Chiesa di S. Felicita: Pontormo’s Deposition (first chapel on right) my favorite painting in Firenze!
San Miniato Al Monte: For the view, the incredible church, and the Gregorian chant around 5:30 pm in the summer. On an afternoon when you want to take a long walk, have your hotel mark a map for the route up to this very special site (or take a taxi but do not miss this). One route is Via di San Leonardo:
Via di San Leonardo: From behind S. Felicita follow Costa S. Giorgio uphill to Via di San Leonardo. Look for Galileo’s house on the right, then the Forte Del Belvedere for a special view of Firenze; continue on to the Church of San Leonardo, the prettiest little church in town. Keep walking uphill to the first major intersection (Via Galileo). Turn left and walk 20 more minutes to San Miniato Al Monte.
Museo di S. Marco: For the Fra Angelico paintings
Cenacolo di Sant’ Apollonia: My favorite Last Supper
Chiesa di S. Maria Maddalena De’ Pazzi (the French Church of Firenze): Ask the sacristan to open the door to Perugino’s Crucifixion
Santa Croce: Michelangelo, Rossini, and Galileo together!
Piazza SS. Annunziata: The perfect square!!!
Opificio delle Pietre Dure (Mosaic Museum) Via degli Alfani 78
Bargello: Michelangelo and Donatello without the crowds
Museo di Storia della Scienza: Next to the Uffiz is this fascinating science museum with interesting Galileo objects!
Take the train to Pisa to see the most wonderful architectural ensemble in Italy (Duomo, Torre Pendente, Battistero and Camposanto).
Take a taxi to Fiesole to see the Roman theater, the Duomo and the view from the Convent of St. Francesco. On the way back to Florence, stop at Villa San Michele for lunch.
RISTORANTE IL LATINI
Via Palchetti 6r
L’OSTERIA DI GIOVANNI
Via Del Moro 22
39 055 284897
Piazza S. Marco 7r
CANTINETTA DEI VERRAZZANO
Via Dei Tavolini 18
Via Faenza 50-52 (near San Lorenzo Market)
across street from Cantinetta Verrazzano
*** PENSIONE BENCISTA’
Via Benedetto da Maiano 4, Fiesole
(Best rooms #18, 19, 21, 34, 17, 24, 10)
*** HOTEL LOGGIATO DEI SERVITI
Piazza SS Annunziata 3
(Best rooms #9 & 11; #6, double, garden view with tub; #12 for 4 or 5 persons, front view, 2 levels)
**** HOTEL MORANDI ALLA CROCETTA
Via Laura 50 (near Piazza Santissima Annunziata)
**** HOTEL MONA LISA
Borgo Pinti 27
** STELLA MARY HOTEL
Via Fiume 17
*** HOTEL PARIS
ViaDei Banchi 2
Via dell’Amorino 12
00 39 55 2399816
SAPORI DEL CHIANTI
Via dei Servi 10r (behind Duomo)
Via F. Zannetti14/16
108 – Doctor Dance
MASK STORE AND CLASSES
Via Faenza 72R
FIRENZE AND ROMA January 2004
This year’s Italian trip was filled with many tasty surprises. We joined our friends Frank and Vera in Firenze. We first met Frank in 1968, soon after we were married in Colorado. We have remained friends all these years and have always dreamed of traveling together to Italia. The four of us discovered two new restaurants that I highly recommend. The first is right across the piazza from San Marco. Accademia Restaurant (firstname.lastname@example.org) just around the corner from the Accademia (home of Michelangelo’s David), is a refreshing twist on Tuscan cuisine. Located at Piazza S. Marco 7r, this new ristorante is not quite fusion but definitely nouveau in a contemporary environment with a bright young staff ready to please. It was quite reasonably priced. Quattro Leone (Tel: 055-218562, Piazza della Passera, Via dei Vellutini 1/r) is located between the Pitti Palace and Santo Spirito. It’s one of the hot local eateries. When we came out after finishing dinner at about 9:30 PM the entire piazza was filled with customers waiting to get in, so be sure to reserve. It serves classic Tuscan specialties in an osteria environment.
