2022 Florence, Italy

Sunday May 1

Our train to Florence arrived only 10 minutes late, just shy of 2:00pm. Our hotel is only a couple of blocks from the train station, which is not always the best area for a hotel, but this city is so overrun with tourists that being near the central train station is more about being in the center of the action than near the scummy surrounds typically associated with train stations. On the 6 hour train ride from Bari El has been busy doing some research. Today is Sunday May 1, which in Italy, as well as most of the rest of the world, is Labor Day- a national holiday. However, it is also the first Sunday of the month and from what she has read, the first Sunday of every month all museums in Florence are free on that day. So, our question is, which supersedes? Closed for holiday or free for all because it’s the first Sunday in May? Checking into the hotel we ask that very question, but they don’t know. While we wait, the desk clerk Googles it for us and confirms that the Galleria dell’Accademia (where Michelangelo's David is located) is indeed free on this first Sunday and that this benefit extends even to tourists, not limited to residents only (as is true in some cities). The tickets for the Galleria are €24 each, so just asking that question is an immediate savings of €48! We drop our bags in the room and within minutes are out the door for the 10 minute walk to the Galleria. Since we don’t know what the line will look like, nor what time they close, we are determined to knock this stop off our to do list so we can focus on other things in town. I have little to no interest and any of the rest of the art in this gallery and am going to see the David just because it is something that “everybody does”. I suppose I would have paid the money anyway, but I was really not thrilled with the prospect of paying €24 to do the “Mona Lisa driveby” for this hunk of marble- I just don’t care that much. I didn’t say it was a popular opinion. On the contrary, I am sure I am the only one, but most fine art does not move me the way it does others.

i cannot see why this is as popular as it is

i will admit that is impressive...big and veiny. his hand...what were you looking at?

After we leave the Galleria, we wander towards the Duomo. It certainly is quite the impressive structure. It is a cathedral that can hold 20,000 parishioners. Corpus Christi it ain’t. El wants to go inside and as we walk around to find the entrance, it becomes obvious that the door with the line wrapping around the building is where we need to find the end of. Luckily we pass signs that alert us to the fact that you need a ticket to enter, even though free, I guess it is their way to regulate how many people can tour the building at the same time. Without a ticket in hand we abort the notion of seeing the inside today, but continue around the far side to see the cupula de Santa Maria de las Flores, otherwise known as Brunelleschi’s Dome from the ground level.

it is impossible to capture just how beautifully green this building is

We move on to a rock and roll bar that takes us a few kilometers along the Arno River. Il Trip Per Tre, with photos of Queen and The Police on the walls, is my kind of bar. I think we may be in an area, and a bar that doesn’t exactly see a lot of tourists. El scores us a free shot of limoncello on the promise that we will try to make it back again before the week is out. We start walking toward the next stop, Piazza Michelangelo which is a scenic overlook on the other side of the river that is characterized by having a “breathtaking view of the city below”. The piazza also sports a bronze replica of the David statue. On our way, we spot one of the Atlas Obscura spots, a wine window that, sadly, it is closed today, but we will be back later in the week. Pressing on we duck into a café for a glass of wine, and more importantly for the bathroom. Once we are relieved and our glasses empty, we start the ascension. It is not terribly long, just enough distance and altitude to get the heart pumping and once you think you might need a break, you are already there. I scan the panorama as my heart rate slows and figure that is what they mean by breathtaking. It certainly is a nice view, and I am glad we made the journey, but I guess it takes more to take my breath than others.

the city from above with the unmistakable dome

On the way, El and I have a slight disagreement in that my sources tell me this piazza is known for the overlook, whereas her sources tell that the sunset is what accents this place wonderfully. Looking at the view...and my watch I think this might be an underplanned stop- which it was. It is just after 6:15, what look like storm clouds are starting to obscure the sun, and it’s freaking cold! I stand there, looking over the city weighing these options and after about 45 minutes, I throw in the towel. It is too cold, the sunset can’t possibly be any good with such a gloomy sky, and it will be another 75 minutes of standing here and waiting. I announce my departure. El can come with me and try again another day or she can stay and meet me at the next stop where I will be journaling and sipping a glass of something. To her credit, she decides to meet me later and stick it out and I head down solo. Well, it only takes a little while for me to get a “where are you?” text from El. “I’m on the Ponte all Grazie.” She replies, “I just mapped it, I will be there in 9 minutes.” I hadn’t even made it to the bar yet and now I wait. Meanwhile, as I take some pictures of the Ponte Vecchio it starts to rain. Hard.

ponte vecchio, nice to see from afar, kind of lame to walk over as it is mostly jewelry shops and you walk in a herd with all of the other tourists

It goes from sprinkle to downpour pretty quickly and before we know it we are trying to avoid puddles big enough to sink a sneaker. I am now cold, soaked, hungry, in a pissy mood, and tired. We could find a bar or trattoria to duck into and dry off with something to eat and drink, but I decide I just want to call it a night. We head back to the room, eat leftovers from the picnic we packed for the train and get some much needed rest. Tomorrow is indeed another day.

Monday May 2
Our first and only thing scheduled today is a walking tour at 10am. I am reminded about 12 times by the tour company who is practically spamming me with email and Whatsapp messages. It seems they have not forgotten that we are signed up for a tour today. After we are up and out the first stop is coffee. We decide to just get a cappuccino at the hotel café and play the rest by ear. The line for the coffee machine is a bit nebulous and every time I think I am next, another customer sneaks their cup into the dispenser and starts the process of getting their order dripped. After three times I give up and decide to get a coffee at a café instead of this. I offer to wait for El to drink her coffee, but she bails too and we head out. We walk to the meeting spot for the tour and look for coffee. Nobile Bistro on the back side of San Lorenzo fits the bill. She is just opening but says if we want an order to go she is happy to help, otherwise, closed for another 20 minutes. We get the coffee and sit in the piazza sipping and eating some cookies that El grabbed as we left the room. We meet the tour on time and Manuel, our guide does a great job. He says right off the rip that if you want to know where the top tourist spots in the city are, consult Wikipedia, he is going to show us things that we would never notice as we walk around the city and if we did notice them, you would never get an explanation. And he was right! He was funny. Told great stories. And gave you just enough detail to keep it interesting without drifting over the line of boredom. Along the tour he gives us four local dishes that he encourages visitors to sample. One of them is lampredotto which is a sandwich of the cow’s fourth stomach and is a local specialty.

