I arrive on a golden Tuscan morning, hire a car and check into centrally located Hotel Malaspina. The B&B’s cheerful staff, robust breakfasts, Wifi, rooftop terrace, cozy rooms and free valet parking (yes, I said free valet parking) make it great for solo travelers.
I launch myself into the lovely day with a stroll to nearby Piazza San Marco where cyclamen are still in bloom. Hang a right to Piazza del Duomo, already jammed with pedestrians eating gelato, racks of colorful leather bags and “See the WORLD!” tee shirts.
I zip through the Florentine version of Eataly, inspect the fancy wares and scoff at the prices. I scan the racks at Sisters, Italy and buy a handy palm-sized notebook at Legami. The legendary Tuscan sun casts its amber glow on residents, tourists and the beloved Ponte Vecchio. The crowd moves like the gentle river Arno — civilized, calm and polite.
Fashion choices pop and simmer in streets and shop windows. I feast on vivid color and signature Italian style, note fabrics and trending hues. Shades of orange, eggplant and cognac rule. The Florentine circus of brilliant color and fashion makes me both delirious and ravenous.
I spot a vine-covered bistro just off the beaten track, Il Sasso di Dante. It’s a perfect spot for travelers who enjoy their street-side dining from a comfortable remove. My first dish in this delicious country is potato-stuffed ravioli bathed in olive oil and mint pesto. Hours of rough road surrender to the magic of this tummy-friendly, restorative fare.
I order another glass of flinty Vermentino and lean in.
Mimmo at 44
A convivial group of men on my left are pounding the table, chanting, “Mimmo! Mimmo!” They offer me a friendly hit of grappa. I demur. The customary Bistecca Fiorentina arrives, and it is Flintstonian; Mimmo can barely see over the top. I love the local tradition of men dining together, and try not to imagine what the women are up to this afternoon. Let’s just say I hope they are enjoying a similarly joyous day.
I meet my Florentine pal, Giusi, for lunch at Mercato Centrale. This is Firenze’s oldest open market, a sprawling iron-and-glass maze packed with meats, cheeses, bright produce and flowers – fragrant and fascinating.We ascend to foodie heaven, where fresh pizza, pasta, vegan fare, beautiful fish, gelato and pastries confound and delight. The waitstaff is discreet and mysterious, bringing wine, mineral water and correct change. Magically, it all works.
Giusi and I reminisce. We laugh out loud, maybe even cry a little. Discuss trending styles and colors — shouting “Arancia!” in unison. Giusi is a forever friend with a great eye who manages to kick all traces of jet lag down the iron stairs. Brava, Giusi!
Art & Culture
I meet beloved American friend, Theater Boy, for a morning at the Uffizi Gallery. We love the Galleria — that much is always true. It is perhaps the best in the world.
We book a pricey private tour and prepare to immerse ourselves in the wonders of the Renaissance. Our tickets are billed as a ‘skip the line’ experience.
Our guide is late. We are not greeted as promised by Viator personnel, in fact, we are not greeted at all. We find our guide by accident – hardly an auspicious beginning.
Lines are long, but painterly gems are stunning, exquisite, amazing — often breathtaking, from Filippo Lippi to Sandro Botticelli to Leonardo da Vinci. There are entire rooms dedicated to the genius of Caravaggio — red rooms, of course.
Crowds are increasingly daunting and the ambiance is frenzied. Babies cry, and so do we. I begin to feel like Caravaggio’s Medusa in the classic Uffizi image below.
DO NOT BUY: ‘Small group’ or ‘skip the line’ tours by Viator unless you enjoy paying three times as much as the next guy, rushing through the collection and feeling savagely ripped off.
RECOMMENDED: 3-day pass online to Uffizi, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and Opificio delle Pietre Dure (incredible stone inlay) for 18€ off-season/38€ high-season. Super!
Theater Boy and I resolve to remember only the amazing Uffizi treasures and cease our fretful chorus. We indulge in a relaxing lunch at Antica Fattore. We marvel at the raw artichoke salad, thinly sliced, in lemon and olive oil — tart, crunchy and restorative.
We continue to regain lost composure over white truffle tagliolini, shaved truffles over buttery pasta ribbons, a simple preparation that packs a velvety swoon. I ask for a bit of extra formaggio. Our straight-backed waiter says, “No, Madam,” and insists I cannot possibly want it. “Please,” he says, his eyes misting. I’m humbled and delighted.
Evening church bells ring, slightly muffled and sweet, the way baby Bruno cries when he is very tired. The sun sets red over the Piazza Independenza, a glowing bit of heaven. •
Coming soon: Pistoia, Montecatini, Montecarlo … and David!