Villefranche sur Mer

Villefranche sur Mer
it all starts with a beach

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fabulous Florence!!

Florence - Sheer beauty, ravishing, sensuous, glorious! Oh, how I love this city!!
30 Oct - Travel day. I find a bit of apprehension every day I'm doing major travel - the things left behind, 5 warnings in fewer moments at stations to watch out for pick-pocketers, people offering to help with your luggage, etc...but that's another worry...the luggage. I've done six months now with one small suitcase and a backpack. Still when I'm hauling them, it's a 2-Voltaren, hot bath, wish-I-had-a-masseuse day.

The fast train to Florence is quick and easy, with free coffee and snacks, wireless, chargers...and sprawling views of the Italian countryside - where vineyards and solar farms cover the floor beneath hilltown castles and forts. A quick taxi to my hotel on Piazza Santo Spirito lands me on the top floor in a room made for a princess!

I arrive midday at Palazzo Guadagni, where Olivia (Italian) and Atish (Mauritian) show me around to various lounges, a wrap-around terrace, library, dining room, finally vaulting to the top floor where I walk through my personal library into a lovely, light-filled room. It's spacious, with lovely art, and a bathroom (yes, a bath!) bigger than my last apartment. Within minutes I'm sprawled on my king bed, wireless working, looking out over Florence. Ahhhhhh!

After a few hours re-orienting myself to Florence, PiazzaSignoria, and the Piti Palace, I take dinner at a nearby trattoria, where I meet a honeymooning couple from San Francisco and enjoy pasta with squid ink and porcini mushrooms in a spicy Tuscan sauce. The dark chocolate cake/soufflé with a runny white chocolate/blue cheese center is divine! (move over Roy's)

31 Oct - Heading out into the day, I cross two bridges down from Pont Vecchio, winding through back streets to The Tower - Palazzo Vecchio, where I climb 250 steps from the 112 already up. The views are significant! but mostly blocked with ropes...and another guard on his smartphone. I do a little of the museum, note the grad ceremonies, but bore out...into the Piazza Signoria, wandering past a carousel and small shops to the Duomo. Even seeing its enormity from the Tower, it's hard to fathom once I'm there.
Afterward circumnavigating inside and out, I duck in a little side street where the sign outside Sasso di Dante, "life is too short for cheap wine," calls my name. Soon I'm enjoying a beautiful Chianti and gnudi fiorentine ricotta & spinaci al burro salvia & parmigiano. (ricotta/spinach balls in sage butter with parmesan shavings). Mouth-melting. The waitress explains the cover (coperto - table set up only, no water - police denied their permit to serve tap). I miss the free, cold caraffes of delicious tap water in France...and no cover charge.

Shooting street art on the way back from Bardello, which was closed, I drop into St. Mark's, where I notice a sign for Opera tonight - Love Songs...and catch musicians practicing - he's on piano and singing, she fills the space with a voice made for Carmen. It' a 20-minute treat!
Back in my princess' room I edit photos, write a bit, putter about the hotel, then go to Ricci' on the piazza for a most unmemorable meal of pappardelle and wild boar and a piss poor wine. I shoot the Halloween kids around the fountain, then head up for a good movie: Begin Again on Amazon. Buono notte, Florence.

On the Street. Some of the charms of a great city are all the little street scenes - the chess shop, window art, musicians playing for coin. While shooting great art all day...on my way to the original David (not the one on Piazza Signoria), I crossed the Arno and came upon a musician who played hauntingly beautiful sounds so unique I stopped for a long listen. Then walked about 8 miles. Enjoy the streets of Florence.

1 Nov! I sleep like someone enjoying death. Shower, email/fb, then breakfast in a room filled with prisms, rainbows dancing around the room. Atish makes a killer espresso, and the croissant is stuffed with an almond cream.

