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Our good friends Erin and Chris over at The Olive Notes spent a year studying Italian in Firenze and so when we found out we were going to be spending some time in Tuscany, I immediately set up a lunch date with Erin, to discuss spending “The Perfect Day in Florence”. Her recommendations were based on having only one day to spend there, which was all we had. If you want to check out a map of her suggestions (with descriptions of the places), you can click here.

We were not able to squeeze in all of her suggestions, unfortunately, but I think it warrants another visit to Florence. Not only because there is so much to do, but because much to our disappointment, we didn’t have the best time there and I think it needs to be re-visited.

Now if you all remember, in the last post Roberto and I were hiking through the Tuscan countryside from Torracia di Chiusi to San Gimignano…and getting very lost and tired. Well the next day was our day in Florence. Florence is a city of art and amazing Renaissance beauty. It is also known for its towering church, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as “The Duomo”, which dominates the skyline. The Duomo is the largest brick dome ever constructed and we figured that with only one day in Florence, the duomo was a high priority of something we shouldn’t miss. So after parking the car on the outskirts of the city, we walked in the direction of the duomo. Well it was a chilly and gray day. Walking from the parking lot, I was taken unawares by the swarms of motorini (crazy Italians on mopeds) driving like bats out of hell through the city. I had prepared myself for dealing with this in once we got to Rome, but I wasn’t ready for it in Florence. So it kind of started my day off on the wrong foot. I am not a big city kind of person by nature – so lots of traffic moving erratically at rapid speed trying to run me down kinda freaked me out.

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However, once we got closer to the Ponte Vecchio things quieted down a notch, and I was able to take my eyes off of oncoming traffic and enjoy the views. Which are quite lovely by the way. So off to the duomo we went.

Santa Maria del Fiore, “The Duomo”

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We stood in the windy line for tickets for only a few minutes. Once inside we were greeted with lots of signs telling us that there are no elevators, and people with heart conditions should not take the tour to the top. We really didn’t pay it much mind, paid our tickets and started to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Dome. No big deal, right? We just did a major hike the day before and we are very active people. Well at first it wasn’t too bad, but the passageway is very tight, dimly lit and the stairwells spiral, so after the first few minutes, I started getting a little dizzy. Luckily there was a little rest area with some beautiful marble statues of various popes not too far up. I was thankful for the rest and figured we had to be at least half way…not too bad. After the little rest, we started up again. The spiral staircase continued and by this point both of our leg muscles were starting to feel taxed – especially since we just had a big hike the day before. At this point the steps began to get steeper. Way steeper. And the oxygen was getting thinner. Well that is what I thought at the time, but later I realized it was my fear of heights that were beginning to take their toll. I am a very earthy person, who prefers feet solidly on the ground, and although I did have a sturdy passageway beneath my feet, my brain knew better.

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At this point we were lead out of the stone passageway, and onto a circular glass enclosed bridge that went around the perimeter of the dome, with the dome above us. This is one of the highlights of the tour – where you can see all the beautiful (and macabre) artwork that covers the interior of the dome. You can also see how far up you are, as you look down to the center nave of the church. Here we took lots of pictures and video.

The interior of the dome is painted vividly with scenes from Dante’s Divine Comedy as well as stained glass depicting Mary and Jesus created by the greatest Florentine artists of their times, Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno. It is really a sight to behold and very exciting to be so close to such masterpieces, all the while marveling at how difficult and frightening it must have been for the artists to paint them. At this point we thought we must be finished with the tour, since the closer we got to the exit to view the dome, in the stone passageways, there were people going in two directions, those going up to “the top” with us and those coming back down again. But we were surprised to see more, even steeper stairs continuing up. At this point there were handrails on both sides of the stairs to help you the rest of the way up. The last bit was quite a climb. Some people decided then and there they had enough and didn’t go the rest of the way. But I was determined, we had gotten this far, I wanted to go all the way. Once we got to the very top, there was a very short staircase and above it, you could see the sky. So we knew we were close to the top.

