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Florence during Holy Week

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Mar 4th, 2015, 12:37 PM
  #1
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Florence during Holy Week

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!
michael_cain_77398 is offline  
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Mar 4th, 2015, 12:50 PM
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Michael - you are a brave man to try the tripe stalls, I saw them but resisted, especially as i had tried the tripe salad at the Mercato San Ambroglio the day before. I was staying near the market and i have to say that I had the same experience as you - it may be a bit further to walk but it's great staying in a less touristy area - i even managed to find a 2 scoop gelato for €1.50! [the sit down on the rickety stool was free!]

I know what you mean about bus stops too - I never did find the bus up to Piazzale Michelangelo and ended up just walking up. as for Siena though, I cracked that one - the bus station is right next to the SMN station, to the left as you look at it, down a tiny side-street.

Thanks for posting - Florence is fun, isn't it?
annhig is offline  
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Mar 4th, 2015, 01:42 PM
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Thanks for posting this.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
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Mar 4th, 2015, 02:06 PM
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Coffee's not price controlled in Italy, or, if it is, I know several bars I could report to La Finanza.

I really wouldn't trust tripe from a stall in the street. I don't even buy porchetta from street stalls. Where I live, there are several people who make porchetta and sell it in their own shops. That's really the only place I buy it. The only place I've ever eaten tripe is in the home of a friend of ours; she's famous for her tripe, and has a tripe dinner about once a year. I'm not very confident about ordering it in a restaurant.

By the way, this is nit-picking, but I think it's interesting. "Caro" in Italian means "dear", both in the sense of "beloved" and "expensive". I suppose that in both languages, something could be valuable either because you loved it, or because you paid a lot for it. What you see a "scoppio" of in the Piazza del Duomo is a "carro", which means "cart". When I saw "scoppio del caro" I thought maybe someone blew up her husband.
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Mar 4th, 2015, 02:13 PM
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"Florence is fun, isn't it?"

It's such a wonderful place. A week was about right; by the end I had had my (temporary) fill of amazing Renaissance art and architecture. Though I still can't wait to go back.

"you are a brave man to try the tripe stalls"

It was late, and I was hungry! I might not have been as brave otherwise. But it was good, real moist, and served with a salsa verde and a very hot hot sauce. I think it was the only super spicy dish I had in Italy. It was much more meat-like than I was expecting. And now that I know, I'll feel safe ordering them again. And again.

A few addenda:

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY - Irving Stone does an amazing job of walking you through the complex politics of Renaissance Florence. The first third was excellent, and a great intro. I felt like it gave me an added appreciation of what I was seeing, and how it fit into the grander narrative. However ... as an examination of Michelangelo the person it is an utter and abject disgrace. Irving presents Michelangelo as a chaste, socially awkward, borderline autistic artist. Which: we have his art, and we have his writings. Michelangelo was definitely not chaste, nor shy about his attractions. Irving ignored these to create someone 'safe' for his bestseller.

TALKING HISTORY: THE ITALIAN UNIFICATION - on on-going podcast by two brothers, Benjamin and Adam Ashwell. I can't speak highly enough about this series. It covers a lot of Italian history, and gives a great overview of the Renaissance, the various Italian city states, Napoleon's invasion, the Austrian occupation, and all the revolutions of the 1800's. Available on iTunes and Podomatic.
michael_cain_77398 is offline  
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Mar 4th, 2015, 02:18 PM
  #6
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"Coffee's not price controlled in Italy"

I have no idea where I heard that. Thanks for the clarification.

"When I saw "scoppio del caro" I thought maybe someone blew up her husband."

How fun. I would go to see that too.
michael_cain_77398 is offline  
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Mar 4th, 2015, 03:34 PM
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As devoted fans of Florence, I think you've managed to add a couple new things to our list.
Thanks for putting your observations, experiences and self "out there".
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