Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Fatty Fortieth - The Firenze Edition

Panoramic view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square)

Firenze?  That's what I asked myself the first time I saw it listed as the destination on our train ticket.  It's Italian for Florence, and that's where we spent the second half of our Italy vacation a few weeks ago.  Just as phenomenal as Rome, only a little more low key and laid back.  I liked Florence a little bit better than Rome.

We took the high speed rail from Rome to Florence, and it was classy travel, to say the least!  I don't know why we don't get on board with high speed rail here in the U.S.  It was downright pleasant.

High speed rail from Rome to Florence - And snacks!

It was basically sit back, recline in your practically La-Z-Boy chair, & watch the Italian countryside whiz by the windows.  And they had train attendants come around with snacks and drinks.  Can't  beat that!  I was loving all the rambling fields of sunflowers we passed by on our way.  They were so vibrantly yellow and it was hard to believe how far the fields sprawled across the landscape.  Ahhhh, Tuscany!

Sunflower fields as far as we could see

We arrived in Florence after about an hour and a half or so on the train, and checked into
The Grand Hotel Baglioni, which from then on we called the Grand Budapest Hotel.  If you saw the movie, it makes sense.  If you didn't...moving on.

The front of the Grand Hotel Baglionil & the square with Santa Maria Novella church in the front of the hotel

Now this is a city that's made for wandering.  Every corner we turned, we discovered something new.  Either a piazza we hadn't seen yet, a fountain, a church, a statue -  we seemed to bump into something interesting every time we went exploring.  We also got lost about 75% of the time we left the hotel and had to yank out the phone to find our way back.  But the beauty of getting lost all the time is that it creates the perfect scenario to experience things we never would have seen otherwise.  Win-win.

Some of the piazzas, fountains and street art we saw

The heavy hitter in the center of Florence is the Duomo.  It's the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and it's the main church. This was one we marveled at every time we walked by it.  How could you not?

Il Duomo di Firenze

What a gorgeous basilica

We loved the Central Marketplace, too.  It had the freshest, most diverse selection of vegetables, meats, fish, wines, olive oils, name it, the Central Marketplace had it.  And that was just indoors.

The outside of the marketplace was corridor after corridor of booths selling all manner of leather goods, jewelry, clothes, etc.  It was fun to explore, and I may or may not have walked away with a few souvenirs.

Hubby haggling for high quality olive oil and the wares of the central marketplace

We had our first dinner in Florence at the rooftop restaurant at the hotel we stayed at, and the view was spectacularly jaw-dropping.  We walked up the stairs and casually glanced over the balcony without having any idea of the view we were about to be blown away by.  It can only be described as the city of Florence at its best:  Bathed in that perfectly warm sunset light that highlighted all the shades of amber, auburn and orange from every rooftop.  It was stunning.

This night won the prize for most beautiful view at dinner. 

One of the main squares in Florence, the Piazza della Signoria, (and so many of the other areas we strolled through) didn't leave you hanging in the gawking at historical beauty department:

About the only statue I recognized was Perseus and Medusa's head, which of course
made me think of the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans.  "Release the KRAKEN!!"

I mentioned this in my Roma post, but it's worth repeating.  One of my favorite things about Italy is the ubiquitous piazzas.  They're everywhere, and everyone seemed to gather there, especially at night - sitting on benches or steps, chatting, eating gelato, and relaxing for the evening.

The orchestra was set up under these arches, in front of all the statues
There was one night after dinner in Florence where we stumbled upon a full orchestra performing at one of the main piazzas, Piazza della Signoria.  We heard the music wafting through the night air, and when we turned the corner, there they were performing for a huge, appreciative crowd.

It was so memorable - strolling the piazzas, eating gelato, and then unexpectedly discovering a live orchestra playing!  Might have been the perfect Italy evening.

Another great piazza moment:  We were sitting on the steps at the Duomo right around sunset, when I glanced over and saw a man get down on one knee and propose to his girlfriend right in the middle of the piazza.  At that moment, when the crowd collectively realized what was happening, a huge burst of applause and cheering erupted from all the people milling around.  What a memorable moment for that couple, and it was kind of fun for us to witness.

Hubby buys gelato, part 8?
All throughout our trip, I found myself snapping pictures of anything that struck me as noteworthy.  The building and statue designs, art & renaissance architecture are all so unique and interesting. - So as you can imagine, I took a lot of pictures.  Almost 500, to be exact.  I know, overkill.

And have I mentioned the gelato?  Good Lord, the gelato.  We had it every day.  Full disclosure, sometimes twice a day.

My favorite was Pistachio, and hubby was digging the berry flavor, but we branched out and experimented with all different flavors during our many gelato runs! Combining the melon and the coconut?  Magic!

One of the structured tours we did in Florence was a winery and vineyard tour through the heart of the Chianti Classico region.  That was a fun day!   A driver took us about a half an hour outside Florence into the heart of Tuscany to two different wineries that produce Chianti Classico. - Fattoria Montecchio and Casa Emma.  Such beautiful countryside and exactly what you would imagine the Tuscany region would look like.

Fattoria Montecchio
The grounds of Fattoria Montecchio

This was where we ate dinner at
Casa Emma.  Not too shabby!
We learned all about DOCG wines, which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita - it basically just means the producers followed the strictest regulations possible to make that wineThe sommeliers explained what goes into making Chianti Classico, and of course we enjoyed the best part - tasting the wines.

At Casa Emma, we had a traditional Italian dinner overlooking the vineyards right around sunset.  It was spectacular!  From the food and wine to the gorgeous view, to the Tuscan sunset, you couldn't ask for more.

Our Tuscan sunset at Casa Emma Vineyards

Now I realize I'm once again teetering into "this post is way too long" territory, but I can't leave out the statue of David!  We saw him on our last full day in Florence, and he was beautiful.

Hubby and I debated whether his expression was determined, slightly fearful, or a combination

I have a distinct memory of walking into the room where David was, turning to the left, and checking out all of the unfinished statues Michelangelo carved that were on display. - I didn't realize I had walked into the area where David was, and when I turned around and spotted him at the very far end of the room from where I was standing (at the perfect angle and perspective) I lamely said, "Wow." But sometimes I think that's the perfect response to something that truly does wow you.  He really is quite the specimen. 

Mandatory here's me with wait, here's ME with David photo ops.

We did a lot more during our time in Florence, but it's just too much to share here.  I'll leave you with a Firenze food porn collage.  It was all as delicious as it looks!

All right, here goes starting at the top, from left to right:  Roasted eggplant stuffed with fresh mozzarella, spaghetti carbonara, Chianti Classico, bruschetta and salami, pork shank, steak fillet, pear ravioli, assorted salami, proscuitto, bruschetta, artichoke & olives, another steak fillet, more bruschetta (that was my go-to snack, the tomatoes are unbelievable there), Peroni, orchiette with eggplant, beef carpaccio over bruschetta with mushrooms, raspberries, and some kind of kick ass cheese, and last...a chocolate tort on one of those rare nights that dessert wasn't gelato.  Whew!  I did say it was fatty, didn't I?

Ta-ta for now.

The Duomo at night

The bridge over the Arno River

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