Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mercato Centrale, Basilica di San Lorenzo

Up by 8:00 AM today, so that we were able to breakfast on the lower terrace at La Scaletta. It looked as though it might rain, so we grabbed our coats and headed in the general direction of Basilica di San Lorenzo, which wasn't to open until 1:30 PM, but as we were still a bit sore, we thought meandering slowly in that direction would be a good idea.

 We decided to cross at Ponte Santa Trinita, to avoid the crush at Ponte Vecchio. We walked up Via Tornobuoni ,and then to Santa Maria Novella, which we admired from outside. From there, we walked to Mercato Centrale and walked through the outdoor market first.

Outdoor market at Mercato Centrale (photo from 
(It was far more crowded than shown here, already wall-to-wall people at about 10:30 AM.)The exterior of the market is lovely, but doesn’t say ‘market.’
"Mercato centrale di firenze 11" by sailko - Own work (my camera). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -
Then we went inside, where the market's upper floor is now a kind of very upscale food court, one of the Eataly locations, with tables everywhere so that you could eat from the many mini-restaurants that make up the main part of the businesses included. There was also a shop with cookbooks, and one with soccer souvenirs. We noticed a shop selling takeaway fresh pastas and sauces, which looked wonderful; an easy option if we were ever to do an apartment rather than a hotel in Florence. We stopped for a drink at the birreria; Shawn tried a Moretti Rossa, which was very, very good, and I had a middling glass of white wine. Then we tried Piatti Vegetariani from OrtoFrutta. The dish was supposed to be a Burger Vegetariani, but there was a very small potato and lentil patty accompanied by some very good lentils, two potato fries and a lot of cooked spinach, which was, at least, prepared very well. We also bought some chocolate, as well as some honey and violet candies. We were tempted by some pistachio spread and some of the truffle pastes, as they looked delicious, but might get them at Enoteca Alessi, which is a bit less touristy.

We then walked to Basilica di San Lorenzo and toured the church and museum storing the treasures of San Lorenzo, silver reliquaries, crosses and other religious trappings. Beautiful workmanship, but no pictures allowed. We saw the tomb of Cosimo I, Lorenzo's grandfather, in a great pillar holding up the church—no symbolism there at all....

The church itself, designed by Brunelleschi, is one of the plainest in Florence,. The exterior is simple stone.
Basilica di San Lorenzo, photo by Shawn, September 2012
The interior is  all gray (serena) sandstone, white plaster, and gray and white marble, with accents of gold, but lovely in proportion and lightness.
Interior, Basilica di San Lorenzo (photo from
The church tickets also give one access to the iPad tour, which was nice as a way to learn more about some of the aspects of the building and the pieces of art within, but also distracting from the sheer beauty and majesty of it. I prefer just to walk through and look, after having read about the buildings and art within. San Lorenzo may have the most lovely sacristy I have ever seen.

We will need to return to visit the Medici Chapel and the crypt, as they were closed today. (Again, we didn’t make it on this trip, so I guess we will just have to go back.)

We next walked to Piazza Santissima Annunziata, where the Ospedale degli Innocenti is completely covered in covered scaffolding, as it is being restored. Florence wants you to return, many, many times, and it will do whatever it takes to make that happen. Still, we sat and rested our weary calves and enjoyed the breeze, so it wasn't an entirely wasted journey.

To return to La Scaletta, we walked to the back of the Duomo, and then along its south side. We braved Ponte Vecchio, which was as crowded as we have seen it. And now we are resting, though one of us more so than the other....

For dinner, we went out to Toscanella Osteria, a restaurant recommended by many on Trip Advisor. And, in this case, the many were right on the money.

Toscanella Osteria (photo from
We started with some lovely grilled thinly sliced vegetables--artichokes, zucchini, eggplant, sundried tomatoes, red peppers--dressed in olive oil, chopped garlic and parsley. Then I tried Carabaccia, a sweet onion soup with chopped almonds, which was wonderful. Shawn had Minestrone, also delicious. Then, because the food was so delicious, I had a Parmagiana di Melanzane, Eggplant Parmesan the way that it is meant to be, with 1/4 inch thick slices of eggplant, dipped in a tempura-like batter and fried until soft and golden, wrapped in a mild garlic tomato sauce, with parmigiana. Shawn had the handmade pappardelle with pesto, both of which were the best of either type that we've ever had. We had a lovely Montepulciano wine, a blend with mostly sangiovese grapes. We shared a custard tart topped with apricots and strawberries. Shawn had an espresso duppio (double espresso). We've had no bad food on this trip, but this was probably our very best meal yet.

After dinner, we walked back to La Scaletta. We went up to the terrace for an after-dinner drink of limoncello for Shawn and Montenegro Amaro for me; we’ve really become fans of amaro in general, and Montenegro in particular. I understand that they are really an acquired taste; bitter doesn’t half cover it for some brands.

Cristina joined us; we had asked if we could buy her a drink, as we were pleased to see when we arrived at the hotel that she did remember us as we had remembered her. (She was bartender at the ‘American’ bar at La Scaletta when we were last here. It’s an American bar in the sense that they primarily serve beer, wine and cocktails, rather than an Italian bar, which serves caffe,  plus all of the above and snacks. Cristina would only have a juice drink, though—a Florida, which I remember includes banana juice. We sat and chatted for more than an hour; she is a very nice college student, about 26, who lives in Scandicci, a kind of suburb of Florence  (or, according to Cristina, ‘a country town full of old people’) and who is studying the economics of culture, with the idea of working for an NGO after she earns her degree next year. Her sister worked at La Scaletta before her; apparently, though they are not twins, they look enough alike that guests sometimes mistook one for the other. We heard about how long it takes to get to work by bus (2 hours by the only reliable bus she knows) and by bicycle (40 minutes); she prefers the latter, when the weather permits, as it is much faster. We heard that her sister always wanted to do all of the driving, and so Cristina is so out of practice that her friends are a bit afraid to ride with her. She dreams of traveling to the United States once she has graduated, to visit New York City and Washington, D.C. She would like to work abroad, though she loves Florence, and agrees with us that it is magical. Perhaps I'm jaded, but only someone who has never seen NYC would want to leave Florence to visit it—I’m sorry, nieces, but Florence is my favorite city in the world. But Sara, another hotel employee who we have come to know, visited NYC for a week last year, and told Cristina that you can hail a cab anywhere, and that sounds wonderful to Cristina... (In Florence, you can easily catch a cab at the airport and at the train station, and perhaps at a few other taxi stands, but you cannot just hail one on the street. Doesn’t happen.)

It was very nice to sit and laugh with Cristina, learn a little Italian, teach a little English and Japanese (one of the hotel kitchen staff is from Japan, so Cristina was glad to learn a little bit of his language, so that she could speak to him), and feel vicariously younger ourselves, while simultaneously (at least for me) being glad to no longer be so young. Still, Cristina has her whole life ahead, and is young and full of energy; I have to acknowledge that I’m no longer as energetic as I once was, though I’m glad to be able to afford to do some of the things I want. We wish her only the best. We asked her to let us know what she thinks of NYC and Washington after she visits them; we'll have to be sure to let her know how to contact us.

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