Our journey to Florence from Venice started with another heavy travel day, we’d discovered that we could get a really cheap train to Bologna on the way to Florence and then a lift in a ‘bla bla car’ (awesome car sharing app – more on this in another blog) from Bologna to just outside Florence, where we’d take the tram for our final leg of the journey. We had time in Bologna for a pizza and visit to Mambo, Bologna’s museum of modern art, which we loved and could have stayed for much longer in if we didn’t have to peg it back to the station to meet our ride.
It was a picturesque journey through the mountains in good company and the tram was cheap and easy. When we arrived in Florence we pointed ourselves in the direction we felt was correct from puzzling over the information map, and with the help of a friendly tourist information centre employee halfway, were pleased to find our journey on foot to be a reasonably short one. When we arrived at the door of our Airbnb we thought there must be some mistake, it was a beautiful fifteen foot high ornate wooden door befitting of a palace, which it turned out to have once been, at one time inhabited by none other than Machiavelli!
We ascended in a tiny lift, which barely contained us with our backpacks, and stepped into by far the most amazing place we’ve stayed in even as I write this much later. The apartment was HUGE with at least 4 bedrooms, on split levels with stone and metal interior and gigantic arch windows. Our room was bigger than our whole apartment back in Manchester and a far cry from the wooden wagon.
Even more to our delight, our host Andreas had a pot of homemade bread, garlic and tomato soup on the stove, a Tuscan speciality, which he enthusiastically shared with us and a couple of his friends who joined us. Thinking this was incredibly generous and full of gratitude we were even more surprised when he produced a golden roast chicken, fresh bread and a large salad of rocket and juicy tomatoes. We were stuffed when we’d finished and felt supremely lucky to have found this place.
Our first day in Florence we set out early, excited to see as much of this beautiful city by foot as possible. As we approached the Duomo it started to spit with rain and all of a sudden everyone seemed to have opened an umbrella! “Pah!” we thought, “They haven’t seen Manchester rain, who needs a brolly for this?” and continued to strut around the city. About 5 minutes later the heavens opened. We still tried to put on a brave face. This, after all, was our natural habitat. But it continued at full pelt and before long we were soaked, and I mean to the BONE. Drenched.
We cowered under a sheltered building for a while until realising we had to admit defeat and go home and change. Ringing our clothes out we flopped on the bed to wait for it to stop. NOT what we expected from sunny Italy! We had noticed that there were loooooong queues for all the touristy sites, and we weren’t up for that in the rain, so we got dressed and went straight to the trattoria at the bottom of the street. What else could we do in the rain in Italy than have a long, long lunch?
We chose a restaurant a stone’s throw from our door which we’d spotted earlier called Il Santo Bevitore and it turned out to be one of the best meals I ate in the country. We shared a starter of a HUGE salad and a plate of cured meats and cheeses to die for, especially the local pecorino which I had to buy another chunk of to take with us on the day we left. For our mains Giz had some kind of herby schnitzel with courgettes which looked really lovely but my main was one of those transcendental food moments where time stands still and you almost shed a tear.
I can’t really pinpoint what made it so special, it was simple, typical Tuscan food: a deep red, rich beef stew, heavy with peppercorns ladled over a pillow of soft, creamy polenta. The contrast of the hearty, tangy, melt in your mouth meat with the comforting soft unctuousness of the polenta (which I LOVE) made some kind of unexplainable magic in the mouth. A meal I know I will try (and fail) to recreate when I get home. We shared a bottle of delicious wine and sighed contentedly.
Dessert was out of the question but a few hours later we made room for gelato from the highly recommended La Carraia overlooking the river, it certainly lived up to its hype and for 2 flavours each for £4 total it was a bargain too.
The queues we had witnessed on our first day made us feel a little fatigued in terms of visiting tourist sites, but we decided to choose one thing we didn’t want to miss, get up early and and commit to the queue. Off we went to the Accademia gallery to get up close with Michaelangelos’ David.
The queue was a good 2 hours, and we questioned our sanity several times. Every city in Italy seems to have wonderful things to see but with such tedious wait times, and we just can’t justify paying to skip the line. It was in this queue we inadvertently got a top tip from the couple in front of us who had downloaded a comedy show and were listening to it on their smartphone. Good thinking! We however hadn’t had such foresight. Eventually we got inside, albeit with a much lighter wallet and enjoyed more Italian art and of course the main event.