One day, while Frank and I were climbing the hill to San Miniato, Maria talked Vera into an extreme makeover Italian style. The results were bellissima! Vera left the salon with copper highlights and a new short do. If you’re looking for a haircut (and maybe a little color) be sure to ask for Stefano at Jean Louis David – Diffusion (Tel: 055-264135, Via Dei Servi 55r). Haircut (1.5 hour), color, blow dry, product and tip: $65.00. Speaking of prices, our trip this year brought us fully into the new world of the weak dollar. Our dinners used to cost $25-35 as recently as last year. Now expect to pay $60 for two. This is the result of two adverse developments: the strong Euro and the switch over to the Euro from the Lira. I have heard many Italians complaining that when some merchants converted their prices to the Euro they rounded way up. In effect, what happened is that what used to cost 1000 lira became 1 Euro which is almost a doubling. However, quality and service were excellent throughout the trip, and certainly we would pay more for the same quality in the US. For example our $60 dinners in Italy would cost over $100 in the USA.
Maria seemed to be on a pastry mission this year. She bought a 3.5 kilo panforte in Firenze (from a woman she met last year) and a box of Cialde di Mandorle. I didnt like lugging all this but it was worth it. Cialda is an ancient traditional Tuscan sweet. It is a huge double wafer cookie filled with a delectable mixture of sweet almonds. Cialde have been mentioned as early as 1200 in the Verrazzano Castle archives. They were called the dolcetti con profumo di Paradiso. Maria hasnt found these in the states yet, but I know she will. In the meantime you can find them at Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, Via dei Tavolini, 18/20R. Verrazzano, as I call the place, is a perfect stop for a quick lunch. They have pizza, foccacia, bread, salads and pastry to eat standing up (as the Florentines do) or at table if you want to hang out with friends as Maria did. By the way this is the family that the bridge is named after in NYC.
Our second big rendezvous of the trip took place in Rome where my student Michelle is doing her Junior term abroad. Michelle and her Hobart and William Smith (HWS) friends were in the first week of an intensive 3 week Italian Language course. We were invited to participate in the morning classes so we dutifully arose each day at 7 AM in order to make the 8:45 grammar class. If you know me as “don’t call me before 10 AM Pietro,” then you can appreciate how much I wanted to do this. We thought we were going to just observe the classes but we quickly learned otherwise. The 8:45 class was taught by a Roman Professoressa who, only a few minutes after I sat down, called on me to form the second person plural in the passato prossimo. Needless to say, after that, I paid very close attention to the teacher. The conversation class began at 10:30 AM. It was taught by a HWS Professor from Rome. For the first exercise we each had to pair up with another student, describe ourselves and then stand up in front of the class and do a five minute presentation about our partners life (in Italian of course). As I said, this was an intensive Italian program but somehow I hung in there and kept up with the youngsters. Maria of course was coasting! I admit to looking at her notebook and whispering for her help, but the end result was magical. In addition to the HWS students there were also international students from Argentina, Holland, Spain, England and France. It was the first time in my life that I met and became acquainted with people where each of us spoke a second language. It reminded me of the stories of Medieval times when world travelers met in Rome and Latin was the lingua franca.
One night we were invited to dinner with the students and professors. We ate at the Cafe Argentina (right across the street from the forum where Caesar was assassinated and where today the wild cats of Rome roam). The students have their own dining room and kitchen. The food is prepared by couple of classic Roman cooks and served family style. It reminded me of some of the tamer scenes from Boccaccio – good friends coming together telling the stories of the day over robust food and wine. This is, to be sure, a fortunate group of students!
For the second time we stayed at The Bailey’s Hotel, Via Flavia 39. I cannot think of a reason why you would stay anywhere else. It’s the perfect place to set up camp in Roma with its beautifully refurbished rooms and quiet setting near Via Veneto. Our friend Signora Simona Messina is the perfect hostess at the Bailey’s and will fulfill your every need. You can reach her by e-mail for reservations and tell her Maria and Pietro sent you. Across the street from the hotel and a few doors down to the left you will find an upscale deli/pastry shop that is great for takeout. Maria bought way too many almond paste cookies with dark cherries in the center.
Our restaurant find in Roma was “da Vincenzo” (tel: 06-484596, Via Castelfidardo 4-6) It’s an elegant seafood ristorante located between the train station and Villa Borghese. This seems to be a Roman favorite (no tourists here) not only for the fish preparations but also for such traditional favorites as penne arrabbiata. Maria had Simona call the restaurant and request pollo al diavolo. They made her an entire chicken that was almost as big as a turkey. I had to go off the vegetarian wagon to help her out! We also returned to our old classic Cesarina near Via Veneto (tel: 39-064880828, Via Piemonte 109). We went here on our first Italian trip in 1976 and it hasn’t changed a bit. It’s big, comfortable and true Roman. I think they make the best spaghetti carbonara in the world. Maria couldnt decide what to order so she asked them to surprise her. Her only caveat was no meat (the pollo alla diavolo will last her for a while). They presented her with a succulent plate of two kinds of homemade tortelli: one a spinach pasta with a light bchamel sauce and the other made of homemade pasta in a silky tomato sauce. We had a delicious made to order insalata mista (mixed salad) including Sardinian tomatoes with the taste of summer imbued in every bite.
