Saturday, April 17, 2010

Firenze, Capitolo Uno

Our trip over to Italy generally went well. Thierry finally forgot to take his Swiss Army knife out of his pocket and had to give it up at the airport, quite traumatic. I then left my cell phone in the “bin” after I got myself and stuff back together from the security check, but was able to retrieve it before departing.

The flight was pretty smooth. We were able to upgrade to first class which made a huge difference. At least we were able to stretch out and get a few hours sleep. We made our connection in Frankfurt, but I was frisked pretty thoroughly – I had taken my water bottle off the earlier plane and put it in the outer pocket of my backpack. It was over 3 oz, a major offense.

When we arrived in Florence, we telephoned our landlord to let him know we had arrived. We rented an apartment in Florence Centro (near the Palazzo Strozzi), just a few blocks from the Arno River. He told us he would meet us within an hour. We took a cab and arrived at our destination in about 20 minutes, and waited almost an hour for Federico to arrive. He was all flustered, and commented that the cleaning lady hadn’t finished preparing our apartment. I was a little shocked at first to see that the place looked so “rustic”, but have since become quite used to it.

The apartment is on a busy, expensive shopping street, with high ceilings and long windows facing the street. There are two bedrooms which are in the back. One with twin beds has a window overlooking the alley; ours has no windows other than a small one that opens to the stairwell. Needless to say, with no noise and no natural light, we have been sleeping pretty late (or maybe it’s getting used to the time difference?). There are two bathrooms, a big dining area and kitchenette, and large living room with two sofas.

It took us some time, but we finally found grocery stores. I guess I am so used to Amsterdam, with fresh markets, bakeries and grocers within a few blocks of each other, I find it a bit hard to acclimate. You know I always think of food first! There are stores that sell fresh parma and cheese; however, the cheese selection is very limited, mostly to parmesan and gorgonzola. Perhaps this is regional, or perhaps our view is limited to where we are staying. The bread here is not very good. As a matter of fact, it is very bland, and it is the same everywhere you go. Even the bakeries sell the same thing you get in a restaurant. It is white, with a fairly hard crust, but just not very tasty. Thierry thinks it lacks salt.

We have eaten in a good restaurant, a not-so-good restaurant, and a great restaurant. All of these we have found by walking the streets and just popping in. Tonight was the topper. The owner/host/manager was very friendly and engaging – spoke great English – and, like all good hosts, made a slew of recommendations which we could not say no to. So, we had a great Chianti, a wonderful, thick tomato soup, a dish of pasta with fresh clams and shrimp, ossobucco and veal scaloppini. Finally, we had a strawberry tart for dessert. I am stuffed as I write this. For those in the family reading this, before the meal they brought a plate of fried dough. I don’t know what they called it, but it reminded me of pitzadells (sp?) – without the powder sugar.

Our apartment is in a great location; easy to walk everywhere. We bought our tickets for Venice yesterday at the train station. We saw a marvelous art exhibit at the Palazzo Strozzo which included artworks by Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Balthus. I know we will not be spending a lot of time viewing Renaissance art, and this was really a treat. We walked across the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, and walked to the Pitti Palace, but did not go in; we may go back.

Generally, we have spent the last two days getting acclimated. Oh, and waiting for Federico. Our internet connection went down on our first full day here and we actually believed him when he said he’d be here in an hour. When the internet still didn’t work this morning and Thierry called him from the pay phone, he told us he forgot! I guess we are on Italian time.

Today we finally bought an Italian phrase book. While sitting in the restaurant tonight we started to browse through the book. The first page that opened contained the following statement: “I suffer from coeliac disease, which is a gluten intolerance leading to serious digestive problems.” Ok, I realize this is a problem for some people, but even if a gluten-challenged individual was able to spit this out – would they understand the answer? And what would the answer be? And what would be the next statement? Perhaps it would be easier to just skip the pasta course.

Some observations:
  • The streets are very clean. Little litter.
  • The shops are very clean – the windows sparkle as do the display cases.
  • You actually see shopkeepers (women in their very nice outfits and high-heels) who work in these high-priced stores outside sweeping the sidewalks in front of the store and cleaning windows before they open for the day.
  • You see lots of young people (as well as old), but very few totting little dogs. It seems the cutsie little dog obsession has not hit Florence, or at least where we are. Thierry thinks it’s because there are a lot of tourists here, but there are many residents as well.
  • Instead of hundreds of bikes (like in Amsterdam), you see motor scooters and little electric cars.
  • People on the sidewalks move for no-one. The streets and sidewalks are narrow. But no-one will move for you. We thought this was bad during tourist season in Philly – well Philly is a cake walk compared to Firenze.
We are having fun learning the neighborhood and are looking forward to seeing more of the better-known sites. Monday we go to Venice for two days and then Lauren and Mike join us for a week.

It has been a great adventure and a wonderful day!

NOTE: Thierry added a link to our pictures from Italy (see right)


Lisa Ruff said...

We had the same sleeping experience in Spain: no windows in the bedroom, dark and cozy and a six-hour time difference. I swear, we slept the whole first three days!

Lovely pictures. Have a great time!

Barbara Gruenwald said...

Hi Mary and Thierry - so good to hear from you - thanks for the wonderful photos.