View from Piazzale Michelangelo

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

Untitled photo

Sun, 7 Oct - Bologna to Florence

We're used to these stations and this route now!

Not wanting to hang around I Portici any longer than necessary, we had breakfast (accompanied by a harpist), and checked out. We managed to get last-minute train tickets at the station, so we got to Il Palazzo well before check-in time, but fortunately our room was ready (this time the Limonaia room, with direct access onto the garden), so we could settle in and then go out and enjoy the afternoon.

We bought a 2-day ticket on the tourist sightseeing bus, and used it to take ourselves up to Piazzale Michelangelo, the most wonderful vantage point overlooking the city.

There are actually two routes, and we could pick up the Red route near our hotel (stop 21), and then interchange to the Blue route at various points.  There's a map if you scroll down to the bottom of that link. [Link now missing.]

Here's a selection of views from Piazzale Michelangelo, including the copy of David which dominates the square.

Mon, 8 Oct - Fiesole

First, pronunciation. Fee-ay'-zo-le, with the stress on the second syllable, not the third. We had to be corrected!  Although it is some way out of central Florence, it is included on the Red route on our tourist bus ticket (see yesterday).

Fiesole has a long history, going back to Roman times, witness the amphitheatre in our photos.  In the medieval period it was a city state in its own right, often at war with neighbouring Florence, of which nowadays it is a rather affluent suburb.

The Wikipedia entry on Fiesole is worth a read, but I bet it doesn't mention Il Fornaio, the little bakery shop where we had lunch.  Nor the exquisite petrol station.

  • Cathedral of Saint Romulus of Fiesole

  • Roman amphitheatre

  • Il Fornaio - home-made bread, pizza and desserts

  • This great petrol station forms the rear view of Casa Torrini, bookable on!

This imposing monument, erected in 1906, portrays the meeting between Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II on 26 Oct 1860.  It quite dominates the town square, the Piazza Mino.

Tue, 9 Oct - Santa Croce revisited

Today we explored Eastwards from our hotel, and ended up revisiting Santa Croce, but this time the piazza in front of the basilica. It was a hive of activity, notably two buskers who I think were Irish, called Duo Sepia (possibly B.Dougherty & S.Meicht?).  Here's a slideshow of mine, and there are a few clips of them on YouTube, not only in Florence but elsewhere too.

From one of the many merchandise stalls, Anne acquired a lovely red leather handbag.

For lunch we just had to go back to the pizzeria that we found on the first day.

Wed, 10 Oct - Prato

This is an example of having our interest piqued by some little comment we read, which we followed up on, and which turned out to be a fascinating expedition.

It's great to be able to get away from the tourist crush to see what the real Italy looks like. Prato, Tuscany's second largest city after Florence, with a population of 200,000, has been built on the textile/fashion industry, in association with which it has had a large Chinese population.  It has also built a reputation as a centre for contemporary art, much of it outdoor.  Several overseas universities have campuses in Prato.

Prato has two railway stations, Centrale (about 20 mins from Firenze SMN on the Regionale) and Porta Al Serraglio, about 3 mins further on. We decided to get off at the latter, as the map told us it was closer to the historical part of town.

Caffè Coppini is a modest little cafè on the edge of the Piazza del Duomo, but it makes good coffee, and we could sit at an outside table enjoying the ambiance and the lovely weather, while gazing across the square past the Fontana del Pescatorello ("little fisherman") to the Cattedrale di Santo Stefano. Here's the sound of its bell - play like a video, but the images are stills.

Donatello’s pulpit (1428-1438), Cattedrale di Santo Stefano, Prato

There were several major culinary discoveries during our holiday. Not all Italian white wine is rubbish, and Prosecco is a lovely light refreshing bubbly; the use of blue cheese in béchamel sauce (Lungarno Bistrot); and Negroni*. 

At Via Ricasoli 13 in Prato there is a wine and gourmet food shop called aTipico  stocking predominantly local product, so we were somewhat surprised, but highly delighted, to find prominently displayed just inside the door some of the products from Tenuta di Sticciano, the agri-tourism property down near Certaldo where Anne had done her art course last week. Anne had brought back with her a bottle of their Reserve Chianti, but we had also learned about the wonderful combination of cantucci (little almond biscuits) dunked in Vin Santo, a traditional Tuscan dessert wine. So we bought the Tenuta's vin santo here in aTipico.

Cantucci are also known as 'biscotti di Prato', biscotti literally meaning twice-cooked (plural of bis-cotto). They were supposedly "invented" by Antonio Mattei, whose name is still over a shop just a few doors along on the other side of the street at Via Ricasoli 20. 

 According to Wikipedia, " Following rediscovery of the original recipe by Prato pastry chef Antonio Mattei in the nineteenth century, his variation is what is now accepted as the traditional recipe for biscotti. Mattei brought his cakes to the Exposition Universelle of Paris of 1867, winning a special mention."  

We bought one of the small blue tins from the top shelf (just under the portrait in this photo), and now have it at home where we can replenish it with locally-acquired cantucci, although vin santo is less easy to buy in Australia.

We headed on past the  impressive Castello dell'Imperatore to the Textile Museum, which was fascinating. It was the main objective of our visit, and it didn't disappoint. Then we walked in a loop back to the station. 

We had barely scratched the surface of this interesting and attractive town.  There's a limit on what one can achieve in less than 4 hours, and on foot.

The last day of a great holiday, but all good things must come to an end.  Homeward bound tomorrow.

  • Cattedrale di Santo Stefano

  • "Promethius strangling the Vulture" by Jacques Lipchitz

  • Castello dell’Imperatore

  • Museo del Tessuto (Textile Museum)

*NEGRONI is easy to make, and even easier to drink. Equal thirds of Campari, red Vermouth (eg Cinzano Rosso or Martini Rosso) and gin. Jessica in the NH Hotel Padua adds a few drops of bitters. Ice and a slice of orange. Stir. For a low-alcohol everyday version, replace the gin with fizzy water. It keeps most of the flavour without the kick. It sounds akin to the Americano described in this paragraph from Wikipedia: "While the drink's origins are unknown, the most widely reported account is that it was first mixed in Florence, Italy, in 1919, at Caffè Casoni (formerly Caffè Giacosa), located on Via de' Tornabuoni and now called Caffè Roberto Cavalli. 

Count Camillo Negroni concocted it by asking the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to strengthen his favorite cocktail, the Americano, by adding gin rather than the normal soda water. The bartender also added an orange garnish rather than the typical lemon garnish of the Americano to signify that it was a different drink."

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