Florence

September 2016

Florence, Italy

The first stop on our second tour of Italy! After falling in love with Florence on our first trip, I knew it was on the list for round two. What made this portion of our trip extra special was my brother and his co-workers were in the city for a conference. With the sightseeing completed on our last trip, we were looking forward to experiencing Florence like a local.

Saturday

We flew into Milan and since we had an early arrival, we grabbed lunch at Pavè before boarding our train to Florence. My brother was there waiting as we got off the train and we checked into our hotel, Hotel La Scaletta.

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After 20 hours of travel, we were ready for some food! Around the corner from our hotel we found Le Volpi e l’Uva. The three of us indulged in a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino and a cheese plate while we caught up, enjoying each other’s company.

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My brother’s co-worker joined us as we searched for a dinner spot and we found Trattoria La Casalinga near Basilica di Santo Spirito. After ordering some wine (surprise- Chianti!), we each grabbed a pasta dish- Kevin and my brother order the cinghiale (wild boar), his co-worker ordered the ravioli with salva and burro (sage and butter) and I ordered penne with funghi (mushrooms) in a tomato sauce. There is nothing like pasta in Italy- as cliche as it sounds, it is truly a different experience here. I definitely got pasta on my pants… on the first day on the trip… thank god for packing tips to clean them right up!

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With gelato calling our name, Kevin had found a place around the corner to fit our needs- Gelateria La Sorbettiera. Oh, our first taste of gelato, instant happiness.

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After an exhausting day of travel, we had a very good night of sleep.

Sunday

Our day started out the best way an Italian trip should- wine tour with Tuscan Wine School! Ready all about it hereChianti Classico region.

Upon our return from our wine trip, we took quick power naps and headed to Piazza Michelangelo for the Gelato Festival! It was pure chance that we were in Florence for this and we were thrilled.  But it is not just a festival celebrating gelato- it is an annual competition for the annual title of best gelato in Europe. The festival is the final round where 18 gelato makers showcase their gelato to a tasting panel and the public. An inexpensive ticket allows access to all the gelato makers, their multiple showcased flavors and a vote for your favorite- I believe the total favors this year was 34 to try! Nothing like gelato while watching the sun set over the city.

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While we were quite full from numerous gelato flavors, along the way back to the hotel we found Il Rifrullo for 10 euro appetivio. Trendy, fun vibe, music, and a nice spread of food- even salad!

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My brother and his co-worker met us here and the new moved to Gecko wine bar where we stayed until it closed. In fact, here is where we learned about storm chasing! My brother’s co-worker had just done this trip a few months earlier.

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Monday

Today was our day trip to Panzano! We slept in after a late night and arrived at the Florence Bus Station for our 1130AM ride to Panzano. We chose this town as we wanted to have the experience with Dario and his meats. We actually got a taste of this when we visited Chianti last year and we liked it so much we wanted the full experience at Officina della Bistecca. An easy bus ride dropped us right in front of the butcher shop where we were met with lots of delicious snacks- including an amazing crostini that when asked, thought was pork but learned later it was lard! Before we made our way to the dining area, Dario himself appeared and cranked up the American disco music while cutting a few slices of meat. We were so entertained- a great pre-show to our meal.

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We were led to an outdoor seating area and took our places while the 1PM service began. To my right was a couple from Ireland who we enjoyed discussing world politics and American football, and to my left were Italians who whiled Bruce Springsteen- hilarious! The meal started with house Chianti, fresh veggies, bread, and beans preceding the multiple meat course. Meats were as follows- beef tartar (incredible, my favorite of the meal), seared rump, bone in ribeye, Panzanese steak, and Florentina steak. A baked potato came on the side with not butter, but lard. The dessert was a moist and delicious olive oil cake I am shocked we even had an appetite the rest of the trip. To top the entire day off, we even got a photo with Dario himself after our meal.

After a much needed nap, Kevin and I took “la passeggiata” (a stroll!) to aid in our digestion as the sun set over the Arno. We stumbled upon an opera singer with a cello player and we sat and watched the causal performance in the Uffizi square.

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My brother caught up with us near Palazzo Vecchio as we continued to wander through the cities sights. While we were not hungry, there is always gelato room! We visited My Sugar (the winners of the Gelato Festival competition!) and enjoyed the delicious flavors.

We ended the night with cocktails at La Ménagére before turning in for the night.

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Tuesday

Our mission this morning- Kevin wanted to find this specific coffee place he read about- Ditta Artigianale. He definitely loved their coffee and we both loved the vibe of this cafe- highly recommend.

