Modern art in Florence

The historical city of Florence in Italy is famous for being the home of some of the most magnificent renaissance art and architecture in the world. Visitors to the city don’t have to venture into a museum or gallery to view great examples of renaissance art because you are literally surrounded by it in this UNESCO heritage listed city. However, if you like something a little more 21st century, look around and you will see modern art everywhere you walk. When we were in Florence in 2011 I never really noticed any street art, but in 2015 we saw plenty and the artwork varied greatly in style from cartoonish to realistic. This is a small selection of what can be seen as you walk around the city and as you can see, nowhere was off limits with art painted on metal utility boxes as well as on the walls of buildings.

For more examples of street art in Florence as well as information about the artists, check out the Girl in Florence blog post A Guide to Street Artists in Florence.

Travel theme: Late

Where’s my backpack has an interesting and challenging travel theme this week. Late is the theme and it is not an easy one for me to find suitable travel photos, but I hope you appreciate my effort anyway 🙂

People walking dogs in Turin, Italy
Too late getting my camera ready and all I could get was little Frenchie butts as they strolled through the galleries of Turin
Florence, Italy at night
Evening walk in Florence and the streets are almost empty.
Arch of Constantine at night, Rome.
Rome at night
Venice at night
Venice is a frenzy of tourists during the day but late at night very few are still out walking.

A few favourite moments in Florence

This was my third visit to Florence and after reading that November was usually quieter for tourists I was surprised to have to dodge so many people on our way from the station to our accommodation. The streets and piazzas were humming, but it was the weekend and upon arrival at our hotel we discovered that the Pope was coming to town and that was when it all started to make sense. We were told that the Pope would be passing underneath our hotel window and that it would be the first visit by a Pope in almost 30 years.

On this trip we didn’t visit the Uffizi or see the David however we did spend time hanging out in Piazza della Signoria, I love the loggia and spent quite a bit of time with the beautiful sculptures residing within. We also went for a stroll across to the other side of the river, a lovely part of Florence that is home to wonderful artisans and the Antico Ristoro di Cambi where we tried the famous and delicious Bistecca Fiorentina. Florence is perfect for strolling and it seemed that wherever we went there was something for us to enjoy, whether it be gelato, coffee or a work of art.

 

I love food

Travel provide so many opportunities to try sifferent and delicious food. In Australia we have access to a variety of cuisines however there is nothing like eating  food in the country of its origin. In Paris it was confit canard, in Turin truffles and in Florence wild boar although the bistecca fiorentina and lampredotto are on the list of thing to try over the next couple of days.

I share with you some of the yummy food we have eaten. Buon appetito!

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
   

Food glorious food…part two

Whilst travelling around Europe last year I took thousands of photos, some of these focused on the delightful array of food available from markets and the meals we consumed. Many of the photos are merely happy snaps, badly lit and slightly blurred photographs of the food we ate and often I was so absorbed in the eating of a tasty dish that I completely forgot to take a photo. Anyway, the first part of our journey and the food we ate is covered in Food glorious food…part one and I had meant to continue the story but never got around to it…until now.

The food in Italy can be bad, good or fantastic, we were lucky in that we chose good to fantastic food for the majority of the time and the two bad meals we ate were due to laziness and convenience, not bad for four weeks of eating in Italy. Italians don’t really do breakfast, at least not the way we do so we settled for the in-house breakfasts most of the time, although not great, we enjoyed trying Cruesli (Muesli with choc chips) and the array of home baked cakes and tarts at the B&B Villa degli Ulivi were scrumptious. Occasionally cold cuts of meat and boiled eggs were also available in addition to the pastries, jam and bread rolls, the coffee was usually very ordinary so we took to visiting the local bars for an espresso.

Wherever possible we tried local wines and local specialties, guided by the waiters in the restaurants and in Rome we asked the ‘host’ of the Cantina Cantarini to help us choose our meals, selecting fresh, seasonal produce and simple flavours so good that we returned the following night. In Florence we ate picnics outside the Boboli Gardens, pasta in the San Lorenzo Markets and spent an evening with our travellers at a inTavola cooking class, the class was so much fun and at the end of the evening we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour accompanied by a couple of glasses of wine.

