Final Days in Firenze (again!)

The number of tourists invading Toscana has dramatically decreased now that it is nearing the end of autumn.  I gauge that the high season has come to an end not only by the drop in numbers, but prices have thankfully eased up as well.  Thank goodness because I am too tired to keep track of my budget any longer.  You wouldn’t be able to tell by the weather, however, because November has been quite pleasant for the last few of us tourists lingering in the city.  It’s a bit deceptive when you look outside the window to see a gray sky and clouds, but I wore my flip-flops as walked down to get a cappuccino, do some laundry and shop at the amazing Mercato Centrale this morning (even at my 4th visit, it is still one of my favorite places in all of Italy, but if you don’t like to cook, or you are a vegetarian, you may think it is offensive or just plain sucks arse).

There are no more queues to visit museums, no more sold-out events, or trains so full you have to wait for the next one.  It is such a joy to have some space and time to get to know the intricacies of the city, the surrounding areas, the people, and of course the food.  I finally broke down and decided to see the last couple of museums that I had missed on the first trip through.  One was the Palazzo Medici – I figured as much as I have been stalking this family through the history of Italy, it was time to consider seeing their family home in Florence.  Of course, the furniture was as huge as their egos and quite lovely, too.  Their house is huge, and as we all know the churches in Italy are huge, but they have a church IN their house!  Okay, I am exaggerating a bit since the church is no Duomo, more like a sanctuary, but the house is still grotesquely large.  Not only do they have their own church, but they also built a museum for their Roman marble statues in the basement.  The Medici’s set the standard for this whole need for human beings to fill up on art and culture business.

On April 25, 1494, King Charles VIII and Piero di Gino Capponi met to discuss the impending Florentine revolution against the French and when the meeting began to get heated it was in the Great Room of the Palazzo that Capponi stood up and threatened the entire French legion, in front of the King by saying, “If you sound your trumpets, we shall toll our bells.”  In other words, Italians don’t get mad, and they don’t get even, they get one up on your ass.  (Tell me you have at least seen the Godfather movies?!  Ugh!)  I found this quite impressive, as the most memorable quote I can claim having been stated in my house is “Donde esta El Columbian Bam-Bam?”   Definitely not going to explain it, nor is it quite as cool.

Moving on then….to the Palazzo Vecchio – the last museum I toured in Firenze.  I have only walked by the huge 13th century castle every night this week, I thought it fitting that I actually check out the inside. The “Old Palace” was built during the 13th Century and has served as the town hall of Florence until the present day.  There are many passage ways that Pope Leo X (from the Medici Family) used to duck in and out of when he would come to visit his brothers, but they have them shut off, which I think is really rude.  Passageways in a castle are way more interesting than 85 Madonna with Child paintings, but I guess the mayor and the city council still use this building for meetings, and tourists in the passageways can get quite loud since we all get so excited about touring passageways in a castle, so they got tired of their “important” meetings being constantly disrupted by the noise.  Party poopers.

Instead of pretending I am Indiana Jones tromping through passageways, I get to stand here and stare at yet another Roman statue with no clothes on.  (Since I have had time to think about it, I have determined that the Romans were just a bunch of big ol’ MOs….why else would all of the men be naked and all of the female statues clothed?!)

f5cb1-gaystatue

 

Although, I will say that they did have some damn fine booties.  I’ve also realized that the angle in which I took this photo is highly inappropriate.

864bf-niceass

On that note, it is time for me to get my ass on a train to Paris.  Arrivederce e Grazie Firenze, mi amore, I will miss you!