a vendor holds up an entire fourth stomach. when you order it they chop it up into bite size pieces

I told El if she buys a sandwich, I would have a bite, but I wasn’t ready to order it on my own...yet. From her reaction, I think I will be passing on the fourth stomach sandwich. The other three recommended dishes had potential, so I will talk about them if I get them later in the trip. At the end of the tour Manuel gives us a page of recommendations which is always welcome. It is almost noon when the tour winds down and having only had cookies for breakfast, I am quite hungry. Cousin Roberta visits Florence sometimes and El reaches out for a lunch spot. The first place is Le Murate Caffe Letterario. It takes us a little bit to find it, but as we approach we see the sign we are looking for...a menu handwritten in chalk. This one has six things on it. Two starters, two pastas, and two meats. That is it. The whole menu for the day. We split a starter of meat and burrata. For lunch El gets a pasta and I get “chicken in hunter style with mixed vegetables”. A glass of wine rounds out the meal. What a great surprise this was. Not only was the starter plate very good, the burrata was cows milk- as it is frequently buffalo milk that, while considered superior to cow, has a little bit of a sour taste that makes it not the favorite. This one tastes great and the stracciatella (the soft middle) tastes of butter. Really nice especially on a slice of warm bread or toast. My chicken was very good and worthy of a message to Roberta to thank her for the recommendation. After lunch, both satisfied, we skip the coffee and head to the Mercato di Sant’ambrogio. Among the many fresh meat and fish stands, there is one sit down restaurant. We make note for a future lunch. There is also a café stall that serves a mean cappuccino. We order two and plan our next stop. We head back to the Basilica di Santa Croce for El to take some photos of the exterior. One of the features of the façade is a Star of David added by the Jewish architect. There has to be a story, but I didn’t ask. You have to pay to go in and it isn’t worth it to her. We have tickets for a three day pass for the end of the week and this church may be on the list of things available to us then as well, so we will be fine if we do it and fine if we don’t. By now the clouds are starting to roll in and we wonder if we will get rained out like we did last night. As we make our way toward the hotel, we search out the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy. Pharmacy? Yes, pharmacy. It is the oldest pharmacy in the world with recipes dating back 800 years. The thing is that we were not exactly in the market for pharmaceuticals. Current day, the place has been converted to a perfumery (like where they mix potions that are sold as scented things like soap, candles, and of course, perfume. Turns out we aren’t on the market for any of that either. After the pharmacy, we head to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella where there is a version of the Last Supper painted by (gasp) a woman.

being stored away for about 400 years allowed this painting to remain in great shape

A nun to be exact who was working in mediums generally reserved only for male artists. There was a whole story about how she wasn’t allowed to do a fresco, so she painted oil on canvas which was, at some point, rolled up and stored in this church for 400 years. The convent where she would have painted the frescoes have long been destroyed and it was only because of the medium and storage that kept the piece protected and was just recently displayed for the first time in the modern day. The church, otherwise, is nothing too special. I am disappointed to find that the bathrooms in the museum are out of order. We make our way towards the exit. On the way, there are a couple of cloisters adjacent to the church that we walked through, though no additional artwork grabbed our attention. When we are done we head back to the hotel which is around the corner. We have been told that there is a rooftop terrace for guests to use. The hotel is six floors and with the great, clear weather, we are happy to sit quietly, glass of wine in hand, and enjoying the view, pointing out some spots that we didn’t even know were so close to us! We don’t stay all too long and leave, giving ourselves plenty of time to walk up to the Cimitero delle Porte Sante for another shot at the sunset. Today is way more comfortable (temperature-wise) and the walk is pleasant. We arrive at the cemetery steps to learn that it closed 2½ hours earlier. With nice weather and only 30 minutes until sunset we stay and take pictures anyway. To give you an idea, there are not one, but two couples that have arrived here with their wedding photographer- the view is really nice- some would say, breathtaking. The sun sets and while there are some great views of the hills surrounding the city at sunset, the actual identifiable parts of the skyline are not given enough sunset attention and a half hour after the sun has vanished, the buildings start to light up for the night. We grab our photos and walk over to the Piazza Michelangelo, where we were last night to see if there is a better view form there, but there is not.

the duomo at dusk. it seems to glow as the lights near it illuminate it. also, we are reminded that the "duomo" is the whole building and NOT the dome. dome in italian is "cupola"

We have heard that there are certainly days where the sunset is “spectacular”- yesterday and today aren’t them. Better than rain, but not by much. Our next stop is a bar called One Eyed Jack for a beer and a plate of nachos. It arrives as, most probably the end of a bag of corn chips with a thin queso. It’s not great, in fact the music when walked in was decent, but quickly turned awful and poppy. We finish our chips and beer and head out for our last stop of the night. We have to be up early, but being on vacation, we stay for one more round of beer and metal at Il Trip Per Tre where the bartender remembers us and we get another round of limoncello on the house. Afterwards the streets are quiet as we make it back and call it a night.

Tuesday May 3
One of the popular tours is the day-long tour of Siena,
San Gimignano, and Pisa. I suppose, we could have figured out the train schedules, but when you add in the tour guide giving you the spiel and knowing where they are taking you, it really makes the day worth it, for me. The meeting point is literally at the end of our block so we head down a bit before 7:45 and get a latte to go from the café across the street from the train station. Around 8:00 as a group we walk to meet the bus since the bus can’t drive through the train station. Our first stop is an hour and half ride to the town of Siena. A town straight out of the middle ages. Almost no cars in the city and all streets seem like a pedestrian path. Our guide hands us off to a Siena guide (he is only licensed in Florence and is not allowed to guide us in Siena, so they use a local guide for that leg of the day). We walk through town getting the lowdown on features such as the world's oldest bank and the Palio horse race that occurs on the same day every year- which is quite the story in itself- and being told by someone who lives in the city made it special [it is really worth it to Google ‘palio race siena youtube’ to see what I am talking about]. Lastly they take us to the cathedral on Piazza San Domenico. The entrance ticket is included in our package, so we get inside. The guide continues pointing out features of the church before letting us explore on our own. As she wraps up to set us free I approach her to ask where the reliquary is. I had read that the reliquary in the Church of San Domenico is the resting place of the severed head of Saint Catherine and knowing my morbid curiosities, I would want to see that. The guide is not sure at first what I am talking about. I tell her that I am looking for the head in the reliquary at which point she realizes I am referring to the Church of San Domenico and not the Piazza San Domenico. She says that without knowledge of the town’s geography, there would really be no way to get there and back to the meeting point before the time. I have to pass.

