Florence. Wandering, shopping and the world's most impressive sunset
Day two in Florence began with me steeling my stomach for another serving of disappointment for breakfast. As usual, we didn’t learn from our mistakes and trusted the forces of random. But today was another day. And Panificio Palatresi Di Palatresi Luigi & C. Snc was another story in cheap eats. Oh, the food was heavenly and I wanted to eat everything behind the glass shelf. The signore at the store was tall, handsome and cheery. He didn’t mind us taking our time to decide. I think his name is Umberto - if my google stalking is of any help. But I do know this is the address Borgo Ognissanti, 102, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy. We also picked up some biscotti and a handful of pastries. We were cheaping the eats with a vengeance.
More wandering during the day. Walking in and out of stores. Picking up all kinds of souvenirs. Suddenly it was warm enough for gelato - coincidentally when we were right outside Smallzi il Gelataria. Please have their Chianti wine flavoured gelato. It’s the very definition of mmmmm-hmmmm! Other places to try the gelato - Grom, Gelateria dei Neri, Gelateria Perchè No, Gelateria Cillo and La Strega Nocciola and of course, dear old Venchi.
With all the crowds around the Duomo, you’re likely to miss this little gem. The L’Antica Cantina del Chianti is like walking into food wonderland. Rows of spices, liqueurs, pasta, wines, cold cuts, cheeses and a cheery elf of a girl helping you out. It was a veritable Tuscan Christmas store - even the lighting of the place is designed to fill your heart. We picked up armloads of wine, amaretto, picante, proscuitto and of course, limoncello.
My cousin wanted to purchase some leather goods. Florence is swarming with leather outlets. And once you touch Italian leather, everything else feels like animal intestines. After walking in and out of shops, he finally hit gold at Leonardo Leather. If you’re looking for souvenirs, these are some things you might like. Some of the shops are hewn right into the ground that it feels like you're stepping into a cave of wonders. Mind your head though - the entrance roof hangs really low. And this is coming from a 5 foot (precious little more) nothing person.
Florentine Stationery. The Il Papiro outlets have the cutest things paper has ever been, since the beginning of its career as papyrus parchments in the hands of random pharaoh people. We picked up a calligraphy pen with some scented ink - nothing like learning a new skill to remember a trip by.
Leather. The Scuola del Cuoio is THE place to go to for leather. I wish we knew this back then. This leather school is literally a piece of Floretine heritage. You can also watch the students learn their craft. It won’t be cheap, but you can be assured that it’s genuine. You’ll find it inside the cathedral of Santa Croce. The school was started after World War II, by the monks to teach orphans a skill with the patronage of the Gori and Casini families. Of course there are a million other places to pick up leather. Mannina makes customised changes for your feet making you feel like Cinderella.
Ceramics. Florentine ceramics add a pop of joy wherever they are. Le Mie Ceramiche workshop, Ceramica Ricceri, Ceramiche Artistiche Migliori, Dalila Chessa are great places to get a feel of the craft. Or you can just buy it off the street like I did.
Beauty Products. The Santa Maria Nouvella pharmacy or Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella has been creating beauty products from the 16th century. That’s plenty expertise in the field if you ask me. They also have a lovely range of liqueurs, mints, teas and specialty foods. You can also find Florentine soaps just about anywhere including the average pharmacy.
Jewellery. Across Florence you can see jewellers behind their craft desk bent over creating beauty. A far cry from the giant gaudy stores you have in Kerala.
Food. Chianti wine (I can vouch for the Santa Margherita brand), biscotti, balsamic vinegar, spices. Proscuitto (yum) Truffle oil. Truffle honey. Truffle pasta. Truffle salt. Truffle cheese. Liqueurs - grappa, amaro, LIMONCELLO in their beautiful bottles. Mostardes - fruit chutneys and compotes to make your wine and cheese parties a little more interesting. Espresso. Leone candy with their cute boxes are a great gift and makes a better fridge magnet after you’ve emptied out their contents.
Pinnochio merchandise. Pinnochio has its roots in Florence. And everywhere you go, you’re sure to find pencils, puppets, wine stoppers, books and a whole lot of other paraphernalia dedicated to Geppeto’s wooden puppet who wanted to become a real boy.
