Monthly Archives: September 2015

Giardino di Villa Strozzi

We hit the city park jackpot today with our walk to Giardino di Villa Strozzi, located on the southwest side of Firenze.  Tidier and greener than the other two parks we visited, this one has beautiful pathways, benches and play spaces for kids and dogs.

strozzi walk 1

About two miles and a hundred steps up from our apartment, the park provided a perfect spot for a lovely view of the city.

strozzi walk florence view

Seeing open doors on an interesting building in the middle of the park, we peeked in and were delighted to find an Italian design exhibit.  Although the exhibit wasn’t open until the next day, the director welcomed us and invited us to look around.

strozzi walk source

We met an interesting group of young film makers from England and Germany who were documenting the exhibit.  A few years ago, they formed a company, Tell Us Your Stories,  to identify and tell positive stories that inspire people to build bridges and live in harmony.

strozzi walk film group

I had a fun Italian encounter before we went for our walk.   After getting advance museum tickets at the Orsanmichele ticket window, I answered questions from a number of people standing in line behind me about what tickets were available and how to purchase them.  The people were Italian and knew about as many English words as I know in Italian, but with the help of gestures and pointing to signs, we were able to communicate just fine.

strozzi walk ticket line

Vogue Fashion Night Italy was in Firenze tonight.  I have never seen so many very thin, very well-dressed people in one place before.  It was a great people-watching night.  Photographers and a huge entourage followed a woman in a green dress.  I found out later she was Franca Sozanni, editor-in-chief of Vogue Italy.

Vogue fashion night

Paul ordered pasta with wild boar sauce, a Tuscan specialty, for dinner tonight.  It was pretty good, not wild tasting at all.

wild boar pasta

Giardino dell’Orticoltura

We took a little hike out of Florence to the Giardino dell”Orticoltura, the horticulture garden.   The most beautiful part of the garden was the greenhouse.

horticulture park-conservatory

Although the reality of he garden did not quite measure up to the lovely pictures and descriptions online, our hike took us through parts of Firenze that most tourists don’t see.  I’m not sure what this sign means, but I am guessing there is a story here.

Horticulture park sign road

About a half mile before we came to the park, we crossed this little piazza, Piazza della Liberta, in the middle of a highway.

Horticulture park piazza della liberta

We see bikers everywhere in Firenze but most of the roads are very narrow and biking seems a bit risky here.  So, it was surprising to see a dedicated bike lane on our walk home.

Horticulture park-bike lane

Cascine Park

Today we took a break from city life and hiked to Parco della Cascine, the largest park in Firenze.

casceine park trail deb

Like almost everything else in Firenze, the park has a long history.  It began in 1563 as a hunting and farming estate for the Medici family.  In the 18th century beautiful architectural features were added such as a pyramid-shaped ice house and lovely fountains.

casceine fountain

The long, narrow park borders the Arno river on its south bank.

casceine park arno river

On Tuesday mornings, the park is home to the largest outdoor market in Firenze.  Although we got to the park as the market was closing, we got a taste of what it offered-pretty much everything.  Almost a kilometer long, it seemed to go on forever.

casceine market

It is convenient for Florentines to get most of what they need in one place at the markets.  The Cascine market was definitely for locals, not tourists.  We didn’t see one mini-David statue or fridge magnet.

casceine market birds

On our way home we found a shop selling limone granitas, our new favorite Italian treat.

casceine limon

The near-by Piazza di San Pier Maggiore comes into its glory at night.  We have walked through this modest, little piazza many times during the day and never gave it much attention.  When we walked through it tonight, we felt like we were in a different piazza; dining tables, candle light, street singers and people everywhere.

maggiore piazza 2 maggiore piazza


San Miniato Church

Atop a hill on the south side of the Arno river, the lovely 11th century San Miniato Church overlooks Firenze and offers a wonderful view of the city.

San Miniato view of Florence

The church is named for St. Minias who, according to legend, was beheaded on the banks of the Arno river in A.D. 250 and then picked up his head and walked to the site of the church where he died.  His remains are buried in the church.  The outside of the church is beautiful green and white marble.

San Miniato outside

The inside of the church is beautiful.

San Miniato inside

We were able to walk around the different parts of the church.  Just as I finished dropping some coins in the offering box in the Sacristy, a priest in white robes rang a bell and rushed in to the room to put on his vestments.  Those of us in the room left and waited outside until he was finished.  He was about ten minutes late to start the service, so he flew in and out pretty quickly.  It was interesting to listen to his chanting the first part of the service.

San Miniato priest

The church is surrounded by a huge 19th century cemetery.  We were only able to explore part of it because it closed at 6:00.

San Miniato cemetery

Walking back to our apartment, we passed the shop/museum of Alessandro Dari, master in jewelry arts, sculptor and musician.  His work was amazing.  We saw rings that had castles on top of them.

