Adventure in Florence: Italy update #7

We arranged a guided walking tour of Florence this morning. It was cold but sunny so a nice day for walking. First stop was the renaissance Davanzati Palazzo. It was fascinating to learn how the 1% lived in the 16th Century. Our guide was a terrific art historian who grew up in Italy and the U.S. He gave us a new appreciation for the Renaissance period, the Medicis, Michelangelo’s David, Brunelleschi’s Dome and all things Florence. We are inspired to return.

As a chicken fan, I couldn't pass up a shot of this door knocker with roosters!

As a chicken fan, I couldn’t pass up a shot of these roosters in Florence!

I recommend the tour company, Walks of Italy. We signed up for a tour that could have been up to twelve people, but no one else reserved and we had a private  half-day tour. Walks of Italy never cancels, even if only one person reserves. That’s good service.

Our guide left us about 1:00 and we stayed at the Galleria dell’Accademia for a bit longer. We were in the gift shop perusing the David umbrellas and keychains when every traveler’s nightmare struck. Paolo realized his backpack was gone. He thought he’d left it on the airport style security belt at the entrance, but no luck. The security people at the museum were concerned and kind, doing a quick search of all possible places it could be and then worrying that someone had picked it up and walked out with it. One of the guards had P. mentally retrace his steps (this suggestion is more positively received when offered by a security guard rather than a spouse). Aha! The coffee shop where we had stopped with during our morning tour seemed the likely place to leave a backpack.

We quickly made our way back to the Duomo and circled the church square looking for the right cafe. We found it and were greeted enthusiastically at the door by the women who had made our cappuccini earlier. They produced the bag as soon as they saw us. One of them told Paolo he should be more careful or someday he would leave behind his head.  I agreed!  With mille grazies said, we ran back to the museum to let them know it was found. They were delighted when Paolo returned holding his pack in the air for all to see.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Walking back to the Duomo once more, we noticed people and their dogs. The dogs were often dressed at the height of fashion just like their human companions. We even saw a shop specializing in doggie wear. Fleece, down, cashmere and rhinestones; they had it all. Didn’t see many mutts either, only purebreds with outfits. Hardly a naked dog anywhere!

We lingered in the Duomo after lunch soaking it all in.  Late that afternoon we admitted to each other that it was time to go and joined a bus full of commuters headed to Lucca.  During the ride we realized that our faith in human nature had been taken up a few notches by the staff at the museum and our friends at the coffee shop. It was a nice feeling.

The one hour trip took 90 minutes due to rush hour and the bus was heated to about 90 degrees so we were really  happy to see the walls of Lucca. We rolled our suitcase across town in the refreshingly cold air, glad to be home. We put our feet up and watched Hillary Clinton’s great stateswomanship (is that a word?) as she testified on Benghazi before the Senate Committe. We consumed a bit of local fresh cheese and wine as we cheered her on and you guessed it, made a plan for dinner!IMG_1343

Antica Drogheria for the third time!  The food there is typical of the region, reasonably priced and delicious. When you stay in a town for two weeks, it’s nice to be a “regular” at a couple of places. I had local Tuscan steak sliced hot off the grill.  It was served on a bed of fresh arugula and topped with parmesan and olive oil. They even present the steak bone so you know exactly where your tagliatelle of beef comes from. We shared a side dish of Lucca red beans cooked with rosemary and sage.  The beans were some of the best I’ve had and I have eaten tons of beans.

The restaurant was packed and the people watching was excellent. We were the only Americans and loved guessing what the Italians around us were talking about. The crowd appeared all at once so the service was slower than usual. We noticed that the waitress never lost her cool and nobody got angry or impatient; just enjoyed friends, wine and the food as it came.  A good lesson for all of us.

A Room With a View: Italy Update#6

On Tuesday morning I got serious about tracking down the bean store. We combined three different directives from Italians on the street, in Italian, and arrived at Antica Bottega di Prospero. They were putting up the shutters for lunch closing, but kindly let us in. It’s a beautiful store that sells Luccan olive oil, black rice, vinegar, honey and all the heavenly dried things you could ask for; mushrooms, pasta, spices and barrel after barrel of local dried beans and lentils. Seeds for the garden too. We stocked up on a variety of things, including sorano beans, and may go back for more once I develop a packing strategy.

