Sunday, July 28, 2013

Florence

Mercato di San Lorenzo

Thank goodness for long days of summer. We made the most of our 24-hour visit to Firenze. After a nice lunch at Trattoria Dante (which is big on ambiance), we took the bus to San Lorenzo where we browsed the outdoor stalls for decent bargains to take home as presents for family and friends. My cousin was particularly interested in finding a good leather jacket. We arrived at the market just before their fold-up time of 7 p.m. and the bargaining was intense. In the end, I bought four lacy scarves, left the leather bags alone and walked happily away. My cousin found the jacket he wanted the following day. Shopping done, we strolled to the Duomo and Baptistery of San Giovanni for art history lessons. My favorite Florentine story is about the competition for the crafting of the bronze doors of the Baptistery. Both Ghiberti and Brunelleschi submitted their quatrefoil panels of the Sacrifice of Isaac. Ghiberti won and was awarded the commission to sculpt the reliefs for the north facing door of the Baptistery (the original door is now inside the Museo dell'Opera). While it appears that Brunelleschi failed, it was really a stroke of luck for him. He moved on to build the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Il Duomo, the first octagonal dome built without a wooden supporting frame. Proof that "when one door closes, another opens".

At the Piazza della Signoria, we gazed at the sculptures of Neptune, Michaelangelo's David (a copy), Cellini's Perseus and the Head of the Medusa, among others, from the very spot where the Dominican priest, Girolamo Savonarola, burned books, works of art, fine clothes and jewelry and a host of "immoral and frivolous objects" in what was dubbed the Bonfire of the Vanities and where Savonarola himself was hanged and burned at the stake in 1498. Karma?

 
Sunset on the Arno River

We stopped at Ponte Vecchio to view the sunset and its reflection on the Arno River. It was fiery and it bathed the old buildings in what I would call, the colors of Tuscany. What a perfect way to cap the day! Across the bridge and a couple of blocks down on Borgo San Jacopo, we found Trattoria Cammillo, a restaurant recommended by a colleague at work. There was a long line outside the small trattoria and we nearly gave up, but upon entering the dining room, we were told we could have our table in ten minutes. And we did.

Trattoria Cammillo dining room

We were seated in the first dining room which was packed with guests and people waiting for a table. it was rather entertaining to watch the buzz of activity around us.  My cousins ordered lamb and a mushroom omelette while I got breaded fried chicken cut in cubes. While the food was nothing spectacular, we were happy with our selections. The service flowed though the restaurant was fully booked until we were ready to leave and we had to wait a little bit to get our bill as our waiter was up to his ears serving in the other dining room.

Façade of Pitti Palace

The next day we walked to the Pitti Palace. It was such a relief that fewer tourists explore past the Ponte Vecchio nor venture into the Oltrarno because we didn't have to deal with the crowds. With some time before taking the train back to Rome, we wandered in the area around Via Guicciardini where we discovered a few excellent shops selling pottery and leather goods at reasonable prices.

Tuscan Pottery

It was nice to absorb Florence one neighborhood at a time - Piazza San Lorenzo, Signoria, Pitti and we were ensconced in a restored villa on Piazza del Carmine which was formerly owned by the Prince of Rospigliosi from Pistoia. The Brancacci Chapel (with frescoes by Masaccio) is a stone's throw away.

Florentine Sonnets
Through these old streets I wander dreamily;
Around me Florence sweeps her busy tide
Of life; quaint palaces on every side.
Here, where I pass, perchance in former day
Petrarch hath walked, composing poetry
to oft-sung charms of Laura. Here hath hied
Dante, of Florence now the greatest pride,
But whom in life, she fiercely drove away,
To write in gloom his epic. Here, beneath
This loggia, Boccaccio hath told
His laughing tales, to comrades, merrily
What wondrous memories these scenes bequeath
What artists, sculptors, painters, here of old
Fashioned this lovely gem of Italy!
William Leighton, 1906

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Eats: 
Trattoria and Pizzeria Dante
Pizza Nazario Sauro, 12/r
Borgo San Frediano

Cammillo
Borgo San Jacopo, 57/r
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesday

Where to stay: 
Santo Nome di Gesu - this is a religious casa managed by the Franciscan sisters. There's a curfew for guests. Good location. Friendly staff. Nice garden.
www.fmmfirenze.it
Piazza del Carmine 25

Getting around:  Walking is the best way to explore the city. Buses are convenient if you're too tired to walk. Buy bus tickets at tobacconists, cafés, or shops around the bus stop before you board the bus.
Where to shop:
For leather bags and accessories 
Simone
Via Guicciardini, 33/r

Across the street from Simone are various pottery shops.

Mercato di San Lorenzo (under the shadow of the Basilica of San Lorenzo)
There's a wide assortment of goods sold at this outdoor market including clothing, leather products, scarves, pottery, souvenir items, home decor. Bargaining is the norm.

Mercato del Porcellino on Piazza della Repubblica
The stalls at this market sell the same wares as those at San Lorenzo but with a difference. I found the scarves sold here were of better quality and the selection of fabrics a tad more chic. 

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Images by Charie

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