Saturday, September 13, 2008
A rainy morning, a taxi ride, and the train station. We’re leaving Rome.
A super speedy train took us north to Firenze in less than two hours. We shared the train ride with a couple from North Carolina. He’s a retired Viet Nam vet – he used to dye socks and work for the city – she does hair. I played mahjong while Shelly carried most of the conversation. At one point, she dared to ask them whom they were voting for and he hemmed and hawed and said, McCain, because he’s a vet. Of course.
The rain greeted us in Firenze as did an argumentative taxi driver. Maybe it was Shelly’s negotiating technique. The two of them went back and forth over a fixed price rate versus a metered price. Lots of yelling and hand gesturing on the taxi driver’s end of the conversation. As he was pulling our bags back out of his taxi, Shelly repeated the fixed price that she originally suggested. He relented. But grumbled. Whatever. He got us to the hotel and we didn’t get wet.
The Johanna Hotel is something like 95 euro a night, very cheap for Florence, and very cute. Plus, it has free wireless in the lobby. A major bonus. We quickly inspected our room, plunked down our bags, bummed an umbrella off the woman at the front desk, and set out to discover the city.
We wasted no time hunting down some lunch. Walking around Florence is slow going only because you want to stop every 20 feet and stare at the sights around you. We made it past the outdoor leather and souvenir vendors by the Duomo and literally stumbled upon a huge indoor food market – meat, cheeses, olive oils, produce, and a few (Italian food court). Perfect. For five euros I had a plate of pasta and salad. Shelly had some chicken and zucchini. I have a feeling that Alice Waters has spent some time at this market. Slow food is what this place is all about.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur. Lots of walking: down to the Arno River, over one bridge, up to the Pitti Palace, over the Ponte Vecchio bridge … . A stop for tea, a couple of cookies, and a real, caffeinated cappuccino for me. Yep, we’re in Italy.
We decided to hit the area around the Duomo – as big, colorful, and wonderful as I remembered it, but now with a small iron fence around it. We didn’t go inside because of the line, but I dared Shelly to walk to the top of Giotto’s Tower. It’s open only a few days of the week for only a few months of the year. You know, it’s one of those places where they have warnings in several different languages not to attempt if you have medical problems. She accepted my dare, and six euro and 414 steps later we made it to the top and some of the most breathtaking views in the world. We took way too many pictures and playfully picked out the places we decided we could live. Shelly wanted a rooftop garden, so that helped narrow things down.
And yes, we considered the 818 total steps cardio, as did our calves and quads. We could still feel that hike days later.
For dinner, we took the advice of our front desk woman, and walked around the block to an exceptional restaurant, called Wine Bar Vinolio. We were only the second full table, but by the time we left two hours later, the place was packed. Even though it took nearly 40 minutes to get our bill when we were done, this was by far the best meal we’ve had so far. Insalata mistas, fresh rolls, house red, and a pistachio pesto pasta. I’ve never tasted anything like it. So very good.
Loved the house red. Buy this wine: Contucci Rosso Di Montepulciano – 2005
We skyped Shelly’s sister, wished her a happy birthday, and then collapsed into bed. And for the first time, we didn’t need earplugs.