Wherever we went I managed to track down a gelateria (even in Germany), I was on a mission to try as many flavours as possible and am proud to say that I tried 25 different flavours, some of them twice (pistachio, zabaglione and pannacotta) and some of which I don’t remember. I have to admit that there are just some flavours that I’ve never been really fond of such as melon or licorice so I stayed clear of them and there are possibly hundreds more flavours I could have tried however there was still a budget to stick to and having gelato for every meal was not the objective. Some of the more unusual (for me) flavours were: Coconut, Riesling, Fior di Latte (Milk), Torrone and Cherries and cream.

Here is just a taste of what we enjoyed in Italy, starting with local specialties in Vernazza to wild boar in Umbria, panettone in Siena and seafood in Sorrento, it really was a food tour of Italy and the extra kilos in weight that I gained were well and truly worth it 🙂

Buon appetito!

Pesto al trofie, Vernazza
Pesto al trofie, Vernazza
Fried seafood, Vernazza
Fried seafood, Vernazza
Sicilian Cannoli, Il Pirata Vernazza
Sicilian Cannoli, Il Pirata Vernazza
Learning to cook in Florence
Learning to cook in Florence
The first course ready to go in the oven
The first course ready to go in the oven, layers of eggplant, mashed potato with zucchini and pancetta, and fontina cheese.
The first course, made by us in Florence
The first course, made by us in Florence
Steak, Florence
Steak, Florence
Fried Zucchini, Florence
Fried Zucchini, Florence
Sweets on display, Florence
Sweets on display, Florence
Wild boar ragu and pappardelle pasta, Siena
Wild boar ragu and pappardelle pasta, Siena
Spaghetti with clams, Siena
Spaghetti with clams, Siena
Roast pork sandwich and Panetone picnic, Siena
Roast pork sandwich and Panettone picnic, Siena
Fresh fruit for sale, Siena
Fresh fruit for sale, Siena
Tortelloni, Siena
Tortelloni, Siena
Coffee to end the meal, Siena
Coffee to end the meal, Siena
Sausage pizza in Volterra
Sausage pizza in Volterra
Salami and pecorino sandwiches in Pienza
Salami and pecorino sandwiches in Pienza
A glass of wine to celebrate the day, Orvieto
A glass of wine to celebrate the day, Orvieto
Breakfast in Orvieto
Breakfast in Orvieto
A little food with our wine, Orvieto
A little food with our wine, Orvieto
Wild boar stew, Orvieto
Wild boar stew, Orvieto
Roast pork medallions, Orvieto
Roast pork medallions, Orvieto
Cooking over an open flame, Civita di Bagnoreggio
Cooking over an open flame, Civita di Bagnoreggio
Grilled vegetables at a cantina, Civita di Bagnoreggio
Grilled vegetables at a cantina, Civita di Bagnoreggio
Pastries for sale, Assisi
Pastries for sale, Assisi
Pasta and assorted food products for sale in Sorrento
Pasta and assorted food products for sale in Sorrento
Mixed seafood and pasta, Sorrento
Mixed seafood and pasta, Sorrento
Prawns and pasta, Sorrento
Prawns and pasta, Sorrento
Fresh lemons, Sorrento
Fresh lemons, Sorrento
Eating gelato in Rome
Eating gelato in Rome
Mmmmm...gelato, Rome
Mmmmm…gelato, Rome

My dear friend in Tuscany

Paneforte and other Italian sweets
Paneforte and other Italian sweets

One of my dearest friends and a fellow art/food lover is currently travelling around Italy with her partner, J has been wanting to visit Italy for many years and I am so excited that her time has come and that she is getting to see the chaotic city of Rome and the beauty of the countryside. It also means that I’ll have someone else to talk Italy with and she hopefully won’t get that glazed look in her eyes that I see in others when I’m daydreaming aloud about my holiday.

