Saturday, June 28, 2014

Florence 2013 - Gelato and Cannoli

At one corner of the Piazza della Signoria is Bar Perseo, a small bar and cafe in probably one of the best locations in Florence. Many travelers and bloggers had warned that this is a tourist trap - charging very high prices for what they serve. The coffee here is 5.50 euros, and their gelato was the most expensive I had in Italy. But considering that the bar attendant and barista are decked out in sharp-looking suits, and the location is unbeatable, I would say the prices were fair. Just be aware that it cost more to eat inside the shop then to take away.

 This is one serious looking expresso machine.

The gelato counter was one of the most impressive I've seen. Fresh, luscious ingredients, beautiful colours - irresistible ! I paid 9 euros for 2 flavours. It was very expensive, but also the best gelato I had in Italy. Just for comparison most of the other gelato I had were around 2 to 3 euros.

My expensive but yummy gelato.

I also had a cannoli - a classic Italian dessert with a crispy pastry shell and ricotta cheese filling. It was delicious !

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Florence 2013 - San Miniato al Monte

A bit further up from Piazza Michelangelo is a small basilica - San Miniato al Monte. This church occupies one of the highest points in Florence. The additional bit of climbing is worth it, as you get to see Florence from an even higher vantage point.

San Miniato al Monte is said to be one of the most beautiful churches in Italy. The facade in white and green marble is very striking. The interior is just as impressive. The timber roof beams and the entire ceiling are decorated in delicate and colourful designs.

The beautiful church interior. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Florence 2013 - Piazza Michelangelo

If you want to get a panoramic view of Florence, head over to Piazza Michelangelo across the River Arno. It is a bit of a walk from the town centre, and then a climb up to the Piazza. The square is dedicated to Michelangelo, and there is a replica of David in the middle of the Piazza. If you don't feel energetic enough to make the climb, you can also take a taxi up. 

The views of Florence from the Piazza are spectacular - and these are probably the views printed on millions of post cards that you buy from the souvenir stands. Go around sunset for the most beautiful colours.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Florence 2013 - all'Antico Vinaio

I had posted about Osteria all'Antico Vinaio where we had a wonderful yet affordable dinner. Right opposite the Osteria is the sandwich bar where there is always a queue outside. The first time we walked pass it we were wondering what the fuss is all about. Take a closer look and you will know why. The cold counter is full of the most delicious looking ingredients for sandwiches, and on top of the counter are freshly baked focaccia bread smelling like heaven.

Behind the counter is a guy who makes all the sandwiches - and with his messy hair and prickly face he looks a bit like a rock star. There are sandwiches which you can choose from a menu - or just tell him what you want or don't want in the sandwich and he will make one up. I overheard him telling a customer "Just leave it to me and I will make you the best sandwich you've ever had in your life !" Now that is confidence ! 

I ordered a roast beef sandwich, and even though there were a few people a head of me it was done in no time. The service was pretty fast. Inside the sandwich were generous slices of medium rare beef, lettuce, tomatoes and red pepper puree. It was really good. The star of the sandwich was without a doubt the bread - so light and soft inside, and addictively crispy and crunchy on the outside. This was the best sandwich I've ever had - as far as I can remember.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Florence 2013 - Mercado de San Lorenzo

Every Italian City has its great market, and Florence is no exception. Mercado de San Lorenzo is right in the city centre - next to Basilica de San Lorenzo. As it is right in the middle of all the action, you will no doubt pass through it many times. There are lots of stalls outside the market catering to tourists, but the market itself is strictly for food.

Like most of the European markets I have visited, Mercado de San Lorenzo is a gourmet paradise. From fresh produce to cured meats, cheeses, bread and cooked food - the variety is as usual mind-boggling, a real feast for the senses.

I saw fresh truffles for the first time in a market. And these were really gigantic ones.

The selection of cooked food is also very good. In fact we stopped by several times at the market for lunch.

Surrounding the market are countless stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs for the tourists. The most popular items seemed to be leather goods. Every stall we visited we asked whether the goods were made in Italy. One of the stall keepers got a bit mad and said "Yes they are made in Italy - but the boss of the factory is Chinese!"

Friday, June 13, 2014

Florence 2013 - The Streets of Florence

Florence is so filled with great buildings that just walking around the streets is a great experience in itself. Being a very compact city also makes it a walker's paradise. As you walk around, you also start to realize that each neighbourhood has its own architectural character.

In Italy the street is like the living room - as a place to hang out, gossip, watch people, and most often - a place for extra dining space for the countless trattorias.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Florence 2013 - The Uffizi Gallery and Gallerie dell'Accademia

If you are in Florence the 2 places you should not miss are the Uffizi Gallery and the Gallerie dell'Accademia - 2 of the most important museums in Europe. In peak season the queue to get into these galleries can be several hours. Luckily for those who don't like queues, you can book tickets online for specific entry times. You pay a bit more then the normal tickets, but the time you saved is priceless.

Uffizi Gallery is just off Piazza della Signoria. This used to be the private offices of the powerful Medici family who were great patrons of the art. Here you will see masterpieces by Raphael, Giotto, Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and even Rembrant. Unfortunately photography is not allowed both in the Uffizi and the Accademia so I only managed to sneak a few shots.

The Gallerie dell'Accademia also holds a huge collection of artworks from the Bizantine to Gothic and the Renaissance Period. Names such as Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto and Tiziano, and Tiepolo are all represented here. But probably the most famous work and the one most of the visitors go to see is David - by Michelangelo. 

The first time you see David, you will probably get a shock. In pictures it usually appear as life size. In person - the statue is actually almost 2-storeys tall. It is gigantic, yet the genius of Michelangelo is fully evident from the perfect proportion to the magical transformation of stone into flesh and bone. 

The gallery also host several unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo. These are also quite fascinating - as they allow the viewer a rare glimpse of the work in progress - how the artist actually breath life into a block of stone.