inside this church is a pulpit that was handcarved in the 13th century. some of the details are really impressive and the emotion on the faces of the figures is remarkable

this is a panorama of the room with frescos that have never been restored. they are in wonderful condition (for how fragile they are) and you can get a sense of why it was such a popular medium for artists to work in

statue of st. paul in siena cathedral carved by michelangelo

This church is nice, but no more beautiful than some of what we have seen on this trip. There are some unique features though. I recall a room of frescoes from the 1500’s that have never been restored and remain in most excellent condition. A painting of Jesus and Madonna from the 1200’s. At some point in history a local family was able to contribute so much money to the church that they got their own chapel inside the church! Additionally, he wanted the chapel to be accented with statues, so he commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt 7 pieces, but after he finished the first one, he got a better offer and moved to start the famous David. So, today, one statue looks just a bit better than the rest of the ones in this chapel. There was also some cool marblework on the floor and an exquisite hand carved pulpit. We only get about 30 minutes to explore before meeting the group at the Piazza del Campo, the main square of town. Once we get back to the bus we head to our lunch stop at an agritourismo in the wine region of Tuscany. Upon arrival we take a tour of the vineyard. It is quick and we have been to enough winery tours that we aren't learning anything new. The four course lunch, while tasty, was completely outclassed by a similar lunch we had a couple years ago on a day trip from Bologna. Today’s lunch was bruschetta- grilled bread with olive oil. I know that not all bruschetta have tomatoes, but I thought they could have put a little effort into it. Next was a plate with two slices of salumi and two wedges of cheese. They were OK, but nothing to write home about. Main course was a penne pasta with meat sauce. It was tasty and probably my favorite part of the meal. Lastly was an offering of cantucci which are basically Stella D’oro breakfast treats, only smaller. The white wine was great. The reds, not to my liking, but they did keep the white flowing for those who wanted it.

a vineyard with sprawling hills and a view of san gimignano. not bad for a view while we ate lunch here

Next up was an 8 minute bus ride to the town of San Gimignano. There is no tour in this town, just an opportunity to explore on our own for an hour. Doing some prearrival research we find this town has a Museum of Torture and a Museum of Death. When you buy a ticket to one, you get the other for free. We do torture first, but frankly, having done the torture museums in Prague and in Amsterdam, this one offered pretty much all of the same exhibits. Nothing new or shocking here. We head to the Museum of Death which is more about methods of death (think electric chair and gas chambers opposed to garottes and heretic forks). We have only been to one death museum (New Orleans) and this one was actually much better than I remember that one being. We finish up just as we need to meet the group for the next leg, a trip to Pisa.

a scene in the museum of death with life sized scenes of execution methods. here we see a man being skinned alive

We did not pay for tickets to walk up the tower so we basically have an hour to explore the little complex. Of course everyone wants to see the Leaning Tower, as did we, but on the same square is a cathedral, baptistry, cemetery, etc. We headed straight for the cemetery, that isn't really a cemetery. It is more a “sacred ground” as there are no headstones and all that are interred there are under plaques on the floor or in sarcophagi along the perimeter. Honestly, there is not much to see in the floor plaques unless you know where to look (and we didn’t). The real attraction here are the frescoes along the walls. But, frankly, frescoes are so fragile it is rare to see them undamaged, especially after all of these years. Add in that they are somewhat exposed to the elements under porticos, they are still affected by temperature and humidity levels- and these are pretty beat. There were a couple that we read about to see. These are the ones with the most gruesome characters. We get our pictures and get out. El stops at the cathedral and I head to the Leaning Tower to get the best vantage point. One of the true bonuses at this particular site is a sizeable green space that is off limits to everyone. This forces everyone to stand against the fence to take pictures, which means that everyone will have an unobstructed view of the tower, no matter what photos you want to take.

the leaning tower from a perspective i don't usually see

i included this photo to show how frescoes deteriorate over time. not only faded, but large chunks of the paint has chipped off. they restore the most important ones to keep them from being lost to the mists of time

It is an hour+ ride back to Florence. Our guide, Alessandro, gives us the recommendation to have dinner at the central market. Giving us a reasonable explanation that if you want local food, eat where the locals eat. Turns out that the Mercato Centrale (right by our hotel) has a food court upstairs that is open until midnight. And even though the ground floor market is long closed for the night, the food upstairs is cranking out and drinks flowing. We take the suggestion and are surprised how many people are eating here- considering there are locked gates and a completely dark lower level and taking a darkened escalator is the access to the action. We start by walking the entire floor to see what all of the options are. We see everything from a pasta shop, sushi counter, a fried chicken stand, pizza, burgers, and even some local specialties. Additionally, a few beer and wine stands have their offerings. We decide to split a burger of local beef with a side of fries. A beer rounds out the meal. The burger is very good. The fries=nothing special. While I contemplate if I want more than a half of a burger for dinner, I think this could be my opportunity to try lampredotto. I see there is a sandwich for €4.50 and figure, this is my time. I can try a bit and if I don't like it, it was just €4.50. One bite, that is all I commit for. I return to the table to dissect and sample with El. Lampredotto is better than I thought it would be…no milza type issue (you can read about that in the Sicily journal). The sauce is pretty spicy and the meat has the consistency of extra fatty roast beef. No texture issue. Between the two of us, we actually eat a considerable amount of the sandwich. Tired, we call it a night, returning to the room to sit and relax with a glass of wine before turning in.

