After 12 days of almost perfect weather, we wakened this morning to gray skies and dripping rain. The cool air and sound of the rain made for a wonderful night’s sleep for both of us. Once again we had a nice home breakfast and worked on our photos, caught up on emails and conversations from people at home, and enjoyed just hanging out.
This quiet time, and the opportunity to slow down a bit now and then is one advantage of spending two weeks in Florence. We meet people who have 2 days, or maybe 3, and are rushing around trying to see everything. I just cannot imagine doing that, and more than once Deanna and I congratulated ourselves on our stellar planning that allowed us enough time to explore with down times to actually absorb the wonders around us.
The Oltrarno, on the left bank of the Arno River, is a completely different side of Florence. Here local life flourishes, and with just a a bit of distance from the crowded Ponte Vecchio, the old neighborhood is a lovely respite from the city and hordes of tourists. The Oltrarno area is now becoming more popular and well known, with new artisanal stores, galleries and eateries adding to the old neighborhood craftsman shops.
The neighborhood where our apartment was located, was technically in the Oltrarno, although we were about a mile from the main streets near the Ponte Vecchio. By this time we were used to walking the streets on both sides of the river, and knew which way to go to find coffee and pastries to begin our explorations of the neighborhood.
The little heart on the lower right is our apartment. The Ponte Vecchio bridge is about a mile to the left (west). The Oltrarno neighborhood that we explored is the large red circled area on the lower left corner of the map.
Near the Ponte Vecchio, the streets are choked with tourists, traffic is crazy, and the shops are full of tourist junk. Just a block or two in either direction yielded a completely different view. We found the beautiful shop of hand woven textiles founded by the Busatti family in 1842. Frances Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun”, bought linens for her famous house in Tuscany right here in this shop. I managed to treat myself to a pillow cover, (yes, the one in the photo) in a place where a full tablecloth would cost half a month’s income. I did keep the business card and the name of my favorite weave and color.
We continued along the narrow streets and found ourselves in front of a magnificent jewelry store. The artist was in residence, creating some of the most elegant and wild pieces I have ever seen anywhere. He didn’t talk to us, but all around the store were photos of him at work and copies of magazine and newspapers from around the world touting his art. I didn’t see the “no photos” sign until we had already walked through most of the shop.
We were hungry and decided it was time for real pizza, with real wine, rather than something grabbed in a bakery. The rain was coming down in earnest when we slipped in the the Tarocchi Cafe, with big wooden tables and images of the Tarot on the walls. The pizza was again delicious, and the wine inexpensive and wonderful. We even had dessert as we lingered. Such a delight.
With the rain still coming down in fits and spurts, we continued walking up the hills toward the Pitti Palace and Pitti Square. The shops lining the street in front of the square were more geared toward the tourist crowd so we didn’t linger. We planned to save our explorations of Pitti Palace for later the following week, on a day when the rain would allow us to visit the beautiful Boboli Gardens that are included with the price of entering the famous Medici Palace.
Taking our time, we ambled into several ceramic shops, where I ooh-ed and ahh-ed and gasped at the prices, and thought better of buying. I tucked the image of a special piece away in my mind, however, and knew that I might return before we left Florence.
As afternoon ambled toward evening and the rains increased, we decided it was time for a nice hot cappuccino. With the rains, crowds were thinning a bit, and we found a seat beneath a canopy and decided once again paying to sit and drink was better than just buying a coffee and standing around in the rain to drink it.
We really loved wandering around the Oltrarno, and there were plenty of churches, museums, parks and workshops to explore. In addition to the historical treasures that we skipped on this day, the Oltrarno has another great advantage. It is far enough from the busy center of Florence that you can find a calmer, more authentic area. It is full of artisan studios making centuries-old traditions and crafts, many antique stores,and small, family-run restaurants.
We followed the Rick Steve’s Oltrarno walk directions for part of our afternoon, but wandered off on our own as well, discovering small treasures like this bit of street art in a back alley.
Our route home took us once again past the very crowded Ponte Vecchio where tourists were shoulder to shoulder vying for position to see the tiny crowded shops along the bridge. Not something we were into much at all.
I did stop in at the small Supermarket for a few supplies, and discovered to my chagrin at the check-out station that I was supposed to weigh and mark my own produce before getting in line. Oops. The cashier was full of disdain, but when I apologized profusely in Italian, she warmed up a bit. I think it was the one time my little bit of Italian made a tiny difference.
We passed a couple of restaurants on the way back home, with folks in line for tables, and big plates of gorgeous pasta. It was tempting, but the wait was not. Once home to the cozy apartment we draped all our damp clothes over the rack and cooked a great supper.
Hand cut pork chops from the Carni shop were complemented by delicious fresh green beans and some tiny steamed potatoes that came in a vacuum packed package. We loved these little potatoes sliced and sautéed in olive oil. One item that wasn’t that great in Italy was lettuce, most that we purchased was tough and not that good. Maybe the country is too warm to grow good lettuce, but it surely does grow great tomatoes. See that little bottle of Balsamic Vinegar on the table? I managed to get that in my suitcase. Pure rich gold. I have never had balsamic like that before or since and when that bottle is gone who knows what I will do.
Tomorrow we will again trek into downtown Florence for what we think of as our “Michelangelo Day’. Coming up, Casa Buonarotti, where Michelangelo lived, the Bargello Museum, with more of his sculptures, and Santa Croce, where Michelangelo is buried.