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Report 679: A Student in Florence

By colleenk from MA, Spring 2004

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Page 13 of 16: Precious Prada and Scenic Siena

photo by Colleen K

View of Il Campo from the tower

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Up early to pick up our rental car at Autoeuropa on Via Borgognisssanti, which had the cheapest daily rate we could find at 50E (inclusive of insurance) so that we could beat the crowds on our excursion to the Prada outlet. Camilla had a friend who recommended this outlet over all others outside of Florence, not that I needed any convincing or excuses to go.

Our fellow classmate Marilyn joined us on this jaunt. Marilyn was another lovely and fascinating person I felt privileged to meet during this trip. On the other side of 60, she had signed up for a month long course at the Koine. A couple of years ago (I think that time frame is correct) she had attended the Koine school in Lucca and found the Florence experience better. She had my respect in many ways, not the least of which was that in addition to our 3 1/2 hour morning class she took an additional 2 hours in the afternoon. And I was complaining about brain fatigue! Marilyn has led a very interesting life that included; becoming a pharmacist against her old-fashioned fatherís wishes (not a female profession in his opinion in those days), studying in Norway and learning 2 different Norwegian dialects, marrying a Norwegian sculptor, returning to the States to an University teaching career and marrying a fellow colleague who happens to be Japanese, and now learning Italian in her retirement! After her month of classes, her husband and later some friends would meet her to explore Southern Tuscany. She lives in Portland, Oregon and I smile as I write this in thinking about her great dry sense of humor.

So here we have a woman in her mid-thirties (the driver, of course), myself at 50 plus and Marilyn more than a decade my senior (OK so Iím low balling our ages). An unlikely group to share a tremendous amount in common, let alone the same sense of fashion, except for the wonderful circumstances that have brought us together in Italy. Despite fairly specific directions from the website, we did experience some difficulty in finding SPACE which is the Prada outlet warehouse in the suburb of Montevarchi. See a very informative thread on the Slow Travel message board (shopping help! designer outlets) for specifics on location and hours. We left Florence by 9am and reached our destination around 10:15am I think, with one wrong turn that only cost 10 minutes or so.

Prada only allows 30 customers in at a time (10 if the lines are really long) so you take a number from a ticket dispenser and a flashing sign instructs what number is being currently admitted. It felt like I was going to a show and in many ways I was. Happily for us, we were there early enough that we were able to walk right in. By the time we left an hour and a half later (including cappuccino and bathroom breaks), the wait was about 2 hours to get in. I saw many disgruntled boyfriends/husbands at the thought of waiting 2 hours. It was one of the few times during this trip that I was glad my husband was not accompanying me. So I guess it pays to go early.

Prada is a good-sized store with different sections for shoes, purses (the 2 busiest spots) and a women and menís clothing section. I have never looked at Prada goods in the States, so I really didnít know what to expect price wise. Camilla told me that she thought the prices were between 40 and 60% off US prices. Well I can never resist a bargain (and unfortunately have many bargains in my closet that have seen very little wear) but this sounded good to me. At first I thought that I wouldnít find anything that didnít seem exorbitant and would just end up with a Prada key chain as a souvenir of the experience. But after some searching, I did find a very comfortable and reasonable pair of casual shoes and a lovely skirt I could wear to work. I loved the cut and flow of the skirt-is it my unabashed love for all things Italian or do Italian designers really know how to cut clothes in the most flattering way? Although a lot of the styles were trendy, this particular skirt is a classic that I will get a lot of wear out of I think. Camilla found some shoes and leather wallets for presents and Marilyn bought a cool belt for her son. I was tempted by the beautiful purses but just couldnít bring myself to spend that much even if they were half price.

The most amazing part of the experience was watching other shoppers. Particularly the Japanese women who bought bags of every color (sometimes 10 or more!). I imagine they were buying for friends but still! We were happy to leave without spending a fortune and before the real crowds arrived. I am so glad to have had this Italian outlet experience but not sure I would go back to this particular outlet again unless someone made it as easy for me as this trip was.

Next it was off to scenic Siena. We had all been there before and unanimously loved its beautiful Campo. Besides revisiting one of the most beautiful Duomos in all of Italy IMHO, I was on a quest to find a particular jewelry store where I had bought a beautiful bracelet and had subsequently lost on a trip to NYC when it broke and fell off my wrist in Rockefeller Center. We had no problem getting to Siena from the outlet and parked at the San Francesco parking lot that was well signed and easy to find. The pleasure of this particular lot was the escalator up the Centro area. Worth the parking fee and then some!