Wednesday May 4
We are up early for the Uffizi Gallery at 8:15. One of the options you can get in this city is a five day ticket that is one price and then you can visit any of several tourist traps, I mean museums, in the city unlimited for the next five days. It costs €38 each and you can do what you want, when you want for five consecutive days. With one exception…your five days must start at the Uffizi Gallery. So, when you buy the ticket, you have to tell them what time you are going to be at the Uffizi. This is your timed entrance ticket, which is good, so you can skip the line. We chose 8:15 this morning. We will not be here for five more days, so we figured to get the most out of our 3 days, we should start as early as we can. We grab a cappuccino on the way and are at the gallery on time. Some of the first in for the day, it takes me longer to navigate the online map than it does to actually visit any room. You see, I do not, historically, give any crap about fine art. My interest lies 99% solely in paintings I know. Mona Lisa? I know it, I’ll show up to see the real thing. Munch’s The Scream? I’ll show up for that. Literally any painting I have never heard of, especially if it is an artist I have never heard of- yeah, there is no way I am making any effort on those. It’s not to say I don’t see them- I do, but it is only on the way to other things I know. I looked up the Uffizi to see what is even on display here. The most famous is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. I know that, I will literally b-line to see it. Maybe there are other paintings one the way to it, but me giving them more than a glance is not going to happen. Birth of Venus, done. On to a room labeled Leonardo Da Vinci. I know the Mona Lisa is not here, but I wonder, did he paint anything else I know? The room houses three Leonardo paintings. One is a joke as it was painted by his teacher who let Leonardo paint one angel- they think?! It’s not even proven. The next is an unfinished painting that is half oil on canvas and half sketched in pencil- it looks like a paint by numbers for geniuses. The third is a painting I don't know, but it is pointed out that the angels' wings are incredibly detailed thanks to Da Vinci’s extensive study of birds. That was kind of neat. On the whole, the Uffizi is nice, not thrilling, but nice.

botticelli's venus on the halfshell...i mean birth of venus

besides the mona lisa, which is in paris, what other da vinci paintings do you know? like me, none. this is an unfinished da vinci sketched in pencil and partially painted

a section of botticelli's primavera

a typically sanguine caravaggio

After we spent almost three hours in the museum!, we move on. First stop, Michelangelo street art. I suppose, it is only in Florence that you can see where the master Michelangelo chipped away at a brick on a building. We only need a few seconds to take a photo and then move on to a knitting ship in the area.

of course there are multiple theories surrounding the etching into a brick on the side of this building. but that it was created at the hand of michelangelo does not seem to be disputed and is now protected street art

As you can imagine knitting shops aren't going to be in the middle of the tourist area and we wind up just outside of the tourist zone on a quietly residential side street. El is not long, and it gives me time to map our next stop which is the Mercato di Sant’ambrogio. We are ready for lunch and there is one sit down restaurant inside the market called Da Rocco. The other day every seat was full with a line waiting to be seated. Seemed like a good yardstick as there seem to be more locals in this market than tourists. Not to say tourists don't wander here, but this market wouldn't be a first tier stop for any itinerary. I got, on a recommendation from a tour guide, ribollita, which is a Tuscan bean and veggie soup thickened with bread (consistency of really thick pea soup). I also got pasta amatriciana that is spaghetti with onion, tomato, and guanciale (cured pork cheeks). It tastes much like spaghetti and meatballs (without the meatballs) which is a flavor I don't get much in this country. I have always maintained that you cannot “whip up spaghetti sauce” and when someone tries to, it tastes more of raw ingredients than a sauce of melded flavors. We order a glass of wine each and they deliver the whole bottle to the table. At first we don't understand since we did not order a bottle, but the waiter assures us that we will only pay for as much of the bottle that we drink. The excellent lunch for two runs €36 and we leave not needing food for quite a while. After lunch we walk over to the coffee stand inside the market. I get a cappuccino while we discuss our next stop. We walk to Boboli Garden as it is part of our museum pass. On the way, looking at the map I realize we can make a quick pit stop at Babae Wine Bar as they have a working wine window. Back in the old days, as a method to skirt taxes, families who would sell wine made on their family vineyard directly to customers through a small window. Most of them are covered over or boarded up by now and only a couple are still working and more for the nostalgia aspect than tax skirting. We take a few moments to see how the operation works. Do you knock? Yell through? Once you buy the wine, can we sit? Just then the waitress stands in the doorway. El asks if we can sit after we buy the wine through the window? She says, “have a seat, I can just bring you the wine you want”, El insists that we want to experience the window transaction and is told that we can just ring the bell and she will come to take our order. I ring. A menu is handed through the window. We order and pay and within seconds, two glasses are coming at us by a faceless hand.

receiving of the goods at a working wine window

We take our glasses and sit down to enjoy. The forecast for today (and most days this week) is rain. With blue skies now, we press on to the gardens which is a lot farther away than I expected. But, we are none the worse for wear. The GPS that we follow actually takes us to a closed gate to the gardens, so we need to wander a little to find an entrance that is open. The price of entrance is included in our 5 day pass. There is nothing I need to see, so I just follow El through the gardens. Lots of weathered statues and tall hedges. Not much other than a strolling park, I guess it was not a “botanical” garden. We stop and check Atlas Obscura for things in the area after we leave the gardens, only to find out there is one stop inside the gardens!! We map out the grotto and stop there for a few photos on the way out. We have no time for the Pitti Palace today so we head to a wine bar, Maestri di Fabbrica, recommended by Cousin Roberta. It is on a main street [Borgo degli Albizi, 68/r], but the bar is located behind an artists cooperative- a concept that is pretty cool. As you walk through the shop there are several sections that display handmade jewelry, crafted leather goods, a section for perfumes as well as another section with knives, but once you go inside you can see to the side that there is a room with wine. I understand there is no food after lunch, but the wine I get is called Lugana and is very good. Feels good to get off our feet for the moment. We stay a while to rest before our next stop, All'Antico Vinaio.The line is long, but moves fast as they crank out the sandwiches. This is a pretty popular sandwich shop that makes set combination sandwiches on focaccia. I order the “Numero 1” a roast pork loin sandwich with mashed potatoes, caramelized onions. I add some fresh tomatoes. We take them to go and have them wrapped for the journey. Next stop is Il Trip Per Tre. We ask if they are OK if we eat our dinner here if we order drinks. They are. We do. It is a very decent sandwich, I will admit. Though too much food for me to eat in one sitting. I eat half and pull it apart to get at the important part should I decide to toss what’s left. Tonight’s music is not as good as previous nights, but it allows me to digest with a glass of wine and journal. We probably won’t have another stop tonight, but I could see us being here awhile. The bartender has just arrived to offer this evening's complimentary shot of limoncello.