Attempting to follow my directions to the Accademia Gallery: Walk thru St Spirito Piazza to Pont S. Triniti, via del Tornabuoni, past piazza palazzo, R on dela Rebublica, L of Calinala...Borgo san Lorenzo/P. Medici, R. Via Cavour, R via Degli... I get lost, but the wandering in Florence is so good! I amble  into an Italian food show, then drop by a "Picasso & Spanish Modernity" exhibit at Palazzo Strozzi. The event covers from 1910 to 1963 and features Miro, Dali, Gris, Gonzales, Tapies, and others, along with Picasso. Eventually I arrive at the Accademia, pay E4 to skip the long line (E20 without a press pass). Michelangelo's original David is the main draw...and it's spectacular!

It makes the excellent copy on Piazza Signoria, well...look like a copy. I trip on the sculpture rooms, the Florentine art, the manuscripts (where I'm refused photos because it's the current exhibit). To think that all those stories were written and illustrated by hand. Gorgeous!
I miss a turn and end up at Piazza della Santissima Annunciazziata - where there's an enormous market of handicrafts - from woven yarns and silks to artesian cheese-making, paintings to grains toasted to taste like espresso...hat makers, jewelry and clothing designers, knitted sweaters, so much more. I filled another suitcase in my imagination. Then went on towards Sant Croce, stopping for lunch - piatta del giorno (my only meal of the day): a lovely pasta with pumpkin and ground sausage, grilled chicken with green beans and roasted red & yellow peppers, a nice red, caffé. In a few blocks I'm finally at Sant Croce, with another huge market and the enormous Basilica. No discounts here, got to pay the full E6 price. It was another mile plus home (after about 7-8 miles already), but it was mostly along the river...and eye-searing. On my return 'home' Olivia made me a strong gin & tonic on the terrace, where I enjoyed the setting sun and conversation with a couple from Brussels. Worked til I couldn't...then slept like a baby.

2 Nov - Hiked up to the Piazelle Michelangelo (spectacular views of Florence and the surrounding countryside)...and San Miniato al Monte, then a 6-hr Wine Tour of the Chianti region with Ciao Florence, Massimo & Julio. Met new friends Meg & Francis.
Italy has 20 regions of which Tuscany is one, with Florence (pop 400k) the capitol of Tuscany, and south between Florence and Sienna - Chianti (still part of the region of Tuscany). For a wine to be labeled Chianti, it must contain at least 80% of its sangiovese grapes from the Chianti area, and the rest must also come from Tuscany (merlot, cab sav, syrah, etc). 3 stops:

1. Sant Appiano (tiny hilltown just outside the Black Rooster area). C. Classico, other tuscans, and evoo. French oak adds vanilla and berry notes. Large vats are Italian, for table wine, everyday stuff.
            1. Rosé (not a French one!)
            2. Chianti DOCG 90% sang, 10% merlot...way too young!!!
            3. Chianti Superiore DOCG 100% sang. 9 months in fr. oak...not enough!!
Didn't like any of these wines, but Julio poured me a grappa to get me down the road :-)
2. Panzanello - near Greve. CC and Reserva from Black Rooster area. In the 13thCentury the Chianti League established this area, symbolized by a black rooster in a golden field. Luciano gave us a nice tour of this new winery, completed in 2009. 4 wines: 2 black rooster classicos and 2 super tuscans, 3 agro-tourisme apts. 100k btls/60k cc. 
            1. Chianti Classico - 100% sangiovese grapes. super tuscan (better than best at last place)
            2. Chianti Classico Reserva - 18 mos in french oak, 1 year in btl. 90% sangiovese grapes.
            3. Manuzio - 80% sangiovese/20% harvest, hand-picked in July. 2yrs oak/2yrs btl. Oh YES!!
            4. Vindea - BEST! Wine of the goddess...only 2500 btls. 50% sangiovese, aged 3 years.
3. Greve - tiny village with a triangle square. Tapas and a nice cappuccino with Meg and Francis.

I'm speaking better French now than ever, asking Italians (in French) if they speak French or English, missing the cold caraffes of tap water, the little cookie with espresso, all things French. As I bid aloha to Florence (always a fabulous town), I think I should practice my Italian for a future trip. Then I pick up a copy of Dan Brown's Inferno and re-live my Florence trip all the way home. 

PS. Did I mention my love affair with the Arno River?


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