City of Florence
We were looking forward to our extended stay in the wonderful city of Florence. We had visited a few times before and always wanted to sink into local living and get a feel for the place. The timing could not have been better since we had just endured a manic month and a half, up and out the door every day. We were exhausted and overflowing with images and, experiences and we needed to unpack our shit and regroup.
Knowing the lay of the land we hit the cobblestone running and made it from the train station to our Air BnB in fifteen minutes. It helped considerably that the weather was a balmy 20 degrees and we had just come from bone-chilling zero Celcius and 85% humidity in Venice. The sun was beaming down and the city was alive with people and tourists. Walking across the Amerigo Vespucci bridge we stopped at a place we would come to many times afterward and absorbed what is one of the most iconic images Italy has to offer with the Arno River flowing gently under us, rowers heading up stream and the magnificent Ponte Vecchio in front of us. Tuscan blue skies as far as you could see complimenting the endless architectural beauties lining the river, glowing in the afternoon sun.
Smoke and mirrors
We reached our apartment in record time and were promptly disappointed in another smoke and mirrors situation. This time it was the front door opening directly onto the street and not just any street but the busiest one in our neighbourhood. Next, we were subtly informed that the water heater was quite small and in fact turned out to have enough capacity to wash two coffee cups and have half a shower before a rinse of ice water instantly ruined your morning. And then there was the thing that had a duvet cover over it, referred to as a bed, when it was more similar to a torture device concentrating its anger on different parts of your body after a good night’s unrest.
The new kitchen was the highlight with a brand new induction stove that with the right pot would boil water in a couple minutes. Unfortunately, the Bialetti had not been upgraded and did not work on the induction cooktop.
Alas, we would have a whole month to discover the secrets of our new abode and through animal-like adaptation, we learned to cope, doubling up on the earplugs and always opting for a nightcap.
At that moment we did not give a toss about the apartment with the perfect weather outside and Florence calling our name. So we threw our bags in the corner, grabbed our cameras and headed back out.
It was early afternoon and we needed a coffee so we headed to what would become our go-to spot for the perfect cup.
Caffè Gilli is smack dab in the middle of town and from our place a 15-minute walk. One of Florence’s grand old caffè antico it was born in 1733 and has remained a jewel ever since, absolutely steeped in ambiance and backed up by perfect macchiati and pastries every time.
Just around the corner is the magnificent duomo, Florence’s Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore with the most impressive facade of any duomo in Italy. Its scale looks out of whack from many angles rising up like a mountain in the centre of town.
We continued our reintroduction to the city with a long stroll that took us back down to the Ponte Vecchio where we crossed and slowly made our way back towards the apartment.
The sun was starting to set on what had been an outstanding day and aperitivo time was upon us. Like good boy scouts we had come prepared with a list of possible spots to eat and drink. Within striking distance was a tiny enoteca with a solid wine selection as well as some classic cocktails.
Fiaschetteria Fantappié is a real local joint with three seats inside and a little sidewalk terrace. The shelves are stacked with bottles of wine and liquor hand selected from all over Italy. They also had wine on tap where you could have a bottle filled (and refilled!) and corked for you to take away.
One by one the locals filed in with their empty bottles for a refill on their way home for dinner. Without exception everyone chose the Bolgheri, a tiny region an hour and a half drive from Florence that is producing some outstanding wine.
We decided to enjoy a couple of glasses of Chianti but the lure of the on tap Bolgheri had me putting down a whole €4 for a bottle (€3.50 if you bring your own bottle) currently this wine holds the record for most delicious and affordable wine we have had in Italy. Opening the bottle later in the apartment we were blown away by how good it was and ended up frequenting Fiaschetteria Fantappié regularly.
For now the bottle would have to slide into the backpack as we had decided to walk over to Gusta Pizza to have a piping hot pizza. Their reputation is quite well known and all the boys who work there love to give tourists a hard time while they pound out mouth watering pizza.
Preordering at the cash you take a number and have a seat with your bottle of wine and utensils. Three guys are working the oven, one makes each pizza, the other is in charge of cooking every pie in the beehive oven and the last dude is in charge of the wood to feed the fire. In minutes our number is called and a still slightly smoking pizza is shoveled onto a paper tray and put in your hands. Waiting for them to cool enough not to remove the roof of our mouths seemed eternal, thank god for Instagram! Pictures taken, we dug into what was some damn fine pizza rivaling any we have had throughout Europe. Their reputation intact and new regular customers made (at least for the month we are here) we hit the streets once more on our final leg back to the apartment.
Lit for Christmas
Walking back along the river, darkness had completely fallen and Florence was lit for Christmas. Special light projections hit the Ponte Vecchio and against the sides of churches and people were strolling everywhere taking in the show in the cold night air.
Day one in Florence and we have hit the ground running. Like hardened travelers, we would try and rise above the pitfalls of our accommodations by spending very little time there. We had been looking forward to living like locals in Florence for a long time and being there over Christmas was going to make it even more special.