Near the Pantheon be sure to visit the Basilica Di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. It’s missed by too many people. It contain the tombs of Saint Catherine and Fra Angelico but also hidden within is one of Michelangelo’s least known sculptures. The most unexpected delight within is Filippino Lippi’s frescoes in the Carafa Chapel. The Annunciation image in the fresco is the perfect painting to contemplate at the end of a visit to Rome. And so we came, we saw and we count the days until we return.
FIRENZE AND ROMA 2003
This was certainly the most unusual of our trips to Italy. We have been to Italy many times but we have never hosted a Jewish wedding. Our two good friends, Caren and Joe of Philadelphia, decided in August that it was time to get married and if they could be wed in the historic Synagogue of Florence, we would all go together and make it happen. After months of phone calls and red tape, we arrived in Florence January 9 ready to experience an Orthodox Jewish wedding. On January 10th Caren and Joe met with the Rabbi to make the final arrangements for the January 12 wedding. We were all pleased to find everyone at the synagogue to be supremely friendly and helpful. It was a warm and loving community and so we looked forward to the wedding with even greater anticipation.
Meanwhile, Maria and I were on the hunt in the back streets of Firenze for the perfect place to host the wedding reception. As always, we were looking for an elusive trattoria that the tour books had not yet discovered and where mamma is still cooking in the kitchen. It had to be a place where food was a religion and no English was spoken. Well, my dear reader, you now have a new star to add to your next trip to the City of Flowers. Natalino, Borgo Albizi 17/r, Tel 289404, is located about halfway between the Duomo and Santa Croce. It’s the perfect place for your first meal in Florence, simple, honest and timeless. Our waiter must have been Roberto Benigni’s brother. It was that kind of place. After the long arduous journey to Italy this is the type of place that affirms your decision to fasten your seatbelt…allacciare vostra cintura di sicurezza.
We stayed at a new place, Hotel Morandi alla Crocetta, Via Laura 50 (near Piazza Santissima Annunziata), Tel 055 2344747, http://www.hotelmorandi.it. It’s a charming small hotel in the pure Renaissance style (ten rooms). By good luck, or probably more likely as a result of Maria’s beautiful Italian, we were assigned the room which had formerly been a convent chapel. It still had parts of the altar engaged in the end wall with ancient frescoes above. In a niche above the bathroom door was a marble bust. Regarding the staff Maria says, piu bello non si puo!
The wedding day dawned bright and crisp with a high of 45F. Carens bouquet arrived at 11 AM (champagne roses and freesia, a gift from Maria’s sister Ella) and that got everyone moving. The bride was fussed over and got dressed in front of one of the frescoes in our room. It was a sweet moment as the women arranged Carens red silk shawl over her shoulders. I was encouraged to get dressed in another room.
The wedding was all that we hoped for. We processed into the Synagogue behind the Rabbi and two cantors who sang us to the chuppah. There was an amiable mix of people, including our Florentine friends, Enrico, Gandolfo and Antonella, and a festive entourage from the Jewish community. The Rabbi was particularly welcoming and accessible. He conducted the ceremony in English and Hebrew and at the end of the wedding ritual he embraced and prayed with the wedding couple under his shawl. As he drank the wine from the cup, Joe’s hand shook like a groom’s hand should. Caren helped him with what remained in the cup and did not spill a drop, finishing it off in one great draught. I shall never forget the final moments of the ceremony. The men of the community joined hands and danced in a circle around Caren and Joe.
I joined in, trying my best to follow the Jewish dance steps, but I was told later I had a bit of the techno in my beat. Maria read a poem in Italian that celebrated the couple, and then we walked to the Synagogue hall where we toasted the couple with sweet wine. We also ate a bit of delicious homemade flourless chocolate cake made by one of the women in the community. The Rabbi’s toast included an invitation to Caren to return next year to give a poetry reading to the community.
Our party then walked down Borgo Pinti to a perfect Sunday reception and dinner at Natalino. The meal was all Tuscan specialties and included such delights as crespelle, homemade tagliatelli, raw baby artichokes tossed with lemon and olive oil and a mille foglie wedding cake that got rave reviews for its silken pastry filling and crisp pastry layers.
I am sure our dear friends will live happily ever after. Weddings do not come better than this! It was a dream lived, a heavenly pause in a world headed toward the madness of war.
