Monday, July 24, 2006


The "Florence Fever"

If you're like us, you've not only heard of Florence, but you've heard so many great things about it, you've got a fire in your belly to go there. We thought our 2006 trip would be our first and only to Italy and Florence made the short list. We're glad we went there, and you will be, too!

We took Trenitalia from Roma to Firenze and we upgraded to first-class seating for a minimal increase. It's worth it because you'll be sitting in a semi-private room away from the hustle of the class coach car.

The views from the train were stellar - they reminded me of the country views from the movie "Under The Tuscan Sun," one of my favorites. Rolling hills. Sunflower farms. Blue skies. The only thing better would be more of it.

The Duomo.

To fully experience The Duomo (or "cathedral"), you must appreciate its beauty both inside and out.

When approaching The Duomo, one is overwhelmed with the sheer size of the Tuscan icon. We saw a line forming outside a door and darted for it. 6 Euro each later we were allowed to pass through the doorway. We were excited to see the inside of the famed structure.

When rounding the corner, we were presented with stairs. And stairs they were. 500+ (one-way)! Apparently, we were heading up... to the top of the domed structure. It was a narrow journey and we passed several who had "aborted ship," overcome by the small passages. And the heat.

After navigating several twisty stairways and hallways, we finally reached the top where our physical exhaustion was instantly replaced with awe. A 360 majestic view of Florence that cannot be told in pictures. Or words.

The inside of The Duomo was just as awesome. Ornate tiles. Extreme ceiling heights. Candles we lit for family and friends. A totally moving experience.

Plan for The Duomo when in Florence. Skipping it would be like missing the Statue of Liberty. Or - gasp - The Alamo!

The David.

A treaty between Italy and China (I believe) prevented us from taking our own pictures of David. Apparently China had paid a large sum of money preserving the fine statue and in lieu of that, the country owned all image and photographic rights to the magnanimous structure for a set period of time. Whatever.

Michelangelo's David was revealed in the early 1500's and well-worth and wait you'll encounter at The Accademia (his home in Florence). There's an awesome story behind the famed statue you will not read here, but when in Florence, you'll be intrigued to learn all you can - both visually and historically.

I've read that due to rapidly increasing tourist traffic between The Duomo, The David and The Market, they are considering relocating him outside the city proper into an abandoned structure they might renovate.

Don't think I like that idea.

Ponte Vecchio.

Means the "old bridge." An oldie, and a goodie.

Our first day in Firenze, we were eager to set our eyes on this familiar bridge. Peacefully gracing the Arno, the bridge was not just that - but a home to people, shops and artisans, which flank it's sides. For a peaceful day's end, grab some vino and formaggio and hang out on one of the nearby bridges overlooking Ponte Vecchio, boasting peaceful views of the famed structure. Enjoy the sunset, cause it doesn't get much better than this, folks!

This bridge connects the main part of Florence with "the other." No cars are allowed on the old bridge and that's a good thing. You're walking along a narrow market comprised of jewelry shops, leather shops and gawking tourists.

This famed bridge has been washed away more than once, but you'd never know it!

Check out a satellite shot of this super structure.

The Market.

We found some great finds here including a fine leather wallet and a snappy scarf for a close friend. There's a famed statue of a wild boar here. And rumor has it if you rub the nose, you'll return to Firenze. Just rub it!

Fuor Di Porta.
Via Pisana, 29/Rosso
50143 Firenze (FI), Italy
+39 055 225970

We visited a special wine store find called Fuor Di Porta in 2006 and the owner "Cristiana" was a true joy. Cristiana spent about an hour with us and she treated us to a great sampling of the wines of Tuscany. Her English was much better than our Italian, for sure.

In Fuor Di Porta we were treated like Italian movie stars (not Americans). Although we haven't since been back to Firenze, we miss the city - and Cristiana - greatly.

Cristiana told us she works a portion of her year in the Italian fields, helping harvest grapes which are later turned fine wine. She then sells some of the wines in her store and for that, we toast her high for her energies, her insight and her dedication to Vino Italiano.

After a heart-felt sharing of stories, Cristiana carefully packed biscotti ("Prato Belli Contuccini") to be dipped in vinsanto ("Beato Giubileo"). Both were packaged in a hand-made wooden box, whose front featured a fire-stamped mark which simply read: "Firenze".

I remember the whole she-bang set us back less than 20 Euro.

To this day, we have yet to open the special bottle; we cherish its beauty and we're afraid drinking it would empty the memory. You see, for us Fuor Di Porta was not just a great find sporting a truly local feel; we felt better people after experiencing this one-of-a-kind store.

And the name, you ask? "Fuor Di Porta" translated into
English means "outside the door." And it was! The store was located a short distance from a giant stone arch (shown at right). And inside the giant arch? You got it - a giant door! The door was usually swung open and cars actually drove thru the large structure. So when in Firenze, you'll know you're close to Fuor Di Porta when you encounter the giant door.

Our Florence Hotel?: UNA Hotel Vittoria.
Via Pisana, 59
50143 Firenze
+39 055 22771

This hotel is an uber-modern hotel set in an uber-historic city. In retrospect, we're glad we picked this puppy, even though it's on the "other" side of the Arno (read: the non-touristy side).

There's no pool or scenic views, but what this hotel lacks in some areas, it makes up in others. It's relatively new. Very clean. There's a supermarket in walking distance. And it has very modern features, like remotes that control the lighting in the room as well as the do not disturb sign. There was also a bathroom that featured a full-size walk-in shower with blue mosaic tiles all about.

The hotel's bar service was very slow on an extremely slow night and we wound up going elsewhere to get our drink on. Regardless, Hotel UNA Firenze will net out above the line and is well worth the pleasant walk back to the "other side."

Recommended Florence Dining: Finding ice was a struggle for us while in Firenze. No ice even in the supermarket! My friend Rhonda suggested the "Fusion Bar" and it was a trendy bar featuring dishes presented not just a food, but as art. The best part? Cocktails with ice!

For lunch we ate at La Tratoria Cortadino, which was recommended by a local from the watch shop we visited. For less than 10 Euro, you can enjoy a three-course lunch, complete with wine.

One night we ate a nice meal at ristorante Napolean. The food and service were both good. The view? Not so much. We were sitting in a parking lot under a tent with rope lights (see pic). But you know what? It was awesome, anyway. We were in Italy!

Oh, and The Uffizi, you ask? At the advice of a friend, we passed on The Uffizi because the long line wait ate their day and we were time-starved. But if we go back, it's at the top of the list!

Enjoy your stay in fabulous Firenze!
for the love of : italy

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