Florence, Italy

As much as we have loved living in France and experiencing everything french, there is no question that we were all ready for a break from the daily mental exhaustion of trying to communicate in a language other than our own. The ironic thing is that, though we speak no Italian at all, there is so much more English spoken in these big Italian cities because of the large number of English-speaking tourists, that it was such a nice break to be able to use communicate a little easier for a few weeks 🙂

I love every single thing about Italy. I have visited Italy as a child, a teenager and an adult and every single time, I left with such incredible memories and a hope to return again. …….. Chuck and I were so excited for the boys to see and experience this amazing culture for many reasons- The Italians are fascinating people. They have an enthusiasm for life that is truly enviable and unlike any other culture I’ve ever experienced.  The art, the architecture, the food, the wine, the geography- many would argue each are some of the best in the world. Italians are able to take the simplest thing and turn it into something beautiful. For many, it is the art… Italy is home to many of the most well known artists and there is countless museums to experience art in its move varied form. For me, however, it is the food/wine. They are able to take the simplest, freshest ingredients and create something magical. Every time, it seems. We were excited to dive in.

The day we got to Florence, it was super hot- over 100 degrees. The average temperature in Florence in the summer months is around 23 degrees Celsius (74 deg F), so it was quite (unseasonably) hot for Florence. Like France, many of the buildings are so old and have never been upfitted with air conditioning. But, it doesn’t seem to phase anyone. People just go about their usual business and are used to just being covered in sweat while doing it! If only we could also adjust…..I think that heat the night we arrived caused Wells to turn savage for a bit that first night…

Our apartment was off Via Ghibellina, near the lively piazza Santa Croce, the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio. Interestingly, when doing some research about the area, we learned that Michaelangelo lived on this same road! Being 2 blocks from the river and central to many of the popular sites, it was a great location. IMG_5179

As we missed lunch on the train, we headed out to find a meal and because we were in-between lunch and dinner, we weren’t sure we were going to find a place but stumbled onto a cute new cafe right near the Duomo on Via del Servi that was completely empty.

The owner said that the kitchen was closed for preparing any hot food (because of the heat/temperatures) but that he could “put something together for us”. We were sitting enjoying the A/C while he was literally cutting slabs of lasagna and heating each piece individually, in the MICROWAVE! Next he prepared 2 large salads with grilled chicken and tons of fresh vegetables and brought everything to the table. The meal was wonderful, the lasagna was so fresh with layers upon layers of handmade pasta, Owen said it was the “best lasagna” he’s ever had…”no offense Mommy”. At the end of the meal when we went to pay, the owner informed us that the restaurant had just opened that week and he did not have a credit card machine set up yet, did we have cash? The total was 72euros. Chuck reached into his wallet and had exactly 73 euros, and some change.  Phew!

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After walking around in this crazy heat, it was time for a gelato hunt. Florence has no shortage of gelato shops. They are everywhere. After checking out several, we came upon one right near the duomo (Don Nino) that looked extra yummy… they were serving up the biggest, most beautiful cones overflowing with scoops of all different flavors and colors. As if 2 giant scoops on top of a big waffle cone wasn’t enough, they top it with a waffle cookie dipped in chocolate!

It was so dang hot, there was gelato everywhere. All over us, the table, the floor, it took us a million napkins to get cleaned up! This was such a fun cafe- it reminded me of an old-timey ice cream shop except that they were playing American hip hop/R&B and some other current American hits that we’ve been listening to a lot these days (we are struggling to get into the French rap quite yet). There were all kinds of people eating all kinds of desserts- giant cups with sliced melon, smoothies, canolis filled with fluffy creamy filling rolled in chocolate chips and pistachios, doughnuts, and finally- something I’ve never seen before- a big fluffy brioche bun with top sliced off and filled with gelato. True heaven. On our way back through Florence at the end of our trip, we came back to this same gelato place because, eating lots of gelato, you become selective and in my opinion, this was still the best gelato we had anywhere we’d been in France or Italy. I couldn’t leave without just one more…..

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Nutella and Oreo gelato from Don Nino’s in the gelato capital of the world.

As we walked through the square and down some of the side streets that fanned out from the middle, we came across various musicians and artists displaying art of all kinds from oil paintings to watercolor to pastels, charcoal, etc.

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chalk painting of the Mona Lisa
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replica of the David statue in the Palazzo della Signoria

There were paintings on tables, easels and even chalk paintings on the street. There was a woman standing in the middle of the square singing opera-style with a beautiful voice. There are marble statues in many of the squares dating back to the 1400s and earlier and even more art to be found in the dozens of museums. There is literally art oozing out of every corner of this city.

We wandered down narrow street after narrow street while the boys ran ahead.., after 8 hours on the train and lots of sugar later, they were pretty much delirious so we headed home for cold showers and a long hot night.

I think the 4 nights we spent in our apartment in Florence were the hottest I’ve ever been in my life… I know Chuck would agree.

