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Report 881: A Slow Trip to Italy for a Mother and Daughter

By stella from Brooklyn, New York, Fall 2005

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Page 3 of 16: Bella Firenze, and a Wonderful Surprise!

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The unbelievable view from our terrace. Umm, do we really get to stay here?

The taxis were lined up outside of the airport exit and we easily snagged one for the quick ride into Florence. The airport is not very far from the center of Florence, about five miles at the most. I was too tired to be outwardly excited, yet my heart leapt at the sight of familiar streets; when I pointed out the massive dome of the Duomo to Mom, I felt a little rush. We wound our way through the streets that are restricted to all but taxi traffic, and suddenly there we were, at the top of the vast Piazza di Santa Croce. The massive Basilica was even more breathtaking than I remembered. I paid the taxi driver and we were left standing on the medieval stones that pave the walkway; two tired women with too much luggage. The frescoed Palazzo Antellesi already looked like home. Finally, I was truly excited.

We were very early for our check-in and I feared we would be forced to park ourselves on a stone bench and wait. Mom looked ready to drop; I was very proud of her for holding up so well after a 14-hour journey, but I could see that she needed some rest, fast. I dragged the luggage, piece by piece, across the cobbled walkway and found the buzzer to the rental office for the Palazzo Antellesi.

Just as we were buzzed in, a friendly, English-speaking woman walked with us into the tiny cotto-tiled and limestone interior courtyard. I told her who I was, thinking that she was Vicky, the manager of the Palazzo. She was not, but luckily she was in some sort of position of authority, because she disappeared for a bit and returned with the keys to our apartment. She explained that we were indeed very early, but the cleaning crew had just finished up and we could stay. The tiny, coffin-like elevator held only two people at a time, so she took Mom up, and, I followed with the luggage in two trips.

The surprise for me to share here is that we had been upgraded unexpectedly. The ground-floor, one-bedroom apartment I rented for the week was experiencing plumbing problems, and we were given one of the PENTHOUSE apartments instead! It was vast, with two nice bedrooms (no sofa bed for me this time!!) each with its own en suite bathroom, a gorgeous dining room with an antique table, desk and sideboard, and a cute livingroom with a working fireplace. The kitchen seemed larger than my bedroom in Brooklyn, and was fully equipped. Mom was very impressed and happy, and I was pretty thrilled myself. This apartment was nearly double the price for the smaller one, but I was not being charged anything extra for it. The most wonderful treat was the wide, vine-covered terrace, overlooking the entire Piazza and the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce.

I think we both were too tired for it to fully register. We wandered around the apartment for a few moments and then Mom instantly collapsed onto the bed in her room and fell into a deep sleep. I was left to await the arrival of Vicky, who would collect some of that wad of cash I transported, and execute the rental agreement. Vicky arrived an hour later, but I was so dazed, I barely remember speaking to her.

Mom woke up and it became immediately apparent that the cupboards of the fabulous kitchen were bare. Even though I felt like I was going to drop myself, I agreed to do some quick shopping at Standa, the small grocery store located a few blocks away. It was nice to get out and be in control of my destiny for a bit, and I enjoyed the walk to the store, noting that there were some great little restaurants nearby and some cafés I hoped to be able to visit.

The grocery store was a little confusing at first, but fun to navigate. I walked out with three big bags of food and supplies, including some cheese, proscuitto cotto and bread, fruit and juice, milk and coffee. Back at the apartment, we made ourselves a snack, and for a first, impromptu meal, it tasted very, very good. We both puttered about, opening the windows and admiring the handsome apartment. I still could not believe our luck!

Soon the sun was setting, and Mom was anticipating our first dinner. She was a bit annoyed when I informed her that none of the restaurants are open before 7:30 or 8:00 PM; Italians eat dinner late. We dressed for dinner anyway and finally, I relented and agreed to walk around and find something open at 7:00. Quite unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a restaurant that was recommended to me, Ristorante Leo in Santa Croce. It was only about a half a block from the Piazza and, empty but for an English couple. We were greeted warmly and seated. The restaurant was built upon the ruins of an ancient Roman ampitheatre, and contained many interesting architectural details.

Dinner was delicious. We started with a salad of raw zucchini “carpaccio,” sliced paper thin and mixed with shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano, served with two bruschetta of ripe tomatoes. All was drenched in good Tuscan olive oil and a bit of lemon. It was really light and lovely. Mom then had tiny, handmade tortellini in brodo and I had gnocchi that were light as a feather and sauced simply with tomato, basil and tiny cubes of buffalo mozzarella. We then each had veal; Mom had sliced, roasted veal with roasted potatoes, and I had a grilled veal chop, juicy and tender, simply adorned with more of that great oil. For dessert, I enjoyed their house torta, which was lighter and creamier than cheesecake and topped with a compote of very intense local berries. It was a delicious first meal and the waiters were gracious and friendly.

We ambled back home and were happy to tumble into our beds. Hopefully, we would be on Florence time by morning.

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