We arrived in Florence on Sunday, the 19th of May. After spending a couple of days in Paris I wondered if Florence could really top the City of Lights and how they would be different from each other.
Florence (or Firenze) has a small little airport with friendly staff who we became familiar with because our bags didn’t make it from Paris. It just felt friendlier, more easy going. We ran into an American couple who could not get cash out of the ATM, so we offered them a ride in our cab to the hotel. The cab ride from the airport into the old city of Florence was a feast for the eyes. It reminded me so much of India for some reason.
We got to our hotel, the magnificent Palazzo Guadagni, in Piazza Santo Spirito where the Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito is located. As we soon learned, Piazza Santo Spirito is the only Piazza (square) to have trees. The Palazzo Guadagni hotel was home to the Guadagni family for many years (it was built in the 1500s) and has now been restored to its former glory. It is an amazing little hotel, far from the madding crowd. Piazza Santo Spirito is on the left side of the River Arno that divides the city in half, and called the Oltrarno. The other side of the river is milling with tourists, but our side was as quiet as can be, a perfect way to get to know the real Florence if you will.
The hotel is on the third floor of the Palazzo, and while we checked in we waited in the stunning loggia overlooking the piazza and all those terracotta rooftops and with amazing views of the Tuscan hills in the distance. This is where we would have our evening aperitif of Prosecco… ahh.. what a great little tradition.
Our hotel room (my cousin and I shared the room). It was like stepping into an old Indian home, so spacious and full of beautiful light.
After checking in, we finally got to meet the fabulous duo of Bianca Gignac of the Italian Fix and Leela Cyd. I felt so deeply grateful that they had picked me to go as the winner of this week in Florence. I actually teared up a couple of times because I really didn’t have the words to express my gratitude. I hope they will always know how much this trip meant to me. We also met the other lovely ladies in the group and made our introductions. After prosecco and chit-chatting, we followed our fearless leader Bianca and walked a couple of blocks away to dinner at Osteria Del Cinghiale Bianco (White Boar). The food (wild boar!) was absolutely delicious, better than any other italian food I had ever had (I think I swore never to eat Italian food outside of Italy again). After dinner, we stopped at the bridge, Ponte Santa Trinita, to get a view of the twinkling lights of Florence and the bridges over the Arno.. the Ponte Vecchio just a bridge away. I think I pinched myself a few times. Was this real? Was I really in Florence? Had I just had the most fabulous dinner of my life with these amazing women? We had just had some delicious panna cotta with wild berries, but surely there was room for some gelato and espresso? Si? Si. Grazie mille. So we walked another couple of blocks and had coffee and gelato at Caffe degli Artigiani located in a small little piazza. Bianca took us another couple of blocks and right there in front of us was the Palazzo Pitti (the Pitti Palace) which has the famous Boboli Gardens behind it. Side note : If you want a great summer book read, you must get Inferno by Dan Brown. I read it after returning from Florence and it was just so cool to read about all the places we had been to!
Here is a map of our walking trip on the arrival evening : MAP
Here are some cell phone photos. I often made a conscious decision to not lug my camera around. I find that it takes away from the experience when you always see life through the lens.
In so many ways, dear readers, I selfishly did not want to share my experience in Italy. I felt like sharing these memories, these photos would somehow taint how I remembered these things.. kind of like when you hear a story over and over again and each time it is embellished with some detail that didn’t exist. I made a conscious decisions on this trip to be in the moment more so than ever. So many times I felt overwhelmed with all the beauty around me and I had to step away and just take it all in. Just breathe in and out and burn the vistas into my head. To be consciously grateful for this trip of a lifetime.
The next morning, we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant (pics of that later) and went down to the Piazza to check out the market. Every morning, stalls would be set up for flowers, fruits and vegetables, bread and cheese, beer and wine, clothes and shoes, purses. Pretty much your daily essentials. If you never left the piazza in your entire life, you would be fine. I love that so much. All the locals seemed to know each other and old ladies were examining the produce and (i guess) deciding what to make for lunch or dinner that day. I love that local and organic are not just buzz words, they are a way of life in most parts of the world. People are so proud of the produce and wine and cheese from their area, a very sustainable approach to good food.