Alessandro Dari studio


My Girlfriends’ Last Day in Firenze

After a great week of enjoying Firenze, my girlfriends go home tomorrow.  We spent their last day here shopping and dining.  Lunch was at a delightful little shop around the corner from our apartment.  As the server got out three glasses for wine, we reminded him that we only wanted two glasses of wine. He smiled and said, “I know, the other glass is for me.”  Then he came around the counter and clinked glasses with us.

Syl and Mar-lunch wine

He introduced us to the owner who told us more about his shop.  As we were leaving, they gave us little cookies.

Syl and Mar lunch wine 2

Shopping in the Oltrarno neighborhood, we found a wonderful little jewelry shop.  Florence is known for its gold jewelry, and jewelry stores are everywhere.  The jewelry in this little shop was unique and hand-made in Florence.  Although the jeweler spoke no English, he was able to communicate that he was the jewelry designer and his uncle was the owner.  Knowing this made the jewelry we got there seem more special.


Shopping for scarves, we met a most helpful vendor.  He showed us different techniques for tying scarves and kept improving the price on a purchase of multiple scarves.  We left his stall with new skills and lots of scarves.

scarf guy

After dinner, Sylvia and Marilyn served us Limoncino.  Made only in Cinque Terre from organic lemons, Limoncino is reputed to be stronger and more flavorful than Limoncello, the more well-known Italian liqueur.





Cinque Terre-Bellissimo!

Every view is a postcard! Cinque Terre, the area of five hill-side towns on the Italian Rivera, is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

cinque terrre Riomaggiore

Traveling by bus, train and boat, we were able to hike the trails and visit all five towns in one day.  We hiked through vineyards and olive groves.

cinque terre-Deb hike

We hiked up and down steep hills.

cinque terre-Deb hike 2

It was harvest time, and the trails were busy with workers hauling baskets of grapes on their shoulders.

cinque terre grape harvest

Our bus dropped us off in Manarola to begin our visit to the five towns.  Daring swimmers were jumping off tall rocks into the Mediterranean Sea below.

cinque terre paul

Our first short hike led us to Corniglia and lunch.  Sitting on a beautiful outdoor terrace, we dined on all types of local seafood.  Our guide told us that the hike to lunch would be a test to see if we could handle the longer post-lunch hike.  He pointed out our half-way point, a bright pink bar nestled in the hillside where we could get a drink and take a break.

cinque terre bar

We were very hot and very dry when we arrived at the pink bar.  We enjoyed a lemon fizzy made from the abundant local lemons and the gorgeous view of Corniglia in the distance where we started our long hike.

cinque terre view from window

We continued the rest of our hike to Vernazza, and thrilled at the view as we approached the town.

cinque terre view from traile

After a gelato treat and walk around the town, we boarded another train to Monterossa.  The beach here was voted sexiest beach by Forbes magazine.  Cinque Terre is noted for its white wine, so we did a white wine tasting of one wine from each of the five towns.  I got a pan fritto con formaggio,  a pastry with cheese inside that is only made in Monterossa, to go with my wine.  It tasted like an Italian version of something I would eat at the Minnesota State Fair and paired beautifully with my wine.

cinque terre pastry

Taking a boat from Monterosso Riomaggiore, we were able to see the coastline of all five towns.

cinque terre boat view

In Riomaggiore we wandered the lovely street (yes, singlular, there was only one) and sampled a cone of the local fried fish.

cinque terre fish

Fabian, our guide, told us that the mayor of each village chose the house colors.  He also warned us about pickpockets in the train station and would point and yell “pickpocket” when he saw one.

cinque terre guide

A final train ride to La Spezia to catch our bus home and our wonderful day in Cinque Terre was over.  I definitely will return for a longer visit.

Market Dinner

How lucky are we that our friends Sylvia and Marilyn took a cooking class while they were visiting us and shared what they learned?  Using their new market savvy, they took us with them to the market in our neighborhood to shop for ingredients for the dinner they were going to prepare that evening.  Mercato Sant Ambrogio, the oldest Tuscan market in Florence, opened in 1873. Now we know all the best vendors at the market. The produce is amazing here, 90% of it is organic.

Market 1

The cheese vendor gave us samples, helped me get the right cheese to recreate an antipasto we loved at a local restaurant and told us where to get the best bread.

Market cheese

The meat vendor kept giving us samples, as well, and the pasta vendor explained to us in Italian how long to cook the fresh pasta we got from him.

Market pasta

That evening Sylvia and Marilyn made an amazing meal prepared totally with ingredients from the market.

market antipasto

market-S and M cooking

market dinner dining

To commemorate the anniversary of September 11, Florence and New York University jointly sponsored a special event in Piazza della Signoria.  Even though I couldn’t understand the Italian parts, it was a lovely and moving program of readings, songs, dance and a candle light vigil.

