Sunday, September 11, 2016

Santo Spirito, San Miniato al Monte

I did think several times today about the events of 15 years ago; it seems in some ways like yesterday, though I cannot see it as most Americans do, a day that changed everything. We were extraordinarily lucky before that, and then we experienced what the rest of the world has, forever. Perhaps what changed is that many of us were forced to wake up and to realize that we are none of us safe until we are all safe.

Off the somber thoughts. After sleeping in, we took our time getting ready and thus missed Hotel La Scaletta breakfast. Off to Caffe Ricchi for duo doppio caffè and brioche (2 double espressos plus croissants in the U.S.). 10 Euros and no pane è coperto (literally "bread and tableware," but essentially a cover or service charge), so not at all a bad deal, considering it could be 3 times as much just a few blocks away. There was a market in the piazza, so we wandered through after eating. An odd mix, with farmers’ market and flea—some antiques, books, albums, our brass guy (though I did not buy anything today), some beautiful lace tablecloths, and a stall of hats by which I am sorely tempted. It was fun just to look. (These are a mix of pictures Shawn and I took in the piazza, but for some reason, neither of us got any of the center, behind those trees and with other nice places to sit. We were on the steps of the church ...)

Back to La Scaletta for more cash, and then off to buy bus tickets to head to San Miniato al Monte, where, as it is higher up, we hoped it would be slightly cooler. (Do check out this site; they have nice pictures of things we didn't think to catch, including the steps up to the church.) We were able to find out way to the bus stop near Ponte alla Carraia where we could get the number 12 to Piazzele Michelangelo; we had only a short wait, but got onto a very crowded bus.

Ponte alla carraia, view
Borrowed (legitimately) from Wikipedia
At each stop, more crowded in, and only occasionally did one get off. It was hot, and eventually a guy got in who kept jabbing me (unintentionally, I choose to believe) in the right breast with his elbow; I wished heartily for some armor, though I would have stewed in it. We were very happy to get off at the base of the stairs up to the church.

When we walked up, we found the whole of the open space before the church filled with chairs and a concert stage, though there were only a few musicians there, warming up and doing sound checks. We walked into the cemetery, which we’d visited on our last trip. Photos inside are discouraged, but has a few, and here are just a couple we took.

That name may be familiar.... (Shawn's photo)
One of mine from the last trip...
It is full of large and expensive-looking above-ground marble crypts, interspersed with more open areas of crowded graves, shaded by huge old cypress trees and overlooked by multi-story shared crypts. After only a very minutes on a bench in the shade, down from some very loud Chinese girls, the announcement came over the loud speaker that the cemetery was closing, and asking us to make our way to the exit. We did not see even so much of it as on our last trip. It may be an odd place to visit on vacation, but the monuments and the trees are very peaceful, and you know that you are not in the U.S.

We made our way back to the church itself, and it, once again, did not disappoint. These pictures from inside are mine from our last trip; this time we mostly just looked.

Shawn's detail shot of the front of the church
We sat for a bit in the crypt, contemplating the reliquary, and then went up. We were unable to go into the lovely side chapel that I remember fondly from our last visit, but the altar piece and the ceilings and mosaics are lovely. Again, has more and better pictures than we got this time.

As we left, we saw a number of brides arriving to take pictures at the scenic overlook at the base of the steps, including one in a vintage white VW bug decorated with white tulle. And with this as a backdrop, you can see why they like this spot (photo credits to Shawn).

We walked back down the scenic stair, stopping briefly at the rose garden, which, as it’s September, is a bit thin on roses, but was full of people. No shots from this time, but here's a memory of it from May 2014...

This one's mine! That's part of the 14th century city wall in the background

Hot and crowded as the bus was, it’s a much better way to get up to Piazzele Michelangelo (which is just a couple blocks away, and the most well-known spot from which to view Florence) than walking up as we did last time; walking back down the stairs to San Niccolo is no effort at all. Though we would like to see the tower at San Niccolo, we didn't get there today; these pictures Shawn took will have to suffice.