Today J will be travelling through Tuscany and spending time in Florence, on my desk is a copy of her itinerary and it is great for reminiscing about our trip and the various cities and towns we visited. My first visit to Florence was in 1999, I was travelling alone so had signed up for a tour, not everybody’s idea of travelling but perfect for a shy, single girl who had mainly travelled overseas with family. The David was a highlight for me, at that stage photography was allowed in the gallery so I made sure I captured him from all sides, the rest of my (short) time in Florence was spent on the hunt for a leather jacket and eating delicious pizza in a restaurant near Basilica di Santa Croce. There was no time to rub the nose of the boar on the Ponte Vecchio, nor did I try the local gelato and the Uffizi was not even on my radar, however I did get to see the interior of the Duomo and Basilica di Santa Croce and began to appreciate the influence that religion had on art and architecture. Apart from driving through the countryside to reach our accommodation in Pontassieve and stopping for a quick visit at Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, there wasn’t a chance to really see much of Tuscany so I made sure that we spent some time in a Tuscan hill town on our last trip.

Last year we spent three nights in Florence and four in Siena, we could have stayed longer however I was keen to also visit a few towns in Umbria and didn’t want to waste time hopping from town to town each day. Florence the second time around was a different experience, we didn’t have a set schedule although there were a couple of things that were a must: The Uffizi, climbing Brunelleschi’s Dome, Boboli Gardens, a cooking class and the Ponte Vecchio. The aim was to also spend time just enjoying the city: walking along the river, drinking coffee or a glass of wine in a piazza, exploring the food markets and doing a bit of shopping. I am hoping that J is able to enjoy some of the simple pleasures and not spend all of her time racing from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, however, when you spend over 24 hours on a plane and several thousand dollars in plane tickets it is important to make sure that you see everything you want to see.

When thinking of Tuscany I had a particular image stuck in my mind, one of rolling hills, stone houses, cypress trees, fields filled with poppies and olive trees. Thankfully it wasn’t far from the dream, renting a car made it really easy to get around and there were plenty of places to stop for a break, have a bite to eat and take photos. In the four days we visited Volterra, San Gimignano and Pienza as well as spending time in Siena and it was a nice balance because we could take our time in exploring the towns without feeling pressured to move onto the next destination. Next time we will stay somewhere else and see a different region of Tuscany, if you have any suggestions I would be happy to hear them 🙂

View from Uffizi cafe
View from Uffizi cafe
Tuscan countryside
Tuscan countryside
San Giminano Ceramics
San Gimignano Ceramics

 

Our Europe top ten

Place de la Concorde, Paris
The illuminated La Madeleine, Paris

Since arriving home we’ve been asked about our favourite destinations and experiences and it is really hard to narrow it down to one or two things, so much of what we have experienced has been incredible and we loved (almost) every minute of our trip. Marty and I also differ when it comes to selecting our special moments, Marty likes to sit and watch the world go by, meet new people and enjoy the moment whereas I like to get moving and explore each destination and what it has to offer. For those of you who are interested, here are my top ten favourite experiences and my top ten less-than favourite experiences, some of them you may already have read about in previous posts.

Top ten favourites:

  1. Walking through the doors of the Musee d’Orsay and making my way through the Impressionist collection. Degas, Renoir, Monet, Manet and Seurat were the artists who inspired me when I was in High School and changed the way I looked at my surroundings.
  2. A perfect day in Bavaria (a very small part of Bavaria anyway) starting with a scenic train ride through the countryside where we met two lovely German ladies and spoke about The Thorn Birds, Brisbane’s floods and the beautiful region we were travelling through. Joe, dressed in traditional clothing met us at the Füssen train station, we took a horse and carriage ride up to Neuschwanstein, drank beer on a snow covered mountain and that evening we had dinner with Joe’s family at his mother’s house.
  3. Waking up in Paris, the realisation that we were finally in Europe hit and it was bliss! Paris is an amazing and fascinating city and 5 nights was just not enough, we can’t wait to go back there and spend more time exploring the streets, gardens and museums.
  4. Eating piping hot frites (chips) covered with a huge dollop of mayonnaise from the Mannekin Pis frites shopfront in Amsterdam, it was cold and miserable and these were the most delicious things to eat on such a day.
  5. Staying in the medieval towns of Bacharach and Rothenburg in Germany. These towns are straight from a fairytale and they were in the most picturesque places, Bacharach on the Rhine River and Rothenburg ob de Tauber surrounded by medieval walls overlooking the valley.
  6. Wandering the streets of Venice and watching the colours of the buildings change as the sun was setting. Truly a magical place and more so in the evening when the crowds have thinned out and the souvenir stalls have closed.
  7. The hilltop town of Orvieto was a wonderful destination, we enjoyed the local wine: Orvieto Classico accompanied by snacks of marinated olives, foccacia and peanuts. From Orvieto we visited the dying town of Civita de Bagnoregio, a hilltop town with few residents thanks to ongoing erosion of the volcanic stone that the town sits upon, here we had a most delectable meal grilled over an open fire and served on plastic plates.
  8. Participating in a cooking class in Florence. This was loads of fun and not only did we learn a little about Tuscan cooking, but we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labour accompanied by a few glasses of wine and all of our classmates.
  9. Rome, everywhere we walked history smacked us in the face from the ancient roman ruins, influential architecture and Egyptian obelisks to Baroque sculptures on display in piazzas, fountains and churches. The traffic was crazy, the crowds overwhelming and the food served at Cantina Kantarini delicious, an amazing city.
  10. Driving through the countryside in Tuscany and Umbria, being in the middle of a scene that I had only ever seen on postcards or calendars. When driving between Siena and Pienza we must have stopped at least 20 times to take photos and absorb what we were seeing, rows of cypress pines and olive trees, red poppies and Tuscan villas.

