Italy Served 3 Ways: Florence


The neon sign merely says “Trattoria”, glowing yellow in a quiet, narrow, unassuming lane.  You hesitate for just a moment, unsure if something so tucked-away could be the best place to enjoy your first real Italian meal, but once you’re close enough to see through the low windows to the cosy ambiance inside, you know your growling stomachs haven’t led you astray.  As you open the door, hearty laughter spills out into the night.  From somewhere in the back emerges a middle-aged man with rosy cheeks and a beaming smile.  “Buona serra!” he booms welcomingly, arms wide and beckoning.  He introduces himself and seats you and your new bride in a quiet, wood-paneled corner lighted warmly with colorful glass lamps.  When the food arrives on steaming plates, it’s plentiful, rich, and hearty.  Her pasta is cooked to perfection and laced with an aromatic sage-butter sauce, and your chianti-braised beef is fall-apart tender and bursting with flavor.  A labelless bottle of divine house wine brings it all together and sends you both gently into a happy, well-fed glow.  Just when you’ve scraped up those last moist crumbs of tiramisu, and the meal seems to be coming to a close, that same rosy-cheeked gentleman swings by your table with a narrow bottle, and fills two small glasses with a sunny yellow liqueur.  He winks before slipping away, and the two of you sip serenely in the rosy lamplight.

So, we’re going to Italy?

Yes, indeed!  The next three posts will take you through three different ways to experience Italy, and this one will start you off in Florence, ideal stop for art and food lovers.  It’s both touristy enough to have lots of unforgettable sights (and to be very accessible to English speakers), but not so overwhelming and crowded as Rome.  Stay near the cobbled Piazza del Duomo, home of Florence’s most important cathedral, for easy access to everything.

What’s a honeymooner to do in Florence?

Eat gelato!  Cool and creamy, rich and silky, it’s everywhere you look, arranged in colorful palettes in almost every third or fourth shopfront window.  Choose something enticing and watch as the server scrapes mouthwatering curls into a little bowl for you.  Take your first bites with a tiny plastic spoon, and learn first-hand what makes Italian gelato (which is churned slowly and therefore denser than American ice cream) special.  In Florence there’s no such thing as bad gelato, but my favorite was Grom, an organic gelato-maker a stones-throw from the Duomo.  You’ll recognize their selection immediately by the more-muted colors, simple pastels instead of the bright rainbow array you’ll find elsewhere.  I highly recommend trying a cup of the pear!  You’ll find gelato in other parts of Italy too, but make sure to steer clear of the neon-bright version available on carts near tourist-heavy spots, especially in Rome; it’s a poor substitute for the real thing.

Visit David.  Michaelangelo’s much-parodied masterpiece really is worth your time.  Unlike the rather underwhelming Mona Lisa, David is breathtaking.  He stands tall and solid, balanced and thoughtful, illuminated by a skylight, taking the center focal point of the Academia gallery.  Every detail is perfect. Every muscle, every vein, even his toes are exactly right.  The one (very much on purpose) change Michelangelo made was the exaggerated size of David’s right hand. It’s not overly noticeable at first, but take a look; it’s representative of David’s extraordinary strength. The subtle, natural grain in the white marble David is carved from is perfect as well; it adds just the right texture to make him seem that much more real.  Michelangelo always said that he never carved figures from stone, he simply freed the person trapped inside. That is truly the only explanation for this marvel of sculpture.  It’s well worth the 10 euro entry fee.

Wander the Uffizi.  Think Raphael, Leonardo, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Rubens, Titian, Michelangelo, and Giotto.  As I recommended in my Spain post, it’s a really good idea to read the light-and-entertaining Europe 101 by Rick Steves before any trip to Europe, and for Florence especially.  After reading, the Uffizi with leave you wide-eyed and open-mouthed.  It is the most impressive collection of famous art I have seen anywhere in the world.

Hungry for more?  Climb the 400+ steps up to the top of the Duomo for a stunning view of the city (try it at sunset and you won’t be sorry).  Peruse beautiful hand-made leather goods for which Florence is famous.  On your way home from dinner, stroll by the Uffizi for a bit of music (when I was there, it was a lone violinist, standing there in the dark, dwarfed by the huge arches supporting the gallery and by its massive stone statues of notable Italians. His sweet, mournful song spilled out of his instrument and swirled up among the columns.  It was haunting and unforgettable).  Want to experience that same warm ambiance I described in the beginning of this post?  Enjoy a dinner (or more… we went back twice!) at Icche C’e C’e, but be sure to visit Tuesday-Sunday, since they are closed on Mondays.

Want some help paying for all of this?  Well, then register for a honeymoon registry, of course!  Your family and friends would much rather give you an unforgettable experience than a fancy blender, anyway.  Add in that romantic first dinner, those soft Italian leather gloves that you’ll pick out yourself, or those many, many cups of creamy gelato.  Add entrance to the Uffizi, or to the Academia to see David.  And don’t forget to register for those train tickets, which will take you to our next stop in Italy… stay tuned for more next week!

(photo used under creative commons license)

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