We were getting hungry, so we walked back to La Galleria, where we feasted on Aperol Spritz with bruschetta, followed by fettucine al pesto for Shawn and a paccheri (large tube pasta, fresh in this case) with pomodoro, melanzane (tomatoes, eggplant) and pecorino for me, as well as a liter of the house white. All was delicious, and was followed by insalata mista (green salad, usually eaten after your main courses and before dessert in Italy), and then crostata di amaretti e marmellata di lamponi, made in house and wonderful. (That’s a tart made from crumbled almond cookies, with jam and raspberries…. It, and everything else was delicious.)

After, a brief nap at La Scaletta—another day at over 90 degrees F, and while we are being smarter about not trying to walk quite so far, it is still exhausting just being out in the heat.

We decided to go back to Sapori & Dintorni CONAD (the supermercato on Via dei Bardi) for things to eat in our room with one of the bottles of Vernacchia we bought earlier (and have been keeping chilled in the room frig); it was a large lunch, and we were ready to take have a bit of quieter time. After narrowly missing being run over more than once by the woman scrubbing floors, we escaped with grapes, pears, aged pecorino, crema pecorino, olives, a good loaf of Tuscan bread, lingue di gatto (cats’ tongue cookies, very thin and light sugar cookies, shaped like rather than containing cats’ tongues, from a ‘forni artiginiale’—artisanal bakery—in Livorno), with some plastic silverware. We had a lovely picnic as the air cooled; we were enjoying not doing much at all, and looking out the window at Forte Belvedere...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cristina, Forte Belvedere, Wandering

Yesterday, September 9, 2016), we were up and breakfasted much earlier, but we waited to meet Cristina at La Scaletta at a little after 10:15 AM. She looks well, and is about 6 months pregnant. Her parents have moved home to Romania; her younger sister Ioana Andreea is living with her. She had just been to the doctor, who has ordered rest for her and no more work until after the baby is born and her maternity leave ends. (So, as the baby is due in December, no work for her, should she decide to return, until next May.) She has invited us to invite ourselves to her apartment for dinner, whenever we would like. We visited with her until about noon. It was wonderful to see her again; she is always a delight.

When we left, it was already a miserably hot day, 92 degrees. We decided to walk, very slowly, up to Forte Belvedere, to see how the view compares to other vantage points we've tried. (Again, unless otherwise noted, picture credits to Shawn Hale; some few may be mine.)

The close-up view of Forte Belvedere from Room 21 at La Scaletta
A view giving a slightly better sense of the distance from our room; that's the Kaffe Haus at right
The way, up Costa di San Giorgio, is narrow, though not bad by Florentine standards, and not as steep as the street up to Café Reggia degli Etruschi in Fiesole, but steep enough. We were quite hot, and Nancy quite light-headed when we arrived at the Forte. Of course, the 3 double and 1 single espresso consumed beforehand may have contributed….

The views from the Forte are magnificent, though perhaps not quite so spectacular as those from Giardino Boboli, Piazzelle Michelangelo, San Miniato al Monte, or Bellosguardo. One does not necessarily see the city’s stars from their absolute best sides at Belvedere, though after looking again at Shawn's pictures, I'm quibbling. Then, too, the viewing is done from peastone walks, while one is monitored by park guards; admission is free, but perhaps because of this, guards are everywhere, suspicious and a bit petty in enforcing rules. It must be a very boring job for the most part, and like those condemned to boring jobs everywhere, they take the piss out of all they encounter as a recompense. UPDATE: For a while, in 2014 at least, Forte Belvedere was closed to the public as some visitors had fallen to their deaths from the battlements. So, the strict enforcement becomes a bit more understandable, when seen in that light.

We briefly met with a nice young couple who seemed to be Italian (or perhaps Portuguese) when he asked me to take their picture with her pink phone, and then offered to take ours as well. Though we are not so attractive as they were, the backdrop is pretty nice…

All through the Forte, and indeed in Piazza della Signoria (seen) and Palazzo Vecchio (not yet seen) are Jan Fabre sculptures on temporary display. Many are peculiar; he has a fascination with beetles, gilt finishes,horns, and an odd perspective. One sculpture is accompanied by a soundtrack of a laughing man; it became annoying and then vaguely disturbing. Still, it’s fun to see what will be new each time we visit.

