15 June 2014


we had a long day of train travel through three countries on april 30, spending our time in the compartment admiring the view and quizzing each other on basic italian phrases and vocab in a concerted effort to be able to get by in italy without resorting to spanish with an italian accent.

we switched to an italian local train in bologna, which was not only a confusing train station but a nightmare of a ride - everyone was so rude and disorganized and italian. i could never live in this country; i couldn't handle how chaotic it is. we arrived at the florence train station in the evening and hauled our suitcases to the rundown ostello centrale. it was a weird hostel, a house off a hidden courtyard that hasn't been updated since probably the '70s, owned by a charming grandfather named big mario who doesn't speak a word of english and populated by a strange array of people.

we headed out to explore - luckily, for all its faults (including the inconsiderate asian roommate who became a running joke among us under the pseudonym IAR), the ostello centrale was, in fact, centrally located! we got a first view of the duomo as sunset colors still streaked the sky.

then we set off to find two of maddy's brother teddy's top recommendations: gusta pizza for the best pizza and then gelateria la carraia, each the best in florence at their crafts. but no street is straight and no numbers are in order, so we of course did a little meandering before finding our way.

inside a church that we passed often while walking to the river, a sign for "silence, prayer" employs the face of one of the frescoes on the walls.

finding gusta pizza was a challenge - the address numbering really goes in NO logical order. 37-49a-12 is a sequence that would be perfectly unsurprising. everyone was out and about in the city at fashionable-looking art galleries and boutiques; we only realized later that it was the annual "white night" and we should've taken advantage and gone into a couple museums for free! anyway, we were exhausted and starving and our margherita pizzas could not have come sooner.

look how hungry we are.


then off to get gelato, of course - a tradition we continued at least once a day for our four-night stay. (yes, we got gelato at 10 am on the day we left. but that's another story.) la carraia is PERFECTION - some of my favorite flavors are biscottino (cookie), dark chocolate ("fondente"), nocciotella (hazelnut-chocolate, but not the same as nutella, because they have that too), raspberry, and ricotta pear.

and this was our walk home.... how can you not just adore florence.

(not to mention soaking in the scene in our neighborhood when we saw an overflowing bar full of people watching the chelsea-atlético game, and joined the group on the street around the outdoor screen.)

the next morning, we decided first to check out mercato centrale di san lorenzo. again we got lost on a less-than-ten-minute walk. again we didn't really mind.

right by the giant indoor food market were a piazza, a church, and a big touristy souvenir fair, where we admired some of the craftsmanship, like pottery and leatherware, we didn't care to stop for long.

inside was a paradise of fresh pasta, cheese, bread, and more.

though we were skeptical of the coffee bar at such a touristy place, the price wasn't exorbitant like we'd expected, so we gave it a try... we were not disappointed! the cappuccinos were perfect and we were back every morning. we like to find something good and stick to it - only takes a few days to become a regular!

the barista was incredible: my cup was a swan!!!

tamar's new motto: "life is too short not to eat and drink well."

in true backpacker fashion, we decided a great idea for breakfast/lunch/snack was to buy an entire loaf of bread each. and then eat a bunch of it while standing there. a passersby saw us tearing up bread and commented that we were "doing it right." 

tamar made a mess on the table.

always fun to see the europeans' stereotypes for each other... we can affirm that germans should organize everything.

our next destination was on the other side of town, so we took another scenic tour.

crossing via ponte santa trinita, our passage of choice:

(right before tamar and i got waylaid by a street vendor from senegal. small world.)

palazzo pitti.

 through the courtyard of the palazzo pitti, we finally reached the giardino di boboli - boboli gardens!

good job staying off the grass...

super super cool and very expansive, and it seemed like secret paths branched in every direction, leading to more old roman-style statues.

we found a little hideaway with a spot to picnic on bread and a big ball of buffalo mozzarella that we also picked up at il mercato.

then to climb up, searching for a better and better view.

finally, we stumbled into a back garden perched high at the top of the hill with a magnificent view of the surrounding tuscan countryside.

passing through the courtyard of the rectangular, unremarkable palace on the way out, i noticed this rather unfortunately broken life-sized figure.

we spent a while scouting out different gelato places around the city, yet ended up back at la carraia, then perched ourselves on the ledge of ponte la carraia to enjoy our gelato. beyond ideal.

