I’m slowly working my way through my Italy photos and have some more to share from the Florence portion of our trip.
As I mentioned here, there are enough museum and works of art in Florence to keep you busy for days. If you do in fact have a few days in the city, I highly recommend that you purchase a Firenze Card. Not only does it entitle you to 72 hour access to public transportation, but it provides discounts on admission prices to and allows you to skip the lines at most of the major museums. The 50 euro price tag (today, that’s about $62. But, given the current situation over there, your guess is as good as mine as to what it will be tomorrow) is well worth it, because lines are long, particularly at the Uffizi Gallery (where you will find works by Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael) and the Accademia (where Michelangelo’s David is located).
The most popular site is Florence is the Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, which is one of the largest churches in the world. The exterior is constructed of panels of white, green and red marble and is absolutely stunning. But, the main feature of the cathedral is Brunelleschi’s dome, which is the largest brick dome in the world. The design of the dome was based on principles of physics and geometry that are pretty standard today, but were revolutionary in the 1400s.
As I noted, you can climb to the top of the dome (463 steps) and/or Giotto’s bell tower (417 steps) for some amazing views of the city. If you are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights, this is probably not for you.
Also located in the Duomo complex is the Baptistry, one of the oldest buildings in Florence, dating from the 11th century. There are some beautiful golden mosaics in the interior that are worth visiting, but the building has copies of three sets of gilded bronze doors by Ghiberti. The originals are located in the Duomo museum, just across the piazza.
(Note: None of these sites are included in the Firenze Card, however. Although the cathedral itself is free to enter, you will need a ticket to visit the baptistery, museum and to climb the bell tower and dome. You can purchase the necessary tickets online. The whole website is in Italian. Google Translate is your friend).
In terms of places to eat in Florence, our best meal was at Vini e Vecchi Sapori, located near Florence’s main square, the Piazza della Signoria. The restaurant has a very homey feel, with wooden beamed ceilings and brick floors. It seats about 18 people and serves simple, rustic Tuscan cuisine, based on the recipes of the family who has run it for years. Mom works in the kitchen, dad is behind the bar and the son staffs the dining room.
The homemade pasta dishes, with incredibly light noodles and rich, hearty sauces, were among the highlights here. I had the pappardelle with rabbit. Although I wasn’t a fan of all of the little bones that I came across (I told you it was rustic) the meat was so incredibly tender and flavorful. My second course reminded me of a beef bourguignon with a more liberal dose of pepper (there were black peppercorns hiding in the broth. Biting into one was not all that pleasant). It was accompanied by a side of long, wide green beans, drizzled with olive oil. I didn’t catch the Italian name of the vegetable, but was told by the customer at the table next to us (an American college professor who spends part of the year in Italy with his wife who is from Florence) that they only grow in the spring time and their name translates into “eat it all.” I did. Chester, in the meantime, enjoyed the osso bucco, a generous portion which was so tender that it fell right off the bone.
Vini e Vecchi Sapori seems to be a favorite with the locals—there was quite the rowdy birthday celebration going on at the table across the way from us. In a touristy city like Florence, this is the mark of a place worth checking out, in my opinion.
But, it was of course was not the only good eating we did during our three days in Florence. On one of our days in the area, we took a short train ride to Bologna. Nicknamed “La Grassa” (“the fat”), it is Italy’s culinary capital.
I talked a bit about what we ate previously, but we also spent a lot of time wandering around through the Quadrilatero District, which is filled with shop after shop selling fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade tortellini, pastries, meats, cheeses, wine and just about any other gourmet delicacy your heart might desire. I couldn’t resist snapping a ton of photos, like so:
Aside from the food, Bologna has character in many other ways. It is home to Europe’s oldest university so there is quite a diverse population. Many of the red-brick towers and other medieval structures are well preserved. And, there are miles of beautiful covered porticoes, lined with shops and cafes.
Of course, before we left, there was a stop for gelato. Cremeria Funiviva, which has two locations in Bologna, has fewer flavors than the average gelato shop, but the quality is outstanding. It might be the creamiest, most flavorful gelato I’ve ever had. They make several concoctions with a variety of add-ons and toppings. In this case, the cone was filled with a bittersweet chocolate and topped with black cherries.
Can I go back now?