Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ITALY Florence | Day 9

Firenze {Florence}
On our walk to the Uffizi Gallery
DAY 9: After a lovely hotel breakfast of cheesy eggs, croissants, more pastries, fresh squeezed orange juice... {boy, do I miss those breakfasts when I'm eating yogurt and granola or waffles now}, we decided to adjust our itinerary a little bit.  I wanted to make sure we got into the Uffizi Gallery so we went there first thing after they opened.  The Uffizi was huge and overwhelming. We purchased audioguides {which helped us to appreciate the art by telling us more about the backstory} but Jake and I both agreed that next time we travel, we want to do personal guided tours as much as possible.  The most famous piece of art in this gallery is probably The Birth of Venus, which was one of my favorite paintings that we saw.  Again, no photos allowed but here are some of my favorites we saw via wikipedia.
The Annunciation, Leonardo Da Vinci, circa 1472
The Birth of Venus, Botticelli, circa 1486
Federico da Montefeltro & Battista Sforza, Piero della Francesca, circa 1472
After the incredible Uffizi Gallery, we headed to the Bargello {which used to be a barrack and a prison}.  This Palazzo del Podestà, as it was originally called, is the oldest public building in Florence.  Executions took place in the courtyard below until 1786.  At this point, my feet were killing me again and we ended up kind of rushing through this site because I was anticipating what was coming up next.  We knew our boundaries pretty well of how much we could handle in one day, but there were some hiccups.  There were also a few times where I didn't want to skip anything we had planned, so we I had to stick it out.  For some reason, I had all the foot troubles and Jake's only foot issues were a little bit of swelling.  No fair!    

Walking to the Bargello
Inside the Bargello, 2nd floor
One of my favorite statues
Description of statue above
Grand, exterior staircase
Courtyard where executions were held until 1786
We took at taxi to lunch at Tiberio Trattoria, where we had pasta for lunch. My pasta had a special surprise underneath the pile of noodles! Delicious, fresh ricotta! I also had a salad with melon which was a delicious way to end my lunch. Yummy!

Lunch spot!
Jake's pasta
My pasta {with ricotta underneath}!! Delish!
A frame worthy shot!
Amazing art above a doorway
After lunch, we made it back to the main square {pretty far from our lunch spot} and found the Duomo Museum which Rick Steve's recommended as an underrated museum that had really fascinating "retired" pieces from the main duomo {or, church} in Florence.  Just by chance, there was an English tour scheduled to start about 5 minutes after we arrived.  It cost a little extra, but was totally worth it! Our tour was lead by an art history major from Portland who had been living in Florence for several years pursuing her degree.  The 1 hour tour was fascinating! I highly recommend doing in person tours wherever possible. The real Gates of Paradise are housed here, but were under restoration {until Sept 2012, I believe}, so we didn't get to see them!! :(

Circa 1 BC
These busts used to be on the front of the duomo
All they recovered was the head {John the Baptist}. Wonder what happened to the body.
Statues from different styles and eras of biblical figures
Choir Loft
Michaelangelo's unfinished pieta which was to be part of his burial tomb
After the Duomo Museum, we had the best gelato in the city! Actually... best gelato of our entire trip! We had to take a taxi ride which cost about 10 euros each way, but it was totally worth it! The gelato place was recommended by the NY Times here. It's called Badiani -- and I still dream of it now.  Their signature flavor is called Buontalenti {named after the supposed inventor of gelato WHAAAT?} and I highly recommend trying it! We also used LUXE city guides to help us pick out what to see and do on our trip and they described the flavor as - the best vanilla ice cream you have ever had multiplied by 1,000! I wholeheartedly agree!

Badiani! We made it!
All the delicious flavors!
Guess which cup was mine? {Hint: the bigger one!}
Look how happy I am after my gelato!

Next, we headed to Santa Maria Novella Church and the Perfumery. The perfumery was one of my favorite things! There were no photos allowed in the church, but here is what the church looked liked from the outside. Gorgeous, right?

The Santa Maria Novella Perfumery is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world.  The store in Florence opened to the public in 1612, but the fragrances and body products are based on recipes that the Dominican friars of Florence had been developing (using herbs from the monastery gardens) since the 13th century. It was held by the Dominicans until the late 19th century when it became a private business. Today they market a wide range of fragrances, bath and body products, and home fragrances.

Santa Maria Novella Church
Santa Maria Novella Perfumery
Inside the perfumery
Notice all the potions behind me
After visiting the Perfumery, we went back to our hotel for the usual rest and relaxation time.  We had dinner reservations at 7:30 at  Il Santo Bevitore {recommended by our travel agent}.  It did not disappoint! There was a very romantic atmosphere with dim lighting and a lot of wine bottles.  We liked our food so much we forgot to take a picture of the main course! 