then more window shopping and wandering cute neighborhoods and people-watching.

the feeling's mutual.

 for dinner, we spent all afternoon checking out different restaurants' pasta selections, since we had to have pasta while in italy but it doesn't appear to ever be cheap. tamar had seen one place early on and we settled on that one - only to realize none of us remembered the name or how to get there! luckily, with some group intuition, brainstorming, and lucky guesses, we navigated to ciro & sons eventually. not so luckily, it was a huge disappointment (the servers went out of their way to be rude to our group of teenagers, etc.) and the most expensive meal of our trip thus far. we're pretty good at making the most of things, and anyway it wasn't bad. c'est la vie!

the nightlife in florence was nonexistent that day, thursday, may 1, because of the public holiday, but we set out to find the secret bakeries that florence is famous for. starting around 1 am, revellers in the know can find the early-morning wholesale bakeries that produce pastries for the whole city. while there was no crowd to follow on this thursday, with teddy's tips, some internet research, our senses of smell, and some tenacity, we found the mecca of ultra-fresh one-euro chocolate croissants.

found it!

it was a glorious day.

on friday, after our cappuccinos at il mercato centrale, we decided to set out again for the best pasta in the city, even if it would be another splurge. after a trek through the rain that continued to pour all day, and a long wait for a table in the tiny restaurant, we got penne al pomodoro at osteria il buongustai. IT WAS PERFECT. actually possibly the best meal i've ever had. we savored every last bite. the food in italy did not disappoint!

then was the uffizzi, which we knew we absolutely had to go to.

palazzo vecchio, on the same piazza as the uffizzi gallery.

but thanks to the rain - and of course the popularity of the gallery - we waited in line for THREE HOURS. by the time we got in we only had an hour to run through as much as possible of this massive museum (and get our money's and time's worth!)

unfortunate graffiti - and an even more unfortunate nickname - on the outer walls of the uffizzi.

 views of and from the uffizzi:

then, yet again defying the downpour, we decided to walk the mile to piazzale michelangelo, worth it for its unmatched panoramic view of a (fog-covered) city.

so wet but so happy.

the rain did stop us from heading up to the church a bit farther up the hill, though. we just aren't that tough.
we sprung for gelato at the empty, drenched piazzale even though the servers, who were closing, wouldn't even let us stand under their umbrellas. but maddy finally found the mela verde flavor she'd been looking for our whole trip.



saturday started wandering a food market at piazza santa novella (so much honey, olive oil, and truffles) and going to volume, an adorable cafe/bookshop/hangout spot at piazza santa spirito, where we decided on cappuccinos and a rich chocolate cheesecake that was maybe not the most healthy breakfast, but certainly one of the tastiest. we then hopped on an hourlong bus to siena, because we'd done a lot in florence and wanted to see at least one other town in italy!

central siena: the piazza del campo.

at siena's duomo.

siena's super-weird roman emblem is a she-wolf suckled by infant twins romulus and remus.

crazy doors.

pretty gelato.

after some wrong directions by locals, we finally found the museo civico, an old government building with walls covered in frescoes. the detailing was incredible.

the museum also had a lookout point... there's something about tuscany; you can never get bored of the view.

getting off the bus, we ended up at the tail end of the same market from this morning (taking advantage of a couple more samples...) and saw the sun set behind the basilica of santa maria novella.

spotted all over the city.

for dinner we made a pilgrimage to a vegan and gluten-free panini place we'd spotted whose sandwiches were good but small - the excursion may or may not have ended with a baguette and leftover peanut butter in the room of our hostel.

not just a store - a museum.
our last night was more of the late-night wanderings where i felt like i really got familiar with the city. some of the piazzas are full of people just hanging out and even picnicking late into the night. but i especially love the deserted the piazzale degli uffizzi, where we went to wait after arriving to our secret bakery (a few blocks away) too early for pastries!

it's never too early for silliness, though.

finally satiated.

our very last morning was prepping for our noon train by sipping cappuccinos back at volume, purchasing panini for the road, skipping across a few more bridges, and, of course, savoring our last italian gelato for a while. italy is as amazing as it is sometimes absurd; i'll definitely miss it and ache to return.

more adventures always await.

ciao, italia!

x, m

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