Monday 6 August 2018

Feasting in Florence

Oh Florence, before I arrived I had visions of pizza, domos, gelato and glamourous olive skinned girls with long rich luscious hazelnut hair and yes it is all that but much more …. and much more expensive!

Courtesy of our ever trigger happy fingers we booked an apartment with My Florence Holiday Apartments are sleek, modern and fabulously situated. This was July and in the blistering Tuscan heat the added benefit of air con was particularly welcomed. So, too, was the double balcony which we took full advantage of after a day of sightseeing, sipping a cold (true) Peroni …. absolute heaven! These apartments offered real value for money; their location was next door to the Santa Croce church (allegedly founded by Saint Francis himself) and piazza and in my view, a great place to people watch. Our apartment cost around £650 for the week in high season and could sleep two to three. It also had added benefits, such as a very modern and well-equipped kitchen, including spider burners on the hobs, coffee machine and breakfast bar. Oh, and the area is perfect for nightcaps or eating out. Conad supermarket is a stone’s throw away and the delightfully named Fuk Cocktail bar is just on the doorstep for Negroni’s and Aperol Spritzing.

Florence is a walkable city; everything is within stumbling distance, however, as little alleyways trickle into side streets and cafĂ© culture assails your senses, make sure you are wearing a sensible pair of shoes! The ground is hot and my feet were swollen and after pounding the cobbles, I certainly need to take a rest. Naturally, the ‘touristy’, must see places take precedence (according to the guidebooks, anyway). The Duomo obviously really popular but the queues … bloody hell! If you really must visit, make sure to pre-book but even then, you’ll still be waiting longer than for a Northern train … though I’m told it’s well worth it) There are, of course, renaissance museums galore but for me, just wandering the streets was a cultural experience, with statues dotting the streets (with not overly impressive genitalia on show) but fuck, who am I kidding here? I came for the food, the glorious food! Not hot sausages and mustard but more sausages in a plump velvety, garlic tomato sauce.

Perhaps the first place most people want to see is the Ponte Vecchio but trust me on this one, you need to go there when the sun sets and not in the middle of the day, being jostled by thousands of other tourists. You are far better eating a gelato (and it simply must be pistachio!) when the sun pokes out through the arches and glistens against the leather and jewellery shops, reflected perfectly in the river below. Anywaayyyy, I wholeheartedly recommended a trip to the food market, the Mercato Centrale. Downstairs you’ll find the incessant yelling whilst traders and restaurant chef’s barter for the best price of the day’s finest catch and slaughter. Whilst you can get some very local dishes for next to nothing, head upstairs for the next generation of food ‘marketism’ … a new word that I’ll definitely be using a lot.

Myriad stalls littered with amazing treats, all freshly cooked from the food hub below (just in a far more elegant fashion, you see) sit on a stool, order whatever you like and in the blistering Tuscan heat (god bless air conditioning) order a Sardinian craft lager and gorge on delicious Italian specialities. Mine being a hollowed out, freshly baked baguette with homemade beef meatballs infused with oregano and the most delicious marinara sauce. Hangover food it may be but it tasted like heaven. You can also observe potential culinary masters in the making with the cooking school on site. There is also fresh seafood, meats, pizza’s and deserts …. Indeed, a mouth-watering experience for everyone.

And of course, we ate pizza, usually in a large square shape, with outlets littered about around the central city zone. Back home, any of these would be seen as exceptional but are just the norm for Florence. Move on a little bit out of the centre and go for a stroll; roam the side streets, get lost in the ‘localness’ and gradually you find houses are bigger, walls are higher, trees are taller and green spaces abound. We discovered this as we walked towards the Visarno arena to watch Jamiroquai and stopped outside a little hip joint called Fosso Bandito, a bar, pizzeria, galleria and art space combined. I read an article that said anyone who has lived in the city for a while longs for his ‘green lung’ and I felt Fosso Bandito satisfied just that. I could breathe, I could smile, I could eat and plonk my behind on one of those plush ottomans, where I could sweat off the late afternoon Tuscan sun. Gratifyingly, the pizzas are cooked in a proper, wood-fired oven. It is magical around here, with families promenading hand in hand, people on bikes or rollerblades and the sun reflecting off the Tuscan hills, painting everyone in a warm, golden glow. We were enticed into many a side street, where we might order a bottle of the local Chianti, eat Steak Florentine and sit, tired but happy, after the seemingly endless wandering of the day. We would amuse ourselves just by being able to people watch, to stare, to Instagram our culinary delights and to chat about how insanely beautiful everything was. Those are happy memories, the ones I cherish, along with the late evening nightcaps, sipping a cold, cold beer and where if there was any breeze at all, it was a glorious relief from the close heat of the day.

But there are many memories that are less vivid and a little hazy. I blame the sun! An Aperol Spirtz or two in The Joshua Tree pub and several Negronis in a bar which I don’t remember the name of! Allegedly I began talking to myself along the Ponte Vecchio (or so my husband insists!) but what I do remember of that fun day was that as the sun started to dip, everything came back into focus, a symphony of philharmonic music abounded along the main square. Close your eyes and you could be at the opera! My God, it was magic!

So go to Florence, wander, get lost, eat a pizza/gelato, have a Negroni, drink some wine but most importantly just look around you and absorb the magic of this beautiful city. 

We flew to Pisa with Jet2 from Manchester Airport and took the bus to central Florence. 

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