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Report 1239: Leonardo, Leonardo, Leonardo (Or the Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful)

By colleenk from Cambridge, MA, Spring 2005

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Page 9 of 12: Last Day in Florence

photo by Kathleen Hennessy

Ponte Vecchio at Night

Another warm, sunny day greeted us as we left the apartment early to see the San Marco Museum with what is by now a recurring theme in this trip (and I guess all my trips to Italy) some more frescoes. I love this peaceful convent, especially the dormitory where each monk’s small cell is decorated with a beautiful fresco by Fra Angelico. Rick Steves actually does a decent job describing what is depicted in many of these frescoes. He writes that these frescoes were the focus of each monk’s prayers and contemplation. I smiled as his irreverent thought that perhaps this would be comparable to the entertainment that a TV would provide in modern day. At the top of the stairs of the dormitory is Fra Angelilico’s masterpiece the Annunciation that is well worth the price of admission. The San Marco Museum is only open from 8:30 to 1:30 on weekdays, all day on weekends but is closed on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of the month and the 2nd and 4th Monday of the month, so plan accordingly.

Feeling pleased with ourselves that we had beat the crowds, which allowed us clear views of the lovely frescoes, it was time to complete our shopping “chores.” Finally, the Rampani ceramic store was open and I was in heaven! I took my time feasting my eyes on the exquisite pieces, trying to figure out exactly how much I could fit into my carry-on. Happily quite a lot. Several bowls of various sizes and a beautiful pitcher now adorn my kitchen.

We then made our final small purchases of scarves, stationery, ties etc. at the San Lorenzo stalls, dropped off our booty and returned to the Central Market area to finally have success in getting a table for lunch at Tratorria da Mario. I love everything about this place; the communal tables, the specials on the blackboard, the very friendly staff, the house wine (although their wine list is good too), eating with the Italian workers on their lunch break, using the same glass for water and wine, the very reasonable prices and most of all the fabulous, fresh home made food. I can’t imagine going to Florence without eating here. I always get the special of the day because it’s bound to be good. We had some delicious ravioli and the most tender and moist roasted chicken. A side of fava beans with olive oil was terrific too. Trattoria da Mario is only open for lunch and Friday is fish day. Highly recommended but go early to avoid a long wait.

By now it was mid-afternoon on our last day and we thought we might get one more cultural activity in by exploring the Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza which I was curious about after recently reading Galileo’s Daughter. On our way there however, we got side tracked and ducked into the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. We may not be able to afford Ferragamo’s contemporary shoes but it was great fun to view the gorgeous shoe styles over the last few decades and learn about the founder of the company in a well-done video. We actually spent a little too much time here and were now pressed for time at the Science Museum. We arrived at 4pm and the museum closes at 5pm, so the very nice ticket seller gave us a discounted entry fee. This is a beautiful museum filled with ancient, intricate scientific instruments including some of Galileo’s telescopes and a fascinating display of 18th century surgical and obstetrical instruments.

One of the Museo’s better-known displays (if not ghoulish) is one of Galileo’s fingers, not for the faint hearted! I think I will have to return here with my husband the next time we’re in Florence, as I know he would appreciate the workmanship of the very beautiful globes, pumps and hydraulic devices. The Museo is open 9:30am to 5pm Monday, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 9:30 to 1pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

On our way home, we finally stopped at La Carraia, located on the Arno side of the Ponte alla Carraia for an afternoon gelato fix. Why we hadn’t been frequenting this spot just steps away from our apartment that always seemed to be filled with locals, I cannot imagine. The gelato flavors were creamy and luscious. Memo to self, always follow the golden rule of going where the locals go.

As we were finishing our delectable snack, I commented to Kathleen how proud I was of her for not succumbing to the temptation of buying a leather purse just because we were in the Leather Capitol of the world. No sooner were the words out of my mouth when we came upon a handbag shop a few doors down from the La Carraia that we had over looked in our previous walks in our neighborhood. I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of the store but this was definitely not a chi-chi leather store. In fact the owner was quite proud of the fact that her store was where the locals shopped when they wanted good quality leather bags. Uh-oh, maybe we wouldn’t escape Florence without a leather bag after all.

We were of course sucked right in with the magic words locals and high quality. The selection was quite good and Kathleen had me sling a style over my shoulder to see what it looked like on someone else. That was a mistake! Although I did not really need another handbag, the lovely black Cavalcanti leather bag that did not overwhelm my small frame was just too hard to resist. Kathleen got one in brown and we received a small discount for buying two bags and paying cash. So much for our shopping restraint! It is a purchase that was well worth it though; I still love it and use it as my everyday purse.

Tonight would be our last dinner in my beloved Florence and I wanted to take Kathleen to Cantinetta Antinori (review #1273) where I had experienced one of my best meals last year. It was a perfectly lovely meal but it did not live up to my memory of my last meal there or the hype I had relayed about it to my sister. I think one of the reasons I had enjoyed it so much last year was that it was such a welcoming place for a solo dinner, especially eating at the bar and interacting with the bartender. And then of course there are all those fabulous Antinori wines! After dinner, we wandered one last time around this enchanting city (especially at night when the crowds are gone), capturing some nighttime shots of the lit up Arno and its beautiful bridges. Tomorrow we would be taking an early Eurostar to Rome, our final destination.

A few thoughts about Florence from this trip. I had been filled with excitement and anticipation about visiting Florence again after my fabulous 2-week stay in 2004. I can still say that Florence is one of my favorite Italian cities and will always feel like “home” to me but I was very surprised by how much more crowded it seemed this trip, especially with American tourists. Well of course I am an American tourist too but it was a little disconcerting to seemingly hear more American accents than Italian. Because I know where and how to get away from the crowds, I was not that distressed about it but I could see how the casual or day-trip visitor to Florence could be overwhelmed. My dates were somewhat dictated by my daughter’s school schedule but I think I would not choose to go in April again. Not only were there many school groups (including Italian school children) but the long holiday weekend brought many tourists to Florence as well. There was a noticeable lessening of the crowds during the week, which was a welcome relief. So if you are planning on spending just a few days in Florence, I would try to go mid-week.

That being said, as I am completing the second half of this trip report almost two years after it took place (and after one more short jaunt to Florence in the interim), reliving these experiences, I am so “homesick” for Florence that I can hardly wait to go back!

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