Monday, November 09, 2009

Under the Tuscan Sun: Firenze

We headed to Florence for the next part of our Italian adventure. I’ve been to different regions of Italy in the past including Lake Como, Veneto, and Rome but never to Tuscany which is such a shame! It's so beautiful here. Of course five years ago, I didn’t know much about wine or have an appreciation for the arts, but that has all changed!

We arrived in Florence via train around 1:30PM and made a beeline towards Trattoria Mario near Mercato Centrale, a lively restaurant recommended by all our friends who been to Florence. The queue was long, and by the time we got seated around 3:00PM, we were too hungry to decipher the Italian-only menu. Luckily, there was a group of 20-something Italian ladies who were in town for little reunion helped us translate the menu. Grazie bella!

After a late lunch, we dropped off our bags at our B&B which happens to be located across from Dante’s house (Dante’s Divine Comedy). Florence itself is a compact city – you can walk to all the sights in less than twenty minutes. It’s a city made for walking and please don’t bother with a car while in Florence -- the narrow one-way streets alone will give you a massive headache.

My friend and I took an evening stroll along the river starting from Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famous bridge, to Uffizi, and then we stopped at Piazza della Signora to marvel at the Renaissance sculptures. After a light dinner, a glass of wine, and toasted to Halloween, we hit the pillow dreaming of David…

Speaking of David, he was first on our itinerary for Sunday – a trip to the Accademia for a face-to-face encounter with Michelangelo’s David. He is sheer perfection; the size, proportion, and the level of detail is just brilliant! The Accademia is a small museum and has an interesting exhibition on the history of music. Oh, by the way, if you think you can snap a few photos of David, think again, photography is strictly forbidden.

Next on our itinerary: the beautiful Duomo. It is Florence’s iconic landmark and literally sits in the centre of town. If you get lost, just look for the dome of the Duomo to reorient yourself.

Of course, we need a gelato break -- yummers. You can't come all the way to Italy and not have gelato!

I'm a sucker for panoramic views, so we made our way up to Piazza Michelangelo for sunset views of Florence. What a view! Here, there is also a replica of David. Nope it doesn’t remotely compare to the original David, but you can snap a few photos.

Siena & The Chianti Region:
The next day we set out to explore Siena and the Chianti region by car. I haven’t driven since I moved to U.K. but driving in Italy was a breeze even with a stick-shift. We had a hard time getting out of Florence, again due to the one-way roads, roundabouts, and poor signs, but once on the freeway, it was easy. Our first stop: Siena.

Siena reminded me of Toledo in Spain, a fortress city built upon a hill. We visited the Duomo and then to the Campo. Everyone who has visited Siena loves this nicely preserved medieval town and I can see why.

After a quick bite, we made our way back to Florence via SS222, also known as Chiantigana, the scenic road through the wine country. Amazing! I thought Napa/Sonoma was beautiful, just wait until you see Chianti and the Tuscany region, plus it’s less commercial. Our original plan was to stop in the towns of Castellina, Panzano, and Greve to taste the best that Chianti Classico has to offer. Unfortunately, our tour through Chianti was cut short for two reasons: it started raining (!) and the odometers stopped working so we had no idea how much gas was in the tank! We did stop in the town of Greve for winetasting at La Cantina in Greve. Oh, I should also thank the kind person who left me with the €10 wine-tasting credit.

After dropping off the car, we headed to dinner at Osteria del Congrego. It’s a little hidden gem near Mercato Centrale serving some nice vegetarian risottos, rivolis, and pastas.

I originally booked my flight leaving on Tuesday at 7:55AM from Florence so I can head straight to work from London Gatwick. However, my flight got canceled and Meridana put me on a later flight leaving a 6:10PM. My friend had already booked her 12:00PM outbound train ticket to Rome so I had an extra 1/2 day to roam around Florence by myself. I waved goodbye to my friend from the platform wishing her a very good trip to Rome and Barcelona, and then made my way to Giardino di Boboli, Florence's famous garden behind the Pitti Palace. It was a gorgeous, I mean gorgeous fall day.

I have yet to see Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast but from what I can see, Tuscany may be my favorite region of Italy. What a fantastic holiday and even better was the wonderful company of a dear friend from home. Next time, we're heading to the Greek Isles lady!

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