our favorite place for a nightcap

Thursday May 5
No appointment today, so we sleep in a little. 100% chance of rain is forecast for the afternoon, so we pick an outdoor spot for the morning and will try to find an indoor stop for the afternoon. To save time and add a new perspective of local flair, we decide to figure out how to take the public bus to the Cimitero delle Porte Sante that we went to the other night. We double check that it is open now and it is. After buying our tickets for the bus at the tobacco shop we walk down to the bus stop in front of the train station. The bus ride is less than a half hour, including the transfer from the 6 to the 12 bus. When El called the office to confirm they were open, she also asks about a tour she had read about. Tours are only given on Saturday and today is Thursday. No matter, we are told to stop into the office for a map of the cemetery. There is not really anyone we have heard of (the guy who wrote Pinocchio, the father of Italian cuisine, and some clothing designer). It starts to rain as we stroll through the grounds, but we are prepared. Even though there are some relatively recent interments, we understand that the cemetery is full and only those who have pre-purchased their spots are able to get in...with one slight exception. As we walk through, I admit, I expected better funerary art. There were some nice sculptures, but not as many as I expected. The other thing that struck me was how weathered many of the sculptures and mausoleums are. In fact some are so weathered, that they can take on an incredibly creepy look once the white stone takes on a pitch patina. As we walk through we see a mausoleum that has a chain and padlock on it- and a piece of paper. El reads it and tells me that it is actually a notice of eviction!! Can you imagine?? Being evicted from a mausoleum? Well, to be honest, it didn’t look like it was used, so it was probably more like someone failed to make their payments on the plot and they are going to put the property up for bid at auction. Nonetheless, a humorous concept.

this grave is a brother and sister who died close to each other and were memorialized for eternity by the family. he died in wwi while she died just shy of her wedding day

i had never seen a veil in a grave sculpture. the detail in this carving was amazing, though i didn't think the wider photos i had did it justice

As it starts to rain harder, we head inside the church to plan our next stop. El takes photos while I work on the map. With our dinner reservations for 7:30 I figure we can afford a snack instead of a lunch and be OK until the big meal. When we decided to come to Florence I asked my circle of friends for recommendations. Our friend Gary spent a couple of months in Florence a few years ago and chimed in. Among some local markets and restaurant ideas, he also mentioned befriending Paola at his local bakery, so I figured what better excuse could I have for heading to a new neighborhood? Florence is packed into a very small area, so nothing seems really far. She is near the Mercato di Sant’ambrogio. We walk in armed with a photo of Paola and Gary to see what happens. I walk in and ask the woman at the counter, who is clearly not the one in the photo if Paola is here. Without any sort of acknowledgment of my question, she belts out, "PAOLA!!!” Within seconds the woman from the photo emerges from the back and eyes us up and down looking for recognition, before she gives up, I show her the photo of her and Gary, hoping for some recognition. As she looks at the photo and El explains Gary used to live here for a short time and sent us to this bakery she says she needs her glasses to look at the photo. Once she has an explanation and glasses, she takes another look at the picture and a wave of recognition comes over her. Of course she remembers Gary and a long, healthy reminiscence session commences. El and I order a piece of pizza and a piece of focaccia to eat in the standing room area. Between Paola telling stories and other customers interested in how exactly we made it to this spot today, the visit is great. On the way out Paola hands me a bag of biscotti to hand deliver to our mutual friend. We certainly will.

meeting a friend of a friend. paola in her bakery

The rain is coming down hard and we need to find an indoor spot to visit. We decided on seeing the Medici Chapel inside the San Lorenzo Basilica. It has its own entrance and costs €9. While we are not sure what we will see, we go in with eyes open. The first floor is mostly crypts of the Medici family and reliquaries (that I learn are not necessarily containing the bones of the person they are a shrine to). Up to the second floor. The chapel, all paid for and dedicated to the Medici family, is as ornate as any cathedral we have seen. It is the “new” section that I was way more interested in. It could be called the Michelangelo wing as it is an area with sculptures commissioned by the Medici family where Michelangelo himself sculpted the figures atop the sarcophagi of prominent Medici members. (can we just think about that for a moment? This family hired THE Michelangelo to make sculptures for them!) We read that there is a “secret” room below the chapel that has hand drawn sketches by Michelangelo. That is closed off, but we can see a couple of his drawings in the vicinity of his sculptures that are interesting. Areas of walls where Michelangelo himself doodled faces and figures that he intended to sculpt.

sketches from the hands of a master done on walls that were presumably going to be carved and they would be gone forever

one of the sarcophagi in the medici chapel with carvings by michelangelo

After our exit from the chapel, we head back to the room to rest before dinner. We leave the room at 6pm to go to II Trip Per Tre for a glass of wine before we head to dinner. We realize we have seen one guy every time we have been at this bar. His English is superior and he starts chatting us up. His name is Pietro and I ask him for suggestions for our last day in town. Before we know it we are off to our reservation at Buca Mario for our introduction to bistecca alla fiorentina. The place was great, reminding us a little of Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn. An old style restaurant with waitstaff that has worked there forever. A place that prides their operation on delivering the goods every meal. One funny moment when my gin and tonic was delivered in a wine glass with ice. The liquid level in the glass was remarkably small. I took a sip to realize this was straight gin and they had forgotten the tonic water! We alerted the waiter who fixed it immediately (I expect the runner just forgot to grab the bottle of tonic). El tells the waiter that she would like to try a slice of lardo on crostini. She does not want to buy the whole appetizer, but just wants to sample it. The waiter says he will see what he can do. We are served an appetizer of lardo (thin sliced, uncured bacon) with four warm crostini. It is a fine appetizer, though it is not my favorite preparation (I actually do have a preferred preparation for raw fat). Then the main course. We have done a bit of research on this meal in hopes of getting the definitive meal, should we not get it again. Basically, when you order bistecca alla fiorentina it should be a single, T-bone steak, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) or more, cut 3 fingers thick (or more), aged 30 days or (more) and grilled for exactly 5 minutes on each side. No deviation. This means you can expect a steak that is medium rare in some places and virtually uncooked in other places. Rare to the point of being raw. I can generally enjoy steak at almost any temperature, and this was no exception. But, this is a recipe, not a steakhouse where they ask you how you want your steak cooked- we have heard of people coming in and asking for their steak at a certain temperature. Some places will do it, but ones who value their recipe will not. We got a side of roasted potatoes and asparagus to round out the meal. A bottle of house red wine complimented the meat quite well. My review? I don’t think I could have asked for a better place to try the recipe of bistecca alla fiorentina, but if I had to do it in the future, I would probably seek out a less traditional restaurant that would cook the steak to my desired temp instead of following a recipe.

remember, when you order bistecca alla fiorentina, you are ordering a recipe, not just a steak. yes it is extremely rare, but don't equate that with poorly prepared.

