The Fresh Florence Air

After spending the morning inside museums, Hubby and I were ready for some fresh air, even if that meant cold fresh air that tried to lift your skirts. (Tell me again…why do grown men wear kilts in windy Ireland? It makes no sense.)

Leaving the Bargello, we wandered over to the Loggia dei Lanzi with: yep, more statues. You can circle Hercules as he wrestles a centaur. Admire the Medici lions. Wonder why women are cast as victims. (Until you remember “Florence Triumphant Over Pisa” and maintain constant respect for your hostess.) And yes – I told you so! – there is Perseus himself, holding the head of Medusa. No wonder this place is full of statues, she’s the beginning and the end of the whole place. Percy stands in the Loggia, at the edge of the Piazza della Signoria, where we decided to take our afternoon tea break.

Sitting in the terrace, I poured a proper cup of loose leaf darjeeling – it cost seven euros – while newlyweds passed us in a horse-drawn carriage. Neptune’s fountain was across the way, undergoing renovations. A tourist in a green-striped shirt walked by, wrestling with his gelato cone. A small child held his parent’s hand, toting a Mickey Mouse pack on his back.

If there’s one thing I know for certain, this was no fake Neverland.

Florence never faked a thing in her life, thank you very much.

To continue our stroll towards the Arno River, we passed between the Uffizi Galleries, a final set of museums that we would have no hope of seeing at this late hour. Inside, Florence kept her painters: Botticelli, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, the list goes on. It is, perhaps, the heart of Florence. Her poetry. I imagine I would be lost in the first frame, listening to the eloquent genius pulsing from it.

We emerged onto the glittering waterfront, shaking off the shadows of Uffizi and picking up the energetic  bustle of tourists heading towards the Ponte Vecchio. This famous bridge is not quite what I had imagined after all the hoopla, but it had it’s charm. Padlocks are strung along the railing, in the tradition of “love locks”: names of sweethearts and/or dates are etched onto the locks, the locks are attached to the bridge and the key thrown into the river. Apparently, this only began in the early 2000’s after a book depicted the idea and it spread world-wide. It represents an unbreakable love.

Where I come from, it represents vandalism. Good grief, get a tattoo and save the fish.

Florence threw out 5,500 love locks from the Ponte Vecchio in 2006 alone. There is a strict fine for attaching one, but let me just show you this:

Ahem, Benvenuto Cellini does not approve.

I’ve dubbed Ponte Vecchio the “Yellow Brick Road” because, per the1593 edict of the Medici Grand Dukes, all they sell is gold jewelry there. The windows glow. Let me just show you this:

But I wasn’t in the market. We grabbed a gelato and got going.

At the sun began to settle, we worked our way over the Arno and up a side street. We wanted to view the sunset on our last day in Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo, a large raised plateau. It was the first thing farther than we expected it to be and did not anticipate the amount of steep steps it took to reach the top.

We arrived hot and bothered but the view was worth it. I understand the sunset here changes all during the year, Florence turning this way and that, catching the light and playing it over her curves. Her mood tonight was subtle, blushing over the river, softening rooftops, reducing the wind to a soft warm sigh.

A bronze copy of David enjoyed the sight with us. It’s fitting that they surrounded him with permanent green groupies. After seeing the real deal, nothing less is interesting.

We bought souvenirs there on the piazza, because at this point, the street vendors seemed like old friends. A couple of T-shirts later, an apron, a scarf, we returned down the steps and back into town in search of pizza for dinner.

Hubby by now had strict pizza rules: ten flavors is not adequate, but twenty choices means business. It must say “Pizzeria” on the door and offer outside seating in an actual lane of traffic. The prices must be reasonable, using the Costco standard. It must have “atmosphere” if at all possible.

Florence knew just the place. Which was great, because by now I was ready to kill him.

I had a nice big glass of red wine when we were seated, which means I had a half a pizza in a take-away box when we left for our hotel. I can eat or I can drink, not both. We wandered down the first narrow street that headed in the right direction and ran smack into the college district.

All of Florence’s twenty-somethings were enjoying the pubs along this particular street, standing in groups, chatting and enjoying the evening. We walked at least a mile and never saw a single person drunk, rowdy, or raising a voice. Florence kept it cosmopolitan classy.

“We should have eaten here!” Hubby said.

“Well, considering that we have been married longer than these kids have been alive,” I pointed out, “I feel we chose wisely.”

I took his hand.

If I had to choose being single and twenty-anything in Florence, hanging out with the cool people, or being fabulous five-oh in Florence, hanging out with my beloved on the world’s most amazing 30th Anniversary trip to Actual Italy….there’s no competition.

I wouldn’t trade this night for anything.

Abridged Florence When you’re a pizza snob. Looking back towards the tea. Duck! That’s gotta hurt.

