Italy 2017: food & drink in Florence

Thursday

Our only dinner reservation in Florence was at La Buchetta on our first evening, largely because we didn’t know what to expect amongst restaurants there. We were seated promptly in the back room under a video monitor that showed the plating action in the kitchen. While the waitstaff seemed a bit harried, our waiter spent some time with us describing all the dishes in English which we really appreciated! Eric and I decided to each get a pasta appetizer and then split a main course. I opted for the Gnocchi Angeli e Demoni and Eric had the Tagliatelle al Cinghiale. We then split a lovely beef filet with walnuts as our main. I also picked out a fruity red to compliment the meal. Overall it was quite tasty and we left stuffed!

'heaven and hell' gnocchi @ La Buchetta  bolognese @ La Buchetta

Friday

Our first gelato stop in Florence was GROM where I was seduced by the salted caramel flavor. Eric chose both coffee and chocolate. Even the small size allows you two flavor options and at 2€ it’s a great deal.

salted caramel gelato @ GROM

Later in the day, after a bit of shopping and between museum visits, we stopped in for a glass of wine and to rest our feet at Enotecca Alessi, across the street from GROM.

Eric tried a Vernaccia (ver-nach-e-ah) di San Gimignano (notes: green, earthy, peppery, med acidity, melon, full bodied with light bitterness on finish) and I chose the one rose by the glass (notes: deep pink color, berry nose, light cream, quite nice). We also split the Florentine pate with blue cheese. The cheese was great but the pate was rather liquidy and lacking flavor. Overpriced at 10€ but at least the bread was good and it gave us a boost for the afternoon museum visit.

glasses of wine @ Enoteca Alessi

After visiting the Uffuzi Gallery, we decided to check the lines at the popular All’Antico Vinaio panini shop near the duomo. There was no wait at 5:30pm, so we grabbed a quick sandwich to split. The Schiacciata del Boss (‘crushed boss’) sandwich includes prosciutto, truffle spread and pecorino cheese on bread that was a perfect blend of crunchy crust and soft interior – delicious.

All'Antico Vinaio panini

After a quick rest in the room, we decided to explore the other side of the river. On the way to dinner we stopped into Caffe Neri for a take-away chocolate cannoli.

cannolis @ Caffe Neri

Our original wine bar choice, Le volpi e l’uva, was packed so we choose the nearby Signor Vino instead. We found a place to sit in the retail area and after ordering our wines at the bar (and paying) we had a plate of free snacks delivered. How nice! In the mood for sparkling, I tried the Pinot Bianco Cuvee Brut and Eric got a traditional Prosecco. Both were very drinkable. For the second round (we had snacks left!) Eric went for a Ribola (notes: flinty, fairly light, light lime with some acid on the finish) and I tried a rose (notes: very light, drinks more like a medium body white; good value at 12 euros a bottle).

 

After dropping Eric’s parents off at the hotel (and polishing off the above cannoli), we wandered around looking for somewhere to enjoy a nightcap. After passing a few lively places, we circled back to Le Cappelle Medicee. Eric tried another white varietal, a Pia de Remole (notes: little funk on the nose, light honey tone (very mild sweetness) with some acidity; pleasant aperitivo) and I had my third rose of the trip, a Rosatello Prima Cuvee (notes: medium color, nice acidity and medium body with a bit of spice and fruit).

nightcap @ Le Cappelle

Saturday

We spent most of the day outside of the city touring Tuscany, so the only meal we had in Florence was dinner. We were still a bit full from our extensive winery lunch, so we stayed close to our hotel and tried Fermento Food & Beer where we split two pizzas. We sat outside but the heat lamps and rain shields did their jobs to keep us comfortable.

dinner @ Fermento

Italy 2017: Florence museums, Bargello & Uffizi Gallery

Florence was a major center of the Renaissance, and quite a few important art and architecture pieces remain in the city. On this trip we visited two of the highlights, the Bargello and the Uffizi Gallery.

Bargello

We started our day at the Bargello. Their main door is much smaller than many other museums, and a bit hidden –  we actually walked around the entire building before figuring it out! Once inside you start in the large courtyard with quite a few pieces of sculpture.

Bargello National Museum  'David' by Donatello

There are several Donatello and Michelangelo pieces, along with detailed ceilings and a cool armor room.

Madonna of Mercy @ Bargello National Museum  this seems reasonable

Bargello National Museum  Woman with a Bouquet of Flowers @ Bargello National Museum 

Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi is the most famous of the Florentine museums and has correspondingly large crowds. The entrance here was also a little confusing, with multiple lines that were not well signed, but after a quick security check and two large flights of stairs we were in the amazing top hallway with art seemingly stretched to the horizon.

Birth of Venus @ Uffizi Gallery

The Tribune @ Uffizi Gallery  Sleeping Ariadne @ Uffizi Gallery

Uffizi Gallery

Even the floors and ceilings are decorated!

Aphrodite of Doidalsas @ Uffizi Gallery  Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi has an amazing and overwhelming art collection, with hundreds of sculptures and interesting paintings. Due to the popularity there are a lot of tour groups and they can get quite annoying, but with some patience you can find gaps between the groups. Plan on a good three hours to explore.

Italy 2017: Florence sights and shopping

I have never met anyone who has been to Florence and didn’t like it. It’s probably a mix of the food, the gorgeous architecture and museums, and all the leather goods for sale. There is certainly a lot to explore in this old city…

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
Right in the heart of the city (and a five minutes walk from our hotel) is this massive cathedral with an insanely detailed exterior. This was a popular gathering place and we experienced crowds of people taking selfies and admiring the bapistry and cathedral at all times of day.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Ponte Vecchio
The famous bridge in Florence is now a series of tourist-driven jewelry shops but it still looks pretty great at sunset.

silly selfie with the famous bridge

Ponte Vecchio @ sunset

Porcellino
Legend has it that if you rub this warthog’s nose then you will ensure your return to Florence. Can’t hurt!

rubbing the nose of Porcellino  rubbing the nose of Porcellino
My FIL and I making extra sure we return to Florence.