On the walk home we stop at the Duomo which we have not seen close up, lit up at night. El gets some photos, but I have something else to find...the cow’s head. The Duomo is one of the more ornately decorated structures we have seen and there are a lot of figures all around the humongous building, one of these figures is the head of a cow. While the building is lit up by lights at night, the sheer size of it makes finding a single figure an almost impossible task. Further, while street lights illuminate the building from the ground up, there is still enough area in the dark to the naked eye that I quickly throw in the towel, but not before one last ditch attempt. There is a café still open and we duck out of the rain and order a cappuccino while putting the camera into the backpack before heading in for the night. I decide to ask the waiter in the café if he knows where the cow head is. He says, ‘of course’ and proceeds to point in the direction with pretty good verbal detail, but sadly, the area it is said to be in is shrouded in shadow and cannot be seen at this moment. We drink our cappuccinos having a fun conversation with some Brits enjoying a wine at the same counter. One of the guys is speaking to the barista and talking about his own “funny accent” but when I step up behind him and ask whose accent he thinks is funny, everyone laughs and it starts a fun conversation for the length of our coffees. We are ready for bed before midnight.

Friday May 6
This is our last full day in town. We have hit most of the highlights that we wanted to see and a few we didn't know we wanted to see. That said, the only major stop we have not yet done is the Pitti Palace which was the Medici’s Palace just across the river and connected to the Boboli Gardens- which was the palace garden. However, after a little bit of pre-trip research, we learn that two of the collections housed in the palace that El is most interested in are closed for renovation or something. She is most interested in the clothing and jewelry, and with both of them temporarily off limits, our interest in the visit sinks further down the list in favor of some other items on our list. We are out of the room relatively early and make our first stop at the café near the train station that we agree makes a great latte- we pay for the proximity to the station, but it is worth it to us. Our first official stop is Track 16 at the train station. Without tickets to travel today, I'm not sure they will allow us onto the platform, but I am reminded that there are announcements when you are ON the train telling people who do not have tickets to get off the train, so just getting onto the platform shouldn't be an issue. As expected, it is not difficult and we pass through the lax security without issue. At the head of Track #16 is a memorial to victims of the holocaust who were shipped to Auschwitz from this station only to perish.

The plaque reads: “from this platform, in sealed train cars, hundreds of jewish men, women, elderly people, and children left for the gas chambers or crematoriums in auschwitz. a monument will not bring back their innocent lives, but it will help us to not forget, in hopes that this will never happen again” 9 november 1943 - 9 november 2013

Additionally, at Track #6 there is another plaque to the people of the region who actually supported fascism but who fell victim to the very ideas they supported and also perished in the concentration camps. Our next stop is the Opificio delle Pietre Dure which is a museum all about the art of inlaid stone. It certainly is a little bit weird and no surprise that we are among the only people walking around the museum. We get our entrance validation at the ticket window (our entrance is included with our multi day pass) and enter across the hallway. We start to make our way through the display cases until a security guard confronts us to return to the entrance and drop our bags. I am not sure what could be stolen when everything is behind glass or the size of a tabletop, but we comply. It is not a very large museum (as you can imagine) and El and I, working our way through at relatively the same pace quickly realize that the security guard is doing a lousy job at remaining inconspicuous while following us. Almost to the point that every time we look around he is there and when our eyes meet he quickly looks towards the ceiling, whistling to himself, and tapping one foot. Every. Single. Time. Not that we gave him any reason to think we may be trying to steal something- but I think it is more like there is so little to do in this museum (based on the amount of patrons that come through) that he is just trying to earn his keep. On our way out, after we have collected our bags and are getting ready to exit to our next stop a couple of workers arrive. They are bringing their tools from the van into the building and the open door allows people (us) from the hallway to peek out to a courtyard where we can see some statues that might be undergoing restoration or something. When El attempts to step through the door to get a better squint at the items, security springs into action to alert her, and anyone within earshot that the courtyard area is off limits! Our next stop is the bull’s head. Now that we know where to look, this should be a quick stop. We stop into the same café as last night where we learned about the whereabouts of the cow, but none of the workers are here now.

once again, multiple legends of why exactly there is a cow's head among the decorations on the duomo, but a fun hunt anyway

We get a cappuccino and take our pictures of the cow before heading to the bronze boar statue called “Il Porcellino” which is basically a copy of an ancient statue. People stop here to rub the snout for good luck and place a coin in the open mouth. The coin will then slide into a receptacle that is said to be donated to a local orphanage. As we stand in the presence of the boar, watching people put coin after coin into the mouth and taking photos, El reads a little about the history. Well, evidently, this statue is so popular, replicas have sprung up all over the world. The list includes Sydney, University of Arkansas, and The Great Escape in Queensbury, NY!!! What? I have come all this way to see something I can see 30 minutes from home? No matter, we plan out next stop is La Berta which is a legendary tale of a woman whose head was turned to stone by an alchemist and rests in the wall of a bell tower at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. In our walk to the church we hear the bells ringing, but can’t locate the head. We do as much research as we can to find it, to no avail. We walk all around, and finally wind up inside church, use time to remap it and upon exit find it rather quickly. I always love the stories behind legends- I mean a head of a woman turned to stone by an alchemist? That in itself is great. Turns out, no one knows for sure, but the pragmatic explanation behind it is that it was the head of a damaged statue that was placed there during the construction of the bell tower and not necessarily because a condemned man was refused water by this woman on his way to his execution- resulting in him cursing her and turning her into stone.

finding this head was harder than we expected. nonetheless it was fun trying to locate it

Most of our interesting stops are lifted from the Atlas Obscura site that has certainly worked well for us. The thing is that Florence has 29 stops and one thing that requires a little more research is that some of the stops are closed to the public or closed temporarily, preventing us from getting in. Sometimes their site will tell you, but sometimes you need to consult other websites for this info. As we have made it through a lot of the Atlas Obscura list, El decides to do a Google search in Italian for interesting things to see and do. The search comes up with Rinascente department store that has a rooftop wine bar that you can get a great view of Brunelleschi's Dome. ToscaNino is located on the 5th floor of the store which is on Piazza de Republicca. My wine is very good. And both of our drinks come with snacks, so instead of eating a full lunch here (a little pricey) we decide to move on and eat a bigger meal later. We got a couple of recommendations from our bar friend Pietro at Il Trip Per Tre. He was able to suggest going to The Stibbert Museum. It is a little bit out of the center of the city- about a 20 minute walk. Basically Stibbert was the beneficiary of a fortune at age 21 in the 1800’s. He used the money to travel and amass an absolutely incredible collection of all things military. His collection eventually outgrew his enormous house, so he had an entire wing constructed just to house what is estimated at 50,000 piece collection. Everything military from suits of armor of all different armies, weapons, some for warfare and some for parades. There were display cases full of saddle hardware. Cases with daggers. Cases with small guns. Racks with big guns. Racks of spears and racks with swords. There were life size mannequins dressed in battle formation. Life size horses with all sorts of armor. You are required to go through the museum with a docent. Not necessarily a guided tour where they tell you about everything, but she would give us a little history about the room and then leave us to take pictures for up to 10-15 minutes. We didn’t need that long and we were the only ones in our group, so we were able to move quickly at our own pace. Every room we entered we couldn’t believe there could be more, but then we realized we are only in the first half of the 15th century room and that around the corner was an equally big room with the second half of the 15th century. French armies. Islamic armies. Japanese armies. Indian armies. German armies. It just went on and on and on. Surprisingly, even if you are not a fan of medieval warfare, this was actually a pretty cool museum. If for nothing else, just to appreciate this guy’s comprehensive collecting method. Just incredible.