At night, the thermostat in our apartment stayed put at 33 degrees Celsius (92 deg F). We had 3 fans to ration out in each of our 3 rooms and we figured out that if we each took a shower with the coldest water the shower would provide (as in, take-your-breath-away-cold) and then immediately jump into (actually onto) the bed to sleep, with a wet towel on top of you and the fan pointing as close to you as possible, it was survivable. This kind of heat, though, definitely does not bring out the best in me. One night I actually being annoyed with Chuck about putting only one towel in the freezer ahead of time (and not two! how could he???). The tough thing is that when you stay in a busy convenient location to all the sites, you sacrifice quiet, so closing all the windows is a must….By the time we left Florence- I couldn’t remember the last time we had taken a warm shower or slept in (rather than on!) a bed!

 

Florence is tucked up in Northern Tuscany and the views from anywhere high up in the city are simply beautiful. We visited lots of sites, but we found these 3 views to be super memorable:

We had read about the Boboli Gardens and that it might be a great escape from the hot Florence sun so we ventured there and though we failed to bring water (which backfired on us in a major way) we were able to see incredible views of the city. Like a big outside museum, it was filled with many secret gardens, paths and amazing sculptures, and perfectly manicured landscaping.

Climbing the bell tower at the Duomo… We lucked out in that the extreme heat broke that day and it was in the low 70s when we waited in line for the 420 step climb up to the top. I don’t exactly remember what we fed Wells for breakfast that morning, but he was a little machine climbing those steps up through many very narrow stairwells lined with hundreds of tourists coming back down. The view at the top was absolutely worth it.

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and lastly, I snuck out for a run one morning with the intention of going up into the hills to find the Piazzale Michelangelo which was written to be one of the best views in Florence. Sadly, I had no wi-fi and hence, no GPS, so not surprisingly, I got lost and never found it. I did, however run along the Arno River and found this view to be just breathtaking…

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Ponte Vecchia Bridge

Chuck made plans to surprise Charlie with a day trip up to Maranello to visit the Ferrari Museum and the Lamborghini museum in Bolognese. He was all smiles all day long. He literally was in heaven. This kid has been in love with cars since the age of 2 and as an avid reader of sports car magazines, etc, he dreams about the day he will drive a Lamborghini.

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And lastly, the food. We literally ate our way through Florence. Every single meal we had was memorable. At breakfast, windows are filled with fresh delicious croissants that are filled with all different fillings- lemon, creme, Nutella, pistachio, apricot, raspberry, etc.

Every where you turn, there are windows full of warm fluffy calzones, pizza with tons of fresh veggies and meats. Restaurants after restaurants are serving up freshly made- in house pastas with many different sauces and offer all different types of local and regional (and delicious!) wine. The fact that we often make dinner plans on the go and rarely make reservations ahead of time served us well in Florence. You literally can not go wrong.

Rather than bore you with details from every meal, here were some of the highlights for us:

IMG_5254YellowBar- a restaurant near our house serving all organic pizzas and pastas where they led the kids over to watch the pasta being made and brought our pasta to the table to the table where they then served it into each of the bowls. Chuck and I had the best Chianti there I’ve ever had. This is where Charlie fell in love with tiramisu.

IMG_5355Shake Bar- a smoothie/juice bar, also near our house serving up all kinds of fruit bowls, pastries and coffees with organic and vegan ingredients- my fave was a Cinnamon Iced Latte with almond milk. The boys loved the watermelon juice and Chuck loved the cappuccinos.

Mercato Centrale- a huge indoor market-bottom floor is where you can find fresh produce, fruits, meats, cheeses, wines, spices, spreads, oils/vinegars and other gourmet goods; upstairs there are tons of food stalls each with their own menu- some of the things we loved there: fried rabbit, rotisserie chicken, Caesar salad, stuffed pizza, pasta, salad, roasted potatoes with truffle mayo, tiramisu (Charlie). We loved it so much we went twice.

 

 

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Charlie was in love….

Outside Mercato Central is the famous San Lorenzo leather market where you can find hundreds of tents with vendors selling all things leather- jackets, bags, wallets, purses, belts, keychains, etc. They love to barter and so, after leaving and coming back I was able to haggle a bit to buy a woven leather bag that I love.

Our last night, Chuck and I found a cute quiet street with an Tuscan tapas restaurant- Il Vivandiere- that happened to have 1 table in the back free and could seat the 5 of us right then. WHAT a fun meal this was! I have to say that while we have a L-O-N-G way to go in widening these 3 little pallets, we were surprised to see our guys ordering all kinds of cured meats/cheeses, croquettes (fried ham/cheese balls), gnocchi, meatballs and white lasagna that made up one of the most communal meals the 5 of us have ever shared before. I’m not sure if its that we were sitting in the back of a dark little restaurant at an old wooden table surrounded by dusty 100 yr old bottles of wine, but it felt like we were the only ones there and the kitchen was literally cooking just for us!

The next morning we were up early and out the door to catch our train to Venice. I felt very sad to leave Florence once again, but we were excited to see more of Italy.

 

 

 

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