Florence – Day 3 – Food and Drink Italian Style

[…Florence, Italy April 19, 2011…]

Florence Cathedral, Giotto's Campanile and the Baptistery, at dawn, before the mad crowd.


Although still hesitant to get up for the sunrise call, I was able to make it out early today. I also found out that the hotel’s main doors are padlocked during wee hours, a discovery that was not very reassuring, to say the least. So I had to wait until they opened them, and as I stepped outside, I was greeted by the brisk, cold morning air. It felt invigorating to be out there with a purpose. Ah, Italy. It’s like being in another place and time. Just the thought that men like Da Vinci and Michelangelo had once walked these same streets makes me feel like I’m part of something great.

Naturally, I stayed clear of suspicious-looking street corners and took the fast route to the Duomo, but really, it did not seem too bad at all. There were a few folks walking to work, early birds who are clever like me were already out enjoying the freedom of empty piazzas, and the whirring noises from the street sweepers could be heard from a distance. Nothing like waking up to see a city come to life.

A quick stop at the Duomo then I made my way to the bridge, where I spotted a nice afterglow painting the skies southwest of the Arno river. If anything, it was nice to be out before the crowd appeared, but not to say it was completely peaceful either. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up in a small city like Florence with such loud traffic noises so early in the morning! Down by the river at Lungarno degli Arcibuscieri, the stream of vehicles had started to pick up. I’ve seen it worse in full daylight and wondered why they kept this a main thoroughfare considering the volume of pedestrians that cross here all day to get to Vasari Corridor. I could’ve also gone all morning without having to bear the stench of sewage, urine and diesel fumes this early. Thank goodness, there’s the thought that all these will soon be replaced by the aroma of freshly-brewed espresso and baked bread, which was the case when I headed towards Via dei Calzaiuoli after shooting and found that cafés had just started to open.

Same was true as I passed San Lorenzo and a number of vendors were getting ready for business. I stopped by one store and picked up a few silk scarves. Breakfast at the hotel ensued, then a couple of hours back in bed, and I did not emerge from my coop until noon.

For lunch, I tried the squid tagliatelle at Buca San Giovanni, another guidebook recommendation. This restaurant turned out to be another location steeped in history. Formerly a Sacristy of the Baptistery in the 19th century, it’s decorated with 14th century frescoes, and proudly displays a photo of its most famous customer – the late John F. Kennedy. It was a charming place filled with bottles of Chianti and bubbly laughter from old folks enjoying their Florentine steak. No doubt Florence can be a time-traveling machine at most times – these places I’ve been, all used to be something at one time. They seem to have mastered the art of recycling historical places.

Italian Scooters line the streets like stacks of dominoes.

Since it was my last full day here, I felt like wandering around and simply immerse myself in the culture: visit the markets again, sit at the café, enjoy another espresso, and find the best gelato in town. I had at least 5 gelateria on my list, but everyone says Vivoli is the best. On the way there, I knew I had passed Michelangelo’s old house having seen it on my last trip here, but trailing behind a big Chinese tour group and making my way through rows of parked scooters, I must’ve missed it.

Vivoli definitely was the best gelato I’ve had – I know this because after I was done with my gelato, I tried another one from a different shop for comparison. And then another one just to make sure.

For my coffee, I went for another guidebook recommendation and this one did not fail me as well. It even had a lovely name – Chiaroscuro – which, in art, means contrasts between light and dark. Italians don’t mess around with their art, or their coffee.

It was another gorgeous day today. In the afternoon, the Duomo gleamed brightly and people seemed happy; there were more of them today than there had been in the past 2 days. 

For my twilight shots, I knew I had to do the bridge one more time. It’s that feeling of not being satisfied that nagged me to go back, and I’m glad I did. The light turned out to be better tonight and I think I finally got my shot.

Every night, as I pass the Uffizi gallery on my route back to San Lorenzo, I would hear beautiful acoustic music coming from Piazza Signoria. There’s this musician who sets up a chair under the shadows of the Loggia and plays endearing ballads on his guitar. He’s made quite an audience, most of them are couples who would find a spot behind him on the steps, wrap their arms around each other and enjoy the music. Definitely not a bad way to end the day.

Enjoying a moccachino at Chiaroscuro

When in Italy, it's a sin not to try a gelato, over and over again.

Silk and leather at the markets of San Lorenzo and Mercato Nuovo.

Not all great artists in Florence are dead. Some of them are very much alive and painting on easels and on the streets.


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9 responses

    • Thanks Jason. The cathedral actually looks better at night when it’s lit; it’s not lit here at all, but much better to shoot in the morning when there’s no one around.

  1. Thank you for this vivid description of your day in Florence. The accompanying pictures are a colorful Pasticcio and complement the text for the best!

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