A Day In Florence

We had been in Umbria for almost two weeks already and spent the majority of that time either running errands for the two farmhouses we are setting up, working on one of the two farmhouses, or working outside while workmen do their thing inside the farmhouses. Apart from some “me” time in the kitchen our focus has been solely on getting these houses in order.

Although we love our serene setting in the country, we both decided we needed a break for a day from both work and the countryside and thought Florence would be the perfect choice. Florence is about an hour and 45 minutes from our driveway to our favorite parking spot in the city, Piazzale Michelangelo. We left the house before 8 am since I had hoped to do a little shopping (of course for the farmhouses, not myself), and arrived in the city in good time.

For anyone who does not know Florence, if you do visit, you must head to Piazzale Michalangelo for photos. Not only is it a great place to park as it is easy to reach and inexpensive, but you have the best view overlooking Florence to take photographs. After we took the obligatory dozen or so photos admiring the spectaculars views, we headed down to the shopping streets to look for a few items on my list.

Of course, once we arrived at my two favorite department stores Coin and Rinascente, I realized that anything we bought we would have to drag around with us the rest of the day which seemed to be getting warmer by the minute. I therefore reevaluated my most stressing needs and instead of buying lamps and canisters, I bought table cloths, pot holders, and brioche pans for my next BBA Challenge bread.

Florence was packed with tour groups and after two very quiet weeks I personally found it a little congested for my liking but we persevered, winding our way through the groups that all but took over the sidewalks and headed towards the duomo. The duomo in Florence is an amazing sight, both spectacular in it’s appearance as well as it’s setting.

There you are strolling down an ordinary street window shopping and you turn the corner and there is the duomo in all it’s splendor. Lately though, the area directly around the duomo seems to have been taken over by small outdoor bars and restaurants and they also now have many horse and buggies lined up for folks to take an expensive ride around town.

Add that to the souvenir vendors with their stalls, and the throngs of tour groups all getting their history lessons in the same small area and it can get just a might claustrophobic for my taste. After admiring the duomo, we did what all god foodies do in Florence and headed to the central market.

Florence’s central market is a wonderful place to walk through where your senses are stimulated by the amazing scents, and gorgeous displays of colorful fruits and vegetables. If you are in Florence, and are looking for a specific Tuscan food specialty, I recommend you check out the market first, because chances are you’ll find it there.

By the time we had completed a little shopping buying some porcini mushrooms, both dried and fresh, a jar of my favorite chestnut honey, and one of truffle paste, it was time to look for our restaurant for lunch. It is always best to ask someone who knows the area for their favorite dining locations, and having met Judy (Divina Cucina) through Twitter and knowing she gives tours of the Florence market and knows the area well, we asked for her recommendations.

Judy suggested two restaurants close to the market, Mario’s and Osteria Pepo which are side by side. We walked over and thought Pepo with it’s seating in the open windows would be more accepting of our little dog, as they were, so we were seated in the window and ordered lunch.

We do not get to Florence that often, so we decided to splurge and order a Bistecca Fiorentina for lunch with sides of sauteed spinach and cannelini beans, another Tuscan specialty. Of course being in Florence we ordered the house chianti wine to sip along with our steak.

The meal was thoroughly enjoyed by us both, and as we were leaving we noticed that Mario’s trattoria next store was not only packed but had 12 to 15 people waiting outside for seats. I definitely think Mario’s is worth trying, but I’ll take Judy’s recommendation that when going there to try and go either early, or late.

It was now after 2 pm and getting warmer by the minute so we headed back to the shopping streets to see if there was anything there that we just couldn’t live without. Florence now seems to have stores for every top high fashion designer around, so we strolled up and down admiring the wonderful window displays, but somehow a Prada purse or Ferragamo shoes just do not seem very practical for our new lives in the Umbrian countryside!

After admiring all the wonderful shops we headed over to Piazza Signorina to the outdoor (and overly expensive) bar there to sit and people watch. It has been our habit for many years to visit that bar after dining in Florence for an Affogato, which is basically a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with espresso coffee. In the past we have always requested a “cafe affogato”, but our waiter explained to us that this would be a cup of coffee with a scoop of ice cream in it, not a cup of ice cream with a small cup of espresso poured over it.

But whatever you want to call it, it is my ultimate treat when visiting Florence! We sat in the warm afternoon sun for an hour or so until my husband finally decided we really needed to head back to the car to start our trip home. It was a warm walk back up to the piazza where we had parked our car but we finally made it and headed out of Florence.

A single day, or half day really, certainly isn’t enough time to explore Florence properly, but having visited the city many, many times before, we really just wanted the experience of being there. We will have lots of time in the next 6 months for return visits, so we did not leave feeling like we missed anything.

It was a great, albeit long day in the “city” which we thoroughly enjoyed, but the crowds of tourists, streams of motorcycles noisily racing up and down the streets, and congested traffic made us very happy that we were heading back to our quiet home in the Umbrian countryside. Our day did however install in us both the understanding that we really do need to get out of our insular lives in the country once in a while and explore all that Italy has to offer.

Our plan is to hopefully visit Florence, Rome, or one of the other larger cities once a month or more. Not only is it nice to get out and do something completely different, it really does make you appreciate what you have at home even more.

Photos From Our Day In Florence

Florence’s famous bridge along the Arno river.


Another view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo of the Duomo.


One of the perferred means of transportation for getting around
the narrow streets in Florence.


The always crowded Piazza Signorina where we sit
and people watch at the outdoor bar.


The ever amazing Central Market in Florence where you
can find every Tuscan specialty possible!


One of many interesting vegetables sold at the Central Market.


The delicious porcini mushrooms we bought that will be made into pasta sauce.


Trattoria Pepo near the Central Market. Those folks standing
outside were waiting to get in Mario’s next door.


Ostoria Pepo

Divina Cucina Tours And Classes in Tuscany – Check out Judy’s website to see all she has to offer!

Deborah Mele
May 2009

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