The statue of David was much bigger than I had expected, and it was a beautiful thing to quietly behold. In general I felt a little jaded by the rest of the collection however, having seen so much similar art elsewhere. It’s all very beautiful, and impressive work, but we’d had our fill of it for one trip, sorry if that’s sacrilege to anyone reading!
Later we daftly queued for 30 mins for the Duomo in one of the many lines protruding from the church, when we reached the door it turned out to be a queue for ticket holders only, so a fat waste of time, we couldn’t be bothered to queue for tickets after that but somehow managed to slip in another door and have a look around. We’d worked up an appetite so we wandered towards Dante Aligheri street and found a wicked hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop called Da Vinatierri where we bought a couple of really delicious paninos and a couple of glasses of house wine, they didn’t have enough of our first choice of white so they gave us what was left in the bottle for free and our two glasses of red.
We sat on the step outside and watched tour groups wander by while we drank and munched on the street local style. After we found a gelato called Grom recommended by my friend Liv an ex-Florence inhabitant and I tried a quirky cherry pie flavour and yoghurt flavour as also recommended by Liv. This was one of the traditional gelaterias where the gelato is kept in round metal tins with lids on, not piled up billowing and bright to tempt the tourists, and it really was delicious, well worth the hunt but more expensive than La Carraia.
This was another good food day as that evening we popped back to Gusta Pizza near our apartment, which we had walked past the night before and noticed a long line of people outside. Later, the internet had told us it was a really highly rated place so we’d deided to return the next evening and join the queue. When the doors opened the action began and we bustled quickly down the queue as those in front of us shouted their orders, took a ticket and waited hungrily. We chose a simple marguerita and one with spicy local salami and a couple of glasses of house red, naturally! We found a table which we shared with an Australian couple and chatted about our travels, they had been travelling all around Europe and the conversation was flowing until our ticket numbers were shouted and then… complete silence. Truly worth queuing for, the best pizza we had in Italy by far, I’m salivating now just thinking about it. So cheap, so simple and so fucking good. Oh Florence you delicious little beast!!!
The next day we chatted over coffee (and the recommended 8 biscuit Italian breakfast) with a fellow Airbnb guest who was an American artist. We would be moving on that afternoon but we decided to spend the morning walking up to Michaelangelo hill on her recommendation and were really glad we did, as the view of the city was absolutely breathtaking.
We chilled and listened to a busking guitarist and soaked up the sun and the beauty of Florence before meandering back down the hill to find lunch. This was to be our last meal in Florence and for me that meant the pressure was on. We had overspent and didn’t want to go too crazy but it had to be good. We perused many a menu, all of which I’m sure would have been fine but nothing really grabbed us and we ended up back near our apartment feeling a little deflated. We chanced a few more side streets and almost walked past this tiny little place but the blackboard caught our eye, menu del giorno 10 euros, 2 delicious sounding courses. It was really pretty and we got a good vibe so we stepped inside hoping for an available table.
We were seated by the most charismatic, charming waiter who I think was the owner, he talked us through the food and wine with such passion. The food was locally sourced, organic and 90% vegetarian and vegan. They served their own wine, which our waiter told us he knew very well as he made it himself. Our three course meal consisted of a ‘tart’ starter, more like a barely set, quivering crustless quiche of broccoli with a butternut sauce. So good. Main was home made gnocchi with lemon and gorgonzola, a touch too lemony for me but still wonderful and all too easy to polish off.
We couldn’t resist the beautiful looking desserts in the fridge and were torn between a strawberry cake and a baked cheesecake so our adorable waiter said he would give us ‘a little bit of each’ and arrived with two huge slabs. The strawberry cake was good, really good, but the cheesecake was The Greatest Cheesecake I Have Ever Eaten. I have been trying to find its match ever since and nothing so far has come close. It has ruined me in the cheesecake stakes as I will be pining for it for evermore. The wine too, was fantastic, so we bought an extra bottle to take with us to our next destination. I urge you to try this place if you’re ever in Florence, it’s called La Vivanda and it’s well worth hunting down. Around the corner they have a little delicatessen so we picked up some gnufi and parmesan there to make ourselves dinner in our next destination where this time we would have an apartment to ourselves.
As I write this we have been travelling for over two months across the world and Florence is so far unbeatable in the contest for best food. Having been a little underwhelmed by a few meals in Italy (I had high hopes of course) it was in Florence that I found the gastronomic mecca for which I was searching. I would return there again in a heartbeat just to eat, eat, eat!
Currently still reading – A fork in the road (see previous blogs)
Title lyric from – Doll Parts by Hole