Haute Couture. Via dei Calzaiuoli has all the big names.
Ponte Vecchio. If you can brave the crowds, I’m sure this old Renaissance bridge (the only one in Florence to survive the World War), will reward you with beautiful, if expensive things.
Typical stuff. Along with the standard fare of magnets - including ones of just David's jewels for your perky friend - you'll find other Italian motifs in Florence. Murano glass items, Venetian Masks, soaps, vintage postcards, etc.
L'Arte dei Ciompi. This store is so cute that it deserves a section all to itself. Handcafted and cute, you'll want to live in that store. The store owner is very friendly and attends to you patiently even if you end up taking just a postcard. But trust me, you'll end up picking a lot more.
After a day of moseying around Florence’s postcard-perfect stores, we were ready for the walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo and its beautiful views. The walk is not easy. On second thoughts, it’s actually not that hard. But after a day of being on your feet, the climb can leave you panting, red in the face and with scant patience for the scamsters who approach you for “war on drugs” donations, while calling you Sri Lankan. If walking isn’t your scene, you can also catch the ATAF orange city bus number 12 or 13 to get to the Piazzale.
Stay for dusk at the Piazzale Michaelangelo. Take a bottle of wine and something to munch on. Dusk is a verb in Florence. An act of a silken robe made of purple light, falling on dimpled shoulders. It’s like everything in Florence was built for this hour. A carefully constructed magic trick, with every building, angled to carve light like the cuts of a giant prism. As you sit munching on warm chestnuts, you squander the stuff of your heart as the early autumnal buttery Tuscan sunlight turns everything into a gasp of sepia and magnificence. The moment of reckoning that makes worthwhile your cheap airplane seats, the long flight, the lugging of heavy luggage and your clear and present aching feet. A glass of wine on the parapet catches a stray beam of sunlight and makes all kinds of drunken promises - and you believe them.
Couples sitting on the parapet, go at each other’s mouths with the hunger of a thousand famines. And you believe them. The singer singing INXS’ “Never tear us apart” like he’s singing just for you, because most of the Despacito generation doesn’t know this one - and you believe him. And David wearing his heart on his nonexistent, butt-naked sleeve, trying to convince you, that he always had earnest intentions. And Florence below, touched by Midas’ fumbling hands, glowing and promising you a magical moonrise. You believe her. Despite the cold that’s mounting slowly. You promise to wait, like a smitten lover. We stepped into one of the expensive cafes for a drink. And in a beat or two, a torrent comes from nowhere. It’s mayhem, because the Piazzale isn’t designed for shelter from the rain. The rain lasted right through the dusk and well into nightfall. We left the warmth of the cafe and straight into the chilly evening. To a damp, freezing Florence with absolutely no moon in sight.
The day had been warm, so I’d forgotten to carry a jacket. Bad decision. The rain made a freezing wet blanket of things and we were dying. In Italy, NEVER MAKE MOONRISE PLANS WITHOUT A JACKET IN OCTOBER. The cold took precedence over everything. Nevermind that Florence had turned on all the lights and had transformed into a warm bokeh of yellow orbs. Nevermind that Florence had turned on several carats worth of sparkle. All we cared for was a cab. Our hands were too numb to fish out the camera - a thing I will have to live with for the rest of my days. The sky was overcast and no moon witchery was on schedule for that night. We were competing with over 30 other frozen tourists for a cab. And we got a couple (we were a big group) so fast that we deserved a medal. Our cabbie was a nice man who charged us nothing extra. But our cousins weren’t so lucky - their cabbie charged them an extra 7 Euros for convenience top-up or something.
We piled on some warm clothing and set out in the direction of La Scarpetta. Signore Arthuro was making us lasagna. And Lasagna wasn’t even on the menu. This was specially made for us. It was all <kisses on bunched fingertips> Our frozen insides smiled and unfurled the feelings a meadow feels on a warm sunny day. The limoncello grew yellow flowers along our nerve endings. Ah, we were happy. Florence kept a few promises, after all.