This was my 3rd trip to Siena and the beauty of Il Campo never fails to make me sigh with pleasure. It is to date my favorite central piazza in Italy and a real slice of Italian life can be observed here. Our first priority was lunch. I had suggested a restaurant right off the Campo that I had enjoyed on my last trip, La Torre, Via Salicotto, 7-9, but my companions felt it was a bit pricey. So we wandered off the Campo a bit and found La finestra, Piazza del Mercato, 14, a nice trattoria with simple and reasonable Tuscan offerings. There was a photo shoot for an Italian magazine taking place while we were there which was fun to watch, particularly a bridal scene. We all had various pasta dishes, including pici (a specialty of this area), salads and a house wine that was very pleasant.

Then it was off to find a ceramics shop that I had remembered liking very much on my last trip here. I was proud of myself for finding it again. Bianco e Nero, Via Dei Fusori, 21 is near the Duomo. If youíre facing the Duomo, it is down a small incline to your left. We all bought a few small pieces of the ownerís lovely and unique aquamarine pieces. We left them to pick up later so we could roam Siena some more without being burdened with our purchases. We couldnít visit Siena without experiencing the magnificent Duomo and Piccolomini Library and I was awed all over again. I do think this is my favorite Duomo in Italy.

I didnít want to drag my friends in my search for the jewelry store so we agreed to meet back in the Campo in 45 minutes. Despite wandering over many of the streets I thought it could be on, I was unsuccessful in my quest. However, I got to take many photos of the scenic streets and enjoy the Siena sights. It was the weekend for the oca (goose) contrada to display their flags and have their marching bands dressed in medieval attire roam the streets. This was so cool to watch!

Meeting up with my friends who had been enjoying a glass of prosecco in one of the outside cafes on the Campo, we decided we had better pick up our ceramics and head back to Florence. Wouldnít you know it-on the way back to the parking garage, I spotted my elusive jewelry store! It is Louis Ciocchetti, Banchi di Sopra, 91. Unfortunately, they were very busy (and you know how the Italians very politely only wait on one customer at a time), so I didnít get a chance to have them show me their bracelet collection. However, now I know where it is for the next trip to Siena!

We were strolling back to the parking lot during passeggiata time (around 5 pm) and this is where I had my goose moment event of the trip. A group of middle-aged Italian men spontaneously broke into song as they were walking and it was just beautiful. Such a true Italian moment. The passeggiata here is really lively, fun and such a great people-watching event. I didnít experience this in Florence - too many tourists I think.

When we started out in the morning, we thought we might try to get to San Gimignano on this excursion but now realized that would not be practical. So we headed back to Florence and found our way fairly easily until reaching Florence proper. The signage here is very confusing. Marilynís navigating skills got us through however and now we had to just figure out where to return the car after hours. Our instructions from the rental agency we now realized had not been clear. The agent had told us to park in a nearby hotelís lot and return the keys to another address but the hotel said it would charge a hefty fee so we had to scour the area for a legal street parking spot near the agency, leaving a note as to where we left it.

Our parking spot just happened to be right in front of Ristorante Il Profeta, a spot that me and Camilla had eaten at before but Marilyn had not. By this time, after our ordeal of getting back into Florence and finding a parking place, not to mention carrying our shopping bags, Il Profeta looked good to us. We had Insalata Mista with their delicious olive oil, and our secondo was Bistecca alla Fiorentina. At least thatís what Marilyn and I shared, I canít recall what Camilla had. It was very good and a pleasant way to end our day.

Oh but not quite yet. Marilyn left us to take her bus home and Camilla felt that she needed something to aid her digestion after all that food. So we stopped at Capocaccia, Lungarno Corsini 12/14r to share a grappa. I have never been a big fan of grappa but Camilla turned me on to the concept of choosing a more expensive selection for a smoother taste. Maybe it was my imagination but it really did seem to help the digestion process. I guess Iíll have to try it at home and really put it to the test! This was a very happening bar with lots of young people, a DJ with loud music and a nice spread of antipasti. I was thinking my kids would have liked this scene. My son for the music and my daughter for all the good-looking Italian men!

We said our goodbyes as this was the last time I would see Camilla which was sad as I had really enjoyed sharing the delights of Florence with her and felt she had become a good friend in a very short period of time. Luckily she lives in NYC, so we planned to meet for an Italian meal there or in Boston sometime. Tomorrow would be my last full day in Italy - it hardly seemed possible that my time here was almost over. I miss my husband but know I will miss Italy too.

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