Top ten not-so favourite

  1. Feeling stressed about the driving in Italy, even though I was the passenger and GPS/map reader. We didn’t know how the tolls worked or how much it would cost, the limited traffic zones made me nervous after reading about the cost of the fines we could get and driving through Sorrento was a little chaotic, narrow streets with bikes, scooter, horse and carriages and women with prams all vying for road space.
  2. Finding our room not ready in Florence and having to spend potential ‘tourist’ time checking out of one hotel, storing luggage and then checking into the hotel we were originally booked into. Not only that, both hotels were extremely popular with school groups.
  3. Eating crappy, expensive pasta at a tavola calda near the Vatican City, we knew better than to make a rash decision however we were hungry and running late for our tour of the Vatican Museums. Honestly, Hungry Jacks would have been better and cheaper. The pane (bread) charge of 3 euros for the bread we never ordered was also annoying.
  4. The crowds in the Vatican Museum made it really difficult to spend time absorbing our location and the marvellous things we wer looking at. Next time we’ll book a private tour either early in the morning or later in the day, the money spent would be well worth it.
  5. Missing out on the Borghese Gallery because I didn’t try to reserve a ticket far enough in advance made me furious, I knew better but wasn’t sure what our plans were for Rome because a friend of ours was joining us for a few days. I should have just booked the ticket regardless.
  6. Accidentally deleting all my photos from my computer and having to download them all again from the memory cards, sadly we had deleted some of the images from the memory cards resulting in some happy snaps never being seen again. After that I backed up photos online, on my laptop and on usb sticks.
  7. Not making use of the metro and buses more in Paris, we walked everywhere unless the hop-on, hop-off buses could get us there (and only for a period of two days) and we were exhausted and short tempered. We walked because we wanted to ‘see’ Paris and instead it ate up valuable time that could have been spent in the Luxembourg gardens, Rodin Museum or people watching at a cafe.
  8. Rude tour guides in museums and galleries who think it is okay to stand right next to you and start spouting their knowledge to their tour group regardless of the fact that you’re trying to listen to an audioguide.
  9. Paying 22 (for 2) euros to enter Pompeii, 10 euros for the audioguides and map and finding that the majority of the villas and more interesting places to see are closed for restoration or repairs. No mention of this on the map or the guides and certainly not explained to us when we bought the tickets. Although a great place to visit, it was extremely disappointing.
  10. Getting ripped off by those International phone companies that ‘help’ you with calling family back home and charge you almost $80 for the privilege. To make matters worse we could have avoided the exorbitant fee had we been better prepared and made a note of the dialling out code for Italy and bought a phone card in Venice.

It was much harder to come up with the less than favourite list, we really were lucky on our trip and avoided all the major hassles some travellers are unfortunate enough to experience and the problems we did experience could have been avoided with a little preparation.