Breathing fresh air was a relief. I am not claustrophobic, but that said, I now have a real appreciation for those who are. Once I got all the way out, I became pretty numb as I realized how high we really were. We were at the top of the dome for sure (when looking at the photos of the dome, where we were standing is ABOVE the red brick roof, on the little circle below the small spire a top the dome), with all of Florence laid out before us. The wind was whipping and it really took my breath away. I couldn’t believe how many people were leaning against the very short fence around the edge taking photos. I stayed as close to the inside wall as possible. I managed to go around the whole circle, and take photos, but neither of us really felt like lingering. Except for the fact that we had to face going back through those tight stairwells again…but we managed to get down without incident. When we were finally down on the ground again, looking up to where we once were, it was a so weird. I was thrilled to have been able to experience it all, but would never do it again. In fact, I think I am finished with tall towers in general! ;)

The Lampredotto Incident

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After the nausea subsided we decided we were hungry. Erin had told us about their favorite sandwich shop in Florence, Il Ritrovino dei Servi . She said that she never saw any tourists there and that it is a little tiny place, but really worth it. That sounded good to us! She recommended getting the roasted veggie and brie sandwich, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to get, as I was really enjoying all the cured meats I had been enjoying (Erin is a vegetarian). As began to read the menu board I saw they had a Florentine specialty, Lampredotto so I figured in the spirit of being adventurous, I would give it a try. I was in Florence, I should get the full experience. To prepare this speciality, first, a huge soft bun was taken over to a woman in the back who was standing over a simmering pot. She dug into the pot with some tongs and pulled out what looked like shaved meat of some kind. I thought to myself, “good, this is a hot one, it’ll warm me up”. Roberto less adventurous, went for salami. We got the sandwiches to go, as there was nowhere to sit inside and we wanted to take pictures of the food a little more discretely. So we found a nice wall to sit on outside and dug into the bag. I pulled out my sandwich, and took a nice big bite. Roberto was video taping, and so it was funny to look back at my expression. He asked me if I could tell what it was. I said no, but that it was very likely some kind of organ meat. It wasn’t that bad, and so I kept eating. But after about 3 bites, it just got so rich and offaly, that I couldn’t finish it. So I threw it out, and Roberto let me share his unadventurous salami sandwich. I should have gotten the roasted veggie that Erin suggested. Bad me. Later that night when we got back to the Torraccia, I asked Bruno what Lampredotto was, and my suspicions were confirmed, it is a dish made of the fourth stomach and intestine parts of baby calves (not to be confused with tripe, or trippa in Italian). Bummer. I am not a veal person at all for a variety of reasons, but I ended up having a part of a baby cow none the less.

Coffee and Donuts…Italian style

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At this point I was in desperate need to turn this day around. So we headed out to two other places Erin recommended – one for coffee and the other for ciambelle, Italian donuts. If anything was going to do the trick, this was it! First we headed to Chiaroscuro for a special coffee . Now for those of you who have been to Italy and to a coffee bar there, you will know that there are very few choices. Italians enjoy their coffee simple and to the point – no skinny venti hazelnut lattes. This is what makes Chiaroscuro so unique, as they like to create unique coffee creations. So I ordered a Vaniglino which is essentially a vanilla macchiato – no, not like a Starbucks macchiato, an Italian macchiato – where macchiato actually means “stained” because it is just espresso with just a stain, of milk or foam. It was delicious. Just perfect for getting the chill out of our bones, and the taste of Lampredotto out of my mouth.

Next we headed to Cucciolo for hot and fresh ciambelle. Erin said she remembered that they made hot fresh ones at around 4 or 4:30, but when we asked they said no, they had them all the time…so I am not sure if they stopped doing that, or if we weren’t clear. But they did have 3 different varieties – one was a circular piece of fried dough(with a hole in the middle) with sugar on top. The other two were circular with fillings – either chocolate or custardy cream. So Roberto went for chocolate and I went for cream. They were delicious and totally hit the spot.

After our little treat, we headed back to the Ponte Vecchio and strolled around for a bit, taking photos of the river Arno and just enjoying the afternoon sun that decided to finally come out! So it looks like the day turned around after all.

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I want to thank Erin so much for creating this awesome map of Florence and advising us on the best way to spend the day! We certainly did have an adventure in your second home and look forward to exploring some of the other ideas you had someday! For those interested in visiting the places Erin recommends or for more recommendations, please follow this link.