Sunday, April 19, 2009
A Room with a View
This is the view from our room at the Hotel Globus in Florence -- the dome of the Medici Chapel at the Basilica di San Lorenzo. It is, I believe, the oldest church in Florence, consecrated in 393. It was a joy to wake each day and open the shutters to let in the sun. At seven am we would hear the bells begin to ring in the campanile at the Duomo, just a few blocks away. We had breakfast at the hotel every day -- a delicious buffet of fresh fruit, cereal, croissants, toast, ham and cheese, tomatoes, coffee cake and fabulous cappuccino made by the efficient and attentive Roberto.
I found the Hotel Globus back in January, when Clara arrived in Florence a day too early to move into her apartment. A woman at SACI (Studio Art Centers International) recommended it to me. They took great care of Clara then and they took great care of us this past week. (Mille grazia, Nick!) Housed in an old building but completely renovated inside, it is on Via Sant'Antonino, a few blocks from the train station and right in the middle of the market district. Clara's apartment was only a block away on the Piazza del Mercato Centrale. This is the view from her kitchen window.
The Mercato Centrale, or Central Market (on the left in the picture above), was fabulous! It is only open til 2 pm on week days, but it is filled with the most fabulous food imaginable. We bought prosciutto de Parma, buffalo mozzerella, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, foccacia and a perfectly ripe melon and had a feast at Clara's apartment. We also ate lunch in the market twice -- the first time Pete and I shared an asparagus risotto and pasta Bolognese. The second time Clara accompanied us and we all had porchetta sandwiches -- roasted pork with garlic and fennel on crusty rolls. Absolutely yummy.
The streets around the Mercato Centrale are lined with stalls selling everything imaginable -- the ever-present wooden Pinnochios, cashmere scarves, and lots and lots of leather goods. I found one dealer who had fun felted purses for sale.
We saw churches galore -- San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novello, Santa Maria del Carmine, Orsanmichele -- all filled with art by Michelangelo, Giotto, Massacio, Raffaelo, Donatello, da Vinci . . . it is amazing and overwhelming to see so much art in one place. We walked everywhere -- Florence is made for walking, although the cobblestoned streets are hard on the feet. We criss-crossed the Arno many times over the Ponte Vecchio lined with jewelry shops and lots of tourists. We did make it to the Uffizi, though we had to wait an hour and a half. My advice: make reservations to get in as soon as you decide to go. Bottecelli's Birth of Venus is well worth seeing, as is Titian's Venus of Urbino and Carravagio's Bacchus.
This is a view of Santo Spirito on the Oltrarno, the part of Florence south of the Arno.
On our last night in Florence, Clara took us to a little restaurant called Olio et Convivum on via Santo Spirito, for a spectacular meal. Olio is more than a restaurant -- it is also a gourmet grocery store and gives cooking classes. It carries the most extensive collection of olive oils in all of Italy. They have tastings -- just like for wine. We shared a plate of meats -- prosciuttos and salamis -- and a salad with warm goat cheese and frais de bois. My main course was ravioli with duck -- such tender pasta! Pete had a steak with artichokes and parmesan cheese, and Clara had roast duck with polenta. For dessert we shared a molten chocolate cake with gelato. We had a great wine -- a Brunhello -- recommended by a friend of ours. It was a memorable meal with impeccable service. I was in heaven.
It was wonderful to see Florence again, especially through our daughter's eyes. We are back to living in our construction zone, and I have a wicked cold, but the daffodils and flowering quince are blooming here. They lift my spirits, keeping me from missing the Tuscan sun and my lovely daughter too much.