Opera for One

Last night, I was able to attend the Opera at St. Mark’s Church.  St. Mark’s is one of the few Anglican churches in Florence – maybe in Italy – it is the first and only one I have seen since I have been here, come to think of it.  Anyway, for the past 8 years, they have been performing delightful operas in this small intimate setting.  There are only 75 seats and the performers are about an arm’s length away from the front row.  Last night, I enjoyed an amazing performance of La Boheme.  I was on the fence about going initially, because I am a ninny and thought “Why would I go see a French Opera in Italy?”  Because, ding-dong, that French opera was written by Puccini and he is Italian!  Oh, and it gets better, I have been to his house…….in Lucca!  Jeeeeezzzzzuuuhhhsssss!  Sometimes, I scare myself, I really do……

The show was magnificent and tickets are fairly inexpensive – which is an added bonus!  Of course, as a single, they gave me the shitty seat.  Just as a side note, your relationship status determines whether you get a decent room, a decent seat, or a decent table in Europe.  If you are alone, they shove you into whatever corner you will fit in because they have to leave the good shit for couples who are here on some romantic rendezvous and all that crap.  For example, this is the table I was forced to sit at the other night for  dinner…the Santa Clause is there as an added reminder that I will ALONE for the holidays….how kind.

66bce-trattorianerone252822529

Oh well, I figured I wasn’t there to see a Brittney Spears concert so I didn’t need to see the performers in order to enjoy the show – the music carries itself.  Before the lights went down I spied an open seat, thankfully, closer to the center of the theatre, so I slid in to the seat next to a lovely older couple.  I didn’t want to be tucked behind a post for the entire show.  During the intermission, we exchanged travel stories and I felt like I was talking to my grandparents again.  They were both very kind and full of zeal for life, it was completely adorable!  Of course, I also have an extra place in my heart for them because they said they didn’t have to know the guy who broke my heart, it was his loss.  The gentleman went on to say that “it was all him and not me, and not to be tricked into thinking that relationships are 50/50, sometimes the other person is just an A-HOLE!”  Tom and Cheryl, I love you!

Now, whether you understand Italian or not, you will most certainly be on the edge of your seat regardless.   Each of the Arias or duets prompted robust applause from the audience, because the singing was so spectacular.  Then, we were all gripped with such suspense when the mezzo soprano finished her final piece, in the final act, there was total silence in the theatre.  I think this the indication of a truly powerful performance, when the performer stuns the audience with the beauty of their work….I just think none of us wanted to clap, at that point, for fear of interrupting such a sweet and precious moment between the performers on stage.

I must remember when I get home to continue to fill up the creative reservoir with museums, symphonies, shows, and good old fashioned FUN!  I hope you will make it a point to do the same for yourself and your loved ones.  Even if you aren’t the “creative” type, we all need art (remember my friend from DC who said the reason he left a small town in Colorado to get back to the big city in DC?)  Art reminds us that there are still possibilities for something new in our lives, to remember to stay open to change and that things are not quite finished.  Without art, we get stuck in the monotony of daily responsibilities and forget that we all still have potential growth not yet actualized, that there is life yet to be lived!  Art keeps us connected to one another and it is timeless – as annoying as the Madonna with Child paintings are, I appreciate that someone took care to compose something that was beautiful and meaningful to them hundreds of years ago and I get to view or hear the truth, as they saw it, today.  That is a powerful connection to the past, to understanding who we are, that you just can’t get from a textbook.

Having this time to reconnect with life both past and present has given me the opportunity I needed to reflect on the last couple of years of a shit storm and I am grateful that it doesn’t weigh on my mind and my heart any longer.  The owner of my favorite café asked me this morning when I would be returning to Florence which I did not have an answer, but I did ask why.  He said, “Florence suits you.  You can see in your face you are relaxed and happy.”  Aaaaannnnndddd, I cried.  “Why you cry?” he asked.  “I am just grateful,” I explained, “thank you.”  As if I wasn’t in love with this damn city enough, here the owner has to go and tell me that Firenze suits me!  Now he is just playing dirty….

But, I am coming home, I miss you all too much.  I must also remember, when I get back, to not fill up on so much pasta!  The last few nights I have been miserable because I ate like a horse.  (I know you feel sorry for me, I feel sorry for me too.)  When you go to Trattoria Nerone for some of that delicious tagliatelle (known to Americans as fettuccine) served with black truffle cream sauce, there is so way that self-discipline is going to intervene on your behalf to say, “You are full, you need to stop eating that now” when you are only have way finished plowing through that bowl of goodness.  Pictures just don’t do it justice……

84316-trattorianerone252812529

Chianti!

