny street off of via dei Greci between Piazza Santa Croce and Piazza della Signoria. I came here after my bike trip and one of my favorite memories was being seated with a group of people who had either come alone like I did or didn’t have reservations. We all talked and laughed through dinner, especially when a couple from Canada ordered a whole squid. The looks on their faces when it was presented on a platter with all its tentacles dangling off the edge were priceless. You can read more on their web site, http://trattoriaicchecece.com/
I returned when I came to Florence a few days before my second bike trip. I arrived before it opened and started talking to a couple of nice women from Minneapolis. We walked to an internet café, sent some e-mails, then came back and had a nice dinner.
I decided to try I’cche ce ce again the second Saturday I was in Florence. Here’s what I wrote: 7:40pm: At I’cche ceꞌ ceꞌ having a prosecco. Several people have come in since I arrived and the waitress has been very pleasant so don’t feel too awkward. Hope this was a good choice. If so, I’ll bring Sue here next Thursday. 9:30pm: OMG ate and spent way too much but it was delicious–insalata mista, ravioli con limone, crème caramel, vino, water… Best meal since I got here, not that there’s much competition.
I enjoyed it so much that when my sister and I returned to Florence from Venice I suggested going there Sunday night. When we stepped out of the hotel, we found an incredible deluge so went back and got umbrellas. Even so we were pretty wet by the time we arrived. For the first hour, we were the only ones there which was a bit awkward but we had a really nice meal. I can’t remember what Sue had but I had pretty much the same food as my previous visit.
I’ve been stopping at the Blu Bar since my first trip to Italy and my first visit to Fiesole. I love it for its beautiful terrace overlooking Florence and the surrounding hills. You can sit there as long as you want which for me is at least an hour and usually longer. I went to Fiesole my first Saturday in Florence and and stopped here after my usual walk, writing: At Blu Bar. It’s a beautiful day–warm in the sun with a cool breeze. I talked to a nice British lady on the way up to Fiesole (realizing too late that I was in a seat reserved for handicapped), then talked to a nice couple as I was walking down from the park and convent. It’s peaceful here; i.e. no Mercato although I was hoping to find a cheap bag for groceries.
Then my sister and I came our last day in Florence. It was one of the most gorgeous days we’ve ever had in Florence and Fiesole and our pictures say it all.
New Places and Things to Do
Ospedale degli Innocenti
While strolling around Florence in September 2016 I stopped in Piazza Santissima Annunziata. I had been in the piazza itself several times, even staying at a hotel on south side of the piazza. But I’d never really focused on the building on the east side, Ospedale degli Innocenti. Looking at it more closely I realized it was a museum and so I did more research when I returned home. I found that the building itself including the exterior porticoes was designed by Brunelleschi, famous designer of the dome of Santa Maria dei Fiori, and financed by the Wool Guild. For more than 500 years it served as a hospital and school for orphans and children whose families could no longer care for them.
For many years, family members or other adults would place infants in an opening on the side of the building which could then be turned so that the child would be inside the ‘hospital.’ They would then ring a bell and leave preserving their anonymity. Our Italian instructor told us that children raised in the orphanage took the last name Innocenti and there are many people with that last name in Florence.
I decided to see the Ospedale on my first Sunday in Florence, partly because it was chilly and rainy. The exterior porticoes and interior cloisters are lovely in and of themselves but made more so by the della Robbia terra cotta reliefs of swaddled babies.
I found the exhibits fascinating, especially their very modern design in the 15th century building reminding me somewhat of the Museo dell’ Opera dell Duomo after its restoration. On the ground level are rooms giving the history of the ‘hospital’ including a room with walls of drawers which contain the ‘gifts’ that families left with their children in hopes of some day reuniting with them.
On the upper level is a long hallway with numerous paintings by artists such as Ghirlandaio and Filippo Lippi given to school and hospital as well as photos from the late 19th century showing the children and nurses.
