Jan 28

Florence 2011

Category: Italy,Travel

Arriving in Florence at night by train, we took a taxi to the B&B Il Bargello, a fantastic place tucked away in a little alley near its namesake museum.  Here is the view from its rooftop veranda.

Being yet early, and totally stimulated with the fact of being in Florence, we went out for a walk.  The B&B is only 5 minutes from the Uffizi and just about everything else that you try to see when you’re only in Florence for 48 hours, and Italians don’t even begin to eat dinner until 7 or 8 PM anyway. The Palazzo della Signoria museum was open until midnight.  Here is a view of the famous tower from the courtyard inside.

Looking for a particular restaurant, we went over the famous Ponte Vecchio.  Google had mislead us; we wandered in confusion for a long time before stumbling across the place after giving up on it.  It turned out to be a non-touristy little hole in the basement with fantastic food.

Here’s the same bridge in the daytime, from the south end of the Uffizi:

Walking around in a small alley, I’d occasionally see things like this, seemingly stuck in a wall with no introduction or explanation:

The door to our B&B. Italian doorknobs tend to be in the middle of the door, and massive, impressive doors like this are completely ordinary.  Looking at the doors and windows, it seems as if Italians are prepared to fend off not just thieves, but perhaps paramilitary groups with battering rams.  I guess this is left over from the preceding troubled centuries (including the 20th); why change now?

We were delivered by taxi from the train station, a ride I will never forget.  Our driver careened around corners, scattering pedestrians, and coming within perhaps 6 inches of crushing a woman with a baby carriage.  Neither the driver or the woman seemed to notice.  There are no real sidewalks and everyone walks where they want.  There are no stoplights either; it’s simmering chaos and everybody looks out for himself!  The crosses, beads, and deodorizers hanging from the taxi’s mirror formed an inclinometer that spent much of its time at the extreme positions.  Later, speaking to the Canadian woman who runs the B&B, I asked if the skills of Florentine drivers were commensurately greater in order to compensate for the conditions.  I was told that no, there are a lot of accidents, specially in the rain.

The alley of our B&B was so small that you could probably jump to the other side.

The tower of the Palazzo della Signoria looms over the north porch of the Uffizi.

All over Tuscany I noted the torch holders (and horse tethers?) that are still preserved on walls.

One evening we decided to walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, accessible from downtown via a beautiful long stairway.  The climb is worth the view, and along the way you pass through the old medieval walls of the city.  It was a great place to watch the sun set.

We enjoyed a little time in a wine bar, where we were first served lardo – which is just what it sounds like – on toasted bread with fresh olive oil.  It sounds horrifying, but it was good, as was the wine.  Wine bars, or Enoteca, are everywhere in Tuscany, and you can usually get snacks to go with the wine.  A good night consists or roaming around the city, selecting a nice enoteca and spending some time there waiting for it to get late enough to eat dinner – maybe around 8 – finding a good place to eat, and leaving your chosen restaurant after 11.

One of the market stalls in the big market, where everything imaginable is sold.

I didn’t bargain for food, but for everything else, it is expected. I bought a really nice leather jacket here after an extended bargaining session. The price tag on the jacket was almost 700 euros.

Me: “How much for the jacket?”

Arab Salesman: “Let me tell you what, my friend, business is slow – for you, only 600 euros.”

Me:”I’ve seen this same kind of jacket in other stalls for only 15o euros.”

Arab Salesman: “My friend, they look the same, but the quality is different!  You look like a man of taste, my friend, who understands quality.  Feel this skin, my friend.  You see?  It is buttery soft.  For you, today,my friend, only 500 euros.”

Me:”Well, I like your store, and because you’re such a reputable businessman, I’m willing to pay more than the other place, but not this much.  175 Euros.”

Arab Salesman:”You drive a hard bargain!  I tell you what (looking around, conspiratorially)… don’t tell my boss, I give eet to you for only 300.  My friend, you not find better bargain in all Florence.”

Me:”Look, I’ve got 200 here (I take it out and show it to him).  I’ll give this to you, I walk out with the jacket.”

Arab Salesman: “We’re in business here… what  kind of man would I be if i didn’t bring home enough money to feed my children? 250.”

Me:”OK, I guess I’ll take a walk and think about it.”

Arab Salesman”My friend, my friend,  no!  wait, I get my boss.” He scampered away and returned with a scary, humorless man who was a tougher bargainer.

… and so it went.  I held out and got it for 200, which I think was a good – perhaps not a great – price, but far less than what I’d pay for Italian leather in the USA.  The theater of the bargain was worth a few euros just for the entertainment alone!

Later, more art: here’s the most famed statue in Italy.  I could write a huge blog post about the museums we saw, but that’s been done by other bloggers and authors.  Suffice it to say that the Uffizi and the Accademia are all they’re cracked up to be, and that one per day was as much as my feet and my mind could handle.  I could have spent a week at each museum, and wanted to see many others that we just couldn’t fit in – including the Bargello next door to the B&B.  Not trying to do more was a good decision; there will always be a reason to return; I’ll remember more of what I did see, and I didn’t spend all of my time in museums and cathedrals.  It is impossible to quantify the importance of walking and driving around not only the special districts, but the more prosaic ones that gave me a feel for what it’s really like in Tuscany.

Florence’s main cathedral.  On this trip, we made a decision to not go into every cathedral, no matter how enticing, because of a lack of time.  So we only saw the outside of this one.

This stone plaque memorializing an important patron of the arts in Renaissance Florence is now overshadowed by the McDonald’s in the first floor (it is just above and to the right of the McDonald’s sign).  Everything in downtown Florence is so historical and special that prosaic life goes on in the midst of it.


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