Yesterday, I woke up with a smile on because my room did not smell like death in a garbage can, only to have it turn into a bit of a frown when I started to take a shower and had no hot water.  I seemed to be cursed on this trip with hotel issues.  I think I will fire myself from ever picking another hotel room again – I seem to just suck at it (Ugh, two times being fired in one year – boooo!).  After getting dressed, I went out to my favorite café for a cappuccino and a ciambella (do you remember what those are?!) only to find they were closed, so I had to go to the crabby lady café instead.  I guess 1 out of 3 today isn’t bad, so I will press my luck a little farther this afternoon and go for a tour of the Chianti region of Toscana.
Chianti (8)
It is supposed to rain the rest of the weekend, so I decided today may be my best bet.  The tour includes a wine tasting at Sant Appiano Vineyards at the end, so I decided that I would get some lunch and hydrate prior to the festivities.  I had a lovely Tortellini with Ragu and Porcini Mushrooms (which look an awful lot like ravioli, but it’s pasta, does it really matter if it is tortellini, ravioli, or tagliatelle?  No, it is all homemade and I love it!).
As I got onto the bus, there was a woman from New York asking the guide for a detailed itinerary of the afternoon and he told her he would give her all of the information on the bus so that he could tell everyone at the same time (a reasonable idea, I think). She was in a huff as she said, “I’m just making idle chit-chat.”  To which the guide replied, “I do not know what this means.”  Do you know why?!  Because Americans are the only ones who make “idle chit-chat.”  New Yorkers do it more often than most, I have observed because they seem to be of the opinion that they know more and have done more than everybody else, and they feel the need to share it at nauseam with the rest of us. I sat in the back of the bus, as far away from this woman as possible, since she wanted to make “idle chit-chat” with any sap who sat next to her, except for the people in her group that she came with (I think she had worn her welcome out with them). 
Chianti Classic is a region in Toscana between Siena and Florence.  During the middle ages, it served as a buffer of land between the two cites as they were constantly at war with one another.  Today, the two cites still don’t like each other much, unless Italy wins a soccer game and then all Italians are friends, but otherwise most of the people one region do like the people from another region (much like Southerners can’t stand those damned Yankees, I suppose).  During the Renaissance, however, those Medicis set about uniting the Tuscan region.  The guide compared them to the Kennedys of the Middle Ages – “They have lunch with God and dinner with the Devil and everybody likes them.”  (So this explains why they enjoyed the arts, loved fashion and made money laundering legal!)
During the last war between Siena and Florence, the Sienese built the Monteriggioni Fortress as a blockade from the Florentines.  Once the war was over (Florence and the Medicis won), the fortress sat empty for a number of years.  The government tried to encourage Sienese to
move to the village, but Siena is just about the most perfect place on earth, so no one budged.  Then the government said whomever moved to the Monteriggioni Village would not pay taxes and guess what?  Monteriggioni is now full of residents!
We did not stay long in the Village as the sun was setting and, as our guide said, “we have an appointment at 5pm to get drunk.”  Being the responsible one, who follows all of the rules, I was the first one back on the bus ready to depart for Sant Appiano Vineyards.  They
provided us with several different kinds of chianti to sample, which were all excellent.  They are a small winery, so they typically only produce about 90,000 bottles of wine a year, which is typical of Tuscan vineyards.  All of the grapes are picked by hand, which is why most Italian wine is not mass produced.  Do you know what else this means?  If you are like me, you probably won’t be allergic to Italian wines. Why?  Because all of the stems, leaves and other crap that the machine pickers gather don’t get into the wine during the fermentation process.  (Okay, I have been in Italy too long, I am starting to explain you things like an Italian!)  It is one of the first observations I made about the wine here (and I have drank enough to know now) that it doesn’t make me sneeze or go into an asthmatic attack like crappy high production wines do – furthering the point that I am indeed a frickin’ princess (insert eye roll and deep sigh here). 
What better way to enjoy a glass of rich, full-bodied Chianti Classico, but with a Florentine Steak, grilled to medium perfection, set atop a bed of fresh arugula and drizzled with a sweet balsamic and red wine reduction, served with a side of vegetable ratatouille? At least, I thought so as I dined at the Golden View Open Bar (Golden View because it overlooks the Ponte Vecchio – or the gold bridge as the locals call it).  Not only does this restaurant peer-pressure you into having a glass of champagne upon arrival (aka they dispense that shit for free….holla!), but they have live jazz every night of the week while you dine (the real stuff, none of that contemporary, new-agey crap).  Thank goodness my hotel was a good distance away, so that I could time to walk off my meal while enjoying the warm evening, and not be stuffed to the gills as I went fast asleep, not to wake up until 10:30am the next day!  Who-hoo!
The only thing I find missing in this decadent mixture of good food, good wine, and good music are my good friends.  Salute!