Peace vigil



Il Latini

Last night we revisited Il Latini, a favorite restaurant from our last stay in Florence that serves traditional Tuscan dishes.  Five years ago we didn’t have a reservation but took our chances in the long line that forms before they open.  This time we had a reservation and felt more confident we would get in as we joined the waiting line of hopeful diners.

Il Latini-entrance 2

We were at the end of the longest line until we realized we could get in a different line because we had a reservation.

Il Latini-line

Getting through the door and being escorted to our table felt like going to a big Italian party.  The four of us were seated in the courtyard at a table with a huge bottle of wine and encouraged to drink as much wine as we wanted.

Il Latini-us

Soon after we sat down, our three-hour Tuscan feast began.  The restaurant selected the dishes and served them family style.  We started with antipasti of prosciutto and melon, caprese and some kind of grain salad that we couldn’t identify but loved.  The primi consisted of three kinds of pasta with three kinds of sauces: pomodoro, bolognese, and rabbit.  Florentines take preparing and eating meat seriously, and the secondi was more meat than I have ever seen on one table: Florentine steak, veal, chicken, lamb and pork.

Il Latini-meat

Not being a big meat eater, I was a little worried about this course, but I tried everything and it was tasty.  The contorni were sauteed spinach, roasted potatoes and beans.  Then we started our four-course dolci.  First they brought a plate of biscotti and small glasses of the Tuscan dessert wine vin santo.  Vin santo,  saint’s wine, has been made since the Middle Ages and comes from grapes harvested in the fall and air-dried on straw mats until the start of Holy Week.  We dipped the biscotti into the wine.

vino santo

The star of the dolci show was a tray of four desserts: Tiramisu, almond pastry, raspberry tart and Tuscan grape harvest cake, a traditional dessert made at grape harvest time.  A glass of Moscato and then a glass of Limoncello completed our lovely meal.

We especially appreciated the lovely walk back to our apartment.

Il Latini-street on way home

An Easy Day in Florence

After a busy day in Rome yesterday, it was so nice to enjoy a relaxing day of wandering the streets, shopping and dining.  After a lovely al fresco lunch, we explored some of the many delightful little shops.

Deb lunch

It was fun to look at the beautiful jewelry in shops on either side of the Ponte Vecchio, a Medieval enclosed bridge over the Arno River.

Ponte de Vecchio-shopping

The bridge is lined with jewelry shops on both sides, and it is not apparent that you are on a bridge until you reach the opening in the middle and see the beautiful Arno River.

Arno river

We had the most delightful dinner at one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Osteria de Pazzi.  After a great experience a few nights earlier, we wanted to share it with friends Sylvia and Marilyn.  This evening was even better than our previous visit.  Our waiter recommended wine, starters and secondis, and everything went together fabulously.  Our meal was so great that Sylvia visited the kitchen to express our appreciation to the chefs.

Oesteria de Pazzi chef

It was a great evening, made even better with a stop for our daily gelato on our way back to our apartment.

Oesteria de PazziOesteria de Pazzi friends

We capped off this wonderful evening with a stop for our daily gelato on the way home to our apartment.


Day Trip to Rome

We loved Rome five years ago, so we had to share this beautiful city with our friends who are visiting.  The wonderful Italian train system made it possible to go from Florence to Rome for a day.  It was a day of revisiting favorites, starting with our favorite pistachio cookies from our favorite Roman bakery.

Rome-pistachio cookies

Our next stop was the Pantheon, my favorite site in Rome.  A Roman temple dedicated to the gods built in 27 B.C, the Pantheon became a Christian church after the fall of Rome.  It may be the most important building in art history.  Its dome was the model for both the dome in Florence and Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s.


One of the most interesting features of the Pantheon is a 30-foot opening in the top of the dome that is completely open to the outside.  The floor slants toward the edges to let rainwater drain.

Rome-Pantheon opening

We visited the Trevi Fountain which was still undergoing renovation and the Spanish Steps.  Then we strolled to the Piazza del Popoli for lunch and a lovely walk in Pincio park.  From the top of the park we could see the Vatican, our next destination.

Rome-view from Popoli

I ordered our Vatican tickets in advance, so we were able to bypass the long lines and go right in to the Vatican Museum.  The  museum is filled with treasures such as the Belvedere Torso, a 2000-year old sculpture that had a profound impact on Michelangelo’s art.

Rome-Vatican museum

The Sistine Chapel was as beautiful as I remember, but it was much more crowded this time. Following Rick Steve’s advice, we took a short cut to St. Peter’s Basilica and saw my favorite sculpture, Michelangelo’s Pieta.


As we left St. Peter’s, we saw the Swiss Guard who have been guarding the Pope since 1506.

Rome-Swiss Guard

At the end of the day, we bid farewell to our friend Scott and took the last train home to Florence.

Rome-farewell dinner