We asked if there was a bus back to the center and were directed to the tram instead. Unlike buses that you have to buy tickets at the tobacco shop, the tram stop has a ticket vending machine. We buy our tickets and take the tram that lets us off at the train station by the hotel. A little hungry, we decide to go to Il Trip Per Tre one last time, stopping on the way for a snack to bring with us. I get a slice of pizza to enjoy with a glass of wine. Our friend Pietro arrives and wonders how our day went. After a few wine/beers we head out to find a Chinese restaurant. Why Chinese? Not sure. I guess the initial idea was to grab some food across the street from the pub, which is a Chinese restaurant. However, between online reviews and Pietro’s first hand knowledge of the place, it is decided we will go to a spot near the hotel that gets better reviews ad we won’t have to carry the food more than a block or two. I get an order of fried rice and split some dumplings with El. We both agree that it is a very decent meal. We finish up the wine in our fridge and start planning our day for tomorrow before heading to bed.

Saturday May 7
Our train to Rome leaves at 11:28 this morning. This gives us enough time for a couple of quick stops before heading back to the room to checkout and get to the train station. We get up at 7:30 and pack. We don’t need to be precise, it just has to allow for the zipper to close. We have two days in Rome and will need to pack everything for that leg. With packing done, El finds around the corner from the hotel, a house with stone tablets on the facade. Upon more investigation, the inscription on the tablets were added by a student, in tribute to his mentor, Galileo Galilei. The inscription is written in Latin and faded enough that it wouldn’t get much of a hit on the Google Translate feature. We get our pictures and within three minutes we are already looking for something else to do before getting back. El suggests going back to the Duomo one last time as the blue skies of the morning are a different feature than we usually see when we are in this area. On the way we stop at Café Nobile and again, she is not open yet, but willing to make us coffee to go if we want. She has a deal and we get our lattes to go. Our coffees are done en route, so when we show up to the Duomo, we can get our pictures and get away from the crowds that are already starting to fill in the piazza. We head back to the room to check out and relax before we go to the train station a half hour later. The train to Rome was uneventful until some poor girl on the train went to get off and realized her bag had been stolen! No envy there. We walk a couple of blocks to the hostel and get checked in. El has decided to run a SGK Race For The Cure tomorrow, so she needed to get to the Circus Massimo to sign up and do packet pickup. It is only about a 30 min walk and the race formalities take no time. Our next thing is a free walking tour that we are signed up for at 5pm. It meets at the Spanish Steps, so we see that is another 30 minute walk and head to that area. We know we will be very early, but once we are in the area we can try to find a café or a wine bar to pass an hour. We wind up at Café Roman and it is fine. I get a glass of wine and we split a pizza. The prices are steep, but considering the area we are in, I won’t balk. At first we are seated outside under an awning with many others, but before the drinks have arrived, I have already decided I want to move inside. It still surprises me the number of people that smoke in this country. Everywhere and even when I was a smoker I never liked it during meals. Between tables near us smoking, people walking by smoking, and the shopkeeper across the tiny street standing in his doorway with a cigar, I am just about tapped out with my tolerance. I will try to orient myself downwind, but I am losing this battle. Meanwhile, a violin player is serenading the entire outside seating area. He plays the Godfather Theme over and over and after each rendition he walks to each table and asks for a donation for the music. I guess everyone needs to make a euro, but I just wish he would set up a hat for donations if people wish, and not look you in the eye while making the hard sell. I stand up, drop a euro in his hand and demand to move inside. They are very accommodating and the rest of the visit is comfortable and tasty. Next up is the walking tour. We go to the Spanish Steps and wait for the guide. The tour is called “City Center Rome” walking tour. This is pretty much what we got for the next 2.5 hours. Walking on the cobblestone streets took a little bit of a toll on my feet, but between all the walking we did yesterday and the transport of luggage that always takes a toll on me, I am beat. Our last stop is the Trevi Fountain where we get the best advice on the trip. He tells us, surrounded by a crush of people, there are only three ways to get a photo of the Trevi Fountain without people: come first thing in the morning, last thing at night, OR...directly across from the fountain is a United Colors Of Benetton store. On the right side when you walk in is a staircase that takes you to the second floor with windows that allows for a great vantage point.

believe it or not, this is a daytime photo of the trevi fountain. taking the shot from above allowed me to cut out most of the hundreds of heads in the foreground

We head to the Bardini metro station and we run into the same issue we had the last time we were in Rome...the ticket kiosks are not full service at any one time and it annoys the fuck out of me!! You see, when you need to buy a metro ticket, you can buy single trips, you can buy unlimited ride/limited term cards or you can reload a card. You can pay by credit card, bills, or coins. The problem is that in a line of kiosks, you get to the front and punch in that you need a single ride ticket, but then it tells you the machine only accepts coins at this time- and you don’t have that much in coins. Then you cancel and go to the next kiosk (which may have a line) to see it does not sell single ride tickets, you can ONLY reload a current card. Next machine sells the ticket, but the credit card machine is broken. Next says it takes all cash, but your bills are getting rejected. As I said, we have had this exact problem in other stations on this trip and I wish the would either open a window with a clerk or put signs on the machine for what it accepts, since most people doing the same transaction as us are tourists who think they are doing something wrong, and just move on to another machine, letting the next person start their transaction. So there is no way to really navigate the kiosks until you try each one for yourself and have the same problem all the previous people had. GAAAAH.
We head back to the hostel which doesn’t seem like it is in the most savory neighborhood and the less time we have to be out on the streets after dark the better. Further, the hostel, which is really pretty nice, has a bar and serves food. We have no further reason to be out. We wind down the day journaling with a glass of beer.