More cell phone photos:
In this photo you can see the Palazzo Guadagni, the building with the loggia (open covered balcony) on the top floor.
After the trip to the market, it was time to start our photography workshop. Day 1 was FOOD. Leela had set up an amazing tableau of local food on a table in the loggia and taught us some techniques for great food photography. I absolutely loved watching her in action. She is such an excellent and patient teacher.
Then we all styled our own food set ups and it was so interesting to see how creative everybody was… it was nice to get out of my comfort zone and not have humans in the photographs, but of course I had to add Leela in there for a few photos to calm my nerves.
During the workshop it was drizzling on and off and a wee bit chilly. I loved the views looking out to the piazza from the loggia.
All of us were having so much fun that the three hours flew by and it was time for lunch. We went across the Piazza to Osteria Santo Spirito for another magnificent meal. By now we had all learned it was best to leave it up to Bianca. She speaks fluent italian and knew what to order and made us try things we might not have otherwise. Thanks Bianca. Italian food has such simple ingredients but somehow the taste cannot be replicated here (i tried). The ingredients, the produce are just not the same. Plus it makes a big difference when you are actually eating in a restaurant, in a piazza, in Florence. Location baby.
There would be no siesta after this glorious lunch. Bianca said we were all going to stay up, no resting on the first day so we could all reset our body clocks for the rest of the week. She was so right! So after lunch, we met the dynamic Freya Middleton of Freya’s Florence. DYNAMIC. I can boldly say that there is no tour guide in the world as amazing as Freya. She made us care about the window and arches and buildings and history and architecture. Now I am normally the kind of person who tunes out when presented with a lot of information. But not with Freya. She kept us interested every step of the way as she showed us around the sites of Florence. Oh she is amazing!
The Ponte Santa Trinita behind Freya, the bridge we used to cross the Arno to the right bank of Florence. Note, as soon as you cross the bridge you see the Salvatore Ferragamo store. There is also a museum. Next trip.. I will be going there.
There was no time for shopping.. that was reserved for the last day of our trip, but I did sneak a peek from the outside at a bunch of stores on the fabulous Via dè Tornabuoni. This fashion forward street is lined with all the best designer boutiques in the world.. Hermes, Pucci, Burberry, Celine, Cartier, Prada, Gucci, Cavalli, Bvlgari just to name a few. Italians are definitely fashion forward.. I did not see anyone wearing flip-flops or sneakers there (well except a few Americans maybe.. hehe).
A fantastic art installation called Di fragilità e potenza (On Fragility and Power) by Italian artist Federico Gori that we chanced upon in CCC Strozzina while we were taking a shortcut to somewhere else. There is so much to do and see in Firenze, it is impossible to see it all in a week, a month or even a year.
We made our way to Orsanmichele . The third floor is open only on Mondays and we got a great view of the city from there.. not to mention seeing the statues of the 14 merchant guilds in the arches around the church, two of which were made by Donatello. Fascinating history and kind of mind blowing that all this was happening in the 1300s..
We then looped back around through the Piazza della Repubblica and to get some coffee..
We were all pretty tight by day 1 :
A stop at Caffe Giacosa (aka Cavalli Cafe.. yes, Roberto Cavalli) for a pick me up..
The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. The first great Basilica in Florence and the city’s principal Dominican church. The train station is right by here.
Freya explaining the symmetry of the Basilica..
We ended our tour at the amazing Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella .
The Medici emblem.
In Florence, you have to not only look around you but look up too. So much beauty everywhere.
The various potions, perfumes and lotions…
After the tour, we headed to our last stop of the day, a fabulous three course dinner with wine tasting at Ristorante Accademia. It was a good 20 minute walk from the Santa Maria perfumery but we were distracted by the views (see below) and worked up a good appetite. I don’t think I have ever eaten so much food in my life. Everything was delicious and the wine pairings gave me quite a buzz. Some troopers walked back to the hotel but I got in a cab with a couple of other ladies and called it a night.
This was all on Monday, Day 1. Can you imagine? All that goodness in one day? I slept so soundly that night, exhausted and more happy than words can describe. Day 2 coming soon.