We ventured to Sant’Ambrogio Market (reminded us of Reading Terminal in Philadelphia) surrounded by fresh produce, fish, meats, cheeses, bread, pasta, and everything in between. This was the perfect place of a picnic lunch. We walked through the building and collected blueberries, strawberries, wine grapes, pecorino (sheep) cheese, salty prosciutto and boxed wine. It made for a perfect late morning snack!

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While it hadn’t been a full 24 hours since our last gelato stop, it was vacation- no gelato rules. We passed Vivoli for what were the richest gelato flavors (paired with grumpy service) it was so good.

Another rounds of naps and then we decided to eat again- I think all we did today was eat! All’Antico Vinaio, as we learned was featured on the Food Network and in NY Times, has a few locations and serves up fresh, gigantic sandwiches. In retrospect, Kevin and I really should have split one as neither of us finished them. We needed more than one stomach each on this trip.

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Walking around with time to kill before our dinner plans, we found the second Ditta Artigianale location on our side of the Arno roughly two blocks from our hotel. We grabbed wine and enjoyed the lovely ambiance sitting by the window. I wish places like this existed more in the US- artisan coffee shop in the morning and cocktail/wine bar in the evenings- no need for big food items, just a place to comfortably lounge.

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Dinner was off the beaten path highly recommended by Girl In Florence. We had reservations for the four of us at Trattoria Pandemonio and were greeted by Mamma Giovanna herself.

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Kevin ordered a bottle of Mamma’s favorite Rosso di Montalcino middle left so he instantly won her favor. Our meal started with “sformatino di melanzane” (eggplant flan with pecorino cheese) which was eggplant covered in melted pecorino cheese top middle and while it sounds simple, it was so delicious. For dinner, my brother’s co-worker and I ordered the tagliatelle pomodoro top right and Kevin and my brother ordered stuffed pasta dishes, with Kevin once again ordering Mama’s favorite dish. There is nothing like homemade pasta and these meals were perfect. Our homemade dessert round was as expected, equally amazing. I ordered “mousse al cioccolato” (chocolate mousse!) bottom left, my brother ordered the tiramisu bottom middle while the others ordered the cheesecake middle middle. When we thought our meal was over, bottles of homemade limoncello appeared for our enjoyment middle right. As we signed the guestbook on our way out, we were thankful for finding such an incredible and authentic restaurant. Thanks, Mamma!

Wednesday

Another sleepy morning after full bellies, the best company, and a late night, Kevin began our new morning routine of breakfast (ie coffee and pastries) at Ditta Artigianale before heading to lunch at Trattoria Giovanni. While we were the first people in the restaurant, when we left it was jam packed and all for their unbeatable lunch special. We got house wine, I ordered the gnocchi “con burro e salva” (with butter and sage) and Kevin got pici (a thicker spaghetti) pomodoro… drum roll on “il conto” (the check)… 19 euro! A delicious, easy, and affordable lunch to start the day.

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We decided to climb above Piazza Michelangelo to San Miniato for a supposedly better view of the city. Before we started the long climb, we grabbed gelato for the journey from Il Gelato di Filo. It was a hot day so our walk was probably longer than usual to reach the church. The view from the top made Florence look so tiny! We spent awhile sitting on the balcony enjoying “being present”.

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The walk back down to the city was much easier than the climb up. We swung by the hotel to freshen up before dinner with my brother and several of his co-workers attending the conference. Osteria Cinghiale Bianco. We started the table off with house wine and “burrata al tartufo” (burrata cheese covered generously in truffles) along with a portabello mushroom appetizer. I think over half the tablet, including myself, ordered the “pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale” (wild boar sauce) while Kevin ordered it over polenta. The ragu with cinghiale was so flavorful and tender. Always a good idea to order the dishes the region is known for and this is definitely one of them.

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Before the evening’s festivities, we grabbed gelato from My Sugar as we made our way to Festa della Rificolona– Festival of Paper Lanterns. This festival celebrates the birth of Mary. Since Santissima Annunziata is dedicated to Mary, the parade that starts at Piazza Santa Croce ends here for the final celebrate. We knew very little of what to expect but we were excited to be participating in this local tradition.

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Joining the back of the parade, we were in awe of the activity around us- all shapes and sizes of lanterns, many different musical instruments and bands as we processed. Once we arrived at Santissima Annunziata it because evident the scope of this festival- there were hundreds of people squeezed into this square! Among all the lanterns, we began to spot kids with spitball blow guns with a large wad of putty attached. We stood quite confused as we watched spitballs flying across the square targeting the lanterns. What kind of festival was this?

