It was a last minute decision to drop into Tuscany just for the weekend. And what can I say? Tuscany is as pretty as they say and just like the postcards – with gentle rolling hills and cypress trees abound, dotted with olive farms and vineyards. Weather was rather bad on our way out but thank god it cleared up later that Saturday. Our main target this weekend was to visit Florence. Here is a “brief ” account of what we did and saw in Florence.
We booked a B&B just 20 mins drive outside Florence, called Casa Palmira , for €85 a night for 2 , double bed with own private WC/shower and breakfast. A really nice country house with pleasant owners. The rooms are clean and well kept. Breakfast was good – there was a nice selection of fruits, muesli, yogurt and eggs if you wish.
Another place we considered initially was Johanna in Florence city itself, but decided to opt for the country house B&B just get a little away from the city. Next time we are planning to check out Johanna for the same price of €85. Through our email exchanges they appear to be very professional and helpful, so I am confident they have a high quality B&B to offer.
Some friends of mine mentioned another alternative, which is in the country side by Saturnia in the Maremma Tuscany area. It is the Saturnia Tuscany Hotel and you can look it up from the link http://www.saturniatuscanyhotel.com/
- Museums and things to see/do
If you want to go into the museums, a little bit of planning has to go into it. It is true the queues are bad for both Accademia and Uffizi , you can always ask your hotel or B&B to help you book or buy the tickets online through these sites:
1) http://www.b-ticket.com/b-ticket/Uffizi/default.aspx (best place to buy online without the exhorbitant fee charged by other sites – but you need to book at least 1 week in advance)
We did not manage to, but will be going back with prebooked tickets for sure. A friend got their tickets without queuing up at another gallery in a quiet street somewhere. Unfortunately she cannot recall the name of the gallery and neither did we discover any quiet gallery selling tickets on our trip.
So what other sights did we see? Well, you cannot miss the Duomo which is worth taking a look . Formally known as Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore (below) – this marble church is massive in comparison to her surroundings. Just opposite her front entrance, you have the most famous door Porta Del Paradiso (above) which is located on the building – Baptistery of Saint John across from it . If you cannot find it, it is on the Baptistery’s eastern door . The Porta Del Paradiso or Gates of Heaven (named so by Michelangelo) is made of gilded bronze depicting scenes from the Old Testaments. Ghilberti was the main man behind that door, toiling on it for 28 years. The other doors have different scenes depicted on them and were made by different artists – all worth having a look at too.
Walking further out towards the river Arno, another historical site is Ponte Vecchio (below), a famous landmark of Florence and probably one of the most famous bridges in the world. The river Arno runs below it. It was the only bridge to survive WWII when the Nazi bombed all bridges around Florence in order to deter the Allied forces. The story goes like this – due to a culturally sensitive German commander, this bridge was spared and instead of blowing it up, he ordered the buildings at the end to be destroyed. Today along the bridge, you will find shophouses selling gold, which reminds me of the gold zouk in Deira, Dubai! I did not check out the prices so I can’t tell you if it is cheaper than Dubai, sorry!
Loggia Della Signoria
At the Piazza della Signoria (main square) you will find the Loggia Della Signoria – which is an open air gallery exhibiting sculptures like Cellini’s famous Perseus holding the head of Medusa and the Rape of Sabine Women by Giambologna.
And not forgetting, for a panoramic view of Florence, one should go up to Piazzale Michelangelo on Viale Michelangelo. The photo above is from there.
Generally, I judge a gelateria by the colours of their gelati. They can say anything on their signboards like homemade,etc but I look at their mint flavoured or pistacchio flavoured ice cream first. If the colour is green (too green) to be natural, I would give it a miss.
Vivoli (Via Isole delle Stinche) is being recommended by almost all guidebooks! It is good but for the price you pay for I don’t think it is that great! You pay by the size of the cup. For a double scoop you normally get around Italy, it costs €3.20 – so yes a tad expensive! Not everything is great in there. I did try their fig ice cream, it was good not too sweet. I tried the Riso (rice flavoured) and that was too sweet for my liking.
Vestri ( Borgo degli Albizi) an artisanal chocolate store, hence yes great chocolate gelati.
Carabe (Via Ricasoli) – their gelati I read is good , but best of all besides the gelati, you get to sample their Sicilian sweets like cannoli, cassata and granitas too.
Fiesole (10km from Firenze) – is a pretty hillside village located not too far from Florence or our B&B. There is a great panoramic view of Florence from there. Also several great local restaurants. We tried one called Vinandro . We ordered a beautiful piece of meat (beef). Make sure it is controfiletto – which is prime quality meat hence juicier. It is the cut that is used to make roast beef – the english term fails me right now. The meat is commonly served just simply chargrilled or cut out in strips , on top of a bed of rucola and shaven parmesan cheese (tagliata con rucola e grana*).
I had also the ‘peposo’ a type of stewed beef with peppercorns – which was really tender. Wine (of the house) for 1/4 ltr costs about €3-4 which is fine enough for a casual dinner. For coffee, forget about asking for capuccino – a major faux pas after dinner . You get an espresso or in my case orzo (roasted barley that tastes almost like coffee minus the caffeine) to end a good meal on the right note Italian style.
NB – For you foodies out there, if you come to Tuscany – you only eat one thing (besides the gelato) – BEEF, forget about spaghetti marinara please or any seafood for that matter, leave that for the Italian coastal cities.
That is why their wines like Chianti or the prized Brunello are robust and deep as they pair well with the excellent meat you get here. The main grape variety here is Sangiovese.
* Parmesan cheese : both Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padana are very similar. The difference is the forage; the meadows in the production area between Parma and Reggio have certain grasses, while those of the meadows of the section of Lombardy that produces Grana have others. As a result there are slight differences in flavor and color. I find Grana is a little easier to shave into large slices compare to Parmigiano Reggiano, but all depends on the exact age when you buy it to get the precise texture you like.
What a nice relaxing weekend. Oh by the way for those of you who drive, we found a good place to park (on Sundays it is free) – along Lungarno Del Tempio or Lungarno Francesco Ferrucci. If you want to park for free on other days and walk down to the old city, go up to Piazzale Michelangelo and make sure you are there early like 7-8am otherwise it will be full full full!