Italy, Day 10
(Spoiler Alert! You might want to start with Day 1 to follow this trip from the beginning...)
In the morning we walked out into Fabio's private garden and down the steps into the dining room. It's worth mentioning that one of the reasons we decided to stay with Fabio was because he was such an avid art collector and his space surpassed our expectations. A well-appointed Florenzian home filled with work from old family friends and contemporary artists alike, the journey to breakfast was like walking through an art gallery.
Already enjoying the candlelit meal were three fellow North Americans. The first was Sonya (I hope that's right?!), an art teacher from Washington, DC who can claim the Obama girls as among some of her students. Sonya was traveling extensively during her 6 month sabbatical and we were fortunate enough to briefly cross paths with her in Italy.
We also met Dave and Diane, retirees from Nelson, British Columbia, whose annual trips have allowed them to cover most of the world's greatest cities. We've always had good luck with Canadians and Dave and Diane would prove to be the most enjoyable companions during our breakfasts in Florence.
After breakfast we jogged around Arno to get our blood pumping. The city's sights were almost too much to process. When we weren't exclaiming "ermagurd" around every corner we were reenacting our favorite "Oh! Beautiful, gorgeous! Wish you were here..." Meg Ryan scene from French Kiss. (Best. Movie. Evah.)
Our jog and shower complete, it was time to dive into Florence. Disclaimer: While we love to travel, we are reluctant "tourists" at best. For us, traveling isn't about paying money to stand in long lines with other toursits to see the "special" things. It's about taking your nose out of your map / guide book to appreciate the beauty all around you. In that respect, whenever we visit a big city, one of the first things we like to do is check out their local market to try and experience life as the locals do.
We eagerly visited the Mercato Centrale for lunch and were greeted by a friendly accordion player that posed naturally for his photo. We ordered pasta — of which I've eaten my weight in at this point — from a family-owned vendor that has been serving the market since the 1800s. Si.
The top floor of the market was closed but we toured around for over an hour nonetheless. As we were preparing to leave, we ran into Marc and Kathleen from the train. We all joked that we couldn't have met each other more perfectly if we had planned it and we decided to commemorate the chance encounter with a photo.
After lunch at the market, our daily dose of gelato was calling. Marc and Katheleen, the aforementioned foodies, we also super healthy, all organic eating type folks so they strongly recommended we visit a place called "Grom." Their gelato is made from only the freshest, regionally sourced organic ingredients and we savored our treats as we entered the tourist zone.
The area surrounding the Duomo, or the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, was packed full of travelers as it is the major tourist attraction in Tuscany. The main church of Florence, it remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. Its exterior is covered in luminous green, pink and white marble and was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, a famous architect and engineer during the Italian Renaissance. Oh yeah, he was also the dude that discovered perspective. Word.
We made our way through the crowds and window shopped along our walk back across the river via the Ponte Vecchio. The "old bridge" consists of a stone medieval arch bridge over the Arno River noted for the shops built along it, as were once common in Italy. Butchers initially occupied the shops that today are filled with jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.
Back at Fabio's we readied for dinner at a local joint he recommended. Just a couple blocks from our apartment, I'Raddi was tucked away down a small alley. It was one of our more enjoyable food experiences to date — the restaurant was authentic and the staff very warm and inviting. We ordered a cheese plate with honey and balsamic to begin our meal and then Zan had delicate, stuffed pasta and I a mushroom risotto with prosciutto. The house wine was delicious and the owner even brought us complimentary limoncellos for dessert. Grazie.
We decided to walk around the city a bit as most in Italy truly come alive after dark. Plus there were more "gusto" to try at our now favorite gelato shop, like the black sesame seed that created the most exotic grey coloring.
Heavy bass pumped into the air from the local bars that lined the Arno, an interesting contrast to the ancient sculptures that rose from the streets around them. We were relaxed and excited all at once as we drank the city in. Ah yes, Florence was a very special place...