Leather Goods
Florence is known for leather goods, so I was looking for a pair of leather gloves and a new leather wallet. I was spoiled for choice as any amount of wandering in the main tourist area took you past a million shops selling “Made in Italy” leather items. The quality varied but with patience I found a bright pink pair of cashmere-lined gloves for $38 and a black and pink wallet for $32.

Martelli - gorgeous leather gloves for $38! 

Street art
We were both pleasantly surprised by the amount of quality street art in Florence. We found quite a few paste-ups and the like but my favorites were the ‘Art Knows how to Swim’ series by Blub and the silly street sign modifications by Clet.

'Art Knows how to Swim' piece by Blub  ‘Art Knows how to Swim’ by Blub

florence-36  street art by Clet

amazing chalk art  street art

Italy 2017: overview

Last summer (2016) we noticed several good sales to Europe, so we contacted my parents to see if they wanted to go on another trip with us. Italy was their favorite option so we booked a week-long trip starting in Bologna and ending in Rome. They’ve traveled with us before so they knew what they were getting into! We ended up spending one night in Bologna, three in Florence and three in Rome.

Tidbits:

  • Bologna has lots of covered walkways with beautiful stone floors.
  • If you are on the train in Economy Plus, you must get your snack and drink on their first pass, otherwise it costs money.
  • In March the crowds weren’t too bad, so we probably didn’t need to pre-purchase our Vatican and Uffizi tickets.
  • Watching people park in Rome is oddly fascinating, as it takes quite a bit of skill and daring to get into some of the available ‘spots.’
  • Unexpectedly, we enjoyed Rome more than Florence.

Where we stayed

Hotel Metropolitan, Bologna

This hotel was in a really good location for us — a 5 minute walk to the main piazza and less than 10 minutes to the train station. Check-in was quick and both rooms were ready before 10am. The front desk was quite friendly, providing suggestions to sights around and town and making a dinner reservation at Donatello’s for us.

Our room was on the smaller side with a white leather couch and a reasonably comfortable bed. We faced the alley, and while traffic on the nearby road was light, we could easily hear each vehicle go by. The interior of the hotel was also noisy with quite a few banging doors early in the morning. All of that was even more surprising since the interiors felt new, so we thought the door and window would have been better sealed. We definitely suggest earplugs.

Hotel Metropolitan  our room @ Hotel Metropolitan 

The bathroom shower was fairly large but suffered from weak pressure, and given the setup, water tends to leak on the floor. Our room featured a tub that looked nice but we didn’t get a chance to try it.

Breakfast was OK – fruit, yogurt, toast. Unfortunately the milk was spoiled so cereal was a no-go. Good number of pastries, and coffees made to order were good.

Overall, the hotel has a great location and was fine for a night – we’d consider other options for a longer stay.

Residenza Castiglioni, Florence

Residenza Castiglioni is a small B&B occupying part of the third floor in a mixed-use building. It was only a few minutes walk from the train station, and about five minutes to the main plaza for Santa Maria. Getting in is a bit involved with a locked gate and an (slow) elevator or stairs. Once we made it to reception we were assigned four keys to get into the building and room!

Our rooms were just off the reception room and rather stuffy. Thankfully, the big windows open wide for air movement. The room itself was a good size with a wardrobe in one corner, a small chair in the other, and a teeny TV over the desk by the window. Bathroom was fine, a little small but serviceable.

room #25 @ Residenza Castiglioni  bathroom @ Residenza Castiglioni

We had two main problems here. One, the windows were not sealed, so it was very noisy at night – we could easily hear the dishwashing from the restaurant down the street for example. Plus, internal noise started at 7am with breakfast setup. Earplugs are definitely needed here.

Secondly, the wifi was terrible. The main option was to login with your social media. Right away that feels sketchy, but even worse, it just wouldn’t work for our phones. After 20 minutes of struggling we went back to the front desk and got a passcode from the reluctant front desk person. Once we were on the network we still needed to login every time we returned to the room and the service was slow.

Breakfast was OK – a few cheese and meat options, cereal, and some pastries. Coffee and hot chocolate was quite good, and served with a smile(y face).

 
our assortment of keys; latte with a smiley face

Overall there were too many issues, and we would definitely not return to this B&B.

Om2Rome

Om2Rome is in the Prati neighborhood of Rome, near the Vatican, and about 10min walk to the metro. Once again, this B&B is in a mixed-use building, with business offices on other floors.  Both reception people were quite friendly and had several good pieces of advice for exploring town (where to catch bus for coliseum, restaurants, taxi, etc.)

We were assigned room 16, quite good-sized with minimal contemporary furniture: bed (firm but comfortable), desk, small nightstands.  One of the nicest parts was the large terrace looking onto an interior courtyard. Thankfully this room was very quiet!

 

Breakfast was very small – toast and croissants, with a few other items. Weakest offerings of the trip, but it’s so easy to find tasty food in Italy that it wasn’t a big deal. The space was tight when there were a few people eating at the same time but the room was whimsically decorated.

We would suggest wine glasses and corkscrew in rooms, or at least accessible. Also note that this was the only place we stayed in Italy without a fridge but it got chilly at night so we kept the bottle of wine out on the patio.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay at Om2Rome and would definitely consider them for a future stay.