After making our way back down San Giorgio, which also offers the entrance to Giardino Bardini, which may be worth a visit, we stopped for a drink at the little snack shop that is the outdoor portion of La Galleria Il Vino dei Guelfi. I tried a Campari Soda; bitter, but very refreshing. Shawn’s Peroni was too sour for him, but cold. Overheard an American meeting four Chilean men who had been ogling Italian women, and indeed, creepily, taking photos of them.At least the Texan called them on the stalker behavior. (Which has since taken on a more sinister note, perhaps.)

After, both exhausted and overwhelmed with the heat, we retired to our room at La Scaletta for a long rest. Shawn napped, Nancy read, and we marveled in the glory that is air conditioning and wondered if we might be over the magic of Florence. (Nope, just really hot and tired. And thinking that October or November are probably lovely times to visit, too, though the terrace may not be open then.)

In the evening, we had drinks on the terrace--prosecco for Nancy and a Long Island (Iced Tea ?) for Shawn. After a bit, we made our way back to  La Galleria Il Vino dei Guelfi for dinner, where we sat in a corner next to a British couple. The food there is quite good. Delicious ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach with butter and sage sauce for me; pennette arrabiata for Shawn. And then we shared some branzino for secondo, our first fish in Italy, grilled whole, and filleted at the table by the owner, thoroughly good. I surprised myself by not wanting dessert. We both had some trouble falling asleep, and we hope desperately that the weather will grow cooler.

Saturday, September 10, we went first to Santo Spirito, to capture some of the cool, calm and beauty we have loved. The church does not disappoint; the market in the square is like a small farmers’ market and flea stalls,  fun to wander and look.
From Bellosguardo, in 2014
No evidence of our brass man today. We then walked down Via Maggio, looking in shop windows and growing warm, though at least not going up any hills, until we reached Porta Romana. We returned up Via dei Serragli, again examining shop windows and noting again where da Ginone may be found.

We stopped back in Piazza Santa Spirito for a cool drink, stopping at Caffe Ricchi. We were able to sit at a table outside to people watch and enjoy my bicchiere of vino de casa bianco and Shawn’s birra media (Nastro Azurro), though we did have to move from one end to the other, as we had inadvertently sat in an area reserved for the ristorante. We are considering a return for dinner.
Image from the Caffe Ricchi website
We then walked across Ponte Vecchio, admiring jewelry, and all the way to Piazza San Marco, half-heartedly looking for the pizza place at which Dino now works. No joy, but much heat. We opted to return to Pizza O’Vesuvio, which was wonderful again. On the way, we stopped to look at the map ,and we accosted by a living statue who was kissing everyone, and then asking for money, pleading twins. She was quite put out that Shawn only offered 5 Euro, and wanted to argue. He dropped into Japanese to tell her no, which threw us all, but was surprisingly effective.

Back across Ponte Vecchio and to La Scaletta for an air-conditioned rest break. After a bit, we dressed up and headed up top for a drink, intending to walk into Santo Spirito for dinner. But one Hugo and Negroni turned eventually into more, and then dinner, and then some complimentary wine and limoncello. The cocktails are excellent, the food good, the view marvelous, and the staff giving it there all. Shawn was briefly taken for French by a Frenchmen, after a convincing Monsieur. At the next table, a group of four Germans was very good-natured, and I developed an admiration for one of the group, a woman with Betty Page bangs and an absolutely unguarded and absurd laugh. It was pleasant to sit in cooler night air and do nothing but admire the view and people watch.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Welcome Back to La Scaletta, the Bargello