Welcome to Sorrento, Italy

We took a bullet train from Rome to Naples. From the Naples train station, we took a metro to the port after walking up three flights of stairs and around a glorious castle. Luggage in tow. From the port, we took a ferry across the bay to a bus to our hotel in Sorrento.

Getting there is half the fun.

Picture the bay like La Jolla. A massive crescent holds it, with Naples at one tip and Sorrento at the other. These two cities are like comparing Los Angeles to San Diego. You will arrive in LA, but you know you want to stay in San Diego. I may be a little opinionated, here, but what can I say? It’s the same with Naples and Sorrento.

As you cross on the ferry, taking in the beautiful overview, you are being watched by a Presence. Brooding in the center of this curve, crater gaping, is Mt Vesuvius. The sunshine takes nothing away from the dramatic black hillside that slopes to the bay. Because you know what’s under it.

Certainly, it was prime real estate and still there is a townscape at its base and along the shore. We are going to tour it. Absolutely it will be an exciting place to visit and absolutely you don’t want to live there.

Arriving in Sorrento is an experience. The ferry has parked at the foot of the Cliffs of Insanity. You can see the town up there, sparkling with promise. There are three ways to reach it. First, you can hop on a little bus that will climb the road for you. This is what we did. Because second, you can walk it yourself pulling your effects behind you and gaining buns and thighs of steel. Or blisters of lava. Whatever. Third, there is an elevator hidden so well, that unless you are an intrepid explorer with nothing better to do, you will never find. I have placed the treasure map below for you, in case you ever arrive in Sorrento yourself.

You’re welcome.

Our hotel room was much larger than that in Rome, with a little balcony that let me watch the traffic go by: busses and limos with tourists, horse-drawn buggies working the plaza, a few locals trying to get to work. The street is too narrow for two-way traffic plus pedestrians…you don’t get a sidewalk and you hop into a storefront when you need to duck sideways.

The wee hub of Sorrento is delicious. Everything is a shade of yellow, the buildings, the light. It feels small, cozy and relaxing. I suppose there’s a little feel of being on Catalina Island, with the harbor below, the mountains around the backside. You can stroll down the main street (Corso Italia), closed to cars, in about twenty casual minutes. It’s lined with designer storefronts and pizzerias, perfumeries, jumbled souvenir shops, gates to museum gardens, and pubs.

But if you really want to shop, move one alley over. Or two. The narrow mazes take you up and down between the main street and the cliff. You can’t get lost, so lose yourself in delight: the smell of fresh leather purses, the dazzle of bright yellow limoncello shops, soft breezy blue linen clothing, the sound of clinking glasses from al fresco restaurant tables.

Now it’s time to sit down and put something ridiculously fabulous in your mouth. We found two spots along the main street that were so good we became life fans on day one. The first is a spot that began as a gelateria and expanded into a restaurant of sorts. We ordered a margherita pizza and one with smoked mozzarella, ham, and funghi. It was mushroom season in Italy and everywhere we went, the porcini was fat and buttery and knock-your-socks off good. Italians do not mess around with cheese. Cheese is art. Fresh, smoked mozzarella puts to shame anything America has ever plopped onto a pizza.

Which reminds me: you are supposed to eat pizza with a fork and knife. The crust is very thin, salty, chewy, and crispy where the wood oven kissed it. It reminds me of when my sisters and I used to warm tortillas over the open flame of our stovetop gas burner and snatch it off just before the bubbles began to burn. So. Good. Cooks go very light on the tomato sauce and seem to prefer sun-dried tomatoes to fresh everywhere, which surprised me.

If you wander a little further out in Sorrento, you will find their prize lemon trees, guarded and shaded from the hot summer sun. Sorrento is all about lemons in general and limoncello in specific. Samples are handed out with reverence, little shot glasses of liquid gold. There are ancient olive groves cliffside and the twisted old trees have green and black netting snaked around the trunks in preparation for the upcoming harvest. The olive oil is primo but the limoncello is specialty of the house.

Which brings me back to our table.

We ordered gelato while staring at a display case that overflowed with pastries, tarts, chocolates, flavored meringues, baba au rum, croissants, enough to know that once again, you weren’t going to be able to eat it all.

It’s heartbreaking.

The gelato was superb. But I have to tell you about the other gelato place, too. Because there is a red velvet throne outside the door and the walls inside are completely covered in photos and the people in there are not interested in the tourist experience, they are interested in gelato that is so good, you should be thanking them that they are even open and selling you any.

Later, I am going to write you an entire post on nothing but gelato.

Meanwhile, here are some photos. The first was taken around 9am – in the morning – and sums up my entire Italian experience. Glorious.

From the dock, find a tiny obscure walkway up tight against the cliff and head west. Follow behind private beaches to the elevator, 2 euros each.