The San Giovanni Gang Sees Firenze

Saturday, 14 ottobre 2006

While in the Mercato Centrale, I picked up several items to bring home with me, including a bottle of limoncello, Toscanelli and Borlotti beans, dried porcini mushrooms, and a couple of different varieties of dried pasta.

On the way back to the Hotel, we walked through the huge street market that surrounds the San Lorenzo church area and shopped a bit. Many of the vendors were selling the same merchandise – mostly leather goods and a lot of fake cashmere/silk scarves. I ended up buying an red cloth mirrored shoulder bag made in India, but I liked it better than the fancy leather bags and it was practical. You are expected to negotiate, which I don’t care for, and I am a terrible skeptic about anyone trying to sell me anything so shopping in these markets was not my cup of tea.

One thing I noticed about Florence was that anywhere that catered to tourists was penis-crazy, due to all the nude statues. There were lots of aprons and boxer shorts that had prints of just David’s torso or genitalia and even bags of penis-shaped pasta. This got old quickly and I found myself silently telling everybody to grow up. I’m not a prude, but reducing David to a penis joke at every corner was not so funny after seeing the real thing.

At the Hotel San Giovanni, we were joined by Shirley and Teresa for an afternoon of strolling around Firenze. Some of the others were spending their day seeing the famous museums, and Rosemary opted for a walk in the Boboli Gardens. Our plan was to find a certain street that Charlie recommended and have lunch at a rosticceria there. On the way, we stopped in the Piazza dell Signoria, which was the next best place to go if you were missing the museums, to get our bearings and to take in the crowds. Two sets of brides and grooms came to the Loggia di Lanzi to get their photographs made. I didn’t notice the bride, who looks like she’s getting ready to throw her bouquet, in the photo above until I got home.

Then Sandino insisted that we pose with Cupid, one of the living statues in the Uffizi courtyard, for a photo.

Rosticceria di Fedra e Daniele was very small and there were no seats available, which was a problem for me with my foot misery. Teresa bugged out because she only had one day in Firenze and was eager to explore and shop on her own (I would’ve done the same!). Just after she left, a table became free and we had a great, inexpensive lunch. The rosticceria has a display case like a deli – you pick out what you want and they bring it to the table. Sandino and I both had pesce (fish) with a tomato sauce – I had carciofi (artichokes) and he had peas and potatoes for sides. Deb was thrilled with her porcini mushrooms, which she discovered were flavored with an herb called nepitelle from friendly Fedra. Later we would find that this herb grew wild all over Spannocchia. Across the street (Via di’ Neri) they operate All’antico Vinaio, when you can sample wine for two euros per glass.

We wandered over the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palazzo, where we ate our overpriced pistachio gelati sitting on the low wall next to the street, and headed back by way of Santa Croce. By this time I was truly suffering and begged everyone to leave me behind, but they wouldn’t! When we stopped at a thrift store on a back street, there was a little shoe store next door, and I went in and bought a pair of walking shoes. I was embarrassed that I had been reduced to wearing my ratty old sneakers that I brought to wear on the farm, since I’ve read that Americans are immediately identified by their athletic shoes and their weight in Italy. These 25 euro shoes turned out to be my favorite purchase in Italy. With a couple of heel inserts, I had much less pain, and I felt less self-conscious. I don’t know what I was thinking to bring only clogs and sandals.

I stopped at a glass and crystal artist’s shop on the way back, and broke my rule about buying any more little glass birds. I used to collect glass paperweights, and stopped in my effort to simplify and collect less dust. Funny, I like birds when they are glass, or at least five feet away from me.

That evening with Deb and Randy, we went out to Trattoria di Botticello, one of the outdoor trattorias that we passed the night before. This place had an English tourist menu that included a primi, secondo, and side dish with a few Americanized dishes for twelve euros. The waiter here seemed to understand and accommodate Americans without being condescending. I went off the tourist menu, wanting a more authentic Italian experience, and they ended up charging me the same lower price. It balanced out some of our more negative food bill experiences, and I was grateful for that. Plus, the ravioli con neci (with nut cream sauce) and scallopini di porcini (veal with porcini mushrooms) was delicious! So now I can tell Dr. Melton that I had the veal. There was a little trio of accordion, violin, and saxophone playing on the square and it seemed so…Italian.

I slept fitfully that night, and when I slept I dreamt of packing. So I rose early, packed, and Sandy and I ordered breakfast in our room – croissants, coffee and orange juice. We went back to the San Lorenzo Market again, for Sandy to buy a chess set and I bought a couple of scarves for presents. (There was one very important thing that I forgot to buy while I was in Florence – guess what it was.) Then eight of the nine San Giovanni Gang members left for the airport together in two taxis, where we would meet our bus for Spannocchia. The second taxi passed the first, and charged its passengers 10 euros more than ours. We figured that was why he wanted to get there first, so he’d be leaving by the time we compared fares.

The airport food was the opposite of Greensboro airport food – actually quite good and reasonably priced. You could get a panini sandwich with prosciutto and formaggio for less than 4 euros. A plain hot dog, however, was offered starting at 4.50 and more for condiments, for those who missed outrageous U.S. airport cuisine, I guess.

We wouldn’t have to worry much about what to eat for the next week though…

To be continued…

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