Our first night in Florence was unremarkable. The bed in our little apartment was quite comfortable. The mattress was perfect, which is saying a lot based on our previous experiences with European mattress selection. The weather was made to order so we opted to sleep with the windows open. This was a good idea temperature wise, but not such a good idea given the acoustics in the street below were perfect. Every voice of every person passing by was amplified. Especially the stunningly loud voices of each and every loud, drunk, American. Yeah, I hate to hate on my own people, but American voices were the only ones we heard yelling back and forth in the street between 2:00 and 5:00 am. If only we had blow darts.
Once we were showered and dressed, our first stop out the door was to the Vivoli coffee bar around the corner. We ordered two cappuccinos and two cornettos (think Italian croissant). There we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the guy from the grocery store across the street. The grocery guy would walk out of his store, leave the doors wide open, and come to Vivoli to have his morning coffee and breakfast. Something about that seemed pretty cool.
From Vivoli we made our way across town to the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, the oldest pharmacy in Florence and one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It was founded by Dominican friars shortly after 1221 and is still open for business. They must have the best business model ever. Unfortunately, we only had time enough to take a quick picture of G-man standing by the front door before we had to dash off to the Accademia to see the David. Given that the G-man works so closely with pharmaceutical companies, I thought it was pretty cool to get the picture.
So, off we go to the David. We reserved tickets about a month ago which turned out to be an excellent plan! The line of people with no tickets was about a million people long. There were about 20 people in the line for reserved tickets. Score! We waited less than five minutes to get in the door. The David is impressive. That seems a rather weak word to use after having been in the same room with him. As we approached the David, we passed by several of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures. Seeing these massive blocks of stone each with its own partially exposed being emerging from the raw stone served to drive home the vision and skill that Michelangelo possessed. We could see each little groove left by the chisel, a tiny instrument that was able to turn a massive rock into art. Getting to see the unfinished work amplified the experience of seeing the David.
According to local legend in Florence, if you and your lover attach a lock to the gate surrounding the bust of famed goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, and throw the key into the Arno river below, your love will be eternal. Our 30th wedding anniversary is coming up, so we decided for good measure we would bring our own lock to attach to the Ponte Vecchio. One can never be too sure. When we got there, we saw some folks had planned ahead and had gotten their locks professionally engraved with their names and the date. Very fancy. We were more last minute and brought an old lock G-man had rusting away in his tool box. Meh. We checked the block. Lock attached. Eternal love guaranteed. On to lunch!
Let’s talk about food. We found Gusta Pizza near Palazzo Pitti. Again, angels came out and trumpets were played. Palazzo Pitti is a huge palace that dates back to the mid-1400s. Too bad for them that they didn’t have Gusta Pizza. We shared the pizza of the day which was topped with ricotta, spinach, and basil, no tomato sauce. I think what makes pizza here so different from pizza in the States is the flavor of the ingredients. Food here has huge flavor because each and every ingredient has huge flavor. Even the parsley tastes amazing! Who knew parsley had a flavor? I thought it was invented to fill up an empty spot on the plate. Ok, so Gusta Pizza is like nothing we have ever experienced before and we highly recommend it to anyone stopping in Firenze. Actually, if time were limited and you had to choose between Gusta and David….well, I’m just saying choose wisely.
With our full bellies, we made our way back across the river toward our apartment. First stop? Yeah, that’s right. Our Ladies of Vivoli. Every visit has become an experience that brings us closer to God which is why the name is morphing into something sounding a bit more church-like. We walk in and are greeted like regulars. Due espresso per favore! The espresso here is not the bitter, thick stuff we get at Starbucks. In the House of Vivoli served up by the Ladies of Vivoli, we get a thimble of dark brown liquid with a smooth flavor, soft but strong. We have been in here so frequently since our arrival that the ladies have started correcting our Italian AND told us we can sit for free. Yeah, that’s right. We rank. Earlier this morning when we were having our cappucini, the foreign lady who was getting a bunch of stuff in Styrofoam to-go cups, yeah, she got the big-fat-Italian eye roll from our gals. Why? Because she was so obnoxious, she wouldn’t even say thank you in Italian. It was embarrassing. But we’re insiders now. We can sit without the extra charge. Don’t hate.
After espresso time and catching up on neighborhood gossip, we headed across the street to the Alimentari, our neighborhood grocery store. This is the coolest, weirdest place, but so normal here. It is a tiny store that has bottled water, a deli case with various meats and cheeses and whatever pastas the owner’s wife has made for the day, and wine. The exterior walls are lined with bottles of wine. Stunning. We get a bottle of vino and ask the owner’s wife to recommend a cheese. She recognizes us from Vivoli and, as such, feels free to teach us a few words of Italian so that we may properly complete the transaction as locals, not as stranieri (strangers). These people are amazing. Our horrific attempts to conduct ourselves in Italian are reciprocated a thousand fold by lovely souls who bend over backwards to communicate with us and help us improve our language skills.
We took our wine and cheese back to the apartment where we promptly laid down for a nap. Jet lag was rearing its ugly head. We came to mid-afternoon and, while snacking on wine and cheese, we downloaded the pictures from the cameras, posted our first blog update and got our luggage sorted out so we could jet off bright and early in the morning to pick up the rental car and get going on our next leg of the journey. We went foraging for dinner after our chores were done.
I wish I could remember the name of the place we had dinner. Shameful. I’m pretty sure had we not been so taken back by the bistecca alla fiorentina we could remember the name. Fortunately or unfortunately, our memories were wiped clean by the blissful experience of having bistecca alla fiorentina for the first time in our lives. Cue angels and trumpets. Bistecca alla fiorentina is what we would call a porterhouse steak in the States . However, bistecca alla fiorentina comes from a particular type of cattle raised in the area of Arezzo. The meat is so tender you can cut it with a fork. It is served rare or medium rare. And, again, the flavor is something we have never experienced before. One of the best aspects of the dining experience, aside from the deliciousness of the food, is that we can sit and enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee as long as we want and never feel rushed from the table. You don’t get the check until you ask for it. We experienced this living in Germany and it is something we have missed these many years.
In case you were wondering, Wizard of Oz did not create the idea of the flying monkeys.
So there you have it. Day 2 in Italy and our taste buds have enjoyed every minute of it!