San Spirito: Florence, Italy, Part I

 “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” ~ Giuseppe Verdi
 – Ponte Vecchio in the background –
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   “This is best pizza. This is best ice cream,” the host of our airbnb pointed at two spots on a sprawling map of Florence that we were hovering over. It was beautiful out, so sunny it hurt, and inside the charming apartment, a window was thrown open, and the yellow curtain fluttered slightly in the breeze. The wooden furniture and floor glowed warm, bronze in the golden sunlight, and on the counter, a wine bottle sat surrounded by four sparkling glasses, just waiting for Italy to begin. Milan had not felt like Italy all too much. At least not the Italy we had expected. Florence, though. “This feels much more like Italy. Oh, I love it, I hate it because it’s so beautiful and because I can’t stay. I don’t know what to do with myself,” my friend Raeven said, throwing her arms out as we walked down the sweetest little street that our apartment was on. “Can I just give the whole city a hug?” she asked.
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    And it’s what I wanted to do too. It was charming and fairy-tale-like, the narrow cobblestone streets lined with motorcycles, flowers in windowsills with laundry lines strung across the windows, colourful scarves and shirts hanging in a row. Romantic as all get out, especially by the river, and especially at night, when the lights from the city lit up the canal on both sides, casting golden and white light on the dark blue water, when the lamp posts that lined the bridges began to glow, illuminating the bridges in warm light. “That view. It’s different every night,” remarked a friend we had met who was studying abroad in Florence for the semester. And it was. Though we were only there for two and a half days, the view changed, reflected the lives of the people who lived there, the tourists, the couples. It reflected romantic walks and times with friends, the business of the river when it was used for trade, the elegant travelers parading up and down in the 1960’s, horse-drawn carriages and dove-tailed coats with brass buttons. Top hats and walking canes. It reflected remnants of wars past, in the modern additions to some of the bridges, in the old and crumbling parts of certain buildings, in the dirty and rocky cobblestone streets. Florence – it could put you in a spell.
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   “Here, Piazza di San Spirito,” our host went on, gesturing at a small blue square on the map, “lots of best restaurants here. You know, Aperitivo? Before-dinner drink? You go, get a drink, talk, eat little buffet they bring you. Is nice.” “And there,” he continued, walking over to the window and gesturing for me to come closer, “is best bakery in all of Florence.” Pointing at a tiny shop just to our left and across the street. Wide sweep of the hand. “Best. Open early in morning. Closed today.” The apartment was right down the street from little cafés, a grocery store, many cozy restaurants, a five-minute walk to the canal, a twenty-minute walk to the center of the city, six-minutes from the train station. In other words, it was perfectly located, and Florence is a very walkable city, which I loved. You just had to be careful not to get run over by a motorcyclist.
 What we did:
  • Walked a billion miles every day that somehow felt like only a few miles because there was so much to see
  • Bought reserved tickets for the Uffizi Art Gallery (home to the largest collection of Renaissance art in Europe) and the Galerie d’ Academique (home to Michelangelo’s David). (No.1)
  • Only got lost a couple times. It’s fairly easy to navigate Florence. Just orient yourself based on the river and it’s not too tricky to find most places. Also, most of the smaller streets lead out into bigger squares, so that makes life easier too.
  • Admired all the Florence leather. There’s even an Italian Leather School in Florence. Of course there is.
  • Tried to attach ourselves to various tour groups in different museums in order to hear a little bit more about the art. Attempted to look as if we belonged, and when the tour guide noticed us, turned immediately to whatever artwork was closest and examined very interestedly while still listening to the tour.
  • Took a billion pictures, mostly trying to mimic as many statues as possible.
  • Walked all around the Boboli Gardens, at first just to wander and enjoy, and then after a few hours, to find the exit. (No. 4)
  • Heard a free organ concert in this beautiful church tucked away from the main street. Ave Maria, Sheep May Safely Graze, Toccata and Fugue. It was so beautiful and peaceful, the candles burning inside and the grandeur of the organ.
 What we saw:
  • Il Duomo: one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. (No.2)
  • Ceiling art and Renaissance Art and every kind of art in the Uffizi Art Gallery
  • Michelangelo’s David. (No. 1)
  • Beautiful Italian men
  • Italian leather everywhere – purses, belts, bracelets, journals, you name it. Stalls and stalls of leather products all around the city.
  • Lights on the water at nighttime, the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge all lit up.
  What we ate:
  • Who can forget all the gelato we ate. (No. 3)
  • The most wonderful pasta I’ve ever had at a restaurant in the Piazza di San Spirito. Spaghetti Marinara. Simple on the menu and on the plate, but oh, so spicy, rich tomato sauce, basil leaves, and garlic.
  • Cappuccinos and cookies at café down the street from our apartment. Shortbread hearts dipped in chocolate. Coffee eclairs, and round cookies filled with jam.
  • Margaritas, Happy Hour: Margarita Bar. Tiny, hidden, basement place, with every kind of fruit margarita. “Peach and Pepper?” I asked the waiter, “Is it spicy?” “No, no,” he was quick to reassure, “We put only un poco, very very little pepper.” He was wrong. It was so spicy. Good, but fiery.
  • Tomato and Mozzarella sandwiches at the tiniest shop next to the Royal Palace. (No. 5)
  • Fresh stone-baked pizza at the San Lorenzo Food Market. (No. 6)
  • A tiny little Nutella Cannoli at a tiny little bakery. It was covered in sprinkles and just a little bit bigger than my pinkie finger.
  • Pasta with salmon at a restaurant just off of the street where we were staying
 The numbers?
I’ll be following up with Snapshots for each – stay tuned!
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