Mangiare Qui

The intention of returning to Florence was to enjoy the food, the wonderful people, and take some time off from moving around so much to savor one of places, that I found I am most fond of, during my adventures.  Now that I have also taken a break from art museums, my focus has shifted to finding food that resembles art.  Ironically, my return to Florence has been filled with changing hotels/rooms no less than 4 times.  Hopefully, moving out of the room that smelled like sewage from a slaughter house last night back into the room I stayed in during my last visit will be the last now until I leave for Paris on Monday.

For example, I had a wonderful dinner at Il Profeta with an Antipasto Rustico that was served complete with a fried zucchini flower – who knew you could eat a zucchini flower?! I don’t even like zucchini, but I must say that when you take the flower, stuff it with ricotta cheese and deep fry the thing, it is damn tasty!  It would have been wise of me to stop there, but I completely gorged myself, following the appetizer with a dish of pasta served with a wild boar sauce.  The restaurant marinated the meat for 3 hours in red wine and oregano so there was no “gamey” taste to the dish.  I have never had wild boar either, so it was fun to try some new things – and piss off PETA at the same time (then again, it is just so easy to piss off PETA, really).

At the end of the meal, the waiter, aka owner of Il Profeta, tried to tempt me with dessert too as he whipped out a tray full of treats, all hand made by the chef, but I felt like a Thanksgiving Turkey at this point, so I passed.  He dug deeper into his bag of tricks and pulled out a chocolate ganache that his wife had made.  This is the dessert that “made him marry her in the first place and now he is a grandfather, so now you know how good this dessert is.”  Mind you, the waiter was no Hugh Grant, so I am not certain he had that many ladies fighting for his attention.  Then he explained, “I only tell that story when she is far away on the other side of the room” (which she was) …..oooohhh, you’re a funny guy, you……

The women next to me didn’t think he was so funny, but they were from Canada, so I am not sure they were ever taught how to laugh (All I could think was how grateful I am that my mother is not a pretentious uppity snot-face who chastises everyone around them for not measuring up to her idea of perfection – thank you Mom – you ROCK!)

The next day I decided it was time to balance out all of the pasta I have been eating with some vegetables, as I think my body might be on carbohydrate overload – I am drunk at 9am with all of the sugars and yeast swimming around in my system and no I haven’t started drinking wine that early in the day yet, thank you.  So, I ordered spaghetti with shrimp and zucchini for lunch the next day – again with the zucchini?!  The restaurant added hot peppers and frommage to the dish, so that made eating some healthier fare more delightful.

7015c-img_4353

I also took another cooking class this week on how to make Florentine pizza and gelato!  You can bet I am going to put that to use when I get home – talk about delicious.  I learned other interesting things while at the class like basil is poisonous if you eat too much, bread is difficult to digest if you use let it rise too quickly, and to make excellent gelato you have to balance fat and sugar with the right amount of liquids and solids.

a112c-img_4358

I also met an Egyptian woman from Saudi Arabia who was on vacation from all of the oppression she lives under on a daily basis her country.  Where does she go every time she wants to find some freedom and peace?  Florence (as chaotic as it is here, it is truly a peaceful place to marvel).  There is so much she shared with me about the freedoms she is not allowed that are just a given in the US.  As crappy as I think America can be sometimes, I could not imagine being controlled by a husband not of my choosing.  Or be told I am not allowed to drive?!  We all know how that would go over….

ff864-img_4362

As I walked back from the class, I stopped to gaze at the Palazzo Vecchio lit up like a giant football stadium, and I thought about how incredible it is to keep finding these moments of gratitude and contentment tucked inside the pockets of annoyances and irritations of travel (and daily life).  Instead of crying, I discovered a huge smile had spread across my face, as I listened to Mozart on my iPod and just reveled in the awareness that I am coming home.