Sunday May 8
Today is El’s run. We were trying to figure out whether I would go with her and we would meet at the end or if she would just come back to the room to meet me. Well, SAS Airlines/Expedia answered that question for us. In more frustrating news, we originally booked this trip in February to return home May 10. Then, on March 31 I got an email from Expedia that SAS had canceled our flight and were autorebooking us for May 11. We couldn't do that, so Expedia rebooked us for May 09. All well and good. Today, I logged in to choose our flight seats and SAS says they only have us flying from Newark to Rome and since that trip was complete, there is nothing they can do! Of course, Expedia does not have a phone contact, and I have to do a chat, but navigating through the chatbot options just to get a live agent is cumbersome. I got the agent and at this moment 1 hour and 40 minutes later, I am still not resolved. It took about 2 hours before email confirmations were sent to me to get this rectified. Such a pain. By now, El was done with her 5K run and already back in the room. Our next step was to deal with our covid test. We have heard absolute horror stories (admittedly mostly online, so I can never know what steps the complainers took before...well, complaining) about the nightmares of either finding places that perform covid tests or (more frequently) about the steep cost of getting the test in foreign places (not just Rome). So, now that this step is done, I can report that El made an ingenious move. Not sure the roadblocks we would encounter, she bought covid tests that you take online and get an official result emailed to you. This may become a standard process, but as of now, this is a new technology for us. The whole thing took about a half hour and most of it was reading directions- so the next time will be faster. Since our flight is tomorrow, we were required to take our test today. With the negative result in our emails, we move out to make the most of our last day. First stop is San Luigi dei Francesi that has three Caravaggio paintings in it.

one of the less gruesome caravaggio's we have seen this trip

Of all of the Italian painters, I am more interested in his works than most others and when I learned San Luigi had three of his works, I added it to our list of things to do. We get off at the closest metro station to the church. Knowing it was going to be a little bit of a walk, we take advantage of escalators and moving sidewalks inside the station to get out of an exit that will be less of a walk above ground. As we go up the last set of escalators to the street level, we emerge in a completely surreal scene. The station is called Spagna (where the Spanish Steps are), but we come out surrounded by trees, like in the middle of a forest! I can’t imagine how we could have gone from the middle of a downtown area to a completely wooded area in the distance of a single metro station’s underground tunnel. Turns out, we are in the middle of Rome’s central park and it doesn’t take long to find our bearings. In fact we stumble upon a craft fair and one of the most scenic overlooks of the city. We make our way to San Luigi dei Francesi and it is closed. Not sure if it is for a mass or lunch or what, but we are told it will open shortly. We split up and El goes for an Aperol spritz and I try to find an ATM. We regroup for the visit to the church and see what we came for. There are three Caravaggio’s in one chapel and like I saw last night, the chapel has a coin operated light. You get two minutes per €1, so every two minutes the light goes off and someone has to volunteer a coin to reilluminate- otherwise everyone just stares into a darkened chapel. We only need about 30 seconds to take our photos, so I take advantage of others’ coins. Next up, El wants to go back to San Ignacio to see the optical illusion dome and get better pictures than we were able to get last night...before the coin operated light went off. She only needs a few minutes and we are off to meet our walking tour. It is a 20 minute walk, but we are there on time. We meet Alessandro and I like this concept- a walking tour company that limits the group size to 15 people. Since the group is 18, they split us into two groups of nine. A very manageable size for these streets. Some of the info is the same as last night's tour, but he has enough new and interesting information that the tour is fun. It lasts about two hours and ends with a long selection of restaurants the guide points to on a map. El has had her eye on a couple of rooftop bars that have the best views of Rome. Unfortunately the couple we look at are booked for the night. We move on to the guide’s list and one is nearby called La Coralle. They have room inside and seat us immediately. We get a fried artichoke for appetizer and a pasta carbonara with asparagus next. I ask for mine with parmesan instead of pecorino and they oblige (how very American of me) El and I agree that we don't need more food after this and pay up before heading back for the night where we will pack and get ready for the morning. Our time in Italy is coming to a close...for now.

i didn't have a better place to put this photo, but wanted to include it. we were told about these markers in rome (though other cities have them too (this one from florence)). plaques embedded into sidewalks memorializing victims of the holocaust. they are easy to miss, but impossible to underplay their significance

Some final thoughts, Rome. I married someone who loves this city like a hometown. She has visited here so many times in her life and even lived here for a spell in 1989. I know so many people who, when speaking of Rome declare it is their favorite city in Italy (and more than likely the world) a level that I have never understood. Having traveled all over the world, for how I like to travel, I just get blinded by the sheer number of people (tourists of which I am one, but I have been to many places I consider less “touristy”). We are in a slow season now and streets are packed, forcing so much time to be dedicated to protecting belongings, dealing with people (in general) but specifically those with less of an urgency to reach their destination than I. Those who force me to walk around them in the street while a family of 5 slogs along 5 abreast licking the dripping gelato off their collective sleeves. It is a feeling I never felt to this degree even when I lived in Manhattan. The food. People say Italy is their favorite food country, and now I have questions. I continue to learn about this cuisine each time I visit the country and what is becoming clear is that Italian cuisine varies so much from region to region, city to city, that if someone loves the food in Rome, they may not find it all that great in Florence. The difference between Sicilian cuisine and Bologna is vast. So, with some research, I can usually find a decent experience though I don’t find my love for Italian food as universal as others do. There are some cities in the world where you can pop into almost any café/bistro and have a decent meal, I just find that Rome is a little bit more of a minefield if you eat at many of the places that cater to the tourists in the city center. So, the next time I see you, maybe you could share your secrets regarding your favorite food experiences in Italy? Florence. A nice, small city. It is so closely tied to the Renaissance art culture, that you hardly ever hear about the other things you can do here. Being content with the way we travel, I think we walk away happy with our experience and without a need to return- instead choosing another city to visit for the first time. However, if I was to find myself in Florence again, I would more likely eat another bistecca alla fiorentina than see another work of art in the Uffizi. I will probably never love Italy as much as El, but as we keep checking off places it will probably continue to grow on me- which I am sure will make her happy. And even if it doesn’t grow on me, at least I am making the effort and I think that makes her happy too.