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Report 1725: Ten Nights in Florence and Venice

By Deva from USA, Fall 2009

Trip Description: I explore Florence and Venice with my husband and parents during October 11-21, 2009

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Florence, Venice

Categories: Vacation Rentals; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 3-4 people

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Page 1 of 11: Arrival in Florence (or not...?)

Saturday, October 10th: My husband Bob and I set off on our long-anticipated Italian escapade! We each have a single bag that can convert to be carried like a backpack that we will check, and a carry-on. My carry-on is full of novels (more than I need, but I love to read and have a great fear of being caught without a book!), a few guidebooks, and a sheaf of printouts from the Slow Travel website on important topics like how to shop in an Italian market and how to order gelato. I also have lists of restaurants, gelaterias, and the entire list of recommendations from Divina Cucina.

We will be meeting my parents at the airport in Boston for an overnight flight to Florence (transferring at Charles de Gaulle). Rather than drive down from Maine, we decide to take the convenient bus service ($44 each round trip) on Concord Trailways, from Portland to Logan Airport. We take what may be our last opportunity for some time to feast on tasty Indian food. Fortified with samosa and chicken tikka masala, we are on our way!

The Air France planes are comfortable and they provide a handy packet of earplugs and eye mask. I actually manage to sleep for a good part of the trans-Atlantic flight. The supper is also surprisingly tasty and comes with a cute little menu (which I keep as a souvenir, travel geek that I am).

Sunday October 11th: The passport check and transfer at CDG go smoothly, and before long we are flying into the morning sunshine. The views as we fly over the Alps are incredible! A panoramic vista of snow-topped mountains gives way slowly to brown and green hills, and soon enough we begin seeing clusters of red-roofed houses. I spot what looks like the white gorges of a marble quarry, and then dozens of turquoise blue pools marking the agriturismos and fancy villas dotting the countryside. And then ... a cloud of misty gray where Florence ought to be.

We circle for a while, but the fog doesnít break up, and ultimately we are re-routed to Bologna. We survive by identifying a capable looking man in a beret from our plane and following him, since Air France doesnít bother to tell us what is going on or where to go (or if they do, the intercom is so bad we canít hear it). One of the other passengers has to corral an Air France representative to get the scoop, and then she (bless her!) tells the rest of us whatís going on (we will take buses). By the time we do get to Florence, the fog has lifted and it is a sunny hot day!

We take a taxi to our apartment at the Palazzo Gamba, right in the heart of the city. Despite our jet-lag, we are thrilled by that first glimpse of the Duomo, rising up from the white-green-pink marble splendor of Santa Maria del Fiore. We sweep into our apartment, marveling at the enormously tall ceilings, and throw open the windows. From our small balcony I can study every vein of the marble, we are so close!

The apartment is clean and spacious, though a bit cold, more like a hotel room than a home. The location is both boon and bane: we are steps away from everything, but it is very noisy with tourists, traffic, and ambulances throughout the night. Mom, Bob and I immediately take naps, while Dad ventures out bravely on his own for groceries: milk, Coca-Cola light, and delicious blood orange juice. I wake up after only an hour, too excited to sleep further, so Dad and I head out to amble around. We see the Piazza della Repubblica and a church open to the street offering free entry to an ongoing organ music performance (as we later discover, this is pretty much a nightly affair). I spot one of the recommended gelaterias: GROM! There is a long line, but it is worth it. I have decided that pistachio will be my default flavor, so I can have some basis of comparison. It is very tasty with a strong cream flavor.

We return to the apartment to pick up Mom and Bob, and decide to take a stroll toward the Arno and look for a place to have dinner. We make our way along the Via del Calzaioli to the Piazza della Signoria, where we pause for a bit to admire the statues (including the reproduction of David). I check out Rivoire and hope I will have the chance to return later (though as it turns out, I donít!). The press of the crowds is somewhat oppressive, and I am finding the amount of smoke a little hard to deal with. There is a lot of hustle and bustle everywhere, which is both exciting and a bit wearying.

We cross the Ponte Vecchio, admiring the old shops (mostly closed as it is Sunday). In a bid to escape some of the crowds we turn immediately right after crossing the bridge and head up a less crowded side-street. There we discover Osteria Chingale Bianco, one of the much-recommended restaurants on my list. It appears they have just opened for dinner as hardly any tables are taken. Mom bravely goes in and asks if we can have a table for four. Yes! We enjoy a delicious first meal in Florence. None of us are up to a full several course meal, so we all order either a primo (pasta) or a secondo (meat) but not both. My Pumpkin Ravioli with Butter and Sage is delicious, as is Momís pasta with Eggplant. Bob tries the Polenta and Chiangale (Wild Boar), while Dad has a deliciously garlicky Chicken with Roasted Potatoes. We also split some bruschetta (the tomatoes are so sweet and good!) and prosciutto with melon (interesting, but I like the melon on its own best).

We walk home, stopping so that Bob can get a gelato of his own (from GROM, where the lines are now much shorter). He likes it but the chocolate flavor is a bit too dark for his tastes (he prefers milk chocolate). Then itís to bed to get ready for our first full day!

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