There is also a lovely roof top terrace and café where I sat and wrote: 1:50pm: Having hot tea and a panino @ the rooftop café @ Ospedale degli Innocenti. Have been @ the museum for almost 2 hours. It’s a lovely museum but I’m also killing time since it’s turned chilly and rainy. I went to the synagogue this AM and was really disappointed. Sue made it sound fabulous but it didn’t do much for me. There are gorgeous roof top views from the terrace so hopefully I can get some good pictures.
Before my recent trip I was browsing around the web, probably the visitflorence.com site and saw pictures of the Cappelle Medici. I thought it looked lovely so decided to go on my second Sunday which was the first Sunday of the month, making all state museums free. Here’s what I wrote: Sunday, Oct. 1: I walked to the Medici Chapels [from the Bargello] where the line was even longer. So I walked through Mercato Centrale and bought a cheap (quality not price) poncho then went back to le Cappelle where it took 25 minutes to get in.
I was definitely glad I went on a free day ‘cause it was kind of disappointing–dark and under restoration.
I thought my disappointment was due to the fact that I was coming down with a cold and, as I wrote above, it was gray, chilly and rainy. But after my return I read the following in an old Frommers guide book that I bought before my first trip: ‘Work [on the cappelle] got underway in 1604 and it was to become one of the most god-awful and arrogant memorials…. dedicated to some of Florence’s most decrepit tyrants.’ The book had a whole paragraph devoted to the Cappella dei Principi which it calls ‘an exercise in bad taste.’ After reading that I didn’t feel so bad. If you want to go out of curiosity, aim for the first Sunday of the month so you don’t have to pay for it.
Il Carro Matto
Just before I left for Florence, I happened to be looking at the visitflorence.com site and ran across information about this ‘festa’ which is always the last Saturday in September.
According to www.vistflorence.com/florence-events/carro-matto-grape-harvest.html the crazy cart festival ‘celebrates the centuries-old Tuscany tradition of wine-making but it also reconstructs how wine arrived into town. Since the 14th century, wine was bottled and conserved in glass bottles called “fiasco” that have a round, pear shaped bottom and long neck. They are the round wine flasks that became a symbol of Tuscan wine across the world. They hold precisely 1 3/4 liters of wine and were made and kept in the center of Florence: the corner of Via Condotta with Via dei Calzaiuoli was known as the “Canto dei Fiascai” because many artisans had their workshops or warehouse in the area.’
That Saturday the weather was beautiful and here’s what I wrote: 2:50pm: In the piazette where the parade’s supposed to start and there are a lot of guys with duffle bags but no other signs of the festa. I did get a reservation at I’cche ceꞌ ceꞌ but I’m about to pass out from hunger.
4:10pm: Got to see the beginning of the parade as well as the ‘turnaround’ in P. dell Duomo where the ‘marchers’ met up with the Carro di Vino and women and children carrying bottles of ruffino. Super cool and took tons of pictures.
The gallery below is a bit over the top but I just couldn’t decide which pictures to use so used them all.
Favorites over the Years
The Brancacci Chapel
I wrote in an earlier post (Museums and monuments) that in 2014 I stayed at an odd little B&B in the Oltrarno for a couple of nights before the rest of our group arrived. While I didn’t particularly care for the owner, I’ll always be grateful that she suggested going to the Brancacci.
It wasn’t until 2015 when my sister and I spent 5 days in Florence, that we were able to visit the chapel. You can see a gallery of pictures in that post but I had the good fortune to visit again in September 2017 because a student in my class gave me a Firenze Card that was good for that day (Thursday the 28th) and here’s my journal entry and a new gallery. 4:30pm: Back from my excursion. Got two blocks away and realized I’d forgotten my tablet. So came back then walked to Palazzo Vecchio with a stop to check out I’cche ce ce’s location finding that Palazzo Vecchio closes @ 2:00pm on Thursdays. So I decided to go to the Brancacci Chapel. I’d also forgotten to bring a map so I slipped into the bookstore pretending to be interested in a guide book and found the location. It was a warm walk but I was glad I went. They take the Firenze card and it’s so lovely and peaceful. I tried a few pictures that turned out pretty good.
