Florence and the eating machines
After settling in at the apartment and realising that Ryan had actually packed enough clothes for any occasion except a suit as advised by his grandmother, it was time to head out into the scorching heat to see the sites. I’ve already waxed lyrical about the beauty and wonder of Florence so won’t bore you again other than to say it was the perfect backdrop for just walking, talking and enjoying each others easy company.
We were content enough to wander around the sunny piazzas and shady alleyways without feeling the need to be uber-tourists. There was one site however that could not be missed quite literally – the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore aka the Duomo. After passing it several times a day for several days in a row, the time came to climb the 463 up to and around the largest brick dome in the world. Standing at the base of the cathedral looking up, it boggles the mind to think that the technology existed in 1269 to construct something so immense. In fairness, it wasn’t completed until 1436 but that only makes the vision and endeavour of all those who worked on it more impressive.
We seemed to join the ever-present queue at the right time because shortly after it seemed to stretch onto infinity. We climbed the stairs to the base of the dome to look upon the impressive 3,600m² frieze started by Giorgio Vasari in 1568 and completed by Federico Zuccari in 1579 again wondering how the hell they got up there to do it without the use of modern hydraulics. The very idea of it equally exhausting, frustrating and awe inspiring.
I assumed at this point it was just a matter of popping through a doorway to find ourselves on the rooftop but apparently I hadn’t been counting my steps because we were only half way there and were yet to contend with the tight spiralling staircase built for much shorter people. Eventually we reached the final flight – clearly the short people of yore did not wear dresses either or else they may have been more discreetly designed. Luckily, I was wearing a long dress so able to protect my dignity unlike the poor French lady ahead of me.
Hot and bothered from the climb, it was a great relief to step out onto the rooftop and take in the breathtaking panorama of terracotta rooftops sprawled out below in every direction. I should have been reverent in that moment, awe-struck by the majesty of it all but instead, I couldn’t help but giggle being instantly reminded of my friend Gabby’s story from when she and Tanya were in Italy several years ago studying Italian. Now fluent, back then made the error of telling some locals how much she enjoyed looking at the ‘tette’ as opposed to ‘tetti’ – the latter meaning roofs, the former meaning boobies!
Although we passed innumerable monuments of great importance, there’s one in particular that I want to mention – Il Porcellino (piglet) at the Mercarto Nuovo. I refer you to the picture. Sydney readers will recognise it immediately as the Sydney Hospital dribbling pig statue and rather fittingly, I’ve just discovered in my research, so too may my Canadian readers! This original statue was sculpted in Florence in bronze in 1612. Apparently 5 replicas were made – the one here in Florence to replace the original, one in California, one at Sydney Hospital and TWO in Canada – one at the University of Waterloo Arts Faculty (Dawn and Sue – off you go! Photo please!) and one at Butchart Gardens (Vancouverites, next time you’re on the Island – go visit and send a photo!). The statues snout is shiny because legend has it that if you rub it, you’ll return to Florence. I’m not sure what that means for rubbing the one at Sydney Hospital! Nor is there any explanation for why Sydney’s pig also has a shiny penis!
But of course the biggest attraction in all of Italy is la dolce vita – the sweet life, full of pleasure and indulgence! For those of you who have complained that there hasn’t been enough food photos (in particular a certain someone whose name starts with ‘k’ and ends with ‘eith kempis’), here they come! And for those of you concerned about my diminished capacity for food – I’m cured!
Being fortunate enough to be a global citizen, I have come to love the many flavours of the world but no other country comes close to Italy for its gastronomic contribution to my life – they have it all – gelato, espresso, pizza, gelato, pasta, wine, gelato, salads, risotto, cheeses, pastries and did I mention gelato?
Ryan is an early bird so while I was sound asleep, dreaming of my last meal, he was up and out foraging for my next one which typically consisted of extraordinarily fresh fruit, pastries, juice and of course, coffee.
Set up for the day, the concept of ‘mealtime’ then became something of a misnomer as we flitted from gelateria to cafe to trattoria to wine bar and back again as the mood and opportunity took us.
Both Ryan and I tried to abstain from pizza in the weeks leading up to the trip* so that the first one in Italy would be all the more amazing. Such theatrics were entirely unnecessary as nothing could detract from or compare to the fresh, simplicity and joy of an authentic Italian pizza. We tested this theory several times and so far all the pizza places in Florence check out. It would be remiss of me not to mention that on a hot summers day, there’s nothing like a Peroni or Birra Moretti to help the pizza go down.
I think I may have already mentioned gelato – I won’t list all the flavours we tried because I like to keep below a certain word limit but one that deserves a mention is Grisbi. Grisbis are chocolate biscuits and delicious ones at that – they’re a lightly baked biscuity shell which, when bitten, gives way to a delicious chocolate (or hazelnut or lemon) filling. If you ever visited Matthew and I in St Peters, chances are you’ve had them because the only place I’ve ever seen them before is St Peters Fruit World and our cupboard! Delicious!
In the evenings we tended to prefer more traditional looking restaurants such as Buzzini where at the conclusion of the meal (for me, a scrumptious tagliatelle with truffle), the elderly proprietor presented us with three bottles from which to choose our nightcap. We immediately opted for the mysterious amber liquid without a label because it seemed to suggest that it was perhaps Buzzini’s special brew. We were told it was Vin Santo (an Italian dessert wine traditional throughout Tuscany) and that this particular one was the best we’d find. It’s not that we didn’t believe him, but we wanted to know for ourselves, not just believe. So after a few days of eating Florence out of house and home, the time came for us to find a new pasture to graze in.
We picked up a hire car (I will spare you the several hours of maddening frustration, utter incompetence and international phone calls it took to complete the simple transaction) and hit the road. We fell in love with our car straight away – a pale blue Fiat Panda. Of course it’s left-side-drive so for the time being, Ryan is in the drivers seat…
*we both failed