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As we expected, first the victim lantern was hit, the candle inside knocked over, and the lantern quickly ignited. Where we expected to hear anger and sadness over the lost lantern, there was celebrating. More and more lanterns dissipated to dust after lighting up the square with flames.

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After the religious ceremony, there were several large traditional lanterns set into the sky, a few of which had a rough start up with one almost flying into an open window (yep). We all felt humbled to be apart of this tradition for Florence.

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After the festival, we headed to Antico Caffè del Moro – Art Bar for cocktails. These cocktails certainly reflect the “art” portion of the bar’s name as each drink was decorated with an entire day’s fruit serving. Definitely a fun place to check out in the city!

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A great day filled with making new friends and experiencing Florence as locals.

Thursday

Guess where we went this morning? Ditta Artigianale and they surely began to recognize us (good or bad, I am not sure but Kevin could not get enough of this coffee).

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We took a long walk this morning and walked as far as Santissima Annunziata, which is a large piazza- really gave us an idea of just how crowded it was last night.

Since it was our last day in Florence, I wanted to make sure we hit all the favorite spots. We wandered into Mercato Centrale and it was overwhelming the amount of things there are to see at any given second.

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Too stressed to make a decision on lunch with all the options, we made our way to a familiar spot instead- Maledetti Toscani. These sandwiches were so memorial on last year’s trip! I got a panini with prosciutto, pecorino, and a mushroom spread and Kevin finally tried tripe. In his words- he was glad to have tried it but wouldn’t get it again (ha!).

We returned to the hotel to pack our bags up and put our bags into storage and then grabbed a bottle of Brunello and a cheese plate around the corner at Le Volpi e l’Uva.

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We bar hopped to Uva Nera where we met my brother and his co-worker, saying our goodbyes for this portion of our trip.

Kevin and I (through Girl in Florence- thanks again!) found yet another festival that was going on a bus ride away. While the bus station was under construction and our bus did not show up for over a half hour, we eventually got onto (what we hoped to be) the correct bus taking us towards Girone. The bus was packed so we were confident that others were also travel to this festival but as we each spot progressed, we were the last ones left on the bus. We got off at the bus, mildly nervous that this was not right, until we finally saw the top of a big white tent- Sagra del Tartufo– we made it!

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The entire festival was celebrating the start of truffle session with an entire menu dedicated to truffle dishes. You grab a deli ticket and fill out a menu card, then when your number is called, you approach the register, tell them your menu orders and then you are seated a large family style tables for your meal with adults making the food and handling the wine while children do the service. There was very little English speaking people here- even the children did not- so this was our opportunity to practice our Italian.

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We ordered:

  • A bottle of wine (Chianti Reserva)
  • Tartufo crostini (bread with truffles) top middle
  • Tagliolini di tartufo (pasta with truffles) top right
  • Uova al forno al tartufo (baked egg with truffles) bottom left
  • Tortelli di patate al tartufo (ravioli shaped filled with truffles) middle left
  • Faglioli al tartufo (beans with truffles) bottom right
  • Two orders of tartufo nero for dessert (chocolate truffles) bottom middle

Thank goodness our Italian food vocabulary has gotten us to a competent level to be able to navigate the many items on the menu. Not only was all the food out of this world, but everything was less than 50 euro. SO MUCH TRUFFLES!

The ambiance was electric! The kids doing the service were adorable and we enjoyed picking up on their Italian. The families around us were so friendly and we did our best to keep up in conversation. Particularly around a meal, Italians are the absolute best- incredibly friendly and genuinely want to enjoy everyone’s company. The only person that spoke English well was a man who we corresponded with on Facebook to learn more about the Sagra. He actually owns a bed and breakfast where many foreign guests return to this Sagra each year and we can definitely see why- I think we would be here every night.

Mindful of the bus schedule, though I think we could have stayed a celebrated with everyone all night (it was the first day of the two week festival) we made our way back into Florence, eternally grateful to have been apart of this experience.

Our final walk through of Florence before we left in the morning, we bump into my brother’s co-worker by the Duomo! We went back to here very sophisticated hotel where my brother met us and we went to the rooftop bar to enjoy our (now) last bottle together. What a view from up here- I wish I had better photos to capture the magical night.

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Friday

IMG_1689An early rise through the quite streets of Florence as we make our way to the train station to the next destination on our trip, Camogli!

I truly feel like we accomplished so much during this trip to Florence. By having done the tourist destinations previously, it freed us to really experience the city- the grit and finesse- learning the side streets and living like a local. I love Florence and all is has to offer those willing to dig a little, get uncomfortable, and be rewarded greatly.

For the full Italy itinerary, click here!

Reskrib

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