Il Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo
If anyone out there has read my ‘Museums and monuments’ post (doubtful), they know the initial section on il Museo is a bit over the top. But I could see it a 100 times and still be awed. This year I decided to go to il Museo the Wednesday of my second week because their web site says that the combined ticket for all the sites in Piazza del Duomo is good for 48 hours from the first time you use it. I thought if I used it for il Museo on Wednesday, my sister could use it for the baptistry and bell tower Friday.
After a couple of attempts to buy the ticket online, I took a chance and walked to il Museo after cooking class. The young guy selling tickets confirmed the information on their web site; i.e., that the ticket is good for 48 hours. In any event, as I wrote, ‘for an hour and a half I forgot my problems just immersing myself in beauty.’
My photos are nowhere as good as my sister’s but I thought I took some interesting ones from the upper levels.
The Gardens and Piazzale Michelangelo
Like il Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo, I never get tired of the Boboli and Bardini Gardens and Piazzale Michelangelo. The walk to the latter has become our traditional post flight activity to shake off jet lag and I did the walk the first afternoon I arrived in Florence.
The Friday after my sister arrived, we walked from La Finisterrae to Piazza del Duomo where my sister planned to go to the Campanile and the Baptistry using the ticket I’d purchased Wednesday. I wandered from Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Signoria and back, window shopping, stopping to listen to some terrific street musicians. I arrived back at the spot in Piazza del Duomo where we’d agreed to meet. After waiting 20 minutes I began to think I’d missed her. I moved to the shade by the Il Museo and was surprised when she came walking out the exit from the museum. Weirdly enough they wouldn’t accept her ticket at the Campanile but let her use it again at the museum.
From there we walked to the Pitti Palace and bought the combined ticket for the Boboli and Bardini Gardens. We walked to the top of the Boboli Gardens but didn’t linger or take many photos since it was a warm day and we still had a lot of walking to do.
We left the Boboli from the back entrance which goes past Fort Belevedere and from there we entered the Bardini through the side gate. We immediately went to the little café and had our traditional glasses of prosecco, taking pictures of the beautiful views across the city. We left by a different path and found some lovely areas we’d never seen before which you can see in the gallery below.
I have to give my sister credit. Despite having done at least 12000 steps by then and being jet lagged she was game for doing the walk up the steps to Piazzalle Michelangelo. We also stopped at San Miniato which I found a bit underwhelming but Sue seemed to like. Here are the steps and the vistas across the Arno.
I wrote in my first Florence/Fiesole post about how I learned of Fiesole from a friend before my first trip to Italy and I’ve gone every time I’ve been to Florence. I didn’t speak much Italian when I started my language class but when our teacher started talking about the number 7 bus from Piazza San Marco I knew she was recommending Fiesole to our class. This trip I had the good fortune to go twice; my first Saturday in Florence and then our last day in Florence. We were also fortunate to have beautiful weather both days, spectacularly blue skies, bright sun and a cool breeze.
I always love the ride up to Fiesole, looking out over the valley and wishing I knew someone who lives in one of the lovely villas along the road from Florence. Once I get to Fiesole, I usually walk around Piazza Mino past the entrance to the archaeological museum and the cathedral. I’ve been to the Roman/Etruscan ruins several times and always find them fascinating.
I then walk up the steep road towards the church and convent of San Francesco. About half to two thirds of the way up are steps to the right. I always take them up to the park which has beautiful views over Fiesole, the Roman ruins and the valley. After walking through the grounds of the church and convent, I walk back down the steep road to Blu Bar to enjoy a vino or a birra while people watching and enjoying the scenery. Below are a few pictures from this last trip.