4b6c5-img_4364

Turno Numero Due!

Originally, the rough sketch of my travel route included a stop in Vienna and then Bern after my quick stay in Venice.  However, seeing as how I am getting really honest with myself on this little excursion (and consequently you, or sometimes TMI, who knows), I had to tell myself that I really don’t care about Austria or Switzerland.  They were never countries that I have by “dying” to see.  Don’t ask me why, but I think it has to do with the fact that it snows there and we all know how I feel about snow – not my idea of a vacation.  Thus, I scratched them from my list and opted to return to Firenze for the next week or so before I meet a dear friend in Paris.  I loved the food, the people, the sights, so why not feed the soul with those good things?!

Of course, knowing that God has a sick sense of humor (after all he made me), he just had to throw a little challenge my way upon my return.  Thus, I was flung into the middle of a bustling city center of Italians who had converged onto Florence for the last 3-day weekend of the year (well before they get time off for good behavior at Christmas!).  It is busier here now than it was a few weeks ago during peak tourist travel season.  And it is busy with Italians who are, despite the fact that I do love them dearly, pushy, overbearing a-holes.  I have rid myself of any pleasantries I previously had and am in full survival mode just to push my way through the crowds of people – otherwise, they and their 27 bags of shit they bought that they don’t need and can’t afford, will run me down!  I will be Firenze Area Pedestronale Road Kill – with an Armani brand on my ass from some woman with really great shoes who stepped on me while I tried to get back up.

I finally decided to duck into Ristaurante Il Posta for lunch simply because it was away from the crowds.  GAWD they know how to make damn good food here!  I had a lovely shrimp appetizer with special sauce, lettuce and cheese, then spaghetti with clams and hot peppers, with a bit of decadent Tiramisu covered in shaved chocolate for dessert.

 

Oh – and if you are keeping track of by the photos below, yes the wine is gone (it is 2pm and I am tipsy…. wheeeee)!

With food in my belly and wine in my veins, I was one happy camper and opted to go visit the Uffizi Museum now that I had calmed my crab-ass down a bit.  This state lasted all of 5 minutes, when some buffoon decided he was going to try to cut in front of me in line which I was having none of his games.  I yelled at him, then turned around a yelled at the guy standing behind me who was so close  to crawling up my ass I could feel his nose hairs tickle the back of my neck and he labored to breathe in and out after years of smoking 3 packs a day (dude get a breath mint, too – gross!)  I stepped up the counter to ask for one ticket and the woman congratulated me for my tenacity (oh lady, you have no idea about tenacity….)

Inside the museum, I discovered several pieces of art by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Bellini, Trintetto, and more.  Again, props go to the Medici’s for another fin personal collection of art that had been collected by many generations during their reign in Tuscany. My favorite piece in the museum is the Birth of Venus by Botticelli and when yet another woman leaned too far in to touch the painting and set off the alarm – I am certain she was French.  There was a new collection of work from Francesco Celmente displaying 78 Tarot Cards, complimented with the Self-Portraits of the 12 Apostles (I am not sure how they are a compliment to tarot cards, but that is what the artist wanted, so that is what the artist got – even if the artist doesn’t have common sense or taste, it must MEAN something!).

The family also had gathered many Roman sculptures of Julius Caesar and many others dating back to 100 BC.  All I have to say is not only am I sick of seeing 42 paintings a day of Madonna with alien looking Child, but I am done with looking at uncircumcised penises too!  Did Roman men not wear clothing?!  Naked soldiers carrying swords and shields does not scream “Honey, I am going to war”, it screams “Honey, I am off to make some bad porn!”  (Not that there really is any “good” porn, mind you – just varying degrees of bad)

Maybe the time has come for me to admit that I need to take a break from museums and just enjoy the gorgeous fall weather (until I get to Paris, because you know I can’t refuse seeing the Louvre)!

fe444-img_4348