God and gastronomy – Day 10

Florence at sunset


When traveling alone, I used to get very early starts–eager to pound the pavement and take in the sights. I remember buzzing around Tokyo for a solid 10 hours. Perhaps it’s age or just my deteriorating stamina, but I find it increasingly harder to do a full 8 or 9 hours of walking around, particularly alone. It also doesn’t help that Italians eat fairly late, starting around 8 pm–ironically, that isn’t actually late for me, as David and I usually eat around then, but it means you’ve got a fair bit of time until dinner. So I’ve taken to more leisurely starts, lounging until mid-morning, that way I’m not completely knackered by the time dinner rolls around. I had a few things on my list of things to see today, including the Galleria dell’Accademia, best known for housing the statue of David. Armed with my map and camera, I set off in that general direction, stopping briefly at a bakery to scarf down a small blackberry tart for breakfast. I thought I had the route in my head as I walked past the Duomo, but it wasn’t long before I realized I’d overshot it, in the wrong direction. I re-traced my steps and turned up the appropriate street and soon came upon a distressingly long line. I’d planned to book my ticket in advance but had fallen asleep before I could do so (and couldn’t book day-of). Kicking myself for not getting it booked, I took my place in line, which went down the street and wrapped around the corner. Twenty minutes or so went by, and we still hadn’t turned the corner yet, so I decided that it wasn’t worth waiting for potentially another 45-60 minutes and that I’d book it and come back.

So I meandered my way down to the Mercato Centrale, a large market enclosed an imposing iron and glass structure. It reminded me somewhat of many of the food halls I’d seen elsewhere in Europe. Row upon row of delicious looking produce, meat and cheese, along with a healthy selection of Italian specialties such as balsamic vinegar and pesto. I sampled some tasty cheeses and was offered a cracker with some kind of cured meat stacked on top. At one of the shops, I even saw a little fish charm with Thai writing on it hanging from one of the shelves. After making a few laps of the place, I made my way out to the surrounding stalls that were largely leather goods and scarves. An endless supply of leather bags in all shapes, sizes and colours. I half-heartedly had a look, not getting too close lest I get roped in by one of the sellers.

The market is right next to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, so I thought I might take a look inside. At first, I went to the entrance line, and it looked like you might have to pay to get in. The signage was a bit unclear, and I thought it might be for the library. I overheard the cashier suggesting we go to the right side of the building to gain free access to the basilica; however, it turned out that was just for prayers. I did get inside briefly and, while pretty, determined it wasn’t really worth paying to see. The Medici Chapel was also housed in the same complex, so I decided to give that a look instead, as that was on my list of things to see. I swallowed the rather stiff entrance fee and entered the crypt. I was disappointed to learn that, yet again, no photographs were allowed. The crypt itself was not as interesting as the chapel itself, which was gorgeously opulent, befitting the Medici family who had commissioned it. The design of chapel is octagonal, with dark grey marble, inlaid with coloured marble and semi-precious stones. The ceiling of the dome was, of course, suitably sumptuous, and I did manage to sneak a covert pic using the forward-facing camera on my iPhone (while ostensibly checking my mail). They also displayed a nice collection of the elaborate vestments and paraphernalia of Pope Leo X, a member of the Medici family.

After I’d made my tour, I thought I’d check out one of the recommended restaurants for lunch, which was supposed to be not too far. It was a day of false starts it would seem, as they weren’t open for lunch. I figured I’d just continue on to my last stop, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, which is right next to the train station. The Dominican church facade is white with green accents and positively gleamed in the sunlight–it also looked almost Spanish in style. I paid the entrance fee to get in, for which I was rewarded. The church was built in the 13th and 14th centuries and is filled with gorgeous frescoes dating back to that period. One of my favourite spaces had beautifully ornate cupboards along with its stained glass and paintings, and I soon discovered was being used as the little gift shop. I wandered into the courtyard and into the Spanish Chapel, which was just floor to ceiling frescoes. After drinking in my fill, I headed out and back in the direction of the apartment. On my way, I swung by a recommended gelato shop, Gelateria la Carraia, and had some superb and decently-priced gelato–After Eight and Tiramisu mousse, which had an entire lady finger in it. Yum.

I lounged for a few hours and headed back out around dusk to see Florence at sunset. I was afforded a beautiful view of the city, bathed in soft, warm light as the sun set behind a nearby church. I walked along the river to Ponte Vecchio and strolled down it, passing the brightly-lit jewelry shops that line the bridge, with all of their displayed gemstones sparkling and winking at passersby. The streets were already buzzing with activity, and I thought I might make my way up to Caffe Gilli, a confectionary dating back to 1733, for a fancy cocktail before dinner. It’s right on Piazza della Repubblica, but I actually opted for an inside seat, as the interiors of the cafe are also quite pretty. I ordered a supremely decadent white chocolate martini garnished with  Gill chocolates. It was a tasty drink, and I was pleasantly surprised that it came with a trio of little munchies (a few tiny finger sandwiches, olives and potato chips). As I hadn’t eaten much other than gelato and some cheese and crackers, this was a good thing, as the stiff drink was already having a potent effect. I sat there feeling all warm and fuzzy (I prudently had brought something with me to read this time). I wasn’t actually terribly hungry, as my light snack back at the apartment had filled me up nicely, so I decided to just order myself a tiramisu and be done with it. The dessert was sublimely tasty and went well with the last vestiges of my drink.

When I left, the streets were alive, teeming with well-dressed folk. After a bit of wandering around, wondering why there were so many people out carrying glasses of wine or booze, I determined that it was Vogue’s Fashion Night Out. Lots of designer boutiques with open doors, giving away swag and drinks, even saw some manicures going on in store windows. I wasn’t sure whether one had to get tickets to the event, so I was content to just people-watch–lots of sharply-dressed Italian men and waif-like women teetering over the cobblestones in their stilettos. The lively music blaring out of the stores made for a very entertaining walk home.

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