Beans, honey and black rice from Antica Bottega di Prospero, Lucca

Beans, honey and black rice from Antica Bottega di Prospero, Lucca

 

Arugula, onion, parsley and greens seeds for the garden

Arugula, onion, parsley and greens seeds for the garden

Beans purchased, we drove into the hills north of Lucca in search of a restaurant called Cecco in Pescia. I’d read that it had served some of the same menu items for 100 years including the ancient sorano beans. The drive went splendidly until we arrived in Pescia where it took us a while to find the tiny street. But alas, no restaurant. I asked someone and we learned that it had recently closed.  A hundred years and they had to close now?

We grabbed a panini in a bar and headed to our next destination, San Gennaro. This tiny town’s claim to fame is a small 12th century church. We drove up narrow winding roads with steep drops off the side hoping to see a beautiful terra cotta statue of the Archangel Gabriel attributes to Da Vinci. The photos looked lovely. The church was locked so I knocked on the door of the diocese office next door. A priest in a hurry said no visitors and closed the door quickly. No angel for us, but here’s a photo for you.

Pieve di San Gennaro Angelo di Leonardo da Vinci

It was sunny so we drove up and down the seriously steep inclines and hairpin turns. No guard rails and views that took my breath away!  It made driving in the Appalachians back home seem quite tame. Tucked away among those hills where there are rivers, so lots of water for manufacturing, are factories that produce tissue or toilet paper. It was a surprise to find them there!

Back in Lucca, we had an uneventful dinner at a place called Nonna Clara chosen mostly because it was close to home. They gave us a small plate of farro in tomato sauce that was delicious, but the rest was only okay. The weird thing was a huge, and I mean huge,  photo of Grandma Clara’s hands making ravioli. It probably started as sepia but had taken on a blue cast over time. A picture of blueish-brown hands magnified so many times you can see every follicle and age spot is not a good thing to have on a restaurant wall! The giant ravioli filling didn’t look so good either. Unfortunately we had ordered before we noticed it. At least the waitress was nice. I don’t have a picture for you because I never want to see Nonna Clara’s hands again!

On Wednesday, on the way to get our bus to Florence, we learned something at Trattoria Gigi. When meat is sliced into nice thin strips it can be called tagliatelle, like the pasta. I ordered farro and bean soup and Paolo order what sounded tagliatelle pasta with Parmesan, grilled chicken and arugula. He was surprised when he was served a beautiful plate of arugula with Parmesan shards and sliced grilled chicken. It was delish and a perfect accompaniment to my soup.  We made short work of it and P. ordered pasta with boar sauce for his real lunch!

For eight dollars, the Lucca-Florence bus dropped us a 10-minute walk from our hotel although it took us 20 minutes to figure out it was only 10 minutes away. After checking in at the Hotel Europa on Via Cavour; a simple, clean and recently remodeled pensione in walking distance of everything, we took a stroll and had coffee in an upscale pastry shop across from the Duomo. Coffee and tiny fried rice balls, a delicate dolce, provided an excellent pick me up. As it got dark, the sky turned an inky blue and the moon came up over the Duomo. Wow!IMG_1304

We had a great dinner at Pepo on Via Rosina. Elizabeth Minchili’s iPhone app, EAT FLORENCE, led us to that one. Thanks Elizabeth!  The decor was a perfect blend of rustic and modern and we felt at home immediately. Antipasto was four crostini typical of Tuscany; tomato basil, mushroom, warm chicken liver pâté and tangy arugula pesto. That great opener lead to an a remarkable dinner of Ossi bucci and sliced pork roast with truffle sauce, salad and crispy, creamy roasted potatoes. We shared dessert, semi freddo, a kind of light ice cream with chocolate drizzle.

Back at the hotel we could see Brunelleschi’s Dome from our window… a room with a view.