When I think of Italy, I am really thinking about wine and Italian food and maybe art, as an afterthought. I had three goals in Florence – find a good ‘vino sfuso’ (bulk wine) place, get a loaded panini and go to the Uffizi gallery.
Our local vino sfuso sold wine for 2.40 EUR/Liter… you can’t really go wrong there. If you didn’t have your own bottle you could buy one for 0.60 EUR but we just kept whatever bottle we had been drinking from during the day and refilled it for our evening wine. They offered four organic wines – a specialty red, a table white and red and a rose. Of course, all were from the Tuscany region and we tried all three with the white being our favourite. We returned to the small shop daily and got to know the friendly owner a bit. Everything in his shop is produced on his family’s farm in Tuscany. On our last day we finally made it early enough that he hadn’t sold out of bread (most of which is reserved before it even gets to the shelves) and were glad we did. Undeniably one of the best loafs of bread I had ever tried.
If you go to Florence, be sure to stop by here: Fattoria San Michele a Torri (Via dell’Agnolo, 101).
I never ate sandwiches as a teenager, nothing about lettuce, tomato, and ham with mayonnaise on soggy tasteless bread appealed to me (and still doesn’t). But what I didn’t realize – and only learned when I first visited Italy years ago – is that a sandwich could be much more than that. We found a popular panini shop near where we were staying and indulged in an amazing meal for only 4 EUR. You could chose from a menu or make your own sandwich and I opted to do the latter. For meat, I chose fennel salami which is supposedly famous in the Florence region and for toppings I chose grilled eggplants, sun-dried tomatoes, and grilled peppers with a spicy tomato chili spread. The bread was a crunchy thin panini and grilled with the ingredients to perfection. Dan got one loaded with four types of meat! Both were delicious and we came back for another round the next day. It was interesting to note how the shop was popular with locals and tourists alike – there was a half and half mix of Italian and American-English throughout the tables.
Similar to the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums, the Uffizi is a complete joke when it comes to ticket pre-sales. First off, although I already stated my outrage with this in our Rome post, you actually have to print the e-ticket. We got ripped off buying our tickets from www.uffizi.org which is NOT the official website (even if it looks like it) and paid an extra 2 EUR on top of the ticket price and the 4 EUR reservation fee. Paying the 4 EUR reservation fee is almost unavoidable to enter the Uffizi, even if you show up and buy tickets at the door you are almost always buying them for a later time and the fee is charged; therefore, I have no idea why they don’t just raise the ticket price by 4 EUR. Additionally, once your tickets are reserved you are given a time and ten minutes before that time (not a minute more) you have to wait in a line to pickup your actual tickets. You are then allowed to walk over to the entrance and enter the gallery. What a joke.
I read that many people find the gallery “boring” without an audio guide as there isn’t much commentary inside. I thus coughed up 6 EUR (which is an outrageously high price for what you get) for an audio guide – cash payments only. Once inside, I quickly noted there is plenty of descriptions in the different rooms of the art and the audio guide isn’t much more informative, and in some cases actually less informative than reading the various signs. Plus you have to hold it to your ear like a telephone (no headphones provided) which is becomes tiresome as well as being awkward.
While this wasn’t one of my original goals, it became one shortly after seeing it advertised everywhere: go out for aperitivos. Apertivos are essentially the Italian version of happy hour – except it’s not just a drink, it also includes a buffet of appetizers. We found a popular spot near us and I enjoyed a glass of Proseco, Dan a beer, while we nibbled on our unlimited supply of delicious Italian dishes. Our buffet offered over 20 dishes and there was no limit to how many times you could refill your small plate with everything from mini pizza slices to grilled veggies to rice and pasta salads and more.
The most powerful and central building in Florence is Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or Il Duomo di Firenze shortened to “Duomo” and can’t be missed while walking through the small city center. Work on the cathedral began in 1296 in Gothic Style although wasn’t completed until 1436. The exterior is beautiful and stands out with its white, green and pink marble panels. Entrance to the church is free although we never made it in, on multiple occasions we weren’t appropriately dressed and the one time we did dress-up, we arrived after it had closed.
Another view of the Duomo which really allows you to take in it’s massive size is from Piazzale Michelangelo. The square is dedicated to the Renaissance sculptor it is named after and in his honour are bronze copies of some of his marble works found elsewhere in Florence: the David and the four allegories of the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo.