Go back to Northern Italy, Day 1 & 2

After 9 hours of sleep in Northern Italy, I felt fortunate to have evaded jet lag and was eager to spend the day exploring all the best things to do in Florence. We popped by the Hotel Orcagna’s free breakfast and decided to just down some OJ and head out in search of the infamous cappuccino on the main drag.

Millefoglie Pistacchio in FlorenceNorthern Italy PastriesBudino in FlorenceThere were plenty of pasticceria’s to choose from for our morning caffe, but I Dolci Di Patrizio Cosi seemed to be quite popular with the locals and the pastry case was amazing! My nerves set in when I realized that this was going to be my first real opportunity to test my limited Italian. “Due Cappucini e uno Millefoglie Pistacchio e uno Budino di Riso,” not bad. I was standing pretty proud of myself until the woman at the counter started spewing her native language like I actually knew what she was saying! “Parla inglese?” I soon realized that this would be the most valuable sentence I would speak in Italy. Luckily, she spoke a touch of broken English and mixed with my minimal “Italglish” I thought I was home free. Uh oh! It was time to pick up our cappuccinos. I had noticed that most of the Italians were standing at the counter drinking their coffee drinks, even though there was some prime real estate available at the tables. Hmm…I think I read about this, for some reason sitting down costs you more money. But, we are still unsure of the system, so we sit and conclude that we will figure it out later. The pastries were fabulous, the Millefoglie became my favorite that I ever had and I’m sure I will be spending countless hours trying to duplicate it. (Cost: 1,20 Euros for a cappuccino and 1,00 Euro for each pastry)

Florence San Lorenzo MarketNext on the Northern Italy itinerary was San Lorenzo Market. We walked over to what was suppose to be one of the largest open-air markets, San Lorenzo. At first glance, it seemed more like a glorified flea market; tons of booths selling much of the same items. Here you can find a large selection of leather handbags, scarves, souvenirs and clothing. I tried on a lovely white leather jacket, but decided that 75 Euro was too rich for my blood and I had no desire to bargain that early in the morning. The market is definitely worth a visit, especially if you are looking for leather goods. But, be prepared to haggle for a bargain and for the shop owners to hound you for your business.

prosciutto are mercato centralepoultry at mercato centralevegetables at mercato centrale in FlorenceBeing a self-proclaimed foodie, I was overly excited about going to Mercato Centrale, a huge indoor produce and meat market. Immediately upon entering the double-doors we were struck by the openly hanging prosciuttos, salamis and cured meats. The strict health department rules in California would never allow this! I didn’t make it past the first booth where they were handing out free samples of Wild Boar salami. I love Italy! It was so delicious we walked away purchasing a one foot link to bring home and had it vacuum sealed so we wouldn’t be tempted to eat it before-hand. Moving on to poultry. Looking through my photos, there seem to be dozens of pictures of just whole chickens. Apparently I was fascinated by the fact the they don’t remove their heads or feet. It seemed that all the animals were kept whole, instead of butchered into parts. I heard it may have to do with the perception of freshness and/or the promotion of using the entire animal for food. Next! The vegetable booths were amazing in color and freshness, at that point I wished we had rented a house with a kitchen so I could whip up something yummy with all the colorful ingredients before me. The last thing we did before heading out was bought the most delicious zucchini focaccia pizza (2,30 Euros).

Florence Duomo in Northern ItalyAnnette White at the top of the Florence DuomoView from the top of the Florence DuomoAfter loading up on carbs, we had enough energy to climb to the top of the Florence Duomo, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori. A friend had said this was a must do in Florence and I was super excited, until I realized getting to the top would mean climbing 463 stairs…Ugh! Stair number 462…damn you so-called “friend”! Stair number 463…thank you my favorite friend. The view from the top of the Duomo was simply…stunning. I would not hesitate to recommend this Northern Italy adventure to a friend, even at the risk of being cursed for 462 stairs! (Cost: 8,00 Euros each).

Florence Duomo InteriorFlorence Duomo InteriorFlorence Duomo InteriorThe interior of the cathedral was just as spectacular as the exterior with artistic features throughout. The highlight for me was being able to light a candle for my grandmother, especially since she was born and raised in Italy. Being able to do something so special for my nonna still gets me teary eyed. (Cost: free to view the interior of the Duomo, 1,00 Euro to light the candle).

Annette White Rubbing Wild Boar Statue in FlorenceAfter our Duomo climb we were on our hunt to find some libations, when we stumbled across this statue that several tourists were hovering over. I couldn’t resist  to see what the hype was. Folks seemed to be putting coins in his mouth and letting them drop out into pool of water covered by a grate. Hmm…okay, I’ll play. Now, reading up on this famous statue located in the Piazza della Signoria, I realize that you are just suppose to rub his nose for good luck. Ha!

PITTI GOLA E CANTINAPITTI GOLA E CANTINA menuPITTI GOLA E CANTINA antipastiOkay, it’s 1:00pm in Northern Italy and I have walked, climbed and shopped, haven’t I earned some Vino by now? We strolled over the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge to the south side of Florence and ducked into a tiny wine bar called Pitti Gola e Cantina in Piazza Pitti. We sat at the tiny tables and I begin to wonder why they make chairs so small in Italy when the major passtime is eating. We again chose Chianti Classico to drink and ordered the Antipasto Toscano. The appetizer was an assortment of grilled vegetables and crostini, the most memorable item being the liver spread…eeewwww….I didn’t like liver as a child and I learned that I still don’t like it! (Cost: 22,00 Euros for 2 glassses of wine, 1 appetizer and 1 Pellegrino)

Florence Oltrarno section Florence Oltrarno section We spent the next couple of hours exploring the Oltrarno section of Florence, south of the Arno. The streets were narrow and lined with shops and restaurants. I stopped at the book store, Giunti al Punto, in search of a gift for my niece. The sales girl recommended the pop-up story of Pinocchio since it was created in Tuscany. Perfect!

Italian Cheese PlateTagliattelle in ItalyRisotto in FlorenceThough I had researched several restaurants in Florence to eat at, we were taken by Il Santo Bevitore and decided to have dinner there. This was definitely one of the trendier restaurants we saw, yet it was still quaint and reasonably priced. It was also the only restaurant on our trip that we needed to make reservations at, that has to be a good sign. The staff was young, hip and charming. I found it interesting that the menu was completely in English, even though there were mostly Italians dining there. We started with the Assaggio 3 Formaggi (7,50 Euros) which was served with a pear & mustard jam, YUM! I had the Risotto Mantecato with Quail (9,00 Euros), that seemed to be a little flat but the creaminess of the risotto was perfect. We also had the Pappardelle with Wild Boar (10,00 Euros) and a Pear Spinach Salad (5,00 Euros), both were quite tasty. I was too full for dessert, but still was contemplating gelato for the walk back to the hotel.

I had read that you should check the bill to see if service was included (a lot of times it is), but on this restaurants bill it said the word “coperto” instead of “servizio”. After some research, I found out that coperto is a cover charge that most restaurants add to the bill to pay for washing linens and freebies, like bread, whereas, servizio is for gratuity.

All this Northern Italy exploring, navigating, drinking & learning had made me tired and it was time to go back to the hotel to lay my weary head.

Go to Northern Italy Trip, Day 4, Venice

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