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?!)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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……

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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)!

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Last Day in Firenze. (Sad Face)

I am finishing my stay in Florence by taking an all-day cooking class – I am excited to learn how to make some of the amazing foods that I have been eating for two weeks now.  Class begins at 10am, so I wound my way to a café for a nice warm latte and a ciambella (my new favorite, if you hadn’t noticed).  It was 43-degrees when I awoke this morning, so I was in search of somewhere I could warm up!  I have been spoiled by all the extended summer weather here, amongst other things, I know.  Let me just say that this was indeed one of my favorite activities I have participated in thus far on my adventure.  I want to jump up and down and squeal like a school girl with glee when I think about how much FUN the class was!  You will all be happy to know that I intend to return and attempt to share some of what I learned, too – we are going to have a PASTA PARTY – are you stoked or what, people?!

I had my doubts at first because the Chef who was to be leading us through the basics of Italian cuisine showed up a tad late and a bit hungover this morning, and a lot bitchy. He had not made it on my good side as he made a beeline through the crowded streets to the market because he left most of the students in the dust – good job dude, lose your class in the first 15-minutes of the day.  But, then we arrived at the market – oooohhhh, the market – how beautiful it was, just bursting with locally grown and made foods, wines, oils and vinegars. The smells of from the bakers, the butchers, and the candlestick makers (true story) permeated the Mercato Centrale. I walked around hypnotized by the delectable treats of dried herbs, porcini mushrooms, and black truffle marinades. Seriously, I can die a happy woman if I never were to leave this place again – we have NOTHING like it in the States, NOTHING, don’t even try to one up them, the Firezians know food, and they appreciate quality food over quantity.  Everything is pure, organic, locally grown, homemade, fresh and fantastic.  We did our shopping here for the meal we would prepare later that afternoon, but first we stopped for a balsamic vinegar and olive oil tasting.

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We must all throw out every single bottle of balsamic vinegar we get in the States, because it is crap made with sugar and caramel and not authentic.  There is one area in Italy that grows the proper grapes for true balsamic vinegar because the soil is just right, and there is a HUGE difference between what we get in any store in America and the $100/bottle a little dab will do you bursting with flavor stuff you get here.  Same with olive oil – I have tasted several different varieties from Tuscany now, and each one is different.  The soil, the types of trees and flowers that grow in the area make a difference on how the olive trees are grown and pollenated, each one producing its own unique, signature flavor.  My stomach was now knocking on heaven’s door with gusto.

When it was time to leave the market, the Chef (Giovanni is his name…..seriously) had to pick me up off of the floor because I pitched such a fit about leaving this wonderful place, which didn’t really put him in any better of a mood by the time we got to his kitchen.  I was definitely not making any friends and figured I better shape up if I wanted to learn anything this afternoon.  So I got it together and put on my apron.  The rest of the afternoon, Giovanni showed us how to prepare bruschetta (not bruschetta as we say in American), HOMEMADE pasta with meat sauce (not Bolognese because that takes 2-3 hours to simmer Giovanni corrected us), and heavenly Tiramisu.  I have written down the “recipes” he gave us, but since he and I cook in a similar fashion where nothing is exact, and more by feel than amount, I quickly got back on his good side – whew!   We prepared all of this while drinking wine, as proper Italian chefs do.  Once I got past hating the arrogant New Yorkers who showed up and acted like they know everything about food and the world because they really do believe they are at the center of the Universe, it was an exquisite afternoon.

Note to tourists: this how you do NOT behave when touring in another country….Tell the Chef how he should or should not prepare a dish, question his recipe selection, begin to think New York has better Italian Food than ITALY,  or scold him for using raw eggs!  STFU already!  Every other country in the world serves raw eggs; in fact most don’t refrigerate their eggs.  It is just us pansy ass North Americans, Canada included, who freak out over raw eggs – suck it up already or leave the class – Bhaaa!

I was not only full of pasta, cheese and cream when I left the class, but with visions of you, my friends, and me together in the kitchen making homemade pasta, drinking wine and sharing stories.  It filled me with joy and love for each of to think that soon I will subject you to all of my nonsense and you will happily oblige me because there is Tiramisu for dessert.  It was the perfect way to end my time here and completely sweet.

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