We arrived back in Florence at La Scaletta last evening (September 7, 2016), to find prosecco and strawberries and a lovely welcome note waiting in Room 21, courtesy of Cristina, who was not working that night. Though she promised to see us this morning, we slept in and may have missed her, as she was not on the desk when we had breakfast and when we went out for the day.
Our flights were all on time, and just as long as I remembered. All but the last leg (what we’d call a puddle jumper) was at least the Economy Comfort seating we expected this time, which was a decided improvement over our 2014 trip over. Shawn had a bad long flight, as there was a lot of turbulence. Neither of us slept as we’d hoped to do, but I had a more comfortable night than he did.
We ate here last night, watching a cloudy sunset from the rooftop terrace and meeting a trio from Florida and South Carolina. It was lovely as always, though one cannot get back that first impression of the breathtaking view, much as one might wish to.
After confirming our choice of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Le Oche Fattoria San Lorenzo (2014) with the new sommelier, Rafaele, I had Gnocchi on Taleggio Fondue, Walnuts and Pears in Red Wine; Shawn had Ombrina Fish with Baked Seasonal Vegetables. The wine and our meals were very good. We had a lovely fresh ricotta with pistachios, chocolate and orange zest accompanied by complimentary vin santo for dessert. Nothing equals the view, though—for which Rafaele (briefly) charged us 500 Euros.

We slept in until 9 AM local time today, a good long rest, for which Shawn is overdue. We made it to breakfast at about 9:45, just in time. After that, we wandered across the Ponte Vecchio, made a brief foray into Piazza della Signoria, deciding to visit the loggia at a different time, as it was already crowded with tour groups. 

Next to the Bargello, the national sculpture museum of Italy, which we had intended to see on our last trip. As usual in Florence, though, there is much to see and not enough time to see it all. The Bargello houses many sculptures and artifacts, including many lovely Cellinis, including studies for the Perseus in the Piazza della Signoria, as well as some Giambologna pieces that are not related to those in the piazza. The Brunelleschi and Ghiberti competition pieces for the doors of the baptistery may be seen there. As is often the case here, the Bargello itself is also a star: it is the loveliest former prison I have ever seen. (Many of the photos here are not mine; credit goes to Shawn Hale.)

After, we sought out Casa del vin Santo, where we have eaten before, for our lunch. We had a half bottle of Villa Antinori Toscana. Shawn tried a gnocchi with mozzarella, tomato and basil, followed by a Mediterranean tuna salad (no mayo involved), while I enjoyed Panzenella Toscana—light, cool, and refreshing. After, we stopped at Grom, where Shawn sampled the lampone sorbetto and I tried fico (fig).

We walked through Piazza del Duomo, looking at the Baptistery (which we want to visit this time), the Campanile, the Duomo from all sides. We checked out the redone (closed when last we were here) Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, but decided that since a single ticket gets one into the Duomo, Santa Reparata, the Campanile, the Baptistery and the Opera, we’d save it for another day, and start early.

Then we made our way to the Sapori grocery on Via dei Bardi for fazzoletti (doesn’t that sound a lot better than Kleenex?), vino, and birra, and back to La Scaletta, to call our insurance agent about our homeowners’ insurance, because I couldn’t let rest the pesky email about it. (Some people just have to interfere with vacation.) Shawn has been having a rest, while I wait for an iron that will never arrive, because linen. (Which is what one wants to wear in Florentine September, with dry daytime temperatures ranging between 90 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit, as they were.) So, with Shawn’s aid, the iron and board (minus one foot) did arrive, so I will be able to wear ironed linen and silk and not be an obvious, crumpled American.

We had drinks here, a Negroni and an Aperol Spritz (much better here than in Kazoo… might be the backdrop, but one always wonders if the good stuff stays in country ….).

After drinks, we and went to Toscanella Osteria for dinner, after Shawn made reservations online. The drawing? Painting of a woman in a bicycle/gladitorial helmet (?) is still there, puzzling me. A dirty knife has fallen into the space showing the original building’s floor; the glass is pocked with serious marks and dusty bits hang from the edges of the glass, so the atmosphere was somewhat less than during our last trip. But the pici and tagliatelle with arrabiata were delicious. Shawn’s melanzane was excellent, my omelette with verdure grillata was less so, though good. Dessert and wine were very good. I had a flourless chocolate cake with a touch of marmellata and Shawn had zucco, a medieval dish involving ricotta and a little bit of chocolate and candy.

We had a nice walk back along Via Guicciardini and have been finishing the evening as the old folks do, offloading our pictures, and enjoying the breeze from the window with a view of Fort Belvedere.