Il Santo Bevitore

The cheese and meat station {hand carved}
Our bottle of wine {I also loved the candle stick}
Meat and cheese and deliciousness!
Crem Brulee and Cheesecake for dessert
View of our room from the outside {we were on the 5th floor}!
Phew... I am tired just re-reading this recap. This might have been one of our busiest days of our whole trip! But, I have no regrets. We enjoyed every single minute of it!

Monday, July 30, 2012

ITALY Florence | Day 8

Firenze (Florence)
Florence, Arno River
DAY 8: We started our morning with breakfast at our hotel {no surprise there}, then we took a taxi to the Accademia to see the gigantic statue of David.

David, by Michaelangelo, circa 1500's, via wikipedia
We used our Florence Pass to skip the line and purchased audioguides which were helpful but we were burnt out after the 1st floor. I think the Leonardo da Vinci sketches were on the other floor, but we didn’t realize that and left without seeing them. Another reason to come back right?  From there, we walked to the San Marco Museum which used to be an old convent, dating back to 1436. This was another place where no photos were allowed :( so you will just have to use your imagination.  Some of the frescos were amazing here.  We also got to see the cells that the monks lived in.   

Courtyard at San Marco Museum, via here
The Annunciation, by Fra Angelico, via here
Next, we headed to the Medici Chapels which were HUGE! I can’t imagine having a throne to myself like that, but the Medici family was a really big part of Italy's history, as we know it today.  It was interesting to read about their connection to Michaelangelo, too. Rick Steve's mentioned that Michaelangelo lived with them in his early teens and the experience really shaped him as a person.  Supposedly, their tombs were designed by Michaelangelo. We only got one picture, due to the "no photo" rule. I felt like everywhere we went to in Florence didn't allow photos.

Medici Chapels
After gazing up in awe at the size and grandeur of the chapels, we headed to Osteria Belle Donne for lunch.
Osteria Belle Donne {and Jake}
Inside the restaurant
Meatballs with potatoes
Pasta with red sauce
This place was recommended to us by Katie, our travel agent.  We enjoyed the food and atmosphere very much.  The walk to the WC {restroom} was actually very interesting because it was almost like going down into a cellar and the restroom was decorated with great art.  As silly as it sounds, one of my favorite things about going to restaurants was using the restroom and seeing what it looked like. A couple restaurants we went to had really amazing bathrooms. Weird, I know...

After lunch we had our first mediocre gelato experience. We tried to only eat authentic gelato but you don't really know what the gelato is going to taste like until you try it.  The place we wandered into looked OK but it was in a total tourist area.  We both got two generous scoops and they were 6 euros each. That was the most we paid for gelato the entire time and ironically, it was the worst gelato we had. It just didn't taste great and was almost too much to eat. But, your live and you learn, right? 

Ponte Vecchio bridge in the background

Love the buildings!
Love the color!
One of my favorite scenic photos of the entire trip!
As per our usual routine, we went back to the hotel to rest and relax before our evening plans.  We ended up taking a taxi to the Baptistery and it was open late so we got to go inside {after paying a small admission fee}.  It dates back to somewhere between 1059 and 1128 and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. 

Jesus, on the ceiling of the Baptistery
So many stories
Amazing ancient drawings and designs
Tomb in the Baptistery
Gates of Paradise
The Duomo  
We walked around the shopping area and made our way to Vini e Vecchi Sapori for dinner. We had our hotel make reservations for us and good thing because it is tiny (I believe there are only 16 seats)! This restaurant was one of our favorites.  We liked it because they had a daily handwritten menu and it was very traditional. Also, it is run by a father, mother and their son.  The mother cooks in the kitchen, the father runs the restaurant and the son is the server. He was very friendly and helpful.  He sat with us and went through the entire menu, line by line.  The food was as delicious as it looks. Jake's veal was flavorful and very tender. The restaurant is #5 on tripadvisor and it is very worthy of that rating! I wish we could have eaten here every single night in Florence. Simply delicious!

Jake and I at Vine e Vecchi Saporiti! Magnifico!
For our appetizer, we had this delicious artichoke salad with fresh parmesan. The fresh parmesan is the key. It was indescribable - best cheese I have ever had.

Appetizer: artichoke salad with fresh Parmesan
Shared first course: ravioli
My 2nd course: Omelet with artichoke 

Jake's 2nd course: veal
Raspberry Tiramisu
The Arno River, never gets old
Good night, Florence!