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Trip Report Florence during Holy Week

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My resolution: no more travel planning until I've finished my trip reports for 2014!

So much has been written about Florence; I'll make this an abbreviated trip report rather than a detailed daily itinerary.

I spent six nights in Florence last April, arriving on Holy Friday. I was worried about the crowds, but they were not an issue for the most part. The area around the Duomo was continuously packed, and some of the lines were horrendous at the A-list sites ... but it was still easy to find quiet side streets only a few minutes walk away.

Hotel: CASA DI ANNUSCA, Oltrarno (halfway to Porta Romana)

This was perhaps a ten-minute slow walk to the Arno, which was perfect for me. Charming host, great breakfast, large and clean rooms, with a small garden out back. It was very much a local neighborhood. It wouldn't be a good choice if you need to be near your room throughout the day, but otherwise it was great. All of us guests congratulated ourselves for being so smart for making such a perfect choice.

UFFIZI PASS - The best 60 euro you can spend in Florence. It offers a private entrance to the Uffizi, though you wait in line for everything else. It's good for a year, and offers unlimited entries. It's liberating to be able to drop in a museum and not be concerned about seeing everything that one visit.

SCOPPIO DEL CARO - The square was insanely packed. It wasn't too bad when the crowd wasn't moving, but it took an hour for the square to clear afterwards, and that was a bit much for me. There was just no way to move in any direction, and I wasn't even near the center. Easter mass afterwards was wonderful ... the singing alone was stellar ... and I'm very much a lapsed Catholic.

MEDICI CHAPELS - From Frommers: "The Cappella dei Principi is an exercise in bad taste, a mountain of cut marbles and semiprecious stones—jasper, alabaster, mother-of-pearl, agate, and the like—slathered onto the walls and ceiling with no regard for composition and still less for chromatic unity. The pouring of ducal funds into this monstrosity began in 1604 and lasted until the rarely conscious Gian Gastone de’ Medici drank himself to death in 1737, without an heir."

I thought it was fabulous.

ACCADEMIA - There were no lines late in the afternoon, and I just walked in. David is magnificent, but it really is the only major piece here. I can't imagine waiting in line during the day if you don't have to.

FIESOLE - A pleasant day trip. It was nice to get out of town and just walk around and enjoy open spaces. The views of Florence are excellent; the other sites in town are nice but not a 'must see.' In theory there's a trail that wanders back to Florence, but I couldn't find it even with a map.

BUSES - So confusing. The drop off points and pick up points are different, so it is very possible to wait at the wrong stop for the right bus. Sigh. I suppose it makes sense once you know the system. Another couple I met gave up on trying to find the bus to Siena and came to Fiesole instead.

OPERA AT ST. MARK'S ENGLISH CHURCH - I wanted to like this. It's a great idea. But I'm a pagan or something, and thought every aria sounded the same. I'm glad it was only an hour.

GREGORIAN MASS at SAN MINIATO AL MONTE - This blew me away. It's a very old church, and the mass is held in the lower level in an area that felt like a stone crypt. It was haunting and beautiful and kind of mysterious. Super highly recommended.

I also visited most of the main museums, a few churches, ate like a king, and wandered a lot. I feel like it was a very full six days, and yet I missed the climb to the Duomo (that line was too long), Palazzio Vecchio, the Vasari Corridor, and Boboli Gardens ... all of which were high on my list. Luckily I'll be returning in September!

COFFEE - It's price controlled in Italy! Walk in, order a caffe at the bar, and it's one euro for a rich shot of espresso. I think it's like this in heaven too. I rarely saw other tourists doing this. And I don't know why.

FOOD

I ate well, and didn't have a bad meal once. I definitely felt that the quality improved drastically the further from the Duomo you got. And in general, anyplace that is in Rick Steves' book would have a ridiculously long line. I saw over 100 people waiting in line at the sandwich shop he highlighted. I usually like his recommendations, but in Florence I took the opposite approach and avoided them.

A few places I liked:

ICCHE C'E C'E - Classic and affordable Tuscan cuisine. I went for lunch twice. Warning: a "mezzo" is not half a carafe of wine, it is half a litre - and that is an awful lot for one person at lunch. Combine that with a complimentary shot of grappa, and I was pretty twisted when I left. A "quarto" is a more appropriate amount of wine.

... and fail: I can't find the places I bookmarked. Too bad: I had an amazing TRIPPA ALLA FIORENTINA at one place in Oltrarno. It's one of the traditional dishes of Florence, so I suppose it's easy to find at a lot of places. I was a bit apprehensive when the waiter set down a huge plate of chopped tripe in red sauce, but it was so tender and good that I emptied the bread basket to sop up all the sauce and clean the plate. Even if you're not into offal I'd say this is a dish worth trying.

If you're really brave, the PANINO Al LAMPREDETTO sold at the night food stands are really good. From what I understand, "trippa" are the first three stomachs, and lampredetto is the darker, meatier, fourth stomach.

CREMA DI PORCINI - This is one of the condiment choices at the sandwich shops, and it partners amazingly well with pork. Look for it. It will be the new pesto if it ever comes to America. I've tried to find recipes online, but all I find is cream of mushroom soup recipes.

NEGRONI - They were invented in Florence, so you can bet that every bartender knows how to make one. Sure it's an acquired taste - so you might have to order a couple of 'em before you acquire it. Keep at it!

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