Thursday, June 27

Florence II: eating in Florence

Giant circles of pizza; mouthful after glorious mouthful of thin, chewy dough, crisp at the edges, adorned with fresh grilled vegetables. Heaven. Another pizza with even fresher dough, covered with slices of fried potato and fat, tasty artichokes.

Mama's Bakery has bookshelves and courtyard seating where students in deck shoes and chinos are working. It's peaceful. There are free refills of the filter coffee, which is reason enough to return, and bagels toasted and smothered in jam or just as they are.
We learn there are two prices when it comes to Florentine breakfasting - standing at the bar, or sitting down. If you sit at a table in a cafe, the price suddenly elevates. So we stand, drink cappuccinos and coffee and eat flaky, fragile croissants. 2 euros.
On our last morning we enjoy breakfast on the rooftop terrace cafe of La Rinascente, a department store in the centre of the city. This place is a hidden secret, not well-known to tourists.The view is excellent. We can almost reach out and touch the Duomo.

In an unassuming white building in a quiet street in Florence is the Libreria Brac. There is a bar, which also houses a selection of delicious looking tortes. There are Macs and magazines. A courtyard, with a forest of suspended ribbons, the chef's bicycle and a cluster of battered chairs, and into the libreria itself, lined with books on art, photography, design. Candles are lit. The menu, all vegetarian/vegan, is small - always a good sign - and we tuck into pasta, freshly prepared and very, very good.

Supper at Gilli. We are sitting outside in the piazza. A Florentine lady sits at the table next to ours, drinks an espresso. She is elderly but glamorous, like a seventy-year old Audrey Hepburn, if such a thing had ever existed. She is alone. I eat sesame-crusted tuna with a celeriac puree and a balsamic vinegar reduction. The food is wonderful, but just as wonderful is the simple pasta we ate at the Libreria Brac.

I'm not normally an ice-cream fan (give me bread any day) but I make an exception for Italian gelato. The gelato is a fruity tub-ful of delight after a hot day of sight-seeing. Lampone & torroncino - raspberry & nougat to you and I.

Thursday, June 20

Florence I: exploration

Early one morning we fly to Pisa airport and then an ungainly square train rattles us eastwards to Florence. We feel sticky, hot, crumpled from our 4am start. A tiring navigation of Florence’s narrow streets and cobbled walkways awaits us, but by lunchtime we have crossed the Arno, dodged at least twenty scooters, climbed four flights of stairs and are lying in blissful collapse in our apartment for the week. 

We discovered the apartment through Airbnb (a super service for reasonably priced, lovely accommodation in all kinds of countries). It is wonderful, the sun in residence most of the day. The walls are white, the ceiling high, and the floor old oak. In the morning we are woken by the singing of Italian bin men, in the evening I watch a man in the apartment across the street prepare fresh pasta for a late supper. I never tire of the view of rooftops, of seeing the sun fall across them as night falls. We’re located south of the river Arno, a few minutes’ walk away from the crowds of tourists and tack, in the streets of Florence where the locals live, where there are lots of supermercatos and you can hear local children playing noisily in the elementary schools at lunchtime. 

Ponte Vecchio would be lovely without the crowds, street sellers and tack that cheap travel and tourism have brought. It is a good spot from which to survey the river though; that wide expanse that cuts cleanly (though with murky waters) through the buildings of Florence. We cross the bridge every day and learn that there’s a fine art to walking over it quickly.

Wandering the streets of Florence becomes a favourite pastime of mine. I love looking up to see shadowed, shuttered buildings rise up either side of me in brown, orange and white. There is so much to look at that we don't feel the need to visit every single museum and gallery. We walk past interesting signs, old typography, hidden rooftop gardens and cafes. There are little dark shops full of curious objects. I see boxes of flowers at every window ledge, pushbikes and scooters at every junction. There are good pizza places and not-so-good pizza places. Secret bakeries, statues old and new and so many lovely old cars. I miss the trees and green spaces of London like crazy, but for now I am content to explore the cobbles and corners of Florence.