On the Tuesday after the wedding we boarded the Eurostar for the one and a half hour trip to Roma. I should mention that Italy is remarkably lacking in tourists this winter. The planes, trains and museums are absolutely empty. The normal low season, in combination with fears of war, has created an id eal time to visit Italy. We stayed in Roma roughly halfway between the train station and Via Veneto. The Bailey’s Hotel, Via Flavia 39, Tel 30 06 42020486, http://www.hotelbailey.com, is a recently refurbished four star hotel, in a tranquil neighborhood near two of Rome’s best restaurants. Cesarina, Via Piemonte 109, Tel 06 42013432, is an old Roman classic that we went to on our first trip in 1976. It is even better than before! This is a roomy restaurant with highly welcoming service. Go here for total comfort. If it were in New Jersey I would go there every Friday night. The second restaurant is relatively new. Santopadre, Via Collina 18, is a trattoria in the best sense. There is no menu and no credit cards are accepted. The lovingly prepared food comes out in waves of gusto. Go here hungry and ready to be treated like family. Their meal is fixed at 35 Euros and you just sit there and let them bring it on, course after course. Go here for a night of fun and laughter. As always, at the places I recommend, reserve ahead.
Now on to the new cultural finds! It always seems appropriate in Rome to attend at least one concert or opera. The easiest way to accomplish this is to see what’s happening at Chiesa di S. Paolo entro le Mure. This Episcopal Church hosts a series of musical events throughout the year. When we were in town they were presenting Opera Concerti with orchestra and singers in XVIIIth century costumes. It’s near our hotel and the train station on Via Nazionale, Tel 06 4826296, http://www.musicaemusicasrl.com. The concerts begin at 2100 and are reasonably priced at 20 euros. A good place to go for a pizza before is Anni Cinquanta, near our hotel at Via Flavia 3.
My two favorite new museum finds are both located near Piazza Venezia. Crypta Balbi is a recently opened excavation of an entire city block. It is on Via delle Botteghe Oscure between the Campidoglio and Torre Argentina. It is a work in progress but the small museum now on the site presents fascinating displays of city life in classical, medieval and modern times based upon findings at the site. Tours of the subterranean excavations are led by museum guides. When you are done walk a block over to Torre Argentina (Area Sacra Dell’ Argentina) to see a thousand cats all in one small area. The city has permitted an animal shelter to be established in the ancient temple ruins. This is the area where Julius Caesar was assassinated. These cats are the true descendants of ancient Rome with a much purer blood line than the local human inhabitants. Check it out at www.romancats.com.
At the end of Via del Corso where it meets Piazza Venezia is the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Piazza del Collegio Romano 2, Tel 06 6797323, http://www.doriapamphilj.it. This impressive palazzo is still inhabited by the Doria Pamphilj family. They have opened their incredible collection to the public and it is a must see. Be sure to listen to the guided tour on the tape they provide with admission. It is a personal tour given by the Prince himself and it brings the old halls to life. The paintings here by Caravaggio, Velazquez and Raffaello are reason enough to plan a trip to Rome but of course so are the restaurants!
Now that we are back we miss how good we all felt for 10 days. The travel group consisted of the bride and groom, Marias sister Ella and Maria and I. We all got along so well it now seems strange not to be laughing and eating together. We are left with sweet dreams and are grateful to have had a safe and memorable trip.
Our week in Fiesole was a dream. Maria and I stayed with nine of my students in an ancient villa perched on a hill above Firenze. Each morning we looked out our window to view the Arno valley filled with soft fog. At breakfast the clouds below lifted to reveal distant cypress and the Duomo’s cupola floating in an ethereal sea. So began each morning.
Beneath is spread like a green sea
The wavy plain of Tuscany,
Bounded by the vaporous air,
Islanded by cities fair;
Underneath Day’s azure eyes
Mountain’s nursling, Firenze lies,
A peopled labyrinth of walls,
David’s destined halls.
— Adapted from Shelley
After days of Michelangelo, Donatello and Brunelleschi we walked back through the dark under Jupiter’s gaze to our villa in Fiesole. There we bathed, then in the Medici refectory we ate silken lasagne, pecorino, ribollita and giant pears with red wax seals on their stems. After dinner I read to my dear students from Galileo and Boccaccio in the biblioteca only a few meters from the setting of the Decameron.
Rarely, rarely, comest thou, Spirit of Delight!
I love all that thou lovest,
Spirit of Delight: The fresh Earth in new leaves dressed
And the starry night; Autumn evening, and the morn
When the golden mists are born.