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The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Italy: Florence Part I - seeing Florence in half a day

[Apologies for the lack of updates on my blog. I couldn't publish due to problems on blogger.com last week]

We have now come to the next part of our trip to Italy - Firenze (i.e. Florence)! What can I say about this beautiful city? That if I would choose only one place to re-visit in Italy, it would be Florence. It was my favourite part of the trip, and not because of the art museums and galleries! It has a lovely laidback atmosphere. Although Florence could not escape from the claws of tourism, I found that it was a lot less obstrusive and intrusive than both Rome and Venice. I also love how compact the whole city is - everything is within easy walking distance. Anyway, after two full-on busy days in Rome, we took the morning train bound for Florence. I enjoyed watching the scenery transform into the gorgeous Tuscany landscape. That's one thing I'd do if I came back - take a long drive around the Tuscan countryside to absorb the beautiful scenery its known for.

Fresh baked bread placed on the table shortly after we sat down at Trattoria La Casalinga:

After the 95-minute train ride, we headed for our B&B to check in and drop off our luggage. Then after a short chat with our lovely B&B hostess and armed with a rough map and a handful of food recommendations, we headed back out to fill our tummies with lunch at Trattoria La Casalinga. We were also given recommendations for two other places nearby, and while we were checking them out, we met a fellow foreigner (not sure a tourist or expat) on the street who said "Definitely go Casalinga, it's really cheap too". The trattoria certainly was very popular and we had to wait a short while for a table. There was a lively bustling atmosphere, perfect for families with noisy young kids. Our waiter was friendly and service was prompt and efficient, as you'd expect from a place so popular. The menu was completely in Italian, so we asked our waiter for a couple of recommendations which proved to be winners. Portion sizes were generous, food was delicious, and our tummies were satisfyingly full after lunch.

Taglierini ai carciofi (taglierini pasta with artichokes):

Frittata di verdura (omelette with spinach), ordered mostly for the 2-year old, although he effectively ignored it and would have eaten all the bread for lunch if we'd let him:

I'm guessing this dish is called Brasato al chianti (braised with red wine) as I don't have a record of what it is except for my memory of how it tasted. I'd asked for a Tuscan dish, and this was recommended. Tender beef braised with sweet onions - full of flavour, although a bit on the oily side:

Rob picked Millefoglie (the Italian version of mille-feuille), a puff pastry slice filled with a custard filling. The Italians sure do desserts well!

We also ordered a plate of Misto di verdure lesse (mixed boiled vegetables, not pictured), because no meal is really complete without vegetables (although Rob would beg to differ and say dessert, not vegetables, completes the meal). Casalinga is recommended if you're looking for an affordable meal at an authentic Tuscan trattoria with no-frills food and cheerful atmosphere.

Trattoria La Casalinga
Via dei Michelozzi, 9r
50125 Firenze, Italy
Tel. +39 55 218624

Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") is located very close by the trattoria, and my breath was literally taken away when I saw the views on either side of the bridge. The bridge is one of Florence's major tourist attractions (for good reasons!), and it was hard getting a spot with a good view to take photos.

Panoramic shot of one side of the bridge, stitched from three shots. The bright glare from the overhead afternoon sun made for awkward exposure blending, but I still like the panoramic shot better than the narrower single shot (click image for larger size):


The only family shot from the whole trip. Rob helped someone take a shot of his family, and the guy reciprocated by offering to take one of us too. If not for that kind gesture, we would have had no family shots at all! Flash had to be used so that our faces could be seen in the shot:

We then headed in towards central Florence and stopped by Piazza della Signoria to admire the statues (originals and copies of the original) and to take some photos of the gorgeous architecture. Again the strong overhead sunlight resulted in strong shadows cast across some parts of the buildings, but thankfully not in a big way.

Palazzo Vecchio ("Old Palace"), which overlooks the Piazza della Signoria:

Loggia dei Lanzi (aka Loggia della Signoria) is adjacent to Plazzo Vecchio in a corner of the Piazza della Signoria. This building houses a number of statues:

The Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchio:

We didn't stay long in Piazza della Signora, definitely not long enough to check out the Uffizi Gallery. We continued in a northerly fashion and stopped at Piazza del Duomo, again only for a short while to take photos.

One of the streets we walked on to get to Piazza del Duomo from Piazza della Signoria:

Giotto's Tower which is part of the rather confusing set of buildings that make up Florence Cathedral at Piazza del Duomo. This image is stitched together from two shots as I wanted to include a bit of the view width-wise together with the height:

The fa├žade to the Florence Cathedral. Image is stitched from two shots taken along the building's height:

We then continued our trek in a northerly fashion, mostly to scope out the location of Gallerie dell'Accademia (where the genuine David is) so that we would have no surprises the next morning for when we had booked an entry time in order to beat the queue. We walked past the entrance to the Accademia Gallery and stopped very briefly at Piazza san Marco.

At Piazza San Marco. A little more quiet and less crowded as it's just a little away from all the main tourist attractions:

By then the sun was going down, so we made our way back south for dinner. We would revisit most of the sites again the following day to take a closer look inside the museums and galleries. We crossed Ponte Vecchio again, and I liked the gentler lighting and shadows better than earlier in the day, so I stopped for a few seconds to take more photos.

The view on the other side of Ponte Vecchio:

Our B&B hostess recommended and made dinner reservations on our behalf at Trattoria 4 Leoni. This trattoria was slightly more pricey and perhaps a little bit better presented than Casalinga. The food was of course delicious, but if we had to choose which we liked better between Casalinga and 4 Leoni, we prefer our experience at Casalinga where the atmosphere was more cheerful.

Peposo all'Imprunetina - stewed pork in red wine, a traditional Tuscan dish that originated from the village of Impruneta situated 15km from Florence. We also ordered salad (pictured in the background):

Polpettine di manzo in umido - beef meatballs in tomato sauce. The meatballs were lovely and moist. Our order of Verdure fritte (vegetable fritters) is on the brown paper in the background. Quite good and not too greasy for a deep-fried dish:

Cheesecake with chocolate sauce. Quite average, in Rob's opinion. Cheese and chocolate don't pair very well:

Trattoria 4 Leoni
Via de'Vellutini, 1r
(Piazza della Passera)
50125 Firenze, Italy
Tel. +39 55218562

Coming up next, details of the B&B we stayed at in Florence, which is really quite the perfect stay for foodies!

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