Welcome to Florence

The Baptistery, Duomo and Campanile, Florence
The Baptistery, Duomo and Campanile, Florence

Our time in Florence didn’t start in the best possible way, we misread the timetable (trains don’t run as regularly as thought from Vernazza) and missed the early train from Vernazza to Monterosso and  which also meant that we missed the train from Monterosso to Pisa. A little frustrated and cranky we caught the train from Vernazza to La Spezia, changed at La Spezia and hopped on a train to Pisa and from Pisa we caught a train to Florence, arriving about an hour later than expected. Better than not arriving at all and we were able to have a picnic lunch on the train. Before leaving Vernazza we stocked up on picnic supplies, fresh pane, huge slices of mortadella, a slab of cheese and locally produced pesto, roughly 13 euros in total which is no cheaper than buying a couple of freshly made panini but at least the pesto lasted for more than one use.

We were booked into the Hotel Castri, it had received reasonable but mixed reviews on TripAdvisor so I was a little nervous about what we would find upon arrival. Staying in Florence and Rome for budget prices can often mean old buildings, small rooms and furnishing requiring an update. As long as it is clean and secure I am happy to stay just about anywhere. As it turned out, we didn’t even get to see inside the room because it wasn’t ready, apparently there was a problem with plumbing/electricity or something similar, arrangements had been made with the Hotel Basilea around the corner so we were to spend our first night there.  I had read about similar happenings on a number of travel websites so it wasn’t a completely unexpected and I had thought that if this was going to happen it would happen in Florence or Rome. At the Hotel Basilea we discovered that our room hadn’t been cleaned and it would be an hour before it would be ready for us. Another minor glitch and although not completely happy we hit the streets of Florence in the hope that all would be okay.

View of Campanile and streets of Florence from the Duomo
View of Campanile and streets of Florence from the Duomo

The Duomo (cathedral) is a huge building that dominates the square, you don’t expect to it to hit you in the face as you walk around the corner but that is what happens. Open space is lacking in this part of Florence, the Duomo, Baptistery and Campanile (bell tower) consume the area and tourists fill the gaps, artists have their easels set up outside the Duomo and you can have your portrait or caricature done in a matter of minutes. For a view of the city you can climb the 463 steps to the top of the 15th century dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi or climb slightly fewer steps to the top of the Campanile, we opt for the dome, pay our 8 euro admission fee and take the claustrophobic path within the dome to the top of the Duomo. The interior of the dome can be admired up close during the journey, frescoes designed by Giorgio Vasari and painted by Frederico Zuccari depict the Last Judgement, looking down you can see barely see the faces of the people below as they look up at the frescoes. From the top you can see Piazzale Michelangelo, the Santa Croce church and the Arno river, even on a hazy day it is a fantastic sight and it is not surprising that getting a photo is difficult. Everybody who has made the climb wants their picture taken with Florence as the backdrop, elbows and minimised personal space are required.

Inside the Brunelleschi's Dome
Inside the Brunelleschi's Dome
Frescoes on the ceiling of the Duomo
Frescoes on the ceiling of the Duomo

Perhaps my recollection of Florence from 12 years ago is a little hazy or I’ve romanticised the beauty of the city in my mind, but it seems a little dirtier than what I remember. Only the facade of the Duomo is clean, the rest is blackened by pollution and the streets look grim and grotty. I have to remind myself that Florence is still a city and the majority of it is older than the Anglo history of Australia so you’ve got to expect a little dirt and grime.

The San Lorenzo markets are famous for cheap leather goods such as bags, belts and jackets, there is also an extensive selection of souvenirs, t-shirts and scarves. The leather jacket I had bought on a previous visit needed replacing, it was outdated and spent all of its time hanging in the back of my wardrobe. I don’t like being hassled or pressured into buying something and wanted to take my time in selecting a jacket, at Michelangelo’s store (not sure of full name) near the markets I found two jackets to my liking and whether they were a great bargain or not, the price was right for me so I bought both. I didn’t buy any handbags, surprisingly leather handbags were cheaper in Venice and I had already purchased a couple.

For our first night in Florence we dined at Antica Osteria Napul’e on via Guelfa, just down the road from Hotel Basilea. Very little english spoken and some of the menu items are a mystery to us, yet we were able to order and enjoy tasty pasta, salad and wine. We would soon discover that the ‘insalata mista’ (mixed salad) we ate that night was quite different to the ‘insalata mista’ we would be presented with throughout Italy.