This post will be an extension of my Florence and Fiesole 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 returned in 2019.
So this post will focus on some new places I got to see in 2017, including 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.
Where not to Stay
Since I came in two days before I could have access to my apartment, I booked a room at the Hotel Monna Lisa, which Istituto Michelangelo recommended. 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 the picture below.
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.
Where to Stay
In 2017 my sister and I returned to Firenze after a cruise to the Greek Islands and stayed two or three nights at Hotel Silla. We had stayed there previously and love its location in the Oltrarno, near the Bardini Gardens, and its terrace.
2019 post script: In October 2019 my sister and I stayed at Silla for five nights. While we had a lovely, large room on the third floor we were startled by some of the changes. I don’t know what the bedrooms look like on the first floor but the main hallway is a stark white and the side hallway is teal and purple. The second floor was also stark white but had blue trim and some of the more traditional features.
Plus as we were checking out I received a text that our flight was canceled. I was somewhat disappointed when the staff didn’t offer to help us; e.g., use of their phone or another night at the hotel while we made new travel arrangements.
Restaurants and Wine Bars
I expected to return from my 2017 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. 2019 Post Script: My sister and I returned to Venice in 2019 for a couple of nights. I finally spotted the bar along the Zattere that I had looked for in 2017. It’s just a small, stand alone bar close to the canal. It was too chilly to stop there and we ended up having dinner inside OK Pizza.
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.
As you can see from the picture though, the area near the bar is very pleasant.
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 expletive!! 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.
Vino, crostini and interesting people
Vino, crostini and interesting people
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 Sosta 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 were a fairly long walk from our apartment 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 after 4:00 pm 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.
We had our usual glass of Chianti and I remember my sister telling me about a letter her granddaughter gave her 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.
2019 postscript: While attending Istituto Michelangelo in September 2019, I decided to try Sosta again. I went by myself my first Saturday in Firenze, then organized an ‘aperitivo’ with some friends during the second week of school. When my sister and I returned to Firenze from Lucca, we met one of my friends from school at Sosta. While it seemed like I got pretty toasted on two glasses of wine, (and a picture my sister took of me seems to confirm that) it was nothing compared to our 2018 experience.
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 that first 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.
2019 update: I’m saddened to say that when I tried to organize a dinner at I’cche ceꞌ ceꞌ with a friend, I found that the restaurant has closed. But I’m keeping my ‘review’ in case it re-opens.
2021 update: And it did reopen but seems to have new owners and is not as warm and friendly.
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 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.
2019 update: And Blue Bar has also closed. Hopefully another restaurant will open in this lovely spot.
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.
L’Ospedale degli Innocenti
L’Ospedale degli Innocenti
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.
view from Ospedale degli Innocenti
view from Ospedale degli Innocenti
[2018 postscript: During our 2018 visit to Firenze, I took my sister to Ospedale and you can see more pictures in my Firenze, old and new, post.]
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 to the States, 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.
4:10 pm: 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.
2019: Since writing this post, I got to see Il Carro Matto again, in September 2019. I enjoyed it so much, I wrote a separate post, Il Carro Matto. Below is one of the galleries I used in that post.
The start of il Carro Matto
The start of il Carro Matto
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 my Museums, monuments and interesting sights 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 del Duomo
If anyone out there has read my Museums, monuments and interesting sights 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. In 2017 I decided to go to il Museo the Wednesday of my second week of class because the combined ticket for all the sites in Piazza del Duomo was 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 she arrived in Firenze.
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.
Postscript: The tickets are now 18 euros and good for 72 hours.
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 and Fiesole post that I learned about Fiesole from a friend before my first trip to Italy. Since then 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. In 2017 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 bus 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. (See my section on the ruins in the Museums, monuments and interesting sights post.)
I, then, walk up the steep road towards the church and convent of San Francesco. About half to